Articles Posted in Convictions

The phrase “Mass Incarceration” has become synonymous with a failed criminal justice system, but millions of people were incarcerated years before we acknowledged mass criminalization.[1]  The data show that the prison population had bloated before policymakers and the public recognized it was out of control.

In the 1970s, the U.S. decided that prison was the answer to combating crime, however, studies show that the high incarceration rate didn’t reduce serious crimes. Between 1993 and 2001, the prison population increased by 66%, but serious crime only reduced by 2-5%. During the same period, the U.S. spent $53 billion to support imprisonment policies – a high price of using many tax dollars for a low reduction in crime.[2]

Although the U.S. was incarcerating at exorbitant rates, credit goes to author, Michelle Alexander, for publishing prison facts in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Shocking statistics included in The New Jim Crow increased its popularity as readers shared the discoveries on social media encouraging advocates to pressure policymakers for prison reform.

The consequences of a conviction have both short and long term collateral consequences for those arrested depending on the nature of the crime, the age at which the crime occurred, and whether it is a repeat offense. The long-term repercussions of a conviction, or guilty plea are difficult to foresee, and underscore the need for experienced and zealous legal representation, as well as a basic understanding of your rights.


The Short Term Legal Repercussions of a Conviction

              The short-term repercussions of a conviction vary depending upon the age at which the offense was committed, whether the crime is a repeat offense, and the nature of the crime committed. The short-term repercussions result from operation of state and federal statutes, and vary in length.


  • 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana
  • 6 states have decriminalized marijuana possession laws
  • 2 states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational marijuana
  • The last three Presidents of the United States have admitted to using marijuana
  • Dozens of politicians from both parties have stated they have smoked marijuana
  • And even 1 Supreme Court Justice has admitted to repeated marijuana use

