Why The Location Of A Drug Crime Is Often A Critical Detail
Sometimes where an alleged crime takes place is just as important as the crime itself. There are many criminal statutes that provide enhanced penalties based on location–or, more precisely, the proximity of a crime to a specific type of building or facility. For example, a person convicted of possessing a controlled substance (illegal drugs) within 1,000 feet of a school faces more time in prison than if they were caught with drugs elsewhere.
When Is a Playground Not a Playground?
Actually, the 1,000-feet rule applies to many other areas that are commonly frequented by minors, such as playgrounds. But as with any element of a crime, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove–beyond a reasonable doubt–that the defendant committed a drug offense at or near a location that would legally qualify as a playground.
Earlier this year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed a drug conviction precisely because prosecutors failed to meet that evidentiary burden. The case before the Court, Curlee v. State, involved a defendant charged with possession of between 1 and 4 grams of methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a playground. A jury convicted the defendant of a third-degree felony, and taking into account his prior criminal convictions, he received a sentence of 20 years in prison.
The key issue on appeal was whether the prosecution proved the crime occurred within 1,000 feet of a playground. Testimony at trial established the defendant was arrested while sitting inside of a parked van. One block away, there was a “church with a playground.” This playground was less than 1,000 feet from the van’s location. It was on this basis the trial court applied the 1,000-foot enhancement.
The problem, the Court of Criminal Appeals explained, was that the statute defines a playground as “any outdoor facility that is not on the premises of the school” that is “open to the public.” The defense never disputed there was an outdoor facility located next to the church. He argued that the facility was not “open to the public” at the time of his arrest and therefore did not qualify as a playground.
The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed–or at the very least, it held the evidence produced at trial was insufficient to prove the church facility was open to the public. To the contrary, the evidence showed that “multiple entrances” to the church “were effectively locked,” indicating “that the church intended to assert some level of control over access to the playground.” Even if some of the gates may have been unlocked, that was not enough to show the facility was open to the public.
Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Small details often matter in a criminal prosecution, especially when it comes to assessing the severity of an offense for sentencing purposes. That is why it is in your best interest to work with an experienced Pearland drug crimes lawyer who will challenge the prosecution’s facts and provide a vigorous defense. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today if you have been charged with drug possession and need to speak with a lawyer right away.