I was involved in an email exchange today with someone who asked me what the collateral consequences of accepting a plea bargain that would result in a regular conviction probation with no jail time for possession of marijuana in Texas. (He was considering accepting an offer from a prosecutor in a county where he was allowed to represent himself pro se – a topic for another post, another day.)
I emailed him back three possible collateral consequences of his plea bargain that I could come up with off the top of my head (there are others, and sometimes they are case by case or fact-specific):
Driver’s license suspension for 180 days – turns out the prosecutor had told him about this one. This is standard in the criminal court, because most Texas County Court judges know this, they will actually include this in the sentencing paperwork. No one will probably help the defendant seek an occupational license though, which would keep him “street legal” for all the places he needs to go (not for all of the fun places, of course, but still, unless you want to become Amish, you need some sort of a drivers license to be able to go about your daily business nowadays).
Denial of Student Aid for Certain Periods of Time – the prosecutor hadn’t mentioned this one. I think it’s very likely that the prosecutor didn’t know or didn’t care about this, but anyrate, under current Texas law, no one is required to tell a defendant about this. Not even the judge in admonishing an unrepresented defendant. I previously posted about the statute and the relevant ineligibility for federal aid time periods.
Non U.S. citizens subject to deportation - (if charging instrument alleges possession of more than 30 grams) – this also didn’t apply to the fellow who emailed me, but it’s really one of my pet peeves about the current state of marijuana laws in Texas. Texas criminalizes possession of any usable amount less than two ounces (approximately 56 grams) of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor. The charging instrument is an information (not an indictment) for this level of offense. Even if a foreign national possessed merely 1 gram of usable marijuana, if he pleads to the offense as charged, he subjects himself to being deported, based on the accusation of “less than two ounces”, because that amount could be more than 30 grams, which triggers the federal deportation element.
I’ll end by adding that these are just some of the possible draconian consequences of conviction of marijuana offenses in Texas. Fortunately, in Austin, the prosecutors often accept pre-trial diversion applications for first time marijuana offenders. Williamson County has set up a pre-trial diversion program as well too. More Texas counties need to follow suit.