Any type of drug possession charge should be taken seriously, as a conviction can come with severe penalties, including jail time and fines. These crimes are punished even more harshly, however, when they take place in certain areas. Those who are found in possession of an illegal substance while in a drug-free zone, for example, face a longer sentence and heftier fines. Being charged with this offense may also require a more specific defense strategy, so if you were recently accused of a drug crime in a drug-free zone, you should contact an experienced drug charges lawyer in Houston, Galveston or League City who can evaluate your case.
What Qualifies as a Drug-Free Zone?
When most people hear the term “drug-free zone” they think of a school. While it is true that most schools qualify as drug-free zones, they are not the only areas that are designated in this way. This is especially true in Texas, where lawmakers have expanded the definition of a drug-free zone to include:
- Any place in, on, or within 1,000 feet of premises owned, rented, or leased by an institution of higher learning;
- Any place within 1,000 feet of a public or private youth center or playground; or
- In, on, or within 300 feet of a public swimming pool or video arcade facility.
To learn more about what Texas law defines as a drug-free zone for charging purposes, please reach out to our office today.
Upgrading a Drug-Related Offense
Any drug-related crime that allegedly occurred in a drug-free zone will automatically be upgraded by one degree. If, for instance, a drug possession crime that would normally be charged as a second-degree felony, could be upgraded to a first-degree felony offense if it is deemed to have taken place in a drug-free zone. Bumping up a charge in this way can have significant repercussions on a defendant’s sentence, as years could be added on to an already lengthy period of imprisonment. Furthermore, defendants who are sentenced for possession of a controlled substance in a drug-free zone aren’t permitted to receive good conduct time for the first five years that they are incarcerated.
Exceptions to the Drug-Free Zone Laws
In addition to being able to raise the typical defenses available to those accused of drug crimes, including mistaken identity and entrapment, defendants whose crimes have been upgraded because they were allegedly committed in drug-free zones could avoid conviction if they can prove that:
- The crime was committed inside a private residence; and
- No minors were present when the crime was committed.
Proving that these elements have been fulfilled can be difficult, making it especially important for those who have been accused of committing a crime in a drug-free zone, to speak with an experienced attorney who can conduct an investigation into the location of the arrest.
Were You Charged with a Drug Crime?