Austin Smuggling of Persons Lawyer

Smuggling of persons is a serious crime in Texas that carries tough penalties, including a long prison term and significant fine. This crime includes actions like moving or concealing people to evade authorities or to assist them in entering or remaining in the country unlawfully. 

Understanding your rights and options is crucial, and our lawyers can provide the guidance you need. Cofer & Connelly, PLLC's Austin attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience and have handled 25,000+ cases and 300+ jury trials in Texas. Don’t wait to seek help; early legal advice can make a significant difference in your case. Get the legal support you need to handle this challenging situation.

If you face smuggling of persons charges in Austin, contact Cofer & Connelly, PLLC by calling (512) 991-0576 or online for a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer.

What is Smuggling of Persons in Texas?

According to Texas Penal Code Section 20.05, it’s unlawful to knowingly help another person avoid law enforcement or remain in the country illegally. To convict someone of smuggling of persons, the prosecutor must prove certain actions and intents.

First, if you use any kind of vehicle, like a car, boat, or plane, to move someone with the intention of hiding them from the police or helping them flee from arrest, you are committing smuggling of persons. This includes knowing that the person you are helping is a police officer trying to arrest or detain you.

Second, if you encourage or help someone enter or stay in the country illegally, you are smuggling persons. This can involve hiding them, providing them shelter, or otherwise helping them avoid detection by authorities.

Third, if you guide or direct two or more people to enter or stay on agricultural land without the owner’s permission, you are also smuggling persons. This includes leading or assisting them to trespass on this kind of property without consent.

What Are the Penalties for Smuggling of Persons?

The penalties for smuggling of persons in Texas vary based on the specific details of the crime.

If you are convicted of basic smuggling of persons, it is a third-degree felony. This can lead to a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the crime is committed in a way that puts the smuggled person at significant risk of serious injury or death, involves a child under 18, is done for financial gain, or if a firearm is involved, it becomes a second-degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the smuggled person is sexually assaulted or suffers serious injury or death because of the smuggling, it is a first-degree felony. This is punishable by 10-99 years behind bars and a $10,000 fine.

In some cases, if the prosecutor certifies that you have provided significant help to law enforcement, the minimum prison term can potentially be reduced to five years for a third-degree felony. This cooperation can include testifying against others involved in the crime, providing important information about the case, or helping further the investigation.

If you can prove that the person you smuggled is a close relative, the charge may remain a third-degree felony but with a minimum five-year prison term. This requires showing the court evidence of your relationship.

What is Continuous Smuggling of Persons?

Continuous smuggling of persons, according to Texas Penal Code Section 20.06, means that over at least 10 days, you engage in smuggling activities more than once.

For you to be convicted of continuous smuggling of persons, a prosecutor must prove that during a span of 10 or more days, you engaged in smuggling activities at least two times. The jury doesn't need to agree on the specific incidents or dates of the smuggling acts, but they must agree that you engaged in smuggling activities more than once over the 10-day period.

If the same person is involved in these smuggling activities, you generally can't be convicted for both continuous smuggling and smuggling under Section 20.05.

Moreover, if all the smuggling acts happened against the same person, you can only be charged with one count of continuous smuggling.

What Are the Penalties for Continuous Smuggling of Persons?

The penalties for continuous smuggling of persons depend on the circumstances of the smuggling acts. The base level offense is considered a second-degree felony with a minimum prison term of 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000. However, there are several conditions that can increase the severity of the penalties.

If the smuggling is carried out in a way that puts the smuggled person at risk of serious injury or death, or if the person smuggled is a child under 18, the crime is elevated to a first-degree felony. This comes with a prison term of 10 years to life as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

The penalties become even harsher if the smuggled person suffers serious injury or death, or if they become a victim of sexual assault or aggravated sexual assault as a direct result of the smuggling. In these cases, the offense is still classified as a first-degree felony, but the prison term can range from 25 years to life.

Kidnapping vs. Smuggling: Key Differences

Kidnapping under Texas Statutes Section 20.03 involves taking someone against their will and restricting their freedom. The abductor may use force, threats, or deception to accomplish this. Kidnapping usually involves hiding the victim or using threats of deadly force to keep them from being found. The intent behind kidnapping can include holding the victim for ransom, using them as a shield, inflicting harm, or achieving other harmful goals. The legal penalties for kidnapping depend on factors such as the use of deadly force or the intent to inflict harm, and it is typically considered a serious felony.

Smuggling, on the other hand, involves transporting people illegally, often across borders. This is done with the intent to hide the individuals from law enforcement or help them enter or stay in a country illegally. Smuggling can involve using vehicles or other means of transport to conceal the individuals or help them evade authorities. Smuggling often includes harboring or directing people to enter or remain on private land without permission. The penalties for smuggling can be severe, especially if it leads to serious harm or death, or involves the smuggling of minors. Smuggling is prosecuted as a felony, with the severity of the penalty depending on the circumstances and outcomes of the offense.

What is Operation Lone Star?

