Posted on 1/22/18

In general, drug crimes are strict liability” crimes. This means that to prove a defendant guilty of the crime, the prosecution need not prove the defendant’s mens rea, or guilty mind, in connection to the crime. It need not be demonstrated that the defendant did something that he or she knows is wrong or should have known is wrong, only that the defendant committed the crime.

Under the Texas Penal Code, drug possession with the intent to distribute, actually distribute, and manufacture less than one gram of a controlled substance, namely cocaine and methamphetamine (or meth), is a third degree felony that carries a sentence of a year in state prison. As the amounts go up, so do the degrees of the felony. From one gram to less than four grams is a second degree felony, carrying a longer sentence. There are higher amounts that carry up to a 15-year sentence for the possession of drugs, and those crimes are strict liability crimes.

Person Receiving the Drugs Dies as a Result

The Texas Health and Safety Code provides an interesting twist when the person receiving the drugs dies as a result of receiving those drugs from the defendant. If,”as result of ingesting, inhaling or introducing into the person’s body any amount of controlled substance manufactured or delivered by the defendant” and the person dies, then the defendant’s sentence automatically increases by one degree. This means that a defendant who delivers less than a gram of a controlled substance and the person receiving mixes the substance into alcohol and dies as a result of ingesting the mix, the defendant’s degree of punishment increases. This is the law even if the defendant just dropped the controlled substance by the person’s house late one night and never met the defendant. This is applicable even if the defendant left safe handling instructions on the package carrying the drugs.

In general, an intervening action, if anything, by someone else would lighten the defendant’s penalty. Under these circumstances in Texas, the penalty gets more severe. Recently, the Waco Tribune reported about such a case in which the person receiving the drugs died and, as a result, the defendant faced a harsher penalty.

Drug Operations

Note that law enforcement is generally zealous about pursuing those involved in drug distribution. In part, the strict liability penalty for possession probably contributes to the aggressive environment with regard to drug enforcement. In 2015, the police in Twin Peaks conducted a large operation that made national headlines. As a result of the operation, nine people died and 192 people were arrested. In that instance, many who were arrested claimed that it was the result of overzealous policing because, they claimed, they were merely associated with those involved in drugs but had committed no crime. Many of those arrested filed civil rights lawsuits against law enforcement for false arrests.

Are you facing drug charges? The police and the prosecutors tend to be aggressive when prosecuting drug crimes. As such, you need an aggressive advocate on your side. Contact the criminal defense firm of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Mike Wilson)


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