If you’re not a citizen of the US and you’re charged with a Texas drug crime, you could face consequences related to your status above and beyond the criminal penalties most people would be against. In some cases, you may even be deported – regardless of whether you have a visa or green card.
In this post, we’re going to describe how different types of drug crimes can affect your immigration status and what you can do.
Consequences for Immigrants Convicted of Texas Drug Crimes
Non-citizen immigrants can be deported for almost any crime they commit – or for simply being unlawfully present in Texas. Drug crime convictions, however, make this outcome especially likely, and there are other consequences immigrants can face as well.
Even if you are in Texas lawfully with a visa or as a permanent resident with a green card, you can face steep penalties and/or deportation if law enforcement officials arrest you. The best way to protect your status and future is to consult with a knowledgeable attorney immediately after arrest.
How will you know if you could be deported after being charged with a Texas drug crime?
Deportation is handled by federal law. The federal court judge in your circuit has the freedom to decide whether the penalty for your crime should involve deportation. This judge will look at various factors, such as the following, to arrive at a decision:
- Whether the crime involved moral turpitude, which includes intent, willfulness, or recklessness
- Whether the crime involved an aggravated felony
- Whether the crime is specifically listed on the federal grounds for deportation
Federal law allows for deportation if you committed either of the following:
- A single crime of moral turpitude carried out within five years of US admission, involving a prison sentence of at least one year
- Two or more crimes of moral turpitude that arose from different schemes of criminal conduct
Drug distribution and trafficking have been categorized as crimes of moral turpitude. Drug trafficking has also sometimes been found to be an aggravated felony. In contrast, drug possession is not necessarily considered a crime of moral turpitude. However, drug crimes are separately listed under grounds for deportation. Note also that if other crimes are added on to drug crime charges, they may fall into the deportation category as well.
Since these cases are complex in nature, it’s essential to consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can help you navigate your charges and arrive at the best possible outcome for your specific situation.
How Federal Immigration Laws Relate to Drug Crimes
As someone without US citizenship, you are deportable under federal law for the violation of any law that regulates controlled substances. It does not matter if the violation occurred against a state, federal, or foreign law – you can be deported. The lone exception to the deportation rule is the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use.
In fact, even if you simply admit to drug use on a medical report or oral report and have no conviction for drug charges, you can face deportation under federal law.
This is not the only possible consequence, though. You may also be ineligible for lawful residency and lose your rights to asylum for drug crimes. Additionally, the government may permanently bar you from eligibility for citizenship and enact heavy penalties for illegal reentry.
With consequences this harsh and life-altering, it’s important to know what qualifies as a drug crime under Texas and federal law.
A Quick Guide to Texas State and Federal Drug Laws
Under both state and federal laws, you can be deported for convictions on any of the following drug crimes:
- Possession of controlled substance as defined by federal law
- Possession with intent to sell
- Sale or distribution of controlled substance
- Possession of marijuana over 30 grams
- Possession of drug paraphernalia, unless directly related to a single incident f 30 grams or less of personal marijuana possession
- Any drug trafficking crime prohibited by the federal Controlled Substances Act, the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act, or the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act
- Federal felony drug conviction
- State drug conviction for an offense that the federal law considers a felony
Again, any of the above acts could result in deportation, depending on how the judge interprets the law.
Fighting Back against Texas Drug Crime Charges
An experienced Fort Worth criminal lawyer will understand a number of defense strategies that are commonly used to fight drug charges and may apply in your specific situation. These include:
- Mistake of fact
- Mistaken identity
- No intent to sell
Your attorney may recommend that you plead guilty to reduced charges or that you negotiate a diversion to avoid a conviction. It all depends on the facts of your case and the disposition of the judge.
One thing is for sure, though. For non-citizens, drug crime charges take on an added level of danger and must be taken seriously.
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.