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Texans Serving Life Sentences for Drug Possession

Published: Dec 13, 2016 in Criminal Defense, Drug Crimes

The ACLU and Human Rights Watch recently released a report that assesses the human toll of criminalizing drug use and includes policy recommendations for local, state, and federal government officials. By examining arrest rates around the country, interviewing 365 inmates, and collecting data through public information requests, the report illuminates the human costs of the failed “war on drugs.” The report discusses the wide-ranging consequences of harsh drug laws across the United States, but focuses specifically on Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York.

Drug Possession Statistics in the United States

Though drug laws are supposed to curtail drug sales, data shows that more people are arrested and convicted for possessing drugs than for selling them. In fact, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime. According to the report, an arrest for drug possession occurred every 25 seconds in 2015. There were over 1.25 million arrests for drug possession in 2015, which accounts for more than one out of every nine arrests.

With respect to incarceration, at least 137,000 women and men are serving time behind bars on any given day for drug possession. The vast majority of those incarcerated for drug possession are in state prison and jails. The report revealed that there are currently 116 people in Texas serving life sentences for drug possession.

Drug Possession Charges in Texas

In Texas, the problem of over-incarceration for drug crimes is even more pronounced. Data for 2015 indicates that 16,000 people in Texas were convicted and incarcerated in state jail for felony drug possession offenses. Under Texas law, a person can be convicted of a state jail felony drug offense for possessing less than one gram of a controlled substance. In 2015, more than 78 percent of individuals incarcerated for felony drug possession in Texas were carrying under a gram of drugs at the time of their arrest.

The data also indicates that some Texas counties focus more of their time and resources on targeting the possession of marijuana. In Harris County, 53 percent of all drug possession arrests were for marijuana. In Dallas County, that number is only at 39 percent, despite the fact that the populations of those two counties share similar drug use patterns.

Under what is known as the “three strikes law,” people who have been convicted of three felonies can be sentenced from 25 years to life in prison. For people with multiple drug possession convictions, this can mean incredibly harsh penalties for possessing relatively small amounts of illegal substances. Of the 116 people in Texas serving life sentences for drug possession, seven were convicted of possessing between one and four grams.

Contact a Houston Drug Lawyer

If you are facing a drug possession charge, contact the Law Offices of Ned Barnett right away. Ned Barnett has extensive experience defending clients against all types of drug charges, including simple possession and major felonies. As a former state and federal prosecutor, he understands what it takes to build an effective defense strategy and how local prosecutors think.

Barnett is a board certified criminal defense attorney with over 25 years of courtroom experience. He was recognized by Super Lawyers as a top rated criminal defense lawyer in 2015 and is well-respected in the legal community.

Contact the Law Offices of Ned Barnett today at (713) 222-6767 for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.