So why is it that in Montgomery County, Texas there are 20-30 marijuana arrests every week? This means there are approximately 1,350 new marijuana cases filed in just Montgomery County every year. According to the FBI, nationwide there were 757,969 persons arrested for marijuana violations in 2011, with 86% of those being arrested for simple possession. That means that in 2011 there was 1 marijuana arrest every 42 seconds!
Aside from the devastating consequences a marijuana arrest can cause to an individual’s life, the aggressive enforcement of drug laws that no longer reflect public opinion hurts everyone, as taxpayers are the ones that end up footing the bill to keep these non-violent offenders in jail. Currently, U.S. taxpayers spend more than $51 billion annually in the war on drugs. Of this amount, about $7 billion is spent annually to prosecute marijuana cases, which amounts to a cost of about $10,400 for every marijuana arrest. You must then figure in general court costs of $853 million and prison costs of $3.1 billion annually in taxpayer money that goes to prosecute marijuana cases. The gross amount of arrests made in the war on drugs means that U.S. taxpayers now spend more money on state prisons than we do on our public universities. However, it is estimated that if illegal drugs were taxed at rates comparable to those currently placed on alcohol and tobacco, drug legalization would yield tax revenue of $46.7 billion annually. These estimates are backed by history: according to California’s Department of Justice, the state saved nearly $1 billion during the time it decriminalized personal possession of an ounce or less of marijuana from 1976 to 1985.
In our current economic state and social climate, it makes no sense to continue to throw billions in taxpayer dollars away prosecuting and imprisoning vast numbers of non-violent marijuana offenders. Even while presidents, politicians, television personalities and athletes coming forward to admit that they too have used marijuana, everyday citizens are harassed, humiliated, beaten, shackled, fined, and imprisoned over marijuana use. A government in which a prohibition remains on the books, with enforcement depending on police discretion, should be particularly frightening…a law should apply equally to all.
For more information on marijuana use and legalization in the rest of the country:
Medical Marijuana
Politicians Admit Marijuana Use
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iStock_000002161278XSmall.jpg Instead of automatically being arrested, Texas counties may allow police to issue citations to adults caught with less than four ounces of marijuana. Though possession is still a crime, the citation law was a definitely a step taken by the Republican-controlled 2007 Texas Legislature to alleviate the punishments associated with marijuana possession and perhaps lay the groundwork for decriminalization of the substance. In the current legislative session, where Republicans are again in control, another law has been proposed by State Representative Harold Dutton, Jr. that would improve Texas drug policy by reducing possession of one ounce of Marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor which could include a $500 dollar fine.
Such a step away from full criminalization would be an improvement in drug policy because a sharp reduction in the prosecution and incarceration of the estimated 75,000 people arrested for marijuana yearly in Texas (with more than 90% of those arrests for possession only) would translate into time and money better spent for courts, prosecutors, and police departments and a much-needed reduction of overcrowding in jails. Rep. Dutton is a member of the Texas Democratic party which as a part their official platform have endorsed the total decriminalization of marijuana and have, in my view, increased in popularity since the endorsement as seen by Democrats being elected in to the current Texas Legislature in numbers which ended the Republican super-majority in the House of Representatives. Apart from politicians supporting Marijuana law reform, Texas voters have also shown support for rethinking marijuana policy at the ballot box, as demonstrated not only by support for pro-legalization Ron Paul, but also by the election of Beto O’Rourke. In 2012 voters chose O’Rourke, a proponent of marijuana legalization, over an eight-term incumbent and opponent of legalization, Silvestre Reyes for Texas’s 16th congressional district.
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student loan.jpgUnder federal law, a marijuana conviction would automatically bar a student from receiving federal student loans, grants and work assistance. President Barack Obama, along with numerous United States presidents, has admitted using marijuana for recreational purposes. He has also stated that he took advantage of student loans to fund his education which was crucial to his ascension to the presidency. As a younger individual, the president was fortunate enough not to be caught with the substance. However, like millions of Americans, if the president was caught and convicted for possession of a drug classified as a controlled substance, under current law he would have likely lost his eligibility to receive student loans. Such a loss may have stifled his opportunity to receive a Harvard education and would have been detrimental to becoming a United States President. One cannot help but wonder how many Americans, who did not have the good fortune to elude prosecution and conviction, have been deprived of their opportunity to receive a highly beneficial education.
An exceptional opportunity has presented itself to correct this flawed policy of punishing individuals for the use of a substance that is less destructive than alcohol or tobacco. With 18 states and the District of Colombia having legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, 14 states having decriminalized non-medical marijuana in small amounts, and two states having legalized recreational marijuana, the momentum to stimulate substantial drug law reform is nearly unstoppable. Support for change in marijuana policy has also arisen from the medical community as highlighted by the American Medical Association which has called for rescheduling marijuana as a non-Schedule I drug. Further strengthening the push to rethink marijuana use illegality is public opinion in favor of legalization, which according to a Rasmussen Poll has reached 56% in favor of regulation of the substance. Prominent members of the legal community, such as the prolific Judge Richard Posner, have also voiced their support for legalization of the substance. Acclaimed civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the ACLU have advocated for marijuana decriminalization to help combat racially disproportionate punishment for illegal drug possession. Social and political conservatism has had a modest but noticeable history of supporting marijuana reform as shown by thinkers like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater. On almost a regular basis, more contemporary social and political conservatives are coming out in favor of marijuana legalization, such as Pat Robertson and Tom Tancredo.
Recently, Barbara Walters asked the president whether he thinks marijuana should be legalized. His response was that, though he would not go as far as to favor legalization, he does recognize that the voters in Washington and Colorado have spoken on this issue. Moreover, the president noted how nonsensical it would be for the federal government to prosecute individuals in states where the substance is legal. By implying a federal allowance, or at least tolerance, for states that have legalized marijuana, the president has sparked hope in the minds of many proponents of drug law reform that desire a true change in federal policy. Perhaps as a result of reformed federal drug policy, students who have been caught with the substance, which the president once used, will be not be deprived of their opportunity to attain the academic and professional highs that come with an education.
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540317_marijuana.jpgI recently attended a seminar which highlighted many unforeseen consequences of Drug related convictions. Most Texans do not realize the many consequences of a drug conviction; which includes Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Possession of Marijuana, Possession of a Controlled Substance and Delivery/Manufacturing Offenses. Many defendants are aware of certain consequences such as the terms of jail time, court costs, fines and/or Probation. These consequences can be overwhelming and long-term consequences are often pushed aside to deal with the needs of the day – signing the final disposition paperwork in court and getting out of the court room. However, an often overlooked consequence of a Drug Offense conviction is the suspension of the Texas Driver’s License.

According to the Texas Department of Safety, people convicted of a drug offense or a controlled substance offense will have their driver’s license suspended for 180 days. Additionally, the defendant must complete an authorized Drug Education Program (DEP) through the Texas Department of State Health Services. DPS further states on their website, that a failure to complete the program will result in the revocation of a Driver’s License until such time as the Department receives the DEP completion certificate. This applies to ALL drug convictions – even if you never used a car in the commission of the Offense. In fact, a drug conviction is the only non-driving type of offense that has Driver’s License consequences.

According to DPS, people who do not have a Texas driver license at the time the offense was committed will be denied a Texas driver license for a period of 180 days. The 180 day suspension begins once the defendant makes initial contact with the Department’s Driver License Personnel and not until such time. Therefore, if you have received any type of drug conviction and you have an out-of-state driver’s license, go to a DPS office immediately so that your suspension will start and end as quickly as possible.
DPS also requires a reinstatement fee and proof of SR-22 insurance. In order to be in compliance with the law, SR-22 Insurance is required for two (2) years from the date of the conviction.

I caution everyone with a drug offense to think carefully before making a decision to plead guilty, as these DPS requirements are quite burdensome on most people’s personal and financial life. A “GUILTY” plea includes: No Contest, straight probation, credit for time served, jail time or simply paying the fine and court costs.
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