Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

WASHINGTON (CN) – Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor teamed up for a dissent Monday after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal over forensic witnesses in criminal trials.

breathalyzerEarly on in the 4-page opinion, Gorsuch quotes precedent to laud cross-examination as possibly “the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.”

“The Constitution promises every person accused of a crime the right to confront his accusers,” Gorsuch wrote.

Under the laws of Texas and the United States Constitution, a person cannot be tried more than once for the same offense. While the court can hold a second trial if the first trial results in a mistrial, the state cannot re-try a defendant who has been acquitted during a trial on the charges for which he or she was acquitted. In Traylor v. Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas clarified that a jury note stating the jury unanimously agreed the defendant was not guilty on a charged offense did not constitute an acquittal, and therefore, it found a second trial was permissible.  If you are accused of a crime, it is vital to retain a Texas criminal defense attorney to advise you of your rights and potential defenses for the charges against you.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, the defendant was charged with first-degree burglary of a habitation. His indictment alleged that he intentionally entered the home of his ex-mother-in-law and assaulted her. During his trial, the jury was charged on both first-degree burglary and the lesser offense of second-degree burglary. A conviction for first-degree burglary required a finding that the defendant used a deadly weapon, while a conviction for second-degree burglary did not. After some deliberation, the jury advised the court via a note that the votes were unanimous for a finding of not guilty on the first-degree burglary charge and that there were five votes for guilty and seven for not guilty on the lesser charge. The court asked the jury to continue deliberating.

Under Texas law, a sentence must be orally pronounced in the presence of the suspect. When an oral sentence conflicts with a written judgment, the oral sentence generally prevails. In Ette v. Texas, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that this general rule does not apply when the written judgment includes a sentence imposed by a jury. If you face criminal charges, you should seek the assistance of a Texas criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to analyze the facts of your case and assist you in formulating a defense.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, a jury found the suspect guilty of misapplication of fiduciary property. The jury assessed the suspect’s penalties as ten-year confinement and a $10,000.00 fine, and recommended a suspension of the confinement but not of the fine. The trial court read the verdict aloud, after which the judge verbally sentenced the suspect to ten years of confinement, but no fine. The suspect appealed the imposition of the fine, arguing it should not be imposed because the judge did not orally pronounce it at the time of sentencing, and oral pronouncements had previously been held to override written judgments. The court of appeals rejected the suspect’s argument and held that the fine should be imposed. The court stated the oral and written pronouncement should be combined to reflect the jury’s verdict. The court of appeals further stated that the suspect had notice that the court intended to impose a fine due to the jury verdict. The suspect then petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas for review.

In a Texas criminal trial, a jury deliberating on a suspect’s guilt is given instructions as to the elements of the crime the suspect is charged with, and advised they must find each element is satisfied to find the suspect guilty. As shown in Niles v. Texas, where a jury is not properly informed of the charges a suspect faces, a suspect can be wrongfully convicted and unjustly sentenced for a crime he or she did not commit.  As such, if you are facing criminal charges, it is essential to retain a Texas criminal defense attorney who will ensure the jury is properly instructed as to the crimes alleged, to prevent an inappropriate conviction.

Facts of the Case

The suspect was a Houston firefighter. Allegedly, during a shift it was revealed that the suspect did not have a valid driver’s license, and he was ordered not to drive and directed to get a valid driver’s license before his next shift. In response, he purportedly stated he was going to start shooting people, and later stated he was going to kill everyone in the fire station. The suspect had several guns in his vehicle and explained in detail the manner and order in which he would kill people. The suspect made similar comments on other occasions, after which he was advised not to return to the fire station.

Under Texas law, a party seeking to introduce evidence at a trial must comply with statutory requirements. Texas criminal defense attorneys frequently object to the admission of evidence that was obtained illegally, and are able to prevent such evidence from being used against their client. Recently, the question arose as to whether the state has to prove statutory compliance where there is no inference the evidence it seeks to introduce was obtained in violation of a statute. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas addressed this issue in White v. Texas, and ultimately held that the question could not be answered with a bright-line rule. As such, it remains unclear who bears the initial burden of proof regarding whether evidence was obtained in compliance with applicable statutes.

In White, Defendant was charged with organized criminal activity and money laundering. At his trial, the prosecution introduced an audio recording of a conversation between Defendant, his co-defendant, and an individual named Brandon, in which they discussed a plan to steal funds from a client. Defendant objected that the recording was inadmissible because it was obtained in violation of illegal wiretapping laws. The court overruled his objection and Defendant was convicted. He appealed, arguing that because the state failed to prove the recording was obtained legally his conviction should be overturned. The Fifth Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. On further appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas found the recording was not barred by the rule of criminal procedure prohibiting illegally obtained evidence and affirmed Defendant’s conviction.

