What Happens If I Am Charged With Possessing Drugs Near a School?

August 17th, 2017 by Tad Nelson in Drug Crime

Drug crimes are often not just about the offense, but also where the offenses took place. The Texas legislature has declared a number of areas within the state as “drug-free zones.” A person arrested for possession of a controlled substance within such a “zone” faces enhanced criminal penalties if convicted at trial.

Officer’s “Well-Being” Check Leads to Felony Conviction for Driver

Section 481.134 of the Texas Health and Safety Code defines drug-free zones. They include elementary and secondary schools, colleges, day care facilities, youth centers, and video arcades. In most cases, a person is considered within a drug-free zone if they are within 1,000 feet of the premises, although for some facilities (such as arcades), that distance is reduced to 300 feet.

Here is an illustration of how drug-free zones work in practice. This is from a recent criminal case in Eastland. A local police officer was responding to an unrelated call when he observed the defendant’s vehicle loitering at a stop sign. The officer testified he then decided to “check on the well-being” of the driver.

At this point, the officer said he observed a “white powdery substance” on the defendant’s shirt. The officer believed it was cocaine. The officer then searched the vehicle and found additional white powder, which a field test–and subsequently laboratory tests–identified as cocaine.

The defendant’s vehicle was stopped “within 1,000 feet” of a school, according to the officer, who said he was familiar with the area. At trial, the prosecution introduced an “unscaled Google map” that illustrated the distance. Based on this evidence, a jury found the defendant guilty of possession of less than one ounce of cocaine in a drug-free zone.

Normally, such a possession charge is a state jail felony. But because the defendant was found in a drug-free zone, the defendant’s charge was elevated to a third-degree felony. The judge sentenced her to 10 year in prison but suspended the sentence and ordered community supervision (probation) instead.

The defendant appealed her conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict, however, finding the evidence presented at trial was sufficient. With respect to the drug-free zone enhancement, the appeals court noted the officer’s testimony and the Google map was enough for the jury to find “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the appellant was within 1,000 feet of a school when she was found with cocaine.

A Galveston Drug Crimes Attorney Can Help

While it may seem unfair that prosecutors can charge you with a higher degree of crime based simply on where you were arrested, that is the law in Texas. Any drug crimes charge is serious, but when you are facing a drug-free zone enhancement, it is critical you work with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer who will zealously represent your interests. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with an attorney right away.

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