Passout Blackout Alcohol Memory Sexual Assault Attorney

Passout vs. Blackout: How Alcohol Can Affect Memory (Voice for Defense Article)

By | Sex Crimes | No Comments

Alcohol and Memory: An Interview with Texas Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Kelly Goodness, Ph.D

Passout Blackout Alcohol Memory Sexual AssaultAs you can probably imagine, many criminal cases involve events that occur when people are intoxicated. This can be especially true for cases involving allegations of sexual offenses. In these alcohol-fueled situations, the issue of memory can play a large part in the case. When we encounter intoxication and memory issues in sexual assault cases, we often employ the assistance of a forensic psychologist to serve as either an expert consultant or expert witness.  One of the best in her field is Dr. Kelly Goodness of Keller, Texas. Dr. Goodness is an expert in alcohol and the brain, including the difference between “pass out” and “blackout” evidence.  She is one of the most highly employed experts for alcohol-related sexual assault cases involving members of the U.S. Military. What follows is an interview that we conducted with Dr. Goodness regarding how alcohol can impact a person’s memory and how it can apply to the sexual assault context.
______________________

Q: Dr. Goodness, How is Alcohol Related to Memory?

A: Alcohol is a potent amnestic agent. Beginning with just one or two drinks, alcohol can produce detectable memory impairments. As the dose increases, so does the potential magnitude of the memory impairments, all the way up to the total inability to recall events during a drinking episode, otherwise known as a blackout.

Read the full article from the Voice for the Defense HERE.

Community Caretaking Function Texas

Community Caretaking Function: Police May Stop without Reasonable Suspicion

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Community Caretaking Function TexasIn November of 2015, we wrote about State v. Byram, a DWI case out of Tarrant County. In Byram, the 2nd Court of Appeals held that a “hunched over” passenger in a vehicle was not enough to invoke the police “community caretaking” function to allow the police to initiate a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion of a violation.  The 2nd Court reversed the DWI conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court. The State appealed this decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which issued its opinion today.

When May the Police Invoke the “Community Caretaking” Function to Make a Stop or Detention Without Reasonable Suspicion?

Byram v. State (Tex.Crim.App. 2017)

In this case, State argued that the police officer was engaged in his “community caretaking” function when he pulled the driver over. The State contends that this was a proper exercise of police authority and that the primary purpose of the stop need not be to investigate any alleged violation.

Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling (denying the suppression motion), the CCA agreed with the State and explained its view on the Community Caretaking function:

Local police officers frequently engage in “community caretaking functions,” totally divorced from the detection, investigation, and acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441 (1973). “As part of his duty to ‘serve and protect,’ a police officer may stop and assist an individual whom a reasonable person—given the totality of the circumstances—would believe is in need of help.” Wright v. State, 7 S.W.3d 148, 151 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). However, because the reasonableness of a community-caretaking seizure sprouts from its dissociation from the competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime, “a police officer may not properly invoke his community caretaking function if he is primarily motivated by a non–community caretaking purpose.” Corbin v. State, 85 S.W.3d 272, 276-277 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

The Court went on to lay out a two-step test for determining whether an officer may properly invoke his community-caretaking function:

  1. whether the officer was primarily motivated by a community-caretaking purpose; and
  2. whether the officer’s belief that the individual needed help was reasonable.”*

*The standard for reasonableness is no different when the officer stops a vehicle to check the welfare of a passenger rather than the driver. Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 151.

In this particular case, the CCA held, “[the officer] saw a woman in a precarious situation, and acted reasonably to help her by first asking whether she was okay, and then conducting a traffic stop when his
question went unheeded. This is the sort of ‘sound, commonsense police work that reason
commends, rather than condemns.'”

Fire as Deadly Weapon in Arson Case

Is Fire a Deadly Weapon in an Arson Case?

By | Arson, Deadly Weapon | No Comments

Defendant’s Arson Charge was Enhanced when Fire was Alleged as a “Deadly Weapon.”


Pruett v. State (2nd Court of Appeals – Fort Worth, 2016)

***UPDATE – This case was REVERSED by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2017. See opinion here.

Fire as Deadly Weapon in Arson CaseJeffery Pruett inherited a one-third shared interest in the family home with his two siblings after the death of their elderly parents. The adult siblings had a long history of quarreling over Pruett’s living arrangements, as he moved in and out of the residence prior to the deaths of their parents. Fed up, Pruett moved into a motor home, and was often seen by the neighbors driving around the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Pruett’s siblings listed the home for sale with the intention of dividing the proceeds equally between the three siblings.

