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Luke Williams

Fireworks Laws Texas Keller Southlake

Fireworks Laws in Texas | Could a Sparkler Really Cost You $2,000?

By | Criminal Defense

Do Not Lose Your Liberty on Independence Day

You have probably seen the notices spread across social media from local police departments, warning that setting off fireworks (including sparklers) is illegal inside of city limits. We know that you’re probably going to do it anyway, but we wanted to let you know what Texas law provides regarding fireworks on the 4th of July.

Texas Fireworks Law

While state law in Texas permits possessing and using fireworks, it’s important to note that where and when a person can possess them is still highly regulated. There are State laws that limit the use and display of fireworks but use is predominantly regulated by way of city ordinances.

Specifically, under state law, a person may not:

  1. Explode or ignite fireworks within 600 feet of any church, a hospital other than a veterinary hospital, an asylum, a licensed child care center, or a public or private primary or secondary school or institution of higher education unless the person receives authorization in writing from that organization;
  2. Sell at retail, explode, or ignite fireworks within 100 feet of a place where flammable liquids or flammable compressed gasses are stored and dispensed;
  3. Explode or ignite fireworks within 100 feet of a place where fireworks are stored or sold;
  4. Ignite or discharge fireworks in or from a motor vehicle;
  5. Place ignited fireworks in, or throw ignited fireworks at, a motor vehicle;
  6. Conduct a public fireworks display that includes Fireworks 1.3G unless the person is a licensed pyrotechnic operator;
  7. Conduct a proximate display of fireworks that includes Fireworks 1.3G or Fireworks 1.4G as defined in NFPA 1126 Standards for the Use of Pyrotechnics Before a Proximate Audience unless the person is a licensed pyrotechnic special effects operator and has the approval of the local fire prevention officer; or
  8. Sell, store, manufacture, distribute, or display fireworks except as provided by this chapter or rules adopted by the commissioner under this chapter.

Texas Occupations Code, Subchapter F, Sec. 2154.251

These violations are Class C Misdemeanors, which can be punishable by a fine up to $500.

Fireworks licensing violations are Class B Misdemeanors which can result in a jail term up to 180 days and a fine not to exceed $2,000.

Fireworks City Ordinances

In addition to State law, most cities in Texas regulate the use and display of fireworks by way of specific city ordinances. For example, Fort Worth, Texas has enacted an ordinance making the sale, discharge or possession of fireworks within the incorporated city limits a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to a $2,000.00 fine. Similar ordinances exist in Keller and Southlake, and most other Texas cities.

Before your celebrations, it’s always best to review the above regulations under the Texas Occupations Code and check your local city ordinances online to ensure that your legally possessing, using and displaying fireworks.

Sex Offender Deregistration Texas

Sex Offender Deregistration | Early Termination of Offender Registration

By | Sex Crimes

Sex Offender Deregistration TexasIn 2005, the Texas legislature enacted House Bill 867, which allows for the early termination of the requirement for an individual to register as a sex offender if it is determined that the person is no longer a continuing threat to society.

If you have been required to register as a sex offender in Texas, you may be eligible for this deregistration after a minimum time of registration. Whether you will be eligible for early termination will depend on whether the registerable offense meets specific criteria under State and Federal laws. In addition to determining whether your offense meets these criteria, there are other procedures you must follow and a judicial order that must be granted in order to obtain early termination. Because of the intricacies of this process and the requirement of filing for the judicial order, we recommend that you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you with the sex offender deregistration process.

Do I Qualify for Early Termination of My Obligation to Register as a Sex Offender?

1. ONLY 1 CONVICTION: The first requirement to qualify for deregistration as a sex offender is that you must only have one single reportable adjudication or conviction that requires registration under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 62.

2. EXCEED THE FEDERAL MINIMUM TIME: The second requirement is that the minimum registration period for your reportable conviction must exceed the minimum required registration under Federal Law. Eligible offenses can be found here. For most offenses, the Federal minimum is 10 years. Texas Code of Criminal Chapter 62 specifically states that if an offense is not on this list, then it does not qualify.

Application to the Council on Sex Offender Treatment

To determine eligibility, you must submit an application to the Council of Sex Offender Treatment. To do this, you must fill out the Initial Eligibility Checklist. You will also need to obtain your Texas Department of Public Safety and FBI criminal histories. It might take a few weeks, but the Council on Sex Offender Treatment will respond by sending you a letter telling you whether you are an eligible candidate for deregistration.

