The federal government did not declare The War on Drugs overnight. Multiple policies support the harsh penalties against drug crimes.
One of the oldest policies that strengthened the War on Drugs is the policies regarding drug-free zones. They stretch back to 1970 and were passed to ensure that drugs would not get into the hands of children.
Over the past few decades, states have realized that drug-free zones don’t effectively keep drugs away from children. The laws simply add harsher penalties to most drug crimes. Other evidence shows that they specifically target low-income communities.
While many states have started to roll back on drug-free zones, Texas is behind the times. This means that if you have been caught using, selling, or moving drugs in drug-free zones, you will likely face harsher penalties.
Where Are Drug-Free Zones in Texas?
Drug-free zones, as we mentioned earlier, were created to keep drugs out of children’s hands. If law enforcement suspects that you are trying to use drugs in front of vulnerable children, or sell drugs to them, be prepared for the worst.
So drug-free zones are typically areas that children are likely to be. You will be subject to longer jail sentences and heavier fines when caught committing a drug crime with 1,000 feet of the following areas:
- Schools (including college campuses)
- Youth centers
- Other premises “owned, rented, or leased by an institution of higher learning”
The distance is reduced to within 300 feet of a public swimming pool or video game facility, and when a defendant is charged for engaging in drug crimes inside a school bus, the possible penalties will mirror the above.
All drug crimes, including possession, sale, and trafficking that are committed within drug-free zones carry enhancements regardless of whether you hand intentions to sell drugs to minors.
Simply choosing to meet up behind a playground could have a significant impact on your potential sentence.
How Texas Charges Drug Crimes Committed in Drug-Free Zones
Drug crimes committed next to a school or an arcade are considered especially dangerous, so Texas law bumps your charge up by a level when you’ve been caught in a drug-free zone.
For instance, possession charges are typically not felonies. Most are considered a “Class B misdemeanor.” The more severe possession charge is a Class A misdemeanor. Carry a large amount of hard drug product into a drug-free zone and get caught?
You could be charged with a state jail felony.
Texas law determines actual sentencing for drug crimes based on the amount of drugs involved, the nature of the crime, and whether or not you have a history of drug crimes.
Penalties for Crimes in Texas’s Drug-Free Zones
Here’s the harsh reality about being caught in a drug-free zone: your location could add five years on to your sentence.
You read that right. Judges can increase a sentence by up to five years if you are caught in a drug-free zone. Fines for drug crimes could double.
Five years behind bars is already a harsh sentence. In order to find out how much time you face after a conviction, talk to a Texas criminal defense lawyer.
While these penalties can quickly stack against you, there are also exceptions to the drug-free zone laws here in the Lone Star State.
Exceptions to Drug-Free Zone Laws in Texas
Say your apartment complex is within 1,000 feet of a drug-free zone. You get busted with a controlled substance in your private residence.
Your apartment is out of the way from children and you never intended to use drugs around them. Will you still get additional penalties for being within the drug-free zone?
In most states, yes. Texas, however, is one of only seven states that does have some exceptions to the rules about drug-free zones.
Defendants will not be subject to extra penalties if the crime meets the following three criteria:
- The crime was committed in a private residence
- No children were present in the residence at the time of the crime
- The defendant did not make money off of the crime
This is just one nuance to Texas Drug-Free Zone laws.
How to Fight Drug-Free Zone Charges in Texas
One way to fight the enhanced penalties associated with Drug-Free Zones is to show a judge that you committed the alleged crime in a private residence without making a profit.
Every case is different, though. Even when you’ve allegedly profited from the crime, there are other strategies to fight back.
Don’t resign to a guilty verdict and an extra five years behin3d bars. Fight the claims that you were in a drug-free zone at the time of the crime. Fight the claims that you committed the crime at all! Whatever you do, don’t give up. A charge is not a conviction. Fight back.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.