Drug charges are not limited to possession of controlled substances. Many defendants find themselves facing additional felony charges of “tampering” or “attempted tampering” with respect to evidence of drug possession or use. In other words, if a suspect tries to flush drugs down the toilet as the police are breaking down the door, the suspect faces felony tampering with physical evidence, which is by itself a third-degree felony under Section 37.09 of the Texas Penal Code.
Houston Court Reverses Conviction, Holds Defendant Was Entitled to Argue Lesser Offense to Jury
But depending on the specific facts of a case–and the defendant’s prior criminal record–tampering with evidence in a drug case can mean a life sentence. This is precisely what happened to a defendant in a recent Houston drug crimes case, Ransier v. State, where a jury found the defendant guilty of destroying a syringe. Because the defendant had prior felony convictions, the defendant received a life sentence just for the tampering.
However, the Texas First District Court of Appeals reversed this conviction and ordered a new trial because the trial judge improperly rejected the defense’s motion to include the lesser offense of “attempted tampering” in the court’s charge to the jury.
Here is some additional background. This case began when a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper observed a “children’s slide sitting on the side of the road.” Later that day, the trooper saw the side “had been moved and a truck was parked beside it.”
The trooper approached the truck. He saw the defendant and asked for permission to search the truck. The defendant agreed to a search and started removing items from the truck. According to the trooper, the defendant was “trying to make some kind of movement and basically shoving his right hand underneath the driver’s side seat.”
The defendant apparently had a syringe on him, which he was attempting to break and shove underneath the seat. The trooper ordered the defendant to stop. The defendant did not comply and a struggle ensued with the trooper. At no point did the defendant actually break the syringe.
After his arrest, the defendant admitted to police that the syringe contained illegal drugs. Laboratory testing later determined the syringe contained methamphetamine. At trial, the defendant again conceded he was in possession of a controlled substance. But he asked the judge to instruct the jury on “attempted tampering” based on the evidence presented, which indicated the defendant did not actually break the syringe.
The Court of Appeals agreed such an instruction was appropriate. The court concluded that “circumstantial evidence existed from which the jury could have reasonably inferred that [the plaintiff] did not break the syringe.” Indeed, the arresting trooper himself never said the syringe was broken and that he had “no knowledge regarding the condition of the syringe” prior to his struggle with the defendant. While the jury might still have chosen to believe the defendant did break the syringe–and thus committed tampering–it nevertheless should have an opportunity to consider the lesser offense of attempted tampering.
Speak with a Galveston or League City Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
Small details matter in drug cases, especially when the consequences are a life sentence. That is why you need an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer at your side who can zealously represent your interests in court. If you are facing drug charges and need assistance, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 280-0100.