Drone Laws TX Drone Registration

Rules for Drones | Drone Registration and Penalties for Failure

By | Criminal Defense | No Comments

Drone Laws TX Drone RegistrationDrones or Quadcopters were a popular Christmas gift this year. While many new drone owners are probably preoccupied with learning to fly without getting the propellers stuck in trees or crashing them over their neighbor’s fence, they need to take a moment to learn about the federal registration rules for unmanned aircraft.

*Federal drone registration had been struck down by an appeals court in May of 2017, but the National Defense Authorization Act that was passed in December 2017 reinstated drone registration.

Do I Have to Register My Drone?

Maybe. Any unmanned aircraft system (“drone”) that weighs more than .55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. Depending on the size of the drone, it can be registered under:

  • Part 107, Small UAS Rule,
  • Section 336, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, or
  • 14 CFR Part 47, the Traditional Aircraft Registration

Registration Under The Special Rule for Model Aircraft

Most people register their drone under this provision. The Special Rule for Model Aircraft allows for registration of a drone between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs for recreational use only. Under this registration:

  • A person is allowed to fly their drone within their line of sight,
  • A person is required to follow the community-based and nationwide guidelines,
  • A person is not allowed to fly their drone over an airport or to interfere with emergency response units, and
  • A person must notify an airport when they are flying within five miles of an airport.

In order to register under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, you must:

  • Register as a “modeler” with the FAA,
  • Be at least 13 years’ old,
  • Be a legal United States citizen or legal permanent resident, and
  • Label your drone with the registration number in case it is lost or stolen.

This registration, which can be completed online costs $5 and lasts for 3 years.

Registration of Drones Between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs Under the Smalls UAs Rule

The Small UAS Rule allows for registration of a drone between 0.55lbs and 55lbs for recreational and commercial use. Registration is REQUIRED by the FAA. Under the Small UAs Rule a person may:

  • Fly their drone at or below 400 feet (Class “G” airspace)
  • Fly during daylight or civil twilight
  • Fly at or below 100 miles per hour.

With a drone registered under Part 107, the pilot:

  • Must yield to manned aircraft
  • Cannot fly directly over people,
  • Cannot fly from a moving vehicle unless you are in a sparsely populated area.

In order to obtain your registration under the Small UAs Rule, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old,
  • Have a valid credit card, email address, and physical/mailing address,
  • Pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center,
  • Undergo a Transportation Safety Administration security screening, and
  • Denote the make and model of your aircraft when applying for registration.

The Small UAS Rule registration, which can be completed online costs $5 and lasts for 3 years.

Traditional Aircraft Registration for Drones Greater Than 55 Lbs

Traditional Aircraft Registration must be completed for any unmanned aircraft weighing over 55 pounds. The paperwork for drones greater than 55 pounds can be found on the FAA website and must be turned in via regular mail. Drones over 55 lbs will require an N-number that you have to submit to the FAA. The FAA website lays out the necessary information for an application.

This registration costs $5 and lasts for 3 years.

What is the Penalty for Flying a Drone Without Registering it?

Failure to register an unmanned aircraft can result in regulatory penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years. Penalties are determined on a case by case basis and will vary based on the judge.

The FAA provides on its website:

“There is no one-size-fits-all enforcement action for violations. All aspects of a violation will be considered, along with mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the violation. In general, the FAA will attempt to educate operators who fail to comply with registration requirements. However, fines will remain an option when egregious circumstances are present.”

Do you have to register your drone if you only fly over your own property?

Even if flying over your own property, the FAA still requires registration of your drone. The penalties for failure to register an unmanned aircraft will apply even if the drone does not leave your property.

What Other Drone Rules Should I Be Aware of?

Every registration allows for different flight regulations, so pay close attention to what you register for and what that particular registration allows you to do. The FAA has developed an app called “B4UFLY” which gives you important information about your location and the flight restrictions in that area. This app is recommended by the FAA to help avoid violations of the registration limitations. For any additional questions/concerns, visit the FAA website.