On December 19, 2012, a neighbor spotted Pruett parking his motor home in front of the residence. Pruett exited the vehicle, went into the backyard of the residence, and then got back into the vehicle and drove away. Moments later, the neighbor saw smoke coming from the back of the house. The neighbor ran to the backyard, saw flames shooting out of the residence, and called the Fort Worth fire department. Neighbors were successful in using a garden hose to extinguish a large portion of the fire. When the fire department arrived, they confirmed that there was no one inside the home and put out the remaining flames. After an investigation, the arson investigator concluded that the fire had been intentionally started with a flammable ignition source.

Pruett’s Case Goes to Trial

At trial, the fire department’s battalion chief testified that had the flames not been put out, the fire would have consumed the home. Further, the arson investigator testified that the fire was “very dangerous,” putting neighbors, fire fighters, and anyone inside the home in immediate danger of death or serious injury. Considering his use of fire to be a deadly weapon, the trial court convicted Pruett of arson, sentencing him to twenty years imprisonment. Pruett appealed to the Second Court of Appeals, arguing that the court lacked sufficient evidence to support the finding of fire as a deadly weapon. Fire as a deadly weapon carries a heavier penalty in Texas.

What does Texas Law say about fire as deadly weapon?

Fire is not considered a deadly weapon in the Texas Penal Code, however, a Court can find that fire was used as a deadly weapon if the surrounding circumstances meet a three-pronged test. Mims v. State, 335 S.W. 3d 247, 249-50. In order for fire to be deemed a deadly weapon, the evidence must prove

  1. the object meets the definition of a deadly weapon;
  2. the deadly weapon was used…during the transaction on which the felony conviction was based; and
  3. other people were put in actual danger.”

Brister v. State, 449 S.W.3d 490,494 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

The Second Court of Appeals Weighs In – The Court must determine whether the fire set by Pruett was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.

Did the fire meet the statutory definition of a deadly weapon?

Under Texas law, a deadly weapon can be “anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1.07(a)(17)(West Supp. 2015). To determine whether the object was “capable” of causing death or serious bodily injury, such “capability” must be evaluated based on what actually happened, not conjecture about what might have happened if the facts had been different than they were.” Williams v. State, 946 S.W.2d 432, 435-36 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1997).

Here, the Court says the neighbor had put out most of the fire with the garden hose by the time the fire department arrived on the scene. Further, the neighbor who called the fire department was not placed in danger. Even though the arson investigator testified that the firefighters were placed in danger, such danger is part of the job. Since there was no one else in the home at the time of the fire, there is no evidence that the firefighters were put in actual danger of death or seriously bodily injury. The Court concludes, “the facts—viewed…in light of what did happen [not what could have happened]—do not support [fire as a deadly weapon] in this case.” The Second Court of Appeals orders the deadly weapons finding to be deleted from Pruett’s judgment.

CASE UPDATE (1/25/17) – CCA Reverses the COA Decision

In reversing the Court of Appeals, the CCA held:

“An arsonist is not the same as an intoxicated driver, and the degree of danger and harm that each offender is capable of causing is materially different. In the case at bar, the deadly nature of the fire is not difficult to appreciate. Fire is inherently dangerous in a way that cars are not and it is capable of inflicting serious bodily harm, especially when it is intentionally started in a residential neighborhood. This fire was dangerous because it was left unattended and because appellant used an accelerant. As a result, the fire endangered not only the lives of the firefighters who responded to the call but also the lives of neighbors who could have been killed or seriously injured if the fire continued to spread. The fire also posed a danger from both the heat effects and the emissions of toxic chemicals. In this case, the State adequately demonstrated that the fire that appellant started was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury…When evidence at trial demonstrates that someone ignites combustible material to intentionally burn down a house in a residential neighborhood, a deadly-weapon finding may appropriately attach to the arson conviction when the fire is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. That is what happened in this case. “

Texas Improper Photography Unconstitutional

Probation Revoked for Violating an Unconstitutional Law…CCA Overturns

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Punishment for a Man Convicted of Child Pornography Held Facially Unconstitutional

Ex Parte Lea (Tex. Crim.App. 2016)

Texas Improper Photography UnconstitutionalWhat happens when an old criminal law is rendered null and void? Do people convicted of such crimes get to walk free, or, are the convictions upheld in the interests of justice? The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) filed an ex parte case (the court filed the case on its own volition) to determine whether David Lea’s punishment for his 2008 child pornography conviction should be set aside on constitutional grounds. The case was met with a dissent by Judge Yeary and the CCA reached a very interesting conclusion.

