Students with Vaping Pens in their Backpacks Face Felony Charges in Texas


A few years ago, teens vaping was an alarming trend. Now vaping at their Texas schools could leave students facing felony charges.

Schools are resorting to Draconian measures to deal with a dramatic rise in teen vaping. Some are using the criminal law to its full force.

It’s an alarming development that could land some teens with a felony record for a juvenile mistake.

The Texas Tribune reported schools across the state are cracking down on vape pens and E-cigarettes. But they are often unable to say for sure whether vape pens contain nicotine or harder drugs, a distinction that could mean the difference between in-school discipline or a felony charge that dogs a student for the rest of their life.

School principals are drawing up anti-vaping policies with little legal framework.

Vaping nicotine alone is illegal for students under age 21. Increasing numbers of students are being suspended or removed from regular classes and sent to alternative schools intended for students with disciplinary problems.

Students who use vaping THC, the mind-changing ingredient in marijuana, face felony charges under state law.

The controversial THC oils or waxes in vape pens are usually more potent than smoking marijuana. In 2019 they were linked to lung disease and deaths. Police are called to the school and students are arrested even when officials merely suspect a vape pen contains illegal drugs.

The Tribune reported the case of Thomas Williams-Platt, a student in Georgetown ISD near Austin. In 2018, he purchased a vape pen from a classmate that he thought contained CBD oil. He believed the non-psychoactive substance would help him relax. Another student reported the vape pen to Richarte High School’s assistant principal, who called Georgetown police.

The officer conducted an on-site drug test on the liquid in Williams-Platt’s vape pen. He discovered the presence of THC in it.

Williams-Platt was put in handcuffs and taken to jail. He was treated as an adult in Texas’ criminal justice system because he was 17. He spent two months away from his friends in a county-run disciplinary school. There are 30 such Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs across Texas, set up to educate students who commit crimes so serious they must be taken out of their home schools.

The Tribune reported Williams-Platt’s case is not isolated. The number of times schools that punished students for tobacco and felony-level controlled substance offenses both more than doubled in 2018 compared to 2017, according to Texas Education Agency data.

Committees of state lawmakers are considering the public health effects and the potential criminal consequences of vaping ahead of the 2020 legislative session. They will consider how to deter teens. However, schools have received minimal guidance, leading some to use harsh measures to tackle the rising trend.

Our Dallas criminal defense attorneys are alarmed at the prospect of hundreds of young people ending up incarcerated for a mistake they make at school, or even unwittingly committing a felony. Please contact us if you or a family member has been arrested for vaping at school.

At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, we are experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to providing aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses charged with crimes.