man arrested for cocaine

How Serious Is a First-Time Cocaine Arrest?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Cocaine is one of the most used illegal drugs in the world. Every year, there are hundreds of cocaine related arrests in the Greater Houston area. If you have never been arrested before, being caught with cocaine can be a horrible experience that can lead to high levels of anxiety around the possible consequences to your criminal history, career and reputation. Without a doubt, being caught in possession of cocaine is something that should be taken very seriously, but fortunately, there are many ways to minimize – and potentially avoid completely – any permanent consequences of a cocaine possession case.

In Texas, cocaine is treated as a Penalty Group 1 substance and all possession of cocaine cases are charged as felonies. Most first-time cocaine possession cases are charged as State Jail Felonies (for amounts under 1 gram), or Third-Degree felonies (for possession of 1 to 4 grams). For possession of larger amounts of cocaine, the penalties get increasingly steeper. However, nearly all people charged with first time possession of cocaine are alleged to have possessed a small, personal use amount, typically under 4 grams.

Apart from the direct legal consequences of a cocaine case, a person’s personal situation will determine how “serious” a possession of cocaine case is. For example, if a person is a teacher or other type of professional, a first-time possession of cocaine case can lead to the loss of a job or major problems finding future employment. On the other hand, a retired or self-employed person may not be impacted as much by a posse­­­ssion of cocaine case.

Whatever a person’s situation is, the goal of a possession of a cocaine case should be to avoid jail time and protect your record. For most defendants, a first-time possession of cocaine case is unlikely to lead to a sentence of jail. The more realistic worst-case scenario is ending up on probation with a felony conviction. Ending up with a conviction for cocaine can cause problems with finding work, obtaining professional licenses, obtaining credit, and even finding a place to live (many apartment complexes, for example, will not rent to people with felony records). Moreover, even if you are assessed probation and not sentenced to jail, jail is still a possibility if you violate your probation.

A cocaine possession attorney should have a clear strategy to defend your case and avoid a negative outcome. To properly defend a cocaine case, a defense attorney should conduct his own investigation, which should start with evaluating the evidence. Drug possession cases typically involve a traffic stop, detention, search and/or confession of some type. A drug possession attorney should always challenge the legality of the officer’s actions that led to the discovery of cocaine. If an attorney find that law enforcement exceeded its authority, that could lead to the cocaine being thrown out of court, and possibly cause the case to be dismissed.

An attorney should also challenge whether it can be proved that a defendant knowingly possessed the alleged cocaine. In criminal cases, one of the things that the State of Texas must prove is that a defendant knowingly possessed cocaine. To prove knowledge, the State of Texas will use the circumstances of the arrest and the officer’s observations. Depending on the facts of the case, the knowledge element can sometimes be successfully challenged.

In the Greater Houston area, different counties treat a first-time possession of cocaine case differently. In general, Harris County tends to favor treatment over criminalization, and as a result, many prosecutors are willing to offer deals that result in dismissals (like pre-trial diversion). Other counties – like Montgomery County – are more conservative and more likely to want to place a person charged with a first-time possession of cocaine case on probation. An experienced criminal defense attorney should be familiar with the options that might be available to a defendant, based on the county, judge, prosecutor, criminal history of the defendant and facts of the case.

Attorney Jose Ceja worked as a drug prosecutor for over three years after graduating from law school. He has defended possession of cocaine cases throughout the Greater Houston area. If you are charged with possession of cocaine, call Ceja Law Firm today.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.