In 2008, David Lea pled guilty to three counts of possession of child pornography. As a result, he was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment, ten of which were probated by way of community supervision. In 2012, Lea pled guilty to one count of improper visual photography and received a state-jail felony sentence of two years confinement. During sentencing, the State filed a motion to revoke Lea’s community supervision from the 2008 conviction because, the State argued, Lea violated the terms of his supervision by committing a new criminal offense. Accordingly, the court revoked Lea’ s probation and Lea was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

The Offense of “Improper Photography” Held Unconstitutional

In 2014, the CCA held that the offense of improper photography was “facially unconstitutional” because it infringed upon individuals’ First Amendment rights, as propounded by the Constitution of the United States. The main issue? The improper photography statute, once found in Section 21.15(b)(1) of the Texas Penal Code was overbroad. Ex Parte Thompson, 442 S.W.3d 325 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

Lea Files Writ to Overturn His Conviction for the Stricken Law

Lea filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus, arguing that because the offense of improper photography was found unconstitutional, (1) his sentence for improper visual photography should be vacated and (2) his original probation via community supervision should be reinstated.

When an old law is found to be unconstitutional on its face, it is considered to be “void from its inception and should be treated as if it never existed.” Smith v. State, 463 S.W. 3d 890, 895. The due process right to not be convicted under a statute that has been declared void cannot be forfeited. Ex Parte Fournier, 473 S.W.3d 789, 796 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).

CCA Overturns Lea’s Prior Conviction and Revocation

When Lea was originally sentenced in 2008, the CCA had not yet determined the fate of the improper photography statute. And while it’s true that courts may revoke community supervision based upon a violation of community supervision conditions—committing any future crimes in this case—the Court finds that Lea’s conviction must be set aside. “The harm here flows from his void conviction, namely, the revocation of his community supervision based solely on an offense that [in theory] never existed.”

Accordingly, the CCA set aside the revocation of Lea’s community supervision, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine reinstatement of his probation. It is important to note that Justice Yeary dissented in this case, referring to Fournier, “I do not believe the applicant should be able to obtain retroactive post-conviction collateral relief based upon an overbroad statute unless he can show that the statute was unconstitutional as to his own conduct. 473 S.W. 3d 789, 805 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Yeary believes that post-conviction relief should only be granted to those defendant-applicants who can show that the conduct in question did not fall within the “plainly legitimate sweep of the overbroad statute.”

Downtown Fort Worth Atelier Building

BHW Completes Full Renovation of Fort Worth’s Historic Atelier Building

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Downtown Fort Worth Atelier BuildingBarnett Howard & Williams PLLC recently completed a full renovation of the historic Atelier Building (1905) in downtown Fort Worth. The Atelier Building is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Fort Worth, Texas that stills stands today. Built in 1905, the Atelier Building housed several different businesses over its 112-year history, including architects, banks, and a restaurant at one time. Located on 8th street between Houston and Throckmorton, the Atelier Building is marked by its dual terra-cotta fireplaces and marble facade.

The Atelier Building was last renovated in 1980 when architect Cameron Alread purchased the building. The building housed Mr. Alread’s architect firm for 36 years, until he sold the building to the law firm of Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC. Over the last six months, the law firm completely renovated the building from floor to ceiling. “One of our goals in this renovation was to bring out the history of the building,” said owner Luke Williams. If you take a look inside the building you will see exactly what he means. Plaster walls were removed to expose the original brick on the walls – bricks that have been around longer than most building in downtown. The foyer is graced by an enlarged photograph that was taken outside the building sometime during the 1930’s, back when 8th street was a brick road.