If Eligible, What are the Next Steps to Deregister as a Sex Offender in Texas?

Just because an offense meets the initial requirements of deregistration, it does not mean that the person automatically qualifies for deregistration. While initially eligible, the person must move to the next steps of the procedure.

Deregistration Evaluation

Once it is determined that an offense is eligible, the next step to deregister is to undergo a risk assessment known as a Deregistration Evaluation. The person applying for deregistration is financially responsible for paying for this risk assessment and this assessment must be conducted by one of the 22 deregistration specialists that have been authorized by the Texas Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Your attorney can put you in contact with one of these specialists to have them conduct the assessment.

Judicial Order from the Original Court

The final step is to obtain an Order Granting Early Termination from a judge. To obtain an Order you must submit a Motion for Early Termination to the judge in the court that originally presided over your case. This motion must also be accompanied by certified copy of the risk assessment report prepared by the specialist in addition to a written explanation of the offense’s eligibility. After filing this Motion, the court will likely grant you a hearing by the judge where you will have an opportunity to present evidence to pursuade the judge to sign the Order Granting Early Termination. Because of this process, it’s highly recommended that you have an attorney who can help you with this process and hearing.

Are There Any Other Processes to Avoid Registering as a Sex Offender?

Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Section 42.017 and 42A.105, there are some limited remedies available to a person that’s otherwise required to register as a sex offender due to an offense of Indecency with a Child or Sexual Assault. Specifically, for these offenses, if:

  1. at the time of the offense, you were not more than four years older than the victim or intended victim and the victim or intended victim was at least 15 years of age, and
  2. the conviction is based solely on the ages of the defendant and the victim or intended victim at the time of the offense. Also, this must be the result of a single reportable adjudication or conviction.

If the above criteria are met, then under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 62.301, a person may petition the court anytime at or after the date of the person’s sentencing for an exemption to register as a sex offender. An order issued under this exemption does not expire, but the court is required to withdraw the order if a person receives a subsequent reportable conviction or adjudication.

What Happens if an Order for Early Termination of the Duty to Register as a Sex Offender is Granted?

If deregistration is granted, then a person is no longer required to register as a sex offender. Getting an order for early termination does not destroy the records or remove the conviction from a person’s record, but it does mean that the threat of a new felony case being filed for failure to register is no longer a possibility. Your name will also be removed from the Texas Sex Offender Registry database.

Free Consultation | Tarrant County Deregistration Attorneys

If, after reading this article, you believe that you or a loved one might qualify for sex offender deregistration, contact our team today for a free case evaluation. We would be happy to help you get the sex offender registration requirement behind you. Contact us at (817) 993-9249.

CBD Oil Legal Texas

Is CBD Oil Legal in Texas? No, Unless You Fit These Qualifications

By | Drug Crimes

What is CBD Oil?

CBD Oil Legal TexasCBD Oil, which is short for cannabidiol oil, is a cannabinoid extract that is alleged to have the health benefits of cannabis (e.g. pain relief, easing of inflammation, anxiety management and the treatment of epilepsy) without the psychoactive effects of marijuana. CBD Oil is sold as a supplement in marijuana dispensaries, nutrition stores, and even as an additive in smoothies. While the popularity of CBD Oil is growing substantially, the product remains unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, leading to wide discrepancies in the product’s ingredients and quality. The variety of ingredients and compounding methods may have significant ramifications for consumers depending on Federal and state law and the interpretation of those laws by state law and health code enforcement agencies.

Is CBD Oil Legal Under Federal Law?

Yes, if it is produced within federal guidelines.

