A grand jury is a group of people called together by the prosecutor to gather information about suspected criminal activity by listening to testimony from witnesses and examining documents and other evidence. At the end of the proceeding, the grand jury decides whether there is enough evidence to put the defendant on trial for the drug charges. Grand juries are more likely to be convened in connection with more serious and complicated drug crimes, like conducting a drug-related criminal enterprise.
Every felony charge in Texas must be presented to a Grand Jury. While I can present written or testimonial evidence, your attorney does not have a right to be present. These are sealed proceedings. The sole job of the Grand Jury is to investigate and to decide whether there was “Probable Cause” to make an arrest.
If the Grand Jury indicts you, the case will be assigned to the district court and plea negotiations and discovery processes will begin.
The first thing the prosecutor looks for is a legally sound case, or one without any obvious defects that will get it thrown out of court, such as violations of the defendant’s constitutional rights or destruction of evidence crucial to the defense. The prosecutor next decides if there is enough evidence, with regard to both the quantity and the quality thereof, to make conviction probable. Finally, the prosecutor decides if prosecuting the case fits in with the office’s policy objectives, or whether a more informal disposition, like drug counseling or treatment, may be in order.
In reality, if you are charged with a drug case, you will likely be indicted and the case will proceed. If there was an unlawful stop or search, I will prepare and argue a Motion to Suppress Evidence to attempt to get the evidence thrown out.
Even a teeny tiny amount of dope (imagine 1/10 of a Sweet-N-Low packet) will result in a felony charge.
Plea bargaining, which involves negotiating with the prosecutor to get the charges reduced and the punishment minimized, is allowed in drug-offense cases. For example, a person charged with three separate drug charges-possession, possession for sale, and transportation of drugs-may be able to negotiate the charge down to simple possession in exchange for an agreement to plead guilty to that charge. The prosecutor agrees to plea bargains in appropriate cases because the government simply does not have adequate resources to try every case, so both sides benefit from the bargain.
A plea bargain may involve probation or pen time. While avoiding prison is the goal of all criminal defense when the charges are very serious, I may be able to negotiate a plea bargain for the minimum jail sentence. For some clients, jail is preferable than up to 10 years on probation.
Drug treatment may be a condition of probation. Be prepared to consider residential treatment if you are accused of multiple dope cases.
Defendants who commit crimes under the influence of drugs sometimes argue that their mental functioning was so impaired that they should not be held accountable for their conduct. Generally, however, voluntary impairment does not excuse criminal conduct, since people know or should know that drugs affect mental functioning, and they should therefore be held legally responsible if they commit crimes as a result of their voluntary use. An exception to this rule may exist in cases involving a crime that requires “specific intent,” in which the offender must have intended the precise result that occurred but arguably could not have formed that intent in his or her drugged state.
Children are subject to a separate judicial system called the juvenile court system. Generally, the focus of the juvenile court system is more on rehabilitation than on punishment. In some cases, however, older juveniles who commit more serious crimes will be charged as adults and tried in the regular criminal courts. In such cases, their sentence, too, will be more in accord with adult punishment, whereas in juvenile court any incarceration is usually in a more rehabilitative setting and generally ends when the juvenile attains the age of majority.
The most common defense raised in drug cases is to challenge the search and seizure that resulted in the police finding the drugs. If the police violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights, the court will suppress, or throw out, the drugs as evidence. The prosecution will then have far less evidence to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and the case could even be dismissed.
In marijuana cases, I may attempt to “nullify” the jury which means to ask the jury to disregard the law and to acquit you. If the jury develops sympathy for you and antipathy for the law, we may be able to get the jury to disregard the law and decide the case based on fairness and equity.