Office manager, Sue Holdridge has noticed a warm reception from the people of downtown. “Folks on the sidewalk continue to stop by and tell us how much they have enjoyed watching the transformation of the building and how much character it brings to this block of downtown.”

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC moved its practice to Fort Worth in 2013, and maintained an office in Sundance Square until December 2016, when the Atelier Building renovation was complete. The firm gives all the credit for the renovation to Eric Hill at Hill Design & Build in Keller. He was the primary designer and architect for the project.

DWI No Refusal Christmas Fort Worth

Twas the Night Before No Refusal Weekend in Tarrant County

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Tarrant County No Refusal Period to Begin on Christmas Eve

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.

traffic stop duration king

When Does a Traffic Stop End and Improper Police Conduct Begin?

By | Drug Crimes, Search & Seizure | No Comments

A Traffic Stop for a Minor Traffic Infraction Leads to Search, Seizure, and Arrest: Exactly When Should Traffic Stops End?

traffic stop duration kingIf you’ve been a licensed (or even unlicensed) driver in Texas for long enough, you’ve experienced a traffic stop. Whether it be for speeding or something worse, a traffic stop is not generally a pleasant experience. But in some traffic stops across the state (hopefully not yours), the police conduct a search of the vehicle, then a search of the driver or passengers, and, finally make an arrest of some sort. How does something like a broken tail light or speeding lead to search, seizure, and arrest? When traffic stops for minor infractions potentially lead to serious criminal charges, it’s important to know how Texas courts define the moment when a traffic stop ends.

King v. State (2nd Court of Appeals – Fort Worth, 2016)

Broken Tail Light Leads to a Traffic Stop

Around 1:00 am, Jennifer Dowling drove Christopher King’s car home from a night on the town. Blue Mound Police noticed that the car had a broken right tail light and conducted a traffic stop pursuant to the infraction. Police ran the standard background check on Dowling, the driver, and King, the passenger, only to discover that neither had a valid driver’s license. As a result, Dowling was arrested for driving without a license. Police did not permit King to drive the car away and informed him that they would impound the car because leaving the car behind posed a safety hazard for other motorists.

Consent to Search Obtained, Traffic Stop Continued

To begin the impounding process, police asked King to exit the vehicle. When King got out of the car, police asked if they could perform a pat-down. Nervously, King complied with the request. When King stood up, a white cylinder-shaped container fell out of King’s pants onto the ground, and he admitted that the container held meth. King was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Trial Court Holds That King Consented to the Pat-Down

Before trial, King filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence—the meth and the container—because the evidence was seized without a warrant. At the suppression hearing, the State prevailed, arguing that King consented to the pat-down, and the interaction was a consensual encounter. King lost his suppression motion, and plead guilty to the charges. The trial court sentenced King to twelve years confinement. Arguing that the traffic stop ended when Dowling was arrested and that the traffic stop was improperly extended to him, King appealed to the Second Court of Appeals.

Second Court of Appeals Discusses Traffic Stops

The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth relied upon existing case law from the Supreme Court to evaluate the merits of King’s appeal. “A lawful roadside stop begins when a vehicle is pulled over for investigation of a traffic violation.” Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333; 129 S. Ct. 781,, 788 (2009). “A traffic stop ends when police have no further need to control the scene.” Id., 129 S. Ct. at 783. According to the Second Court of Appeals, the police needed to control the scene even after Dowling was arrested. In asking King for a pat-down, they were taking reasonable steps to secure the area by ensuring that King was not a safety threat while waiting for a tow truck. Further, “the impoundment of the vehicle was a task tied to the traffic infraction, and King ma[de] no argument that the task [of impoundment] should have reasonably been completed at the time the police asked for consent to the pat-down.” The Second Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s holding that the traffic stop was not improperly extended.

What does all of this mean for motorists? So long as the police are reasonably securing the scene by taking steps in an effort to maintain safety, the police may continue the traffic stop until the conclusion of such safety measures, including but not limited to, pat-downs, security sweeps, background checks, and impoundments.  In this case, King would have had a more colorable argument if he had been a licensed driver and the police extended the stop rather than letting him drive the vehicle away from the scene.