The 2014 Farm Bill allows a certain amount of leeway to the states to experiment with industrial hemp without falling into the reach of the Controlled Substances Act.1 The Industrial Hemp Farming Act amends the Controlled Substances Act to exclude ‘Industrial Hemp’ and defines industrial hemp as any part of the Cannabis sativa plant with a THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent. However, in 2016 the Drug Enforcement Agency released an administrative ruling considering CBD Oil to be a Schedule One drug, comparable to heroin, peyote and LSD, operating on the theory that it is extracted from the same parts of the Cannabis sativa plant that contain THC, the active ingredient of marijuana. CBD consumers and manufacturers assert that CBD can also be extracted from the non-intoxicating parts of the Cannabis sativa plant that produce hemp, however, a recent 9th Circuit decision affirmed the DEA’s authority to classify CBD Oil as within their administrative purview.2

For CBD Oil to be considered legal in the Federal system under the DEA’s guidelines it must “consist[] solely of parts of the cannabis plant excluded from the CSA definition of marijuana.” In the definition of marijuana given by the Controlled Substances Act, the “mature stalks of such plant, fiber produced from such stalks, oil or . . . any other . . derivative, mixture, or preparation of such mature stalks” are excluded from the definition. Presently the DEA considers an extraction process using only the parts of the cannabis plant that are excluded from the CSA definition of marijuana to be “not practical.” This is because the extraction process used would “diminish any trace amounts of cannabinoids that end up in the finished product.”

Is CBD Oil Illegal Under the Laws of the Various Individual States?

Yes, CBD is legal, but not in all states.

At the state level, CBD Oil is considered legal in the states where marijuana is legal for recreational use (Alaska, California, Colorado, DC, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont). Twenty-nine states have made marijuana legal for medical use in various quantities and CBD is also considered legal under those state laws, irrespective of the THC content of the source of the oil. In states that have not decriminalized marijuana, CBD Oil is also likely illegal.

Is CBD Oil Legal In Texas?

NO, unless you fall within the qualifications set by the Compassionate Use Act.

If you are prescribed the use of medical CBD oil and use ‘low-THC” CBD, then the use is legal. Texas has legalized marijuana for medical use only, but only in a very narrow set of circumstances. The Compassionate Use Act of 2015 authorizes the prescription of “low-THC cannabis,” defined as having no more than 0.5% THC for patients diagnosed with intractable epilepsy and entered into the state-maintained “compassionate-use registry.”3 The Act requires prescription by two physicians however, it is currently illegal under federal law for a physician to “prescribe” marijuana. Under a 2000 court ruling, it is legal for physicians to “recommend” marijuana to their patients but the language of the Compassionate Use Act calls for a prescription, setting up a conflict with Federal law.4 Additionally, to qualify for the medical use of CBD, the patient must have tried two FDA-approved drugs and found them to be ineffective. There are currently three dispensaries licensed by Texas to sell qualifying products to authorized consumers.

If you do not fall within the qualifications set by the Compassionate Use Act, then possession of CDB oil containing any amount of THC is against Texas law. The State definition of marijuana closely tracks the Federal definition. The Texas Health and Safety Code defines marijuana as “the plant Cannabis sativa . . . and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of that plant or its seeds.” The Code excludes “the mature stalks of the plant or fiber produced from the stalks [and] a compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks, fiber, oil.” Texas does not currently have legislation allowing for the cultivation of hemp, though industrial hemp derived from the mature stalks of the Cannabis sativa plant may be sold and consumed.

What is the Penalty for Possession of CBD Oil in Texas?

In Texas, if you possess CBD oil with any trace of THC, you could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for Possession of a Controlled Substance (Not in a Penalty Group), which carries a range of punishment from 0-180 days in the county jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000. Several of our clients have been arrested for possessing CBD oil after officers performed a field test and discovered that yielded a positive result for THC.

What To Look For In CBD Oil In Texas

CBD Oil made from the mature stalks of the Cannabis sativa plant are likely in conformity with both Federal and Texas State law. Consumers seeking to purchase CBD Oil in Texas should look for a product advertised as being the product of “industrial hemp” or “mature hemp.” Products advertised as containing “THC” or “CBD Oil” should be avoided because of potential conflict with State and Federal laws.

  • Texas consumers with intractable epilepsy may seek to join the Compassionate Use Registry and get a prescription for CBD Oil containing less than 0.5% THC from an authorized dispensary.
  • Physicians should be mindful that “prescribing” CBD Oil to Texas residents under the Compassionate Use Act may fall into conflict with existing Federal law.
  • Retailers that are not one of the three state-authorized dispensaries authorized by the Compassionate Use Act should take care to carry only products that do not advertise themselves as containing CBD Oil but instead focus on being the product of industrial hemp.

