has spent much time around toddlers knows that young children are prone to
putting just about anything in their mouths—hence the popularity of
child-proof lids on everything from aspirin to caustic cleaning
Texas criminal law has supported the principle that children should be
protected from dangerous substances. Parents who are alleged to have exposed
their children to certain dangerous drugs may face not only an investigation
from CPS, but criminal prosecution as well. However, some of the most dangerous
drugs on the planet (including cocaine) are exempt from this statute simply
because they’re not classified as “Penalty Group 1” drugs under Texas law.
House Bill 1261 Closes the Child Drug Exposure Loophole
written, the Child Drug Exposure Law (CDEL) provides a presumption that parents
who have exposed their children to certain dangerous drugs have placed these
children in danger of death, bodily injury, or other mental or physical
impairment. Although a parent may be able to rebut this allegation to avoid
being convicted (by, for example, showing that the child picked up drugs from
the street or another public place and the parent was totally unaware of this),
in most cases, the CDEL’s presumption is tough to fight.
currently classifies a “dangerous drug” as any drug that is listed in the state
Health and Safety Code’s Penalty Group 1. This group includes methamphetamine,
opiates, cocaine, GHB, and ketamine. However, cocaine is notably absent from
the list of Penalty Group 1 drugs, even though cocaine is often sold and
consumed in a form (rock) that can easily make its way into small hands.
The Likely Impact of HB 1261
1261, which was recently referred to the Texas House’s Criminal Jurisprudence
committee, amends the CDEL to broaden the scope of what constitutes a
“dangerous drug” and to include drugs like cocaine.
If HB 1261 passes
the House and Senate and is signed into law, it will take effect on September
1, 2019. As a practical matter, this means that anyone who exposes a child to
cocaine between now and August 31 can’t be charged under the CDEL (although
they may still face charges for the purchase, sale, or possession of this
exposing a child to opiates remains a crime under both the current and
prospective versions of the CDEL, parents who have valid prescriptions for
opioid-based medications will want to take extra care to keep these medications
out of reach of children. Even though it’s not illegal for the
prescription-holder to buy or have these drugs, allowing them to fall into the
wrong hands is a serious crime under Texas law.