Cell Phone Text Message Search Love 2016

Police Must Obtain Search Warrant to See Content of Text Messages

By | Search & Seizure | No Comments

Cell Phone Text Message Search Love 2016From call logs, to cell tower info, to sent and received text messages, many criminal investigations involve the contents of a defendant’s cell phone.  Under the Stored Communications Act, cell phone providers can provide a users cell phone data to police during an active criminal investigation with a simple court order (like a subpoena).  But what about the actual content of text messages?  Can the police or the prosecutor get the actual content from those text messages with the same court order?

Capital Murder Conviction Gained After Judge Admits Content of Text Messages

Recently, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered a capital murder (death penalty) case in which the State relied on text message evidence during trial. During the trial, the state admitted (over defense objection) the contents of text messages sent and received by the defendant. The messages established the defendant’s presence at the scene of the murder and implied his direct involvement. The state leaned on this evidence during both its opening and closing statements in the case. The defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

The Content of Text Messages are Not Covered by the Stored Communications Act

The appellant argued on appeal that while the Stored Communications Act allows the state to gain evidence of text messages sent and received, it does not allow the dissemination of the content of those messages. The appellant argued that the State should have obtained a search warrant backed by probable cause in order to get these records. The CCA agreed, drawing comparisons to the contents of letters sent in the mail and email stored on a server. Text message enjoy the same reasonable expectation of privacy and should be protected.

The Question in Love v. State is Whether Appellant had an Expectation of Privacy in his Service Provider’s Records

LOVE v. STATE (Tex. Crim. App – 2016), Majority Opinion

Judge Yeary penned the majority opinion in Love. The following excerpts are taken from the opinion:

Many courts have treated text messages as analogous to the content of an envelope conveyed through the United States mail…Admittedly, the analogy is not a perfect one…A letter remains in its sealed envelope until it arrives at its destination, and the telephone company does not routinely record private telephone conversations. But internet and cell phone service providers do routinely store the content of emails and text messages, even if they do not necessarily take the time to read them…[E]mpirical data seem to support the proposition that society recognizes the propriety of assigning Fourth Amendment protection to the content of text messages…All of this leads us to conclude that the content of appellant’s text messages could not be obtained without a probable cause–based warrant. Text messages are analogous to regular mail and email communications. Like regular mail and email, a text message has an “outside address ‘visible’ to the third-party carriers that transmit it to its intended location, and also a package of content that the sender presumes will be read only by the intended recipient…Consequently, the State was prohibited from compelling Metro PCS to turn over appellant’s content-based communications without first obtaining a warrant supported by probable cause.

Finding that “the probable impact of the improperly-admitted text messages was great,” the CCA then reversed the conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial.

TAKEAWAY: Not all records can be gained so easily through a court order. Some require a probably cause warrant.  Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in the message? It might take a new analysis as our media is changing daily, but it can be worth the fight.

Note: Presiding Judge Keller dissented. She did not believe that the appellant preserved this issue for appeal.

“Smith Triple Murder” Crime Spree Defendants Appeal Convictions on Evidentiary Grounds

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Case law Update: United States v. Barnes, et al (5th Circuit Court of Appeals – 2016)

Defendants Martel Barnes, Randale Jones, and Kentorre Hall were each charged with (1) conspiracy to possess illegal drugs, (2) maintaining a drug-involved premises, (3) conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of drug crimes, and (4) possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime for their involvement. In 2012, law enforcement grew suspicious of the group when investigating a triple murder where circumstantial evidence linked the Defendants to a network of drug trafficking in Mississippi, based out of a home rented by Hall. After interviewing witnesses and corroborating stories of informants, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics executed a search warrant on the home which netted firearms, digital scales, and plastic baggies. Law enforcement linked the drug trafficking to the triple murder by analyzing shell casings from the murder scene and comparing them with casings found during the search. In addition to the murders and the drug distribution ring, the men were eventually linked to a string of armed robberies.

At trial, the Government called thirty-four witnesses in total. After hearing testimony for over a week, the jury found the Defendants guilty on all counts, and they were each sentenced to life in prison, followed by five years of supervised release. The Defendants appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing insufficient evidence for each charge in the indictment. The Fifth Circuit had to determine whether a reasonable jury would have found that the evidence established the guilt of the Defendant(s) beyond a reasonable doubt. Below, we examine each charge and discuss the Court’s analysis of conclusions reached on appeal.