Sources:

  1. H.R.2642 – 113th Congress (2013-2014): Agricultural Act of 2014.
  2. Hemp Industries Association v. USDEA, No. 17-70162
  3. SB339  Texas Compassionate Use Program
  4. Conant v. McCaffrey  WL 1281174
Pre Sentence Investigation PSI Texas

What is a Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) in a Texas Criminal Case?

By | Criminal Defense

Making an “Open Plea” in a Criminal Case

Pre Sentence Investigation PSI Texas*This article relates to State cases only. It does not apply to Federal cases.

In Texas, when a defendant pleads guilty to a criminal offense, the sentencing is most often agreed upon by both the State Prosecutor and defendant prior to the plea. But, there are situations that arise wherein a defendant wishes to enter a plea of guilty, but does not agree to accept the sentencing recommendation that is being made by the State. The defendant may request that the judge assess an appropriate sentence, believing that the judge might be more fair-minded than the DA in this particular case. This situation is referred to as an “Open Plea.” In an open plea, after a defendant pleads guilty, both parties may put evidence on for the judge in order for the court to determine an appropriate sentence.

Pre-Sentence Investigation (PSI) as Part of an Open Plea

In addition to witness testimony, prior to sentencing a defendant, Texas Law (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 42A.252) requires a community supervision officer to prepare and submit a written report to the court. The report should include:

  • the circumstances of the offense with which the defendant is charged;
  • the amount of restitution necessary to adequately compensate victims of the offense;
  • the criminal and social history of the offender; and
  • any other information relating to the offender or the offense requested by the judge.”

The probation officer gathers this information during a pre-sentence investigation or PSI.

The Law Regarding PSIs in Texas | When is a PSI Required?

The law requires a pre-sentence investigation in every case, UNLESS:

In a misdemeanor case:

  1. The defendant requests that a report not be made and the judge agrees;
  2. The judge finds that there is sufficient evidence in the record to permit sentencing without the report; and
  3. The judge explains this finding on the record.

In a felony case:

  1. Punishment is to be assessed by a jury;
  2. The defendant is convicted of or enters a plea of guilty to capital murder;
  3. The only available punishment is imprisonment; or
  4. The judge is informed that a plea bargain exists, under which the defendant agrees to a punishment of imprisonment, and the judge intends to follow that agreement.

Unless one of these scenarios are present, the court is required to conduct a pre-sentence investigation. For agreed pleas to probation or deferred adjudication, the practice by the Tarrant County courts is that pre-sentence investigation is not often conducted, even though the law would seem to dictate otherwise.

The Mechanics of a Pre-Sentence Investigation

The PSI is an interview conducted by a specialized probation officer who – along with a defendant’s attorney – gathers as much information as possible to aid in a Judge’s decision on punishment. The officer gathers the police agency’s version of the facts and the defendant’s version of the facts regarding the underlying offense. The officer will also contact the victims named in the case to obtain a victim impact statement. The probation officer also does an extensive search of the defendant’s prior criminal record as well as his or her family, financial, and education history. The officer can also include other items in the PSI such as additional physical and mental health history.

At the pre-sentence investigation interview, the attorney representing the defendant can also submit other extraneous materials to be included in the officer’s report to the court. These items can include character reference letters, additional psychological evaluations that have been conducted prior to the investigation, and additional statements by the defendant related to his or her version of the case. It is prudent for the defense attorney to contact all of the people that have submitted character letters that ensure that their letter is an accurate reflection of their feelings regarding the defendant. Many times, the probation officer, and/or the prosecutor will also reach out to these folks, so it is best to confirm their character statements at the outset.

At the conclusion of the PSI, the officer in charge prepares a written report which includes his or her assessment of the defendant’s risk to re-offend, positive and negative factors to consider, and a supervision plan should the Court choose to place the defendant on probation. For cases involving restitution, the PSI will also include a restitution recommendation.

Taking Responsibility in an Open Plea

Defendants entering an open plea to the court waive their right to a jury trial. So, when conducting the pre-sentence investigation, the probation officer will confirm that the defendant is taking responsibility for his or her crime. This is an important part of the process. If the defendant has entered a plea of guilty to the crime in court but then denies the offense at the PSI, the officer will stop the investigation and return the case to court. One of the primary advantages, from a strategic standpoint, of entering an open plea is to communicate to the court that the defendant is taking on full responsibility for the crime. This is done in hopes that the court will take that into consideration when determining an appropriate sentence. It is this attitude of acceptance that typically garners the best results in an open plea. This is sometimes referred to in layman’s terms as throwing oneself on the “mercy of the court.”