DWI No Refusal Christmas Fort Worth

Twas the Night Before No Refusal Weekend in Tarrant County

By | DWI | No Comments

Tarrant County No Refusal Period for the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays

Tarrant County typically implements a No Refusal period during major holidays.  Being in the Christmas spirit, we thought that our No Refusal warning would be better if it rhymed.  Enjoy our Christmas No Refusal poem.

DWI No Refusal Christmas Fort Worth

Twas the night before Christmas, the police are all out,
Searching for drunk drivers that might be about.
They’ll be near the parties at restaurants and taverns.
They’ll pull your car over for bizarre driving patterns.
They’ll give the field test, “walk the line, heel to toe,”
And if you misstep, to the pokey you’ll go.
They’ll ask you to blow in the breath test device,
To see how much eggnog you’ve had on this night.
And if you refuse, to a magistrate they’ll dash,
To get a search warrant as quick as a flash.
So take an Uber this Christmas, a lesser price you’ll pay.
Don’t drink and drive on this No Refusal Holiday.

False Report Child Abuse Texas

Penalties for Falsely Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect in Texas

By | Child Abuse | No Comments

False Report Child Abuse TexasUnder Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code, persons are required to report if they have cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare is being or has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect. The report is to happen immediately (or within 48 hours if the reporting person is a professional). The law further grants “immunity” to the person who reports or assists in the investigation if that person had “good faith” when they made the report.

What is a “Good Faith” Report of Child Abuse or Neglect?

Put simply, a “good faith” report is an honest and sincere report. The law wants to encourage folks to report so that the State can investigate and ensure that children are not being abused or neglected. However, falsely (or without good faith) reporting child abuse to CPS or other agencies is not to be used as an act of retaliation or aggression toward others. A false report damages the child’s welfare in itself because the child will be subjected to an investigation where none should have been pursued. Unfortunately, we have seen this occur in the context of highly contested family law cases and in some criminal cases as well. More recently, there were allegations of a false report made to smear a political opponent.

What are the Legal Penalties for Falsely Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect in Texas?

Section 261.107 provides the civil and criminal penalties associated with falsely reporting child abuse in Texas. This section provides that “a person commits an offense if, with the intent to deceive, the person knowingly makes a report…that is false.”

Criminal Penalty for False Report

Knowingly making a false report of child abuse or neglect in Texas is a State Jail Felony offense. The punishment range for this offense is 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail Facility and a fine up to $10,000. Further, if a person has been previously convicted of this same offense, a second offense is a Third Degree Felony which subjects the person to a prison term of 2 years up to 10 years.

Attorney’s Fees Reimbursement for the False Report

As a monetary penalty in connection with the criminal case, the court shall order any person that is convicted of making a false report to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the person against whom the report was originally made.

Civil Penalty for False Report

The Family Code further provides that any person who engages in false reporting is liable to the State of Texas to pay a civil penalty of $1,000. The Texas Attorney General is responsible for bringing the action to recover the civil penalty.

What Do I Do if Someone Has Made a False Report to CPS About Me?

First of all, contact an attorney. Depending on the posture of the investigation, you may need representation and advice to help get through the allegations, even if they are false. If, however, CPS has already ruled out the allegations and no criminal action has been pursue, you should first gather your evidence. We have been with people at the police station when they made reports that they had been targeted by false CPS allegations. It is our experience that the police agency will want you to bring proof that the report was false or made in bad faith. Simply because CPS closed out the investigation and determined that there was “No Reason to Believe” that the allegations were true does not necessarily mean that the reporting individual acted in bad faith. Collect your text messages, social media messages, witness statements, and other evidence before you go to the police station to claim that you were the victim of a knowing false report. Because the State wishes to encourage reporting, it is reluctant to punish a person who reports unless there is clear cut evidence that the report was made in bad faith.  Again, it is best to contact an attorney to help you through this.