Charge #1: Conspiracy to Possess Illegal Drugs

Each Defendant was charged with conspiracy to possess illegal drugs, a violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Under the law, it is unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense [herein] shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.

On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, the Defendants argued that the witnesses used by the Government at trial lacked credibility. The Defendants argued that the witnesses were criminals with their own convictions and that their testimonies should not have been used at trial. Here, the Fifth Circuit stated, “this argument holds no weight given the quantity and consistency of the evidence presented at trial.” Moreover, held the Court, “credibility issues are for the finder of fact and do not undermine the sufficiency of the evidence.” United States v. Morgan, 117 F.3d 849, 854 n.2 (5th Cir. 1997). The Court affirmed the district court’s holding regarding the conviction for this charge.

Charge #2: Maintaining a Drug-Involved Premises

Second, each Defendant was charged with maintaining a drug-involved premises pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 856(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Under this section of the code, it is unlawful to knowingly open, lease, rent, use, or maintain any place, whether permanently or temporarily, for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance; whoever commits an offense…or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces, or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal. “In determining whether a person maintained a drug-involved premises under Section 856, the Court typically considers whether a Defendant (1) has an ownership or leasehold interest in the premises; (2) was in charge of the premises; or (3) exercised supervisory control over the premises.” United States v. Soto-Silva, 129 F.3d 340, 346 (5th Cir. 1997). Surprisingly, the Fifth Circuit declined to resolve this issue, as the Defendants were “subject to criminal liability for aiding and abetting” Hall, who rented the house where the criminal activity had taken place.

To prove up aiding and abetting, the Government had to have established that (1) the elements of the substantive offense occurred and (2) the Defendant(s) associated with the criminal activity, participated, and acted to help it succeed. United States v. Delagarza-Villarreal, 141 F.3d 133, 140 (5th Cir. 1997).

Here, said the Fifth Circuit, the Government sufficiently proved up that Hall rented the home where the criminal activities were taking place, and that the other Defendants helped him in furtherance of the crimes. The Defendants spent hours a day at the home where the drugs were measured and sorted, “we conclude that a reasonable jury could find that [the Defendants] were guilty of the charged offenses.”

The Defendants also appealed that the word “place” in the statute was ambiguous and therefore, should not have been applied to include their cars and the area surrounding their cars, where more incriminating evidence supporting this charge was eventually seized. The Fifth Circuit stated that according to the Oxford Dictionary, “the definition of ‘place’ is not limited to buildings or structures…[although] the term ‘premises’ is commonly defined as a house or building.” The Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not error when instructing the jury that “place” could mean “house” or the “yard area” [where cars are parked] around a house.

Charges #3 and #4: Conspiracy to Possess and Possession of Firearms in Furtherance of Drug Crimes

Third, each Defendant was charged with conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of drug crimes and possession of firearms in furtherance of drug crimes, violations of 18 U.S.C. § 924(o) and 2. At trial, the Government presented extensive circumstantial evidence linking all the Defendants with the triple murder. Some of the evidence included Facebook and text messages with incriminating statements. On appeal, the Defendants argued that the social media and text messaging evidence was irrelevant to prove their involvement with the alleged crimes, and that it was to have been considered improper character evidence. The Fifth Circuit held that “the evidence of the Smith Triple Murder was directly relevant to the conspiracy charges because it showed that the [Defendants] were willing to use firearms in furtherance of their drug trafficking activities.”

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Defendant-Appellants’ convictions.

juvenile determinate sentencing texas

Texas Juvenile Law: What is Determinate Sentencing?

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Determinate Sentencing Can Extend the Life of a Texas Juvenile Case

juvenile determinate sentencing texasIn the Texas juvenile justice system, a juvenile court has jurisdiction over a youthful offender if he or she is under the age of 17 at the time an offense is committed. The punishment for an offense typically can only last until a juvenile’s 19th birthday. We are often asked, “What happens if the juvenile is convicted of a serious offense? Is it possible for the court to impose a sentence that extends beyond the juvenile’s 19th birthday?” That is where Determinate Sentencing comes in. This post explains what Determinate Sentencing means and how it can impact a juvenile case.

What is Determinate Sentencing in Texas Juvenile Law?

Determinate sentencing creates a hybrid system whereby juveniles who have been adjudicated for severe criminal offenses are given a sentence that begins in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (“TJJD”) and can potentially be transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) for a term of up to forty years.