Operation Lone Star is a joint effort led by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas National Guard to secure the state's border. This operation aims to stop the smuggling of drugs, weapons, and people into Texas and prevent cross-border criminal activities. Since its inception, the operation has resulted in over 508,900 illegal immigrant apprehensions and 41,900 criminal arrests, with 37,600 of these being felony charges. Over 475 million lethal doses of fentanyl have been seized. The operation has nationwide collaboration, with National Guard soldiers from other states supporting Texas' initiatives to combat drug trafficking and illegal immigration.

What is the Criminal Process for Individuals Facing Smuggling of Persons Charges?

When you are investigated or charged with smuggling persons in Texas, the process begins with an arrest. After your arrest, you will be taken to jail and booked, which includes taking your fingerprints and photographs. You will have an initial appearance before a judge, who will inform you of the charges and your rights. The judge will also decide if you can be released on bail or if you must remain in jail until your trial.

A lawyer talking to a client in an office

Next, you will have a preliminary hearing where the prosecutor must show there is enough evidence to proceed with the case. If the judge finds sufficient evidence, the case will go to trial. Before the trial, both sides may engage in plea bargaining to potentially resolve the case without going to court. If a plea agreement is reached, you will enter a plea of guilty or no contest in exchange for a lighter sentence or reduced charges.

If your case goes to trial, both sides will present evidence and call witnesses. The jury will then deliberate and decide whether you are guilty or not guilty. If you are found guilty, the judge will determine your sentence based on the severity of the offense and other factors. Throughout this process, you have the right to an attorney to help you defend against the charges.

Potential Defenses in Smuggling of Persons Cases

When facing charges of smuggling persons, there are several defenses you might consider. First, challenging the intent is crucial. The prosecution must prove you knowingly transported, encouraged, or helped someone illegally enter or stay in the country. If you did not know the person’s legal status or did not intend to hide them from law enforcement, you can argue lack of intent.

Another important defense is duress. If you were forced to commit the act under threats of harm to yourself or your family, this can be a powerful defense. You need to show that you had no reasonable alternative but to commit the crime.

Mistake of fact is another defense to consider. If you genuinely believed you were engaging in a legal activity, such as transporting workers with proper documentation, you can argue that you made an honest mistake.

You can also use the defense of familial relationship. If the person you are accused of smuggling is related to you within the second degree of consanguinity (blood relation) or affinity (marriage), this can be an affirmative defense to this charge. This defense is valid if you were not acting with the intent to gain a financial benefit.

Finally, proving lack of evidence can be effective. The prosecution must provide strong evidence to prove your involvement beyond a reasonable doubt. If the evidence is weak or based on unreliable sources, you can argue that the case against you is insufficient.

Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Smuggling of Persons Cases

If you are charged with smuggling persons, a criminal defense lawyer can be crucial in your case. They will first review the charges and the evidence against you. This includes looking at how the authorities collected evidence and whether any of your rights were violated during the arrest or investigation.

A lawyer will work to protect your rights at every stage of the process. They will communicate with prosecutors, negotiate possible plea deals, and represent you in court. A lawyer can challenge the prosecution’s case, cross-examine witnesses, and present evidence in your favor.

Another key part of their job is advising you on your options. They will explain the potential outcomes and help you make informed decisions about how to proceed. This could include whether to go to trial or accept a plea agreement.

Throughout the process, a lawyer offers support and guidance. Facing criminal charges can be stressful, and having a knowledgeable advocate on your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is smuggling of persons? It involves transporting individuals with the intent to hide them from law enforcement or to help them enter or stay in a country illegally.
  • What are the penalties for smuggling of persons? Penalties range from a third-degree felony with a minimum of 10 years in prison to a first-degree felony if severe harm or death occurs.
  • Is smuggling of persons a federal crime? Yes, it can be prosecuted under both state and federal laws.
  • What constitutes smuggling of persons? It includes using vehicles to transport, concealing individuals, or guiding them onto private land without permission.
  • What if the person being smuggled is harmed? If the smuggled individual is seriously injured or dies, the charge is elevated to a first-degree felony.
  • Does providing information to law enforcement reduce penalties? Yes, significant cooperation can reduce the minimum prison term to five years.
  • Can the smuggler also face charges for other crimes? Yes, if the conduct also violates other laws, multiple charges can be brought.
  • Is it a crime to harbor someone illegally? Yes, harboring or concealing individuals to help them avoid detection is part of smuggling.

Contact our Austin smuggling of persons attorneys today so that we can begin building your defense.

  • "Excellent all around. Highly recommend."
    W. N.
  • "I am eternally grateful for all of the efforts they put in to go above and beyond for everyone they help."
    Former Client
  • "They really listen to and care about their client's needs and consistently fight for the best outcome! I am eternally grateful for all of the effort they put in to go above and beyond for everyone they help."
  • 103 Years of Experience
  • 32,000 Cases
  • 357 Trials

Committed to Excellence


Contact Us Today

  • Please enter your first name.
  • Please enter your last name.
  • Please enter your phone number.
    This isn't a valid phone number.
  • Please enter your email address.
    This isn't a valid email address.
  • Please make a selection.
  • Please enter a message.
  • By submitting, you agree to be contacted about your request & other information using automated technology. Message frequency varies. Msg & data rates may apply. Text STOP to cancel. Acceptable Use Policy