Texas lawmakers weigh reducing penalties for non-violent drug offenses

Texas lawmakers may reduce penalties for non-violent drug crimes, which can currently be steep, in favor of approaches such as rehabilitation.

People accused of drug crimes in Austin and other parts of Texas are often at risk for steep consequences. A conviction can result in fines, incarceration and escalating penalties for future alleged offenses. Sadly, in many cases, convicted offenders may be punished harshly while going without needed treatment for substance abuse, which may promote a cycle of future drug use and incarceration. Fortunately, state lawmakers are now considering less harsh sentencing for some alleged drug crimes.

Emphasizing rehabilitation over punishment

Research has long suggested that rehabilitation may offer greater benefits for people convicted of drug-related offenses than harsh punishment does. According to the National Institutes of Health, professional treatment is the most effective way to prevent future instances of drug use, recidivism and arrest. Unfortunately, when state laws emphasize incarceration and punishment, convicted offenders may not receive needed treatment, and they may be vulnerable to relapsing as a result.

Research suggests that this pattern may occur frequently here in Texas. According to CBS News, one study reveals that 62 percent of people who are convicted of drug-related offenses in the state are incarcerated again within three years. Furthermore, statewide convictions for drug possession are climbing even as overall convictions and crime rates are on the decline. These findings suggest that strict punishment for drug-related offenses isn't preventing recidivism.

Less stringent approaches proposed

CBS News reports that state legislators recently heard testimony on these issues and considered a few potential paths forward. Some lawmakers supported decriminalizing the possession of certain narcotics, while others suggested reducing penalties for various non-violent drug offenses. If successful, either of these changes could offer benefits for thousands of people in Texas.

The state Department of Public Safety reports that in 2014 alone, over 139,000 people were accused of drug-related offenses throughout Texas. The overwhelming majority of these arrests were for possession of a controlled substance. Changes to current sentencing could enable thousands of people accused of this offense to receive needed treatment while avoiding sanctions that might be overly punitive.

Defending against drug charges

Until changes to current laws are implemented, it is essential for anyone accused of drug-related offenses in Texas to appreciate the serious potential consequences. In addition to incarceration and fines, people convicted of these offenses may face the following sanctions:

• Loss of the right to own or possess a firearm after certain serious drug crimes

• Forfeiture of any assets that were allegedly involved in criminal activity or obtained with proceeds from criminal activity

• Loss of voting rights and other civil rights

Additionally, convicted individuals may face various other indirect consequences of having a criminal record, such as difficulty securing employment.

In light of these potential outcomes, anyone who stands accused of drug-related offenses in Texas should consider seeking legal representation. An attorney may be able to help a person challenge the charges or pursue less severe sentencing terms.