Seal DWI Conviction Texas

Denton County’s First DWI Non-Disclosure Granted

By | DWI | No Comments

Seal DWI Conviction TexasWhen Governor Abbott signed the new DWI sealing law allowing for first-time DWI convictions to be non-disclosed, we began to pull records for our past DWI clients to see if any of them were eligible to have their conviction sealed. We filed the first DWI non-disclosure petition in Denton County as soon as the law took effect in September 2017. Our client was exactly the type of person for whom this new law was written:

  • He was convicted of Class B DWI
  • He successfully completed all terms of his probation
  • More than 5 years have elapsed since he completed probation
  • He had no other arrests on his record either before or after this DWI conviction

Sealing a DWI with a BAC Exceeding 0.15

One of the wrinkles in our client’s non-disclosure petition involved his blood alcohol content. The new DWI sealing law does not allow DWI convictions to be non-disclosed if the person was convicted of having a BAC over 0.15 (Texas Penal Code Section 49.04(d)). Our client’s case involved a BAC over 0.15, but he was not convicted under Section 49.04(d), but rather under 49.04 without any finding of a particular BAC. Our client’s DWI case happened before the legislature added paragraph (d) to the DWI law in 2011. So, as we saw it, our client still qualified for the new sealing law.

The DWI Non-Disclosure Hearing

Having alleged all of the qualifying conditions in our petition, there wasn’t much to the hearing when the time came. The Denton County District Attorney did not oppose our petition and we were able to take the proposed order to the judge without the need for an evidentiary hearing. We were prepared with the offense report, clerk’s records, and criminal history for our client, but none was needed. The judge gladly signed the order for non-disclosure and our client became the very first person in Denton County to have his DWI conviction non-disclosed.

Our client, who has only had this one encounter with the criminal justice system, was thrilled that this uncharacteristic mistake can finally be put behind him. We look forward to helping more people seal their DWI convictions in both Tarrant and Denton Counties. To see if you might be eligible to have your DWI case sealed, contact our team today at (817) 993-9249.

*If you are a Texas attorney and need assistance drafting a petition or order for a DWI non-disclosure, please reach out and we will be glad to help.

Scholarship Winners BHW 2017

2017 Scholarship Winners | Veteran Law Student & Military Dependent

By | Scholarship | No Comments

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC Announces the Recipients of the 2017 Scholarship Awards

 

Scholarship Winners BHW 2017This was the second year for our law firm to offer scholarships – one to an undergraduate, and one to a law student. In honor of the sacrifices of our military veterans, we wanted to connect the scholarships to military service. The first scholarship is a $500 award for a Military Veteran Law Student and the second scholarship is a $500 award for a Military Dependent undergraduate student. Throughout the year, we received several applications from very deserving students. We appreciate all of the students that took the time to apply for the scholarships and wish them all the best in their studies. For those students that were not selected, we invite you to apply again next year as we plan to continue the scholarship offers as an annual award.

2017 Winner – Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship

The winner of the 2017 Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship is:

LCDR OMAR HASAN

Omar Hasan is a Navy veteran with over 20 years of active service to our country. LCDR Hasan is set to attend Regent Law School in VA Beach, VA. Congratulations Omar Hasan. Fair winds and following seas and best wishes as you continue toward your law degree.

2017 Winner – Military Dependent Scholarship

The winner of the 2017 Military Dependent Undergraduate Scholarship is:

JESSICA OLMEDO

Jessica Olmedo is a US Army dependent whose father is served, among other places, in Operation Just Cause in 1989. Ms. Olmedo currently attends Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas and is pursuing a degree in Business Information Systems and Supply Chain Management. Congratulations Jessica Olmedo. Best wishes as you continue in your studies.

More Information About Our Scholarship Opportunities:

For more information about how to apply for these scholarships in future years, please visit the scholarship pages:

Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship

Military Dependent Scholarship

Stale Traffic Violation Zuniga Drug Case

Does a 15-Minute Delay Render a Traffic Violation Stale? | U.S. v. Zuniga

By | Drug Crimes | No Comments

How Long Can an Officer Wait to Pull a Vehicle Over After Observing a Traffic Violation?