Getting the Most Out of the PSI

Defense attorneys whose clients have opted for an open plea and a pre-sentence investigation can help their cause by supplementing the officer with as much positive information as possible. As mentioned above, it’s important for an attorney to gather additional character letters and to explore outside mental and psychological evaluations that might be conducted to be included in the report to the court. Additionally, if the defendant has already been serving community service, taking rehabilitative classes, or saving toward restitution, you should explain that and provide records to back it up.

Once the PSI is completed and submitted to the judge, the court will set the case for a sentencing hearing. At the sentencing hearing, testimony from both the defendant and character witnesses will be taken into consideration. But, it’s the pre-sentence investigation report that will typically be the most important item that the court reviews.

Not all cases involve a pre-sentence investigation. But, when a PSI is conducted, it can provide the most thorough review of a case and defendant’s background aiding in a court to assess a fair and just punishment.

Red Light Camera Ticket Texas

Should I Pay My Red Light Camera Ticket?

By | Traffic Offenses

Red Light Camera Ticket TexasAnytime someone gets a ticket in the mail from a red light camera, the same questions run through their mind. Do I really have to pay this ticket? Is that even me driving? How do they know whether that is me? What happens if I don’t pay this ticket? Why do we even have those cameras anyway? There are a ton of rumors out there and plenty of people ready to tell you that you do or don’t have to pay that ticket, but what is the actual answer? Section 707 of the Texas Transportation Code governs red-light traffic cameras but there are certain ordinances that counties adopt that add onto or affect the Code.

What are the Penalties Associated with Red Light Camera Tickets in Texas?

Red-light camera tickets are considered civil violations and are not considered a conviction.* §707.018. The Code provides that the civil penalty may not exceed $75 and the late payment penalty may not exceed $25. §707.007. If you fail to pay your ticket an arrest warrant will not be issued and it will not be recorded on your driving record. §707.019. Additionally, according to the City of Fort Worth’s Red-Light Camera Safety Program, these violations are not reported to your insurance companies or driver’s license bureau.

Let’s recap. If you fail to pay your red light camera ticket:

  • No conviction
  • No arrest warrant
  • Not on driving record
  • Not reported to insurance
  • Not reported to driver’s license bureau

So far so good. Looks like nothing will happen if you don’t pay the ticket.  But wait, there’s more.

Will Failure to Pay Your Red Light Camera Ticket Affect Your Credit Score?

Section 707.003(h) of the Code provides that information of failure to pay a red light ticket cannot be reported to a credit bureau. According to The Dallas Morning News, even the counties, such as Dallas, that had enacted their red-light camera contract before the Texas law went into place in 2007 can no longer report delinquent violations to credit bureaus. This apparently went into effect June 1st after TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax notified the city of Dallas that they would no longer honor the reports of unpaid tickets.

  • No credit bureau reporting

Could Failure to Pay Your Red Light Camera Ticket Affect Your Ability to Register Your Vehicle?

There had to be a catch with these red light camera tickets. This is where they can get you. If a driver fails to pay their red-light camera penalty after it is sent to collections, that information may be sent to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and a scofflaw hold, or a vehicle registration hold, will be placed on the vehicle’s registration until all unpaid penalties have been paid. §502.010; §707.017. This does not mean that every county decides to go through the trouble of placing scofflaw holds. As for Fort Worth, according to Fort Worth’s violation information website scofflaw holds will be placed if violation fees remain unpaid. To the contrary, www.trashyourticket.com lists Tarrant County as one of the counties that does not place a hold on your registration. (This information is based on either news articles or reports from people with outstanding tickets). Additionally, since Dallas can no longer report to credit bureaus the plan is to start using registration holds to maintain their red-light camera safety program.

The county assessor-collector is responsible for enforcing these holds, however according to his article “The Wright Stuff” in Taxing News,  Tarrant county tax assessor-collector Ron Wright stated that he will “not block vehicle registrations because of unpaid red light camera fines” and even signed a letter to Governor Greg Abbott calling for a ban on the traffic cameras, along with other Texas officials. While this may be a personal decision on Wright’s part, legislature is in the process of making this opinion a law.

Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Texas Senators Bob Hall, Sylvia Garcia, and Donald Huffines, aims to prohibit county assessor-collectors from placing a hold on vehicle registration if the owner is “delinquent in the payment of a civil penalty”, referring to the civil penalty incurred from a red light traffic camera. The bill passed with 30 “yea” votes and one “nay” on March 29, 2017 and it was referred to the House of Representatives Transportation Committee on May 8, 2017. If the bill makes it all the way through, it would render red light camera tickets unenforceable.

  • No hold on your registration.

Bottom line:  If you decide not to pay your red-light camera ticket, it will not affect your credit score, it will not be reported to your insurance company or the driver’s license bureau, you will not be convicted of anything, and a warrant for your arrest will not be issued, but it is remotely possible that it could affect your ability to renew your vehicle’s registration. However, you have the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector’s word that the registration holds will not be enforced. Thus, there isn’t that much that cities can do to you if you fail to pay your ticket. To register your vehicle, even if you have a scofflaw hold, you must register by mail or in person at a local tax collector-assessor office so that it can be overridden.

Ultimately, it’s your choice if you want to take that risk, but now you have all of the facts in order to make that decision.

*Note that all of the information in this article is referring to tickets you receive in the mail after running a red light with a camera, not a ticket received from an officer. It is vitally important to pay attention to traffic signals and stop at red lights for your safety and the safety of others.

Megans Law Sex Offender Passport

Passports Revoked for Sex Offenders Pursuant to New Law

By | Sex Crimes

Megan’s Law and the Implications for Passports of Registered Sex Offenders

Sex Offender Passport LawIn February of 2016, we wrote about President Obama signing Megan’s Law and the implications that the law would have on passports.

Effective January 11, 2018, in accordance with Megan’s Law, the U.S. State Department has started to revoke passports issued to registered sex offenders. The law was passed October 31, 2017 but is now in effect. This law prevents the Department of State from issuing passports to sex offenders without a unique identifier printed on the person’s passport and authorizes the State Department to immediately revoke all passports currently held by registered sex offenders that do not contain this identifier.

Required Endorsement for Sex Offender Passports

Passports re-issued to registered sex offenders will now bear an endorsement on the passport, which will read:

“The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to 22 United States Code Section 212b(c)(l).”

According to federal law, endorsements cannot be printed on passport cards, so qualifying individuals will not be issued passport cards.

This new procedure by the State Department does not prohibit registered sex offenders from leaving the country. But, it certainly leads to the presumption that this identifying marker on these passports could very likely lead to these individuals being denied entry into other countries.

In the coming weeks, the Department of State will be sending letters to those individuals covered under this law notifying them that their passports are now revoked.

There are a wide number of crimes that can lead to a person being on the sex offender registry. These crimes can include sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child, online solicitation of a minor and viewing or sharing child pornography (either inadvertently or on purpose).

For more information, visit the Department of State website.

 

stealing presents Christmas theft package

Don’t Be a Grinch: Punishments for Christmas Package Theft in Texas

By | Theft

stealing presents Christmas theft packageThroughout the year package thefts occur on a fairly regular basis. But, as Christmas draws near and package delivery increases, so too do the thefts. While packages left on doorsteps and out in the open may seem to be easy targets for thieves, the consequences of getting caught are rarely considered.

What Can Happen to Individuals Who Steal Packages?

Porch pirates can face stiff penalties for stealing packages. In Texas, theft is classified by the amount of property that is stolen. Depending on the amount of the items stolen, a person caught stealing packages can face anywhere from a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 up to a First Degree Felony facing 99 years or life in the penitentiary. The latter would require someone stealing an item worth more than $300,000. While this may be unlikely, a thief wouldn’t know what he or she is stealing until he opens up that box. In addition, if committed within the same criminal episode, the aggregate amount of the items stolen could increase the punishment ranges for the offense as well.

What Happens When Multiple Individuals Act as a Team to Steal Packages?

