Charging Teenagers as Felons in Drug Free School Zones

By Allen, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Kyle T. Therrian
Office Number: (972) 562-7549
24 Hr Jail Release: (214) 403-6522

Most high school students will legally be considered an adult for at least one year of school prior to graduation. As adults they are subject to the full range of adult criminal statutes and punishments, even though, in many respects, most teenagers in high school are not very adult-like. Nonetheless, under Section 51.2 of the Texas Family Code, a child becomes an adult at the age of 17 and must be put on an equal playing field with all other adults. That is, unless we are talking about drugs.

Unlike other adults, teenagers are legally required to be present at school during most of the year. Because Texas drug laws make very serious geographic distinctions, separating cases based on presence or non-presence in a school zone, the playing field is really not that equal. When a drug offense is committed inside or within 1000 ft. of a school, the implications are serious.

The severity of a drug offense is dependent on: (1) the type of drug, (2) the amount, and (3) aggravating circumstances, such as whether or not the drug was possessed in a school zone. Obviously, this third category places adult teenagers at a disadvantage. When a drug offense occurs in a school zone, the law permits that offense to be enhanced by one class or degree. This means, for example, a Class B Misdemeanor can become a Class A Misdemeanor, or even worse, a Class A Misdemeanor can become a Felony.

Examples of Class A Misdemeanor drug offenses outside of a school zone include:

  • possession of marijuana (between two and four ounces),
  • unprescribed possession of Hydrocodone,
  • unprescribed possession of Ritalin, or
  • unprescribed possession of Valium

In each of these cases, a misdemeanor will become a felony if the possession occurred in or within 1000 feet of a school.

Many people agree that the dilemma of drug free school zones wouldn’t be a dilemma at all if teenagers simply didn’t make bad decisions. That is surely what would happen in a perfect world. In reality, teenagers do make bad decisions and learning from those decisions is part of the process of becoming an adult. While it is not unreasonable for the community to want criminal behavior corrected efficiently, being branded with a felony conviction before the age of 20 may not be the most efficient solution.

*Kyle Therrian is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any case you should contact an attorney directly.

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