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Houston Criminal Defense Blog

What's the risk of asset forfeiture in Texas?

To be able to answer the question posed in the title of this post, we have to understand what asset forfeiture means. The words themselves can be a little misleading.

Asset forfeiture does mean what it says. A person has assets and they are forfeited, usually because of some legal action. However, under the rules that exist in many states, including Texas, police can, and often do, seize personal property from individuals without much due process. It might be real estate, personal property or cash. And, it's up to the owner of the property to prove the assets were taken improperly – something that can be costly to do.

Federal crime charges often follow clear signals

Some months ago, we wrote about an apparent shift in prosecution focus in Harris County regarding some alleged drug offenses. The highlight of that item was that the district attorney planned to make going after marijuana misdemeanors less of a priority. What, we asked, might take its place?

The ink isn't dry on that chapter yet. Regardless of how things play out, however, one thing is certain. The nature of any drug-related offense a person might face is such that mounting a solid defense should always be a priority. The charges will be serious. So will the consequences in the event of a conviction. Experience should be a factor when considering whom to enlist to help you.

Are there limits to free speech?

We enjoy freedom of speech in Texas. It's protected under the Constitution. But there are limits. You can't yell fire in a crowded move theater. Banning certain speech is legal in a private home or business. Social media sites have a right to delete content deemed offensive. Administrators can abridge free speech rights of public school students. Depending on the laws of your state, uttering something that you don't think is offensive, but someone else does, could get you arrested and charged with a crime.

The conditions for an arrest for obscenity have to be right in order for the charge to stick. But that might not prevent you from finding yourself cuffed and detained. And, as is the case anytime one is taken into custody, the right to speak with an attorney is one that deserves to be exercised.

Rule of law applied in violent crime charges

Judging from the headlines, we might believe we live in times that are more violent than in the past. In the wake of several recent trials in which juries acquitted police officers charged in deadly shootings, it might also leave some asking whether justice has taken a biased turn for the worse.

The rule of law here and across the U.S. is what is supposed to be the deciding factor in the administration of justice. Part of that rule is the constitutionally established premise that anyone charged with a crime - minor to serious - is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

'Sexting' may be common, but it's often illegal

"But everybody's doing it!" That's a common refrain from youngsters. Of course, the common response from most parents to such a remark is equally well known. "Just because everybody's doing it doesn't make it right."

'Sexting' may well be said to be the "everybody's doing it" pastime of our day. According to many experts, the telephone technology that makes sexting possible is so much a part of daily life now - for young and old - that teens just consider the practice the new way to flirt. It's might only be after it's too late that that they learn that the law doesn't view sexting the same way. It could draw a sex crime charge and a conviction could have serious consequences. 

What evidence can police access from your cell?

Ratified in 1791, the drafters of the Fourth Amendment could never have imagined the role cellphones would play our 2017 day-to-day lives. The "right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers and effects" was to meant to prohibit "general warrants" for broad search.

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To have "probable cause" to obtain a warrant, police need to be able to explain why it is they believe someone has committed a crime. Does a privacy interest extend to cell-tower location data gathered by phone companies? Are Fourth Amendment rights violated when a phone company shares these details with law enforcement? The U.S. Supreme Court justices will take up these questions in their next term.

Sometimes optimal outcome in criminal case isn't what's expected

Sometimes circumstances when we are in a frail mental state can lead to irrational behavior. If that behavior gets you charged with a criminal act, even if it isn't one of violence, what should the punishment be upon conviction?

Some months ago, a story made headlines that likely elicited chuckles from readers. An elderly man reportedly went to a bank in his hometown and proceeded to rob it. He didn't brandish a weapon but a note indicated he had one. When he got the money from a fearful teller, he went and sat in the bank lobby until his arrest. He later told authorities that he had committed the crime because he'd had a fight with his wife and felt he'd be happier in jail. He did not get what he wanted.

Texas among the toughest states for crimes against animals

As with many areas of law, claims of animal cruelty can bring federal or state charges. In some cases, there might be local ordinances addressing the subject. Regardless of what jurisdiction brings animal cruelty charges, it's important to meet them with a strong legal defense and the time to call an attorney to start the process is the instant investigating officers show up.

Texas has strong economic dependence on animals of all kinds. Horses and cattle are mainstay elements of agriculture. Dogs, cats and so many other animals, even chickens, enjoy status as companion animals or pets. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to learn that Texas ranks near the top of states for animal protection laws by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

You have rights under police questioning. They might not tell you

Just because you have the right to remain silent doesn't mean the police have an obligation to let you know it. This might surprise some readers. The recitation of the Miranda warning every time TV and movie cops slap handcuffs on a suspect is so common that it might be easy to think that it's a requirement.

It isn't, and as we noted in a previous post - police employ a number of interrogation tactics to elicit statements that the courts have found to be acceptable, even if they are contrary to notions of what we think is fair. Lying is considered unethical most of the time. Interrogators do it any number of ways. They might say they have evidence when they don't. They might display false sympathy and say they are only trying to help you. Protecting your rights depends on you educating yourself. 

From charging decisions to bail determinations

Every moment from an arrest matters. As the gears of the criminal justice system slowly begin to crank, past convictions could re-emerge that increase a charge or penalty.

An initial hearing will discuss release conditions and almost always set monetary bail. Without experienced counsel, it's possible to sit in Harris County jail longer than you ever expected.

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