In Texas, for the most part, state drug charges signify severe penalties, more so than many other states. In some cases, the penalties can be steeper than those for federal drug charges. Since drug charges are common in criminal defense—and you never know when you or someone you care about might need to hire a criminal defense attorney to assist with such charges, it is worth knowing the differences between the state drug charges in Texas and federal drug charges. Essentially, there are three main differences between state drug charges and federal drug charges:
Methods of Prosecution
Penalties/Punishments for Convictions
Drug Classifications and Their Associated Penalties
Texas law categorizes drugs differently than the federal government does. Inherent in both their classifications and definitions of drug types are the associated penalties and punishments. With regards to classifications, the federal government organizes drugs according to “schedule” types:
Schedule I, including marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, and LSD
Schedule II, including cocaine, Ritalin, opium, morphine, PCP, methamphetamine, and oxycontin
Schedule III, including ketamine, codeine, and Vicodin
Schedule IV, including Xanax and valium
Schedule V, including some OTC drugs and other similar prescribed drugs containing prohibited contents such as codeine
For Texas, on the other hand, drugs are organized into six “drug penalty groups.” These groups are:
A recent report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that all states lower the blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 for charges of driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence of alcohol. The report states that:
Deterioration in driving skills starts before people reach the 0.08 BAC limit; and
Countries that use a 0.05 BAC limit have seen a decrease in vehicle accidents.
To be clear, there are no signs that Texas is considering lowering the legal limit. However, Utah became the first state to adopt a 0.05 BAC limit with a law it passed last year. The change is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 30. Depending on the results, other states may pass similar laws. If the federal government supports the new BAC limit, it may offer incentives to states that comply. The goal of lowering the BAC limit is to increase driver safety. There are a couple of reasons why it may instead increase the criminalization of drivers:
Inexact Number: A 0.08 BAC level is an attempt to create an objective measurement of when someone’s alcohol consumption has impaired his or her driving. It is the best estimate but not an exact line for everyone. Some drivers show no signs of impairment when their BAC is greater than 0.08, let alone 0.05. Lowering the BAC limit increases the number of people who are driving illegally, but not the number of dangerous drivers.
Lower Threshold: How easy is it to have a BAC of 0.05? It may take only one drink for a woman weighing 120 pounds. She may be able to drive home without drawing police attention if her driving shows no signs of impairment. However, a routine police stop or sobriety checkpoint may allow a police officer to notice the smell of alcohol on her breath. With a 0.05 BAC limit, there is an increased chance that a BAC test will result in an arrest.
Unfit Punishment: Though Utah lowered its BAC limit, it has not changed its penalties for a DUI conviction. An advisory council dismissed a suggestion that a lesser punishment should be created for drivers with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.08. There is some debate about whether having a 0.05 BAC impairs a driver more than using a phone while driving. A first-time distracted driving offense may result in a fine of $100 or less. A first-time DWI offense may result in thousands of dollars in fines and jail time.
The Law Offices of Sam H. Lock, with offices in San Antonio and Seguin, Texas, provides criminal defense representation for people charged with state and federal crimes throughout Texas and the United States, including San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Midland, Pecos, Waco, Hondo, New Braunfels, Laredo, Kerrville, San Marcos, Boerne, and Del Rio, Bexar County, Guadalupe County, Comal County, Wilson County, Gonzales County, Kendall County, Bandera County, Caldwell County, Hays County, Travis County, Medina County, Blanco County, Burnet County, Atascosa County, Live Oak County, Nueces County, Uvalde County.