In evaluating whether Defendant’s conviction should be overturned, the Court of Criminal Appeals stated that while the proponent of evidence generally must prove to the court the basis for its admissibility, the burden is not triggered unless a specific objection is made to the evidence.  The court noted that the court of appeals erroneously placed the burden of proof regarding the admissibility on Defendant rather than the state, but nevertheless held the recording was admissible based on the evidence as a whole. Specifically, the state presented uncontroverted witness testimony regarding the fact that Brandon, one of the parties to the conversation in the recording, made the recording and provided it to the state, prior to any objection as to its admissibility. As such, since the state presented evidence the recording was obtained legally and Defendant did not present any evidence to the contrary, the court held the recording was properly admitted.

When Texas residents suffer from a medical condition, they may be prescribed a medication to help them cope with their symptoms. While some prescription drugs are only beneficial to those patients who receive them for their medical needs, other prescriptions can be desirable to others who do not have prescriptions for them. For example, painkillers and hydrocodone-based medications are sometimes distributed illegally and are purchased by individuals who want them.

Because these drugs can be addicting and can cause harm in individuals, they can be considered controlled substances. Individuals with specific questions about which prescription drugs are controlled by state and federal law may wish to speak with criminal defense attorneys.

Selling or distributing a controlled substance without a valid prescription can form the basis of a drug crime. While doctors and pharmacies are permitted to hand these drugs out without penalty to specific individuals who are deemed in need of them, others who sell them and acquire them through illegal channels can be criminally penalized for their alleged wrongdoing.

The “plain view doctrine” comes into play when a Texas law enforcement official makes a warrantless traffic stop on a motorist. While a warrant may give the law enforcement official some rights to search the person and property of the stopped individual, in most cases police and other officials make traffic stops based on real time perceived violations of the law.

When the law enforcement official approaches the stopped vehicle they are allowed to look at and make observations of the vehicle and driver. The stopping official may look into the vehicle and if during that time they see something illegal they may seize it as evidence of a crime against the driver. For example, if a driver was subjected to a traffic stop for suspected impaired driving and the officer saw drugs on the front seat of the car next to the driver, that officer could seize the drugs as they were found in plain view.

Additionally, and based on the law enforcement official’s plain view discovery of the drugs, that official could extend their search of the driver and their property since, based on their plain view find, they would have probable cause of drugs in the possession of the driver. The police officer may examine the compartments of the vehicle, the pockets of the driver and other locations to seek out more evidence of drugs.

In recent years a movement has begun to decriminalize marijuana and to recognize it as a legitimate medical treatment for certain health conditions. Although some states throughout the nation have taken steps to lessen the punishments for specific marijuana-related crimes, Texas has not and imposes serious penalties on individuals who are found guilty of possessing, selling and trafficking in the substance. This post will discuss some of the punishments that can attach to marijuana convictions in Texas, but as with all of the posts offered on this blog, readers are reminded that its contents offer no legal advice.

Possessing of marijuana in Texas is a crime. If a person is found to have under four ounces of the substance in their possession, then they may be charged with a misdemeanor. If the amount of marijuana in their possession exceeds four ounces, then they can be charged with a felony. Penalties for felony marijuana charges include, but are not limited to, imprisonment and fines of thousands of dollars.

Selling marijuana in Texas can yield even more serious punishments. While selling less than a quarter of an ounce may result in a person facing a Class A misdemeanor, any amount greater than that is considered a felony offense under the law. The sale of marijuana in a drug free zone, such as at a school, can lead to the alleged criminal having the penalties doubled.

The opioid epidemic and the prevalence of drug use and abuse of prescription drugs are constant topics covered by the media today. Texas law enforcement, politicians and local and national leaders work to address these issues and growing concerns over drug abuse in this nation. With the rise of opioid addiction and misuse of prescription medications, coupled with the increased attention that these problems are receiving, we naturally see many more drug offenses being prosecuted in our criminal courts.

There are a variety of drug related offenses that a person can be charged with. Possession offenses fall on the lower end of the spectrum, with distribution and trafficking offenses being more serious crimes with more serious penalties. Nevertheless, possession charges are still serious and a conviction can carry some significant penalties.

Federal and state laws make it a crime to knowingly and willfully possess illegal controlled substances, such as cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, heroin and many other substances that can be found the list of scheduled controlled substances. The specifics of what constitutes unlawful possession may vary state to state and can depend on other factors, such as the amount possessed and the type of drug.

Understanding criminal defense protections is vital for individuals accused of drug crimes. A local man knows this firsthand as he was recently arrested on drug charges.

The 26-year-old man was arrested on drug charges, following a search of his home and is accused of possessing greater than $44,000 in illegal drugs and a stolen handgun. Authorities reported that the man was a passenger travelling in a vehicle stopped by police. The driver initially admitted to authorities that the drugs were his, but later changed his story and told police that the drugs belonged to the 26-year-old passenger who is now being held on charges related to that incident as well. The 26-year-old man was out on bond for a previous arrest.

Drug possession charges and other drug charges, including drug trafficking charges, can be particularly serious and can be associated with harsh prison sentences and other possible penalties and consequences. It is important to ensure that the search and seizure rights and other rights, such as arrest rights, were protected related to an arrest for drug charges. A thorough criminal defense will examine police procedure, the facts of the alleged incident and witness statements associated with it.

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