Stale Traffic Violation Zuniga Drug CaseUnited States v. Zuniga (US Court of Appeals, 5th Cir. 2017)

In this case, a San Antonio police detective, who was working with an informant, suspected that Appellant Zuniga was transporting methamphetamine in his vehicle and followed it. The detective witnessed the driver of the vehicle fail to engage the turn-signal as required. He did not pull the vehicle over at that time, but radioed the traffic violation to other officers. Approximately fifteen minutes later, an officer who had received the radio dispatch but had not witnessed the turn-signal violation, stopped the vehicle. During the stop, the officer encountered Appellant, who was riding in the passenger seat, and his girlfriend, who was driving the vehicle. The officer arrested Appellant on outstanding warrants and his girlfriend for driving without a valid driver’s license.

The arresting officer conducted a search of Appellant incident to arrest and found methamphetamine on his person. The officer also searched Zuniga’s car and found a backpack containing methamphetamine, a handgun, and other evidence related to drug trafficking.

As a result, the federal government charged Appellant with several drug-related offenses.

Motion to Suppress for Unreasonable Traffic Delay

Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the stop, arguing that the fifteen-minute delay in conducting the stop for the turn-signal violation rendered the information provided by the detective who observed the violation stale.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, holding that the delay in conducting the stop was not enough to render the information stale or the stop unlawful. The court did not state a specific time limitation to which officers must adhere when conducting a traffic stop. Instead, the court stressed that stops following traffic violations must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. In this case, the court found that the fifteen-minute delay was reasonable. As soon as the officer observed the turn-signal violation, he immediately relayed this information to other officers, although none of those officers were in position to stop the vehicle at that time.

Collective Knowledge Doctrine Allows an Officer to Make a Stop for a Violation He Did Not Observe

The trial court further held that the collective knowledge doctrine allowed the arresting officer to lawfully stop the vehicle even though he did not personally observe the traffic violation. The collective knowledge doctrine allows an officer, who does not observe a criminal (or traffic) violation, to conduct a stop when that officer is acting at the request of another officer who actually did observe the violation. Here, the detective who observed the turn-signal violation communicated this information to the traffic officer who ultimately stopped the vehicle; therefore, the detective’s knowledge transferred to the officer who conducted the stop and made the arrest.

The 5th Circuit upheld the search and the conviction, holding that reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle continued to exist despite the 15-minute lapse between the original observation of the traffic offense and the stop. The court explained:

“We make no attempt to articulate a specific time limitation to which officers must adhere in effecting a stop following a traffic violation. Rather, we stress that, consistent with our holdings in similar contexts, stops following transportation violations must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. See, e.g., United States v. Robinson, 741 F.3d 588, 598 (5th Cir. 2014) (emphasizing that “[s]tale information cannot be used to establish probable cause”). To reiterate, we hold only that the elapsed time between an observed violation and any subsequent stop must be reasonable upon consideration of the totality of the circumstances.”

Seal Texas DWI Non Disclosure HB 3016

New Texas Law Makes First-Time DWI Convictions Eligible for Sealing

By | DWI | No Comments

Expanding Eligibility for Orders of Nondisclosure for First-Time DWI and Other Offenses

Seal Texas DWI Non Disclosure HB 3016Let’s face it, a criminal record is not a good thing when it comes to employment opportunities and other things that require a background search. Even when the criminal offense is non-violent and unintentional, like DWI, it can negatively impact a person’s future. Our Texas lawmakers recognized this stigma and did something about it. This past legislative session (2017), Texas lawmakers from both sides of the aisle proposed legislation to help expand the opportunity to seal criminal convictions with an order of non-disclosure.

What is an Order of Non-Disclosure?

Having your record “sealed” is common verbiage used by laypersons. Under Texas law, this is referred to as non-disclosure. Orders of non-disclosure “seal” a criminal record from the eyes of the general public and allow a person to deny such record in most situations. However, the offense will remain visible to law enforcement, state and federal authorities, and employers in government fields.

Non-Disclosures Prior to House Bill 3016

Before the legislature acted in 2017, the Texas Government Code required a court to issue an order of nondisclosure of criminal records for a person receiving discharge and dismissal of certain nonviolent misdemeanors for which the person was placed on deferred adjudication community supervision (probation). The code also allowed for some “second-chance” considerations under limited circumstances. However, the Texas Government Code did not previously allow for nondisclosure of DWI offenses under any scenario.

