Houston criminal defense attorney James Alston is committed to defending you against any type of drug possession, manufacturing or delivery charge in State or Federal court. As a Harris County Assistant District Attorney, Mr. Alston understands the Texas Penal Code and has prosecuted drug cases ranging from misdemeanor marijuana possession to multi-kilogram first-degree felonies involving the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances.
Drug Charge Defense in Houston
As an Assistant United States Attorney, Mr. Alston was a prosecutor for the Organized Crime Drug Task Force where he investigated and prosecuted national and international drug organizations for the distribution and importation of:
- Ecstasy and other designer drugs
Mr. Alston has extensive experience and training in federal law enforcement investigative techniques including the use of confidential informants, Title III wire intercepts (telephone taps), cell site tracking devices and surveillance. As an Assistant United States Attorney, Mr. Alston prosecuted numerous federal cases from the initial stages of investigation through jury trial.
What Determines Whether A Drug Charge Is Going To Be Considered A Misdemeanor Or A Felony? What Is The Difference Between States Vs. Federal Cases?
Generally, it determines what level of a charge is filed, if it is a misdemeanor, a felony or if it is under a state or federal crime, based on the amount of the drugs involved. However, there are some drugs that are automatically going to be a felony. For example, any amount of cocaine is a felony, but different amounts of marijuana can either be a misdemeanor and or felony.
Often, the federal government in the Houston, Harris County area, or the Southern District of Texas, will not get involved or accept charges on a drug case in federal court, unless it is a large amount of drugs or if they are investigating or prosecuting a drug trafficking organization.
What Does “Schedules Of Controlled Substances”, Actually Mean Under Texas Law?
The schedules or the penalty groups are basically classifications of drugs that the Texas legislature has classified into certain categories. For example, cocaine is penalty group 1. You could basically say that penalty group 1 is the most severe category of the classification of drugs. Under this classification is also any amount of cocaine and heroin, these are considered a felony. Any amount of methamphetamine, which is penalty group 1, is also a felony. Those penalty groups will go all the way from penalty group 1 to penalty group 4. That is their level of severity, meaning penalty group 1 is the most severe that the legislature thinks. Those are various drugs that have been assigned to that penalty group. Depending on how the drugs are being abused or the amount of abuse that is occurring in Texas, those drugs can be moved up a penalty group. For example, hydrocodone used to be a penalty group 3 and has been moved up to make a smaller amount a higher degree criminal offense charge.
What Is The General Timeline Of A Drug-Related Case? How Long Do These Cases Take To Be Resolved?
On a state level in Harris County or in Texas, it really depends on the individual court. Individual courts are often operated like businesses. They have different personnel. The judge may do things differently as opposed to another court; how a court manages their docket changes how the cases speed along.
When talking about misdemeanor cases, those cases generally take two to three months from the first appearance at the court to some type of resolution. Felony cases can take about the same time, possibly even longer, depending on the evidence that may be available for review or might need testing. It also depends on what type of investigation the attorney might do to try to defend against the case. Those cases generally last from three to six months, possibly longer if you are going to contest some type of issue like have a motion to suppress evidence or even possibly go to trial.
Federal drug cases, where there can be multiple defendants charged in a conspiracy to distribute, possess or manufacture drugs, can take a short time or it could possibly take a couple of years for those cases to be resolved. It all depends on the amount of evidence, amount of attorneys involved in the case, especially if there are multiple defendants. Some federal drug cases may even have up to thirty-five defendants all involved in the same case. Those cases will have possibly thirty-five attorneys, several prosecutors and all of the evidence that would have to be reviewed in order to defend against those types of cases.
What Are The Mandatory Minimums As Compared To Other States When Talking About The Penalties In Drug Charges In Texas?
There can be mandatory minimums. For example, there is a mandatory minimum jail sentence for all felonies unless somebody is eligible for probation. Probation or deferred adjudication probation would do away with the mandatory minimum, but if somebody is going to be sent to state jail, which is the lowest felony in the State of Texas, or if they are going to be sent to prison, there are mandatory minimum sentences. A mandatory minimum sentence means that if someone is charged with a state jail, the mandatory minimum is one hundred and eighty days, the maximum is two years. If someone is charged with a third-degree felony, the minimum is two years, the maximum is ten.
For a second-degree felony, the minimum is two years, the maximum twenty. First-degree felony, the minimum is five years, the maximum is life. You can also have a hybrid or an aggravated first-degree felony. Those are generally based on the amounts of the drugs or if someone is possessing with intent to distribute. Those factors can increase the mandatory minimums up to fifteen years. On the state’s side, those mandatory minimums do not reflect when someone may be eligible for parole.
Are Penalties Enhanced If There Are Minors Involved Or If Drugs Were Sold To Minors?
Yes. Penalties can be enhanced if someone is in a school zone selling or possessing the drugs. They can be enhanced if minors are involved. They can also be enhanced if they have on their persons or using a firearm in relationship to drug possession, distribution or on the federal level of trafficking crime.
Do Most Drug Cases End Up Going To Trial Or Will They Come To A Plea Agreement? What Are The Usual Defense Strategies?
The first thing an attorney would do when representing a client on a drug case is to see if there is a way to get the case dismissed. The first thing they will look at is can they prove that their client possessed the drugs. Then they will look to see if the police officer followed all the rules. Was there an illegal search, why were they talking to their client, why did they stop their client, what is the evidence they have that their client had the knowledge, is there affirmative links liking their client to the drugs, can they prove that those drugs belong to their client and that their client had knowledge of those drugs?
The attorney will look to see if there is a way to get the case dismissed. If there is not a way to get the case dismissed, the next thing they will try to do is mitigate the case. Maybe their client is overcharged. Maybe the drug amount was actually 2 grams, but the police officer who initially made the arrest says it was 4 grams. This puts it at a lesser degree crime. The attorney will try to mitigate the case as much as they can. If their client has not been previously charged, his record is clean, they have a job etc., but they cannot get the case dismissed, then the attorney will try to get their clients a pretrial diversion. A pretrial diversion means that after they have gone through certain requirements of the court, such as being drug-free, maybe attending a class, doing some community service, maintaining employment for a certain length of time, then the case is dismissed. The attorney will look to see how they can defend a case. If they cannot get it dismissed, if they cannot mitigate it down to a lesser offense, then sometimes they do go to trial. Generally, attorneys will go to trial on a case when they think they can win it and they can prove that the client did not have the knowledge or did not possess the drugs.
Do People Just Admit To The Crime And Agree To Go Ahead With The Prosecution’s Deal?
Generally, most do not. The attorney can get the case dismissed, reduce the case or work out a very favorable plea bargain agreement for their client. That takes investigating in a case and fighting against the prosecutor in certain aspects and trying to mitigate the case, or lessen the severity of it. It is not very often that people go in and plead guilty on the first sitting.