Who requests a Determinate Sentence?

The prosecution has sole discretion as to whether to seek a determinate sentence. If the prosecutor decides to pursue a determinate sentence, he or she must file a petition indicating a child engaged in delinquent conduct with the court. Then, the prosecutor must present that petition to the grand jury for approval. If the petition is approved, then it becomes a determinate sentence case. However, if the petition is denied by the grand jury, the State’s only recourse would be to pursue the case as normal.

If a juvenile is adjudicated of a determinate sentence, then the judge or jury can assess an appropriate disposition, or punishment, in accordance with the determinate sentence range of punishment. This range is up to 40 years for a capital felony, first degree felony or an aggravated controlled substance felony, up to 20 years for a second degree felony, and up to 10 years for a third degree felony. Misdemeanors and state jail felonies are not eligible for determinate sentence under the Determinate Sentence Act.

Once the prosecutor’s request for a determinate sentence has been granted by the grand jury, he or she retains the power to later waive determinate sentencing so long as this occurs before the juvenile has been adjudicated. This often occurs in the course of plea negotiations, when the prosecutor offers an indeterminate sentence in exchange for the juvenile’s acceptance of the plea.

For indeterminate disposition, only the judge may assess punishment. However, for determinate sentence cases, the juvenile may choose either the judge or jury to assess disposition. If the juvenile would like the jury to decide punishment, he or she must file a written request with the judge prior to voir dire.

To what offenses can Determinate Sentencing apply?

Section 53.045 of the Texas Family Code provides a list of offenses that are eligible for determinate sentencing. Those offenses include:

  • habitual felony conduct;
  • murder;
  • capital murder;
  • manslaughter;
  • aggravated kidnaping;
  • sexual assault;
  • aggravated sexual assault;
  • aggravated assault;
  • aggravated robbery;
  • injury to a child, elderly individual or disabled individual;
  • felony deadly conduct involving discharging a firearm;
  • certain offenses involving controlled substances;
  • criminal solicitation;
  • indecency with a child;
  • criminal solicitation of a minor;
  • attempted murder or attempted capital murder;
  • arson, if bodily injury or death is suffered by any person by reason of the commission of the arson;
  • intoxication manslaughter, and criminal conspiracy.

What is the impact of a Determinate Sentence?

A juvenile who has been adjudicated of a determinate sentence will either be sentenced to placement in the TJJD or placed on probation.  In each case, the juvenile court retains jurisdiction over the juvenile up until the juvenile turns eighteen or nineteen.  For crimes committed before September 1, 2011, the juvenile remains in the juvenile system until his or her eighteenth birthday.

Juveniles who receive probation can be on probation for up to 10 years, which may extend past the time the juvenile reaches adulthood. When a juvenile on determinate sentence probation ages out of the juvenile system, the probation automatically expires unless the prosecutor requests a transfer hearing prior to the juvenile’s nineteenth birthday. If a transfer hearing is requested and held, the juvenile judge will decide whether to transfer the juvenile into the custody of an adult criminal court. If the request for transfer is granted, the county’s adult probation department would supervise the juvenile for the remainder of his or her probation.

The alternative to probation is for a juvenile to be sentenced to TJJD with the possibility of transfer to TDCJ. In this situation, the judge or jury imposes a sentence of a set number of years that may extend past the age of adulthood. A juvenile is required to complete a minimum length of stay at TJJD. Once he or she has completed that minimum length of stay, TJJD can parole the juvenile, if they choose. For those juveniles who are unable to complete their minimum length of stay prior to aging out of the juvenile system or who are not participating in TJJD programs or progressing satisfactorily towards rehabilitation, TJJD can request a transfer hearing. The transfer hearing, if requested, must be heard by the original juvenile judge who heard the case and it must take place prior to the juvenile’s 19th birthday. After hearing evidence at the hearing, the judge will then decide whether the youth should be transferred to adult prison to complete his or her sentence or whether the youth can be safely released on parole without putting the public safety at risk.

Texas Juvenile Crimes Defense Attorneys | Free consultation

Contact the Texas juvenile defense attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC for a FREE consultation of your juvenile case. It is best to contact an attorney at the outset of a juvenile case. Do not wait until after you have attended a meeting with the district attorney. Call today!