What is HB 3016?

Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 3016 on June 15th, 2017. HB 3016 will be effective, retroactively, beginning September 1, 2017. This law amends and expands the Texas Government Code to allow a person convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors, including DWI’s, to petition the court for orders of nondisclosure under certain circumstances and alters some waiting periods.

HB 3016 also allows a person to petition for an order of nondisclosure of criminal history if that person was ineligible to receive an automatic order based solely on a judge’s affirmative finding that issuing such an order was not “in the best interest of justice.” If the offense was a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only an individual may petition for an order of nondisclosure immediately upon the date of completion of their sentence. However, if the misdemeanor was not punishable by fine only, they must wait until the second anniversary of the date of completing the sentence to petition.

See the full text of HB 3016 – Enrolled version.

Orders of Non-Disclosure for DWI Offenses

HB 3016 now allows a person convicted of a first-time Driving While Intoxicated offense with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) less than 0.15 to petition for an order of non-disclosure of criminal history related to that offense. However, there are certain criteria that must be met to be eligible to petition for a non-disclosure of a Texas DWI.

A person may petition to have a DWI sealed only if he/she:

  • has never been convicted of or placed on deferred adjudication community supervision (probation) for another offense—this does not include a traffic offense (punishable by fine only);
  • has successfully completed any imposed community supervision and any term of confinement;
  • has paid all fines, costs, and restitution imposed; and
  • the waiting period has elapsed:
    • 2 years if the person successfully completed a period of at least six months of driving restricted to a motor vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device as a part of the sentence; or
    • 5 years if there was no interlock requirement as part of the sentence.

Additionally, the court will not issue an order of nondisclosure if an attorney representing the state presents evidence sufficient to the court that demonstrates that the underlying offense, for which the order was sought, resulted in a motor vehicle accident involving another person (this includes a passenger of the defendant).

When may you Petition the Court for an Order of Non-Disclosure for a DWI?

The law requires individuals to wait until the second anniversary of the date of completion of their sentence, if the person:

  • complied with all conditions of the sentence for a period not less than six months; and
  • was restricted to operation of a motor vehicle equipped with an interlock device for at least 6 months.

If the court did not impose the above conditions, they are required to wait until the fifth anniversary of the date of completion of their sentence.

NOTE: Having a first-time DWI sealed by an Order of Non-Disclosure will NOT prevent another DWI from being charged as a DWI (Misdemeanor Repetition).

What are the Disqualifying Factors for DWI Sealing?

A person may NOT have their DWI record sealed if:

  • The DWI was a 2nd or 3rd offense;
  • The DWI involved a finding that the Blood-Alcohol Content was greater than 0.15;
  • The DWI involved an accident involving another person;
  • The DWI was within the last 2 years (5 years if there was not interlock requirement)*

*If the waiting period has not expired, but all other conditions are met, the applicant must simply wait until the waiting period is complete.

Which Offenses are Specifically Excluded from Consideration for an Order of Nondisclosure?

Certain misdemeanors are not eligible for consideration for an order of nondisclosure, mostly intoxication related offenses, which include any misdemeanors under the:

  • Alcoholic Beverage Code §106.041 (possession and/or consumption of or selling alcohol to minors); or,
  • Penal Code § 49.04(d) (driving while intoxicated .15 or higher);
  • 49.05 (flying while intoxicated);
  • 49.06 (boating while intoxicated); or,
  • 49.065 (operating an amusement park ride while intoxicated).

Additionally, any conviction under Chapter 71 of the penal code (engaging in organized criminal activity) may not be non-disclosed.

Furthermore, a person will not be granted an order of nondisclosure and is not eligible to petition the court if the person has previously been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication probation for:

  • an offense requiring sex offender registration;
  • murder;
  • capital murder;
  • aggravated kidnapping;
  • trafficking/continuous trafficking of persons;
  • abandoning or endangering a child;
  • violation/repeated violation of certain court orders or conditions of bond in a family violence, sexual assault or abuse, stalking, or trafficking case;
  • stalking; or
  • any other offense involving family violence.

