According to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, cocaine is classified as a schedule II drug. Drugs in this category are considered to be “narcotic drugs” and have a high potential for addiction and abuse, therefore they are illegal to possess, manufacture, or distribute. However, drugs that fall under this category may legally be administered by a physician under certain circumstances. Other schedule II drugs include methadone, methamphetamine, and morphine.
You may be surprised to learn that cocaine was not always a regulated drug in the United States. Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the Coca plant, whose leaves were used in the early production of Coca-Cola, hence the name. In the mid-19th Century, cocaine was also widely used in cough drops, toothache drops, topical anesthetics and wine.
Despite its former uses, cocaine possession is now a very serious crime that is subject to strict criminal prosecution at both the state and the federal level. Regardless of how small the amount of cocaine a person has in their possession, the consequences are severe and life-altering. Under certain laws, crack cocaine may carry even harsher penalties than regular cocaine.
Possession of Cocaine
Although the term possession seems pretty self-explanatory, when it relates to cocaine, it may not be as cut and dry. A cocaine possession charge can be either for simple possession or constructive possession.
Simple possession of cocaine is the most common type of possession charge. It occurs when a person knowingly has cocaine on his or her person or within his or her physical control. This can include having cocaine in their backpack, purse, pants pocket, stashed in their shoe, or even hidden in a body cavity. They must know that cocaine is illegal and that they have the drug on or with them.
The key to simple possession is that the person must know they are in possession of an illegal drug. If someone obtains a bag that appears to be sugar because it is labeled as such, and that person has no knowledge that the bag of sugar actually contains cocaine, then they would not be guilty of simple possession. Despite the person’s innocence, it could still be challenging for them to prove their innocence in court.
Constructive possession of a controlled substance is more complicated. It refers to situations where the law interprets, implies or infers that a person has legal control over the cocaine or other drug. This differs from a person having physical control and is much broader.
A person can be charged with constructive possession of cocaine in circumstances where the law can reasonably believe the person has legal control over the drug even if it is not found on their person or in their physical control. For example, if cocaine is found in a vehicle registered to or rented by an individual, that person may be charged with constructive possession despite the fact that another person occasionally drives the vehicle. A person could be charged with constructive possession if cocaine is found in a package that was addressed to them or a hotel room where they were staying.
It can also be considered constructive possession if cocaine is found in a handbag that belongs to a passenger in your vehicle or in another person’s home if the authorities can show evidence that the plan was to jointly posses the cocaine.
What Factors Affect Cocaine Possession Charges?
Under both federal and state law, here are a multitude of factors that can have an effect on the severity of the charges in your cocaine possession case. The factors include, but are not limited to:
- The amount of cocaine you are accused of possessing
- If the amount of cocaine was sufficient enough to enable the courts to add a charge for intent to distribute (greater than 5 grams of cocaine in the federal system)
- If there was any involvement by a minor (18 years or under)
- Whether anyone was injured or killed during the incident
- Whether you have any prior criminal history, especially if it was drug-related
If any of these factors apply, it can greatly impact the severity of a person’s sentence if found guilty.
Possible Outcomes of Cocaine Conviction
If convicted of cocaine possession, there are a wide variety of potential penalties that may result. Cocaine possession is a very serious conviction, and so are the consequences.
Convictions at the federal level can involve: http://supolicies.syr.edu/docs/alcohol_penalties_federal.pdf
- Seizure and forfeiture of real estate or other personal property such as boats and vehicles
- Loss of federal benefits such as professional licenses, commercial licenses, and student loans
- Civil penalties of up to $10,000
In addition, convictions at both the federal and state level can result in a combination of the following:
- Jail time or prison time
- Stiff fines
- Possible suspension or revocation of your driver’s license
- Court-ordered drug counseling
- Registration as a drug offender
For a first offense, a Federal conviction of possession of an amount of 500-4999 grams of cocaine will result in a prison sentence of 5-40 years and fines of up to $2 million for an individual or $5 million if not an individual. If the incident involved serious injury or death, the prison sentence is 20 years to more than life.
A second offense of possessing 500-4999 grams of cocaine will result in 10 years to life in prison, or in the case of serious injury or death, the prison sentence is life imprisonment. A fine will also be levied of up to $4 million for an individual or $10 million if not an individual.
The penalties for a cocaine possession involving 5kg or more are 10 years to life in prison, or 20 years to more than life should the incident have involved serious injury or death. In addition, the offender is also subject to fines of up to $4 million dollars if an individual or up to $10 million if not an individual.
A second offense of possession involving 5kg or more of cocaine is punishable by 20 years to life in prison, or life imprisonment if death or serious injury resulted from the incident. A fine of up to $8 million for an individual or up to $20 million if not an individual also applies.
If a person has two or more prior cocaine convictions involving possession of 5kg or more of the drug, the penalty is life imprisonment.
Criminal Penalties in the State of Texas
Although specific criminal penalties of cocaine possession vary by state, the penalties in the state of Texas are based upon the amount of cocaine the person had in their possession and are as follows:
- Possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine is classified as a state jail felony and punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- Possession of 1 to 3.99 grams is classified as a 3rd degree felony and carries a penalty of 2-10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- Being found in possession of 4 to 199 grams results in a 2nd degree felony with a penalty of 2-20 years in prison and a $10,000.
- If a person is convicted of possession between 200-399 grams of cocaine, it is a 1st degree felony with a penalty of 5-99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- Possession of more than 400 grams of cocaine is classified as an enhanced 1st degree felony that is punishable by 10-99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
If you happen to find yourself in a legal battle involving possession of cocaine, it is imperative that you seek counsel from an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who specializes in criminal drug cases. Relying on a court-appointed public defender is a mistake that you may regret for the rest of your life. Hiring the right attorney could make the difference between receiving probation and being sentenced to a number of years behind bars.