What If A Judge Makes A “Mistake” In Sentencing Me?
Everyone makes mistakes, including judges and prosecutors. But when it comes to something like how long a person should go to jail for committing a crime, a “mistake” can mean a defendant is forced to spend additional years in prison beyond what the law requires. Such mistakes need to be rectified promptly when they do occur.
Prosecution Admits Judge Improperly Added Five Years to Minimum Sentence in Drug Case
Take this recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals, Flowers v. State. In this case, a Fort Bend County grand jury indicted the defendant for aggravated robbery and felony possession of a controlled substance in a drug-free zone. The defendant entered a guilty plea to both charges, explaining that he was high on drugs at the time and never meant to rob his victim.
The trial court sentenced the defendant to 15 years on each count to be served consecutively–i.e., a total of 30 years–which the judge said was the “minimum punishment allowed by law.” The defendant actually challenged this statement, pointing out that under Texas law, the minimum sentence for the drug charge was only 10 years, not 15. On appeal to the First District, the district attorney conceded the mistake. After conducting its own independent review, the First District agreed and ordered a new sentencing hearing.
So how did this “mistake” occur? Texas law defines the scope of a drug sentence based on the amount of the controlled substance involved. In this case, the indictment alleged the defendant possessed between 4 and 200 grams of methamphetamine, which Texas defines as a second-degree felony punishable by a minimum of 2 years in prison. However, the defendant had a prior felony conviction, which automatically bumped the drug charge to a first-degree felony with a minimum prison term of 5 years. On top of that, since the defendant was found in possession of drugs within 1,000 feet of a school or similar building, that added another 5 years to the minimum, for a total of 10 years.
In other words, the trial judge was permitted to sentence the defendant to a term of 10 to 99 years on the drug charge, not 15 to 99 years. Since it was unclear what sentence the court would have imposed had it applied the correct range, the First District said a new sentencing hearing was in order. The appellate court declined to simply reduce the defendant’s sentence to 10 years, as it was not clear whether the trial judge intended to sentence the defendant to the minimum allowable term regardless of what the law provided.
Speak with a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Even if you intend to plead guilty to a criminal charge, you still have the right to insist the courts follow the law when it comes to sentencing. An experienced Pearland drug crimes lawyer can provide you with guidance and representation. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.