Results of HB 3016 and the New Non-Disclosure Law

HB 3016 makes it easier for persons with certain low-level nonviolent offenses, particularly DWI’s, to obtain employment and become productive members of society. However, subsequent offenders will remain accountable because law enforcement may still use the “sealed” conviction against subsequent offenses and certain entities will still be able to view the offense.

Contact our Criminal Defense Team Today to See if You Qualify to Have Your Record Sealed Under this Law

Contact Barnett Howard & Williams today and let our team help you determine whether you may be eligible for a non-disclosure under this law when it takes effect in September 2017. We are happy to provide a free consultation to walk you through the steps for sealing your record.  Call our attorney today at (817) 993-9249.

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas Queeman

Auto Accident Turned Homicide Conviction Reversed by CCA

By | Criminal Negligence | No Comments

Does Failure to Control Speed and Keep a Proper Distance from other Vehicles Prove a Gross Deviation from the Standard of Care that an Ordinary Driver Would Exercise Under the Circumstances?

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas QueemanThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion in Queeman v State regarding criminally negligent homicide. The issue facing the court was whether a death, which was caused by Appellant’s failure to control the speed of his vehicle and failure to maintain a proper distance from another vehicle, proves a gross deviation from the standard of care amounting to criminally negligent homicide.

Trial Court Found Appellant Guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide.

Appellant was traveling down a two-lane highway when he drove into the back of an SUV that was waiting to make a left turn onto an intersecting road. The impact caused the SUV to be pushed into oncoming traffic where it was subsequently hit, killing one of the passengers. The accident investigator could not determine Appellant’s actual speed, and there was no other evidence to suggest a reason for his inattentiveness. However, Appellant was charged and convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to eighteen months in a state jail facility.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Conviction, Holding that the Evidence was Legally Insufficient to Support the Conviction.

On appeal, Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence from which his conviction was based upon. The accident investigator admitted that he had no way of knowing Appellants actual speed, nor did he know the amount of time or reason the Appellant was inattentive. The court of appeals determined that the evidence at hand provided no reasonable basis for the jury to prove that Appellant was traveling at excessively high speeds or was distracted for a certain reason—such as texting. As such, an inference would only amount to mere speculation. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial courts decision.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the Court of Appeals’ Decision—Holding the Evidence did not demonstrate that Appellant’s conduct rose to the Level of “Criminal Negligence.”

To demonstrate that Appellant was criminally negligent, the State must prove:

  • The defendant’s conduct caused the death of the individual;
  • The defendant should have been aware that there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death from his conduct; and,
  • The defendant’s failure to perceive such risk constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care and ordinary person would have exercised under similar circumstances.

However, the Court notes that the amount of carelessness for criminally negligent homicide is much higher than for civil negligence. Here, the Court agreed that Appellant’s conduct was negligent, however it held that the conduct did not rise to gross negligence. While the evidence was sufficient to prove that the defendant was speeding, it was not sufficient to prove that he was excessively speeding, and the State presented no evidence concerning the reason or length of time for which Appellant was inattentive. Absent any other evidence to show a failure to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk caused by the defendant’s conduct, no reasonable jury could have found that Appellant’s conduct constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care of an ordinary person under the circumstances. Therefore, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Appellant’s acquittal.

License Plate Scanner BROCA MARTINEZ

Whether “Unconfirmed” Insurance Creates Reasonable Suspicion to Stop

By | Reasonable Suspicion | No Comments

Is “Unconfirmed” Insurance Enough to Justify a Traffic Stop?

License Plate Scanner BROCA MARTINEZWhile conducting surveillance on an illegal immigration investigation, Homeland Security agents saw a vehicle leave a residence suspected of harboring undocumented immigrants. The agents notified local police officers to be-on-the-lookout for the vehicle. While on patrol, an officer began to follow the defendant’s vehicle because it matched the description of the vehicle from Homeland Security. While following the vehicle, the local officer entered its license plate number into a computer database designed to return vehicle information such as insurance status. The computer indicated the insurance status was “unconfirmed.” Based on his experience using this system, the officer reasoned that the vehicle was most likely uninsured, which is, of course, a violation of Texas law. The officer then conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle and learned that the defendant was in the United States illegally. The officer issued the defendant citations for violating the insurance requirement and driving without a license while he waited for the Homeland Security agents to arrive.

Defendant Challenges the Stop, Arguing that the Officer Lacked Reasonable Suspicion.

The United States government charged the defendant with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The defendant argued that the “unconfirmed” insurance status obtained from the state computer database did not provide the officer reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. The trial court was unconvinced by this argument.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that it had not yet addressed whether a state computer database indication of insurance status establishes reasonable suspicion as a matter of law. However, the court commented that the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits have found that such information may give rise to reasonable suspicion as long as there is either some evidence suggesting the database is reliable or at least an absence of evidence that it is unreliable. In this case, the court followed the other circuits that have decided this issue and held that a state computer database indication of insurance status may establish reasonable suspicion when the officer is familiar with the database and the system itself is reliable.

5th Circuit Upholds the Stop, Finding that “Unconfirmed” Insurance Creates Reasonable Suspicion.

Here, the court found that the officer’s testimony established the reliability of the database. First, the officer explained the process for inputting license plate information. Second, the officer described how records in the database are kept and stated that he was familiar with these records. Finally, the officer testified that based on his knowledge and experience as a police officer, he knows a suspect vehicle is uninsured when an “unconfirmed” status appears because the computer system will either return an “insurance confirmed,” or “unconfirmed” response. As a result, the court held that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant.

Read the court’s full opinion in UNITED STATES V. BROCA-MARTINEZ, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 7612 (5th Cir. Tex. Apr. 28, 2017)

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Texas 32.45

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property in Texas | Texas Penal Code 32.45

By | White Collar | No Comments

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property—What is it?

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Texas 32.45Misapplication of fiduciary property is a charge that is aimed at protecting beneficiaries of trusts, estates, receiverships and the like. Pursuant to Section 32.45 of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits the offense of misapplication of fiduciary property by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly misapplying property he holds as a fiduciary in a manner that involves substantial risk of loss to the owner of the property. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 32.45(b). “Substantial risk of loss” means a real possibility of loss. Casillas v. State, 733 S.W.2d 158, 163¬–64 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). However, the possibility need not rise to the level of a substantial certainty (which is required for theft)—the risk of loss need only be more likely than not. Id.

Who is a “Fiduciary” Under Texas Law?

The penal code sets out four distinct groups that are considered fiduciaries pursuant to Section 32.45. These include:

  • A trustee, guardian, administrator, executor, conservator, and receiver;
  • An attorney in fact or agent appointed under a durable power of attorney;
  • An officer, manager, employee, or agent carrying on fiduciary functions on behalf of a fiduciary; or,
  • Any other person acting in a fiduciary capacity.

Id. at § 32.45(a)(1).

“Acting in a fiduciary capacity” is not defined in the penal code. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined that because “fiduciary” has such a common meaning it should be construed according to its plain meaning. Berry v. State, 424 S.W.3d 579 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

The plain meaning of fiduciary means, “holding, held, or founded in trust or confidence.” More notably, a person who acts as a fiduciary is one “who has a duty, created by his own undertaking, to act primarily for another person’s benefit in matters connected with such undertaking.” Gonzalez v. State, 954 S.W.2d 98, 103 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1997, no pet.). For example, courts have held that a person acts in a fiduciary capacity “when the business which he transacts, or the money or property which he handles, is not his or for his own benefit, but for the benefit of another person as to whom he stands in a relation implying and necessitating great confidence and trust on the one part and a high degree of good faith on the other part.” Gonzalez v. State, 954 S.W.2d 98, 103 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1997, no writ).

Additionally, a person acting in a fiduciary capacity embraces any fiduciary, including a joint adventurer or partner. Coplin v. State, 585 S.W.2d 734 (Tex. Crim. App. 1979). This does not, however, include everyday business dealings. Berry, 424 S.W.3d at 584. The Court of Criminal appeals assume such transactions are entered into for a mutual benefit and, therefore, neither party is expected to act solely for the benefit of the other. Id.

What does it mean to “Misapply” Property?

The definition of “misapply” is fairly broad under the penal code. Pursuant to Section 32.45, a person who is a fiduciary misapplies property held as a fiduciary if the person deals property contrary to:

  • An agreement under which the fiduciary holds the property; or
  • A law prescribing the custody or disposition of the property.

Evidence that a defendant aided another person in misapplying property is sufficient, pursuant to the law of parties, to convict a defendant of misapplication of fiduciary property—even if the defendant did not personally handle the misapplied funds. Head v. State, 299 S.W.3d 414 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2009, pet. ref’d). Furthermore, a defendant need not receive a benefit in order to misapply property. Talamantez v. State, 790 S.W.2d 33,37 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1990, pet. Ref’d). Nor does it matter if a defendant donated the property to charity. Little v. State, 699 S.W.2d 316, 318 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1985, no pet.).

Therefore, misapplication can occur by an omission or failure to act where a duty to act exists. Coleman v. State, 131 S.W.3d 303, 309-10 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2004, pet. ref’d).

What does it take to Prove up an Agreement?

The government must prove the defendant knew of the agreement for misapplication to occur. Amaya v. State, 733 S.W.2d 168 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). But, similar to “fiduciary,” Section 32.45 does not define “agreement.” Thus, the Court of Criminal Appeals construes agreement according to its plain meaning. Bynum v. State, 711 S.W.2d 321, 323 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 1986), aff’d, 767 S.W.2d 769 (Tex. Crim. App. 1989). To prove up an agreement, the State must be able to demonstrate a harmonious understanding or an arrangement, between two or more parties, as to a course of action. Id. Additionally, there is nothing in Section 32.45 that requires the agreement to be in writing or proved directly. Id.

Possible Defenses?

An effective defense to a charge of misapplication of fiduciary property is mistake of fact—otherwise negating the culpability required for the commission of the offense. Section 32.45 is designed to punish intentional, knowing or reckless misapplication of property. Thus, if it can be proved that the improper use or application of the property was the result of mere negligence, by mistake of fact, the statute will not apply. Other defense vary depending on the facts of the case.

What are the Penalties?

Texas has broad laws governing the use of property by a fiduciary. The charges can range from a Class C misdemeanor to a first-degree felony, based on the amount or value of property that is “misapplied.”

According to the Texas value ladder, an offense under this section is a:

  • Class C misdemeanor if the value of the property misapplied is less than $100;
  • Class B misdemeanor if the value of the property misapplied is $100 or more but less than $750;
  • Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property misapplied is $750 or more but less than $2,500;
  • State Jail Felony if the value of the property misapplied is $2,500 or more but less than $30,000;
  • Felony of the third degree if the value of the property misapplied is $30,000 or more but less than $150,000;
  • Felony of the second degree if the value of the property misapplied is $150,000 or more but less than $300,000; or
  • Felony of the first degree if the value of the property misapplied is $300,000 or more.

Id. at § 32.45(c).

Moreover, there is also an additional enhancement (to the next higher category) if it can be shown that the beneficiary was a person 65 years or older. § 32.45(d).

When Does Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Usually Occur?

This charge can arise in several different contexts. To name a few, misapplication of fiduciary property can occur:

  • When trustees misapply trust property;
  • When the holder of power of attorney makes a gift to herself;
  • When a business partner improperly diverts funds for personal use; or,
  • When an attorney misapplies a client’s funds.

These examples demonstrate that Section 32.45 covers many situations and may result in serious consequences. Thus, if you are under investigation or have been charged with the offense of misapplication of fiduciary property, it is necessary you seek help.

Misapplication of Fiduciary Property Defense Attorneys

Our criminal defense team handles Misapplication of Fiduciary Property cases in Tarrant County, Texas and surrounding areas. If you are under investigation for w financial crime or white collar offense, contact our firm today for a free case evaluation.