The consequences of people acting in a team to steal packages can increase the acts to the offense of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity. In Texas, a person commits the offense of Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity if with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination or as a member of a criminal street gang, the person commits or conspires to commit theft. Tex. Penal Code 71.02. This increases the punishment one category higher than the offense originally committed. Most often, these types of cases are filed as 3rd degree felonies which carry a range of punishment of between 2-10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Punishments for package theft can be harsh. While a person may be stealing property worth only a few dollars, they may also be stealing property worth thousands. The potential punishment a person faces for package theft may not deter thieves but there are certain other things that citizens can do to prevent these acts from occurring.

How to Prevent Package Thefts

The primary means by which package thefts are being prevented are with the increasing use of video surveillance. Individuals looking to steal packages off of front porches are becoming more and more aware of doorbell cameras and other small home surveillance cameras. The increased media coverage of these incidents and the increased capture of thieves by way of theses surveillance methods is enhancing deterrent efforts.  Amazon has also begun testing out a service that allows delivery drivers to leave packages inside your home.

Despite the fact that security cameras are gaining in popularity (and the media reports on a regular basis of people being caught because of them), package thefts have not been eliminated. There are still those individuals that choose to ignore the possibility of getting caught and the potential consequences. And, for those folks, maybe it would help to reflect on the words of The Grinch, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

But for those individuals who persist and ignore the warnings and advice – and reflections from the Grinch – the BHW phone line is always open – just don’t say we never told you so!

psychosexual evaluation sex offender risk assessment

Psychosexual Evaluations: A Risk Assessment for Sexual Allegation Cases

By | Sex Crimes

psychosexual evaluation sex offender risk assessmentA psychosexual evaluation is a method utilized by courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to provide a scientific basis to determine with a person is likely to be a repeat sexual offender. The evaluation is performed by a state-licensed mental health professional and, if requested by the defense, it is completely confidential for the client and their attorney.

Psychosexual evaluations are routinely performed to:

  • Identify deviant sexual behavior patterns
  • Evaluate the risk level of sexual and non-sexual recidivism
  • Recommend the type of treatment options that will be most beneficial to the client
  • Identify specific risk factors that should be targeted during treatment

Explaining the Psychosexual Evaluation Process

How long does the evaluation last?

The evaluation usually lasts a full day, but can sometimes spill over into a second day. However, the entire evaluation can be completed in about six hours. A typical schedule for the evaluation will last from 8:30am – 5:00pm, with breaks between sections of tests.

The Evaluation Consists of Four Parts

  1. Clinical interview
  2. Psychometric tests
  3. Physiological assessment of sexual arousal
  4. Risk assessment

Clinical Interview

The clinical interview lasts about one hour and serves to help the therapist and the client get to know each other before the tests begin. It also gives the client an opportunity to talk about the allegation with the therapist. This is the point where the therapist will document their initial impressions and provide detailed notes on the client. It is important that the person is honest and open about the nature of the allegation. If conducted at the request of the individual’s attorney, the evaluation is covered under the attorney-client privilege and the attorney cannot disclose the results or what was said without the client’s permission.

Psychometric Tests

The psychometric tests are comprised of a personality inventory, sexual inventory, and intelligence test. These tests are primarily in written formats, including true or false questions. The personality inventory allows the therapist to evaluate the client’s personality type, which will be factored in throughout the assessment. The sexual inventory is the longest portion, consisting of about 560 items. It is a thorough assessment of the client’s sexual history, background, and development. Again, this portion of the test factors into the therapist’s overall assessment of the client’s situation. The final portion is the intelligence test. This portion only lasts about twenty minutes and is essentially an IQ test. The intelligence test is important because it allows the therapist to effectively advocate that the client can handle the mental demands of treatment.

Physiological Assessment of Sexual Arousal

The physiological assessment helps the therapist understand whether the allegation would be outlier behavior for the client or not. This is primarily achieved by gaining an understanding of the client’s sexual preferences using the penile plethysmograph (PPG). The PPG operates by measuring blood pressure and erectile changes in the penis of the client due to the introduction of different visual stimuli. The PPG also monitors the client’s breathing to determine whether they’re attempting to deliberately falsify the results. Because accurate results are required for the therapist to make a strong evaluation on behalf of the client, the client should not attempt to cheat the PPG. Due to the nature of the visual stimuli and the physical intrusiveness of the PPG, this is considered the most difficult part of the evaluation for individuals being tested.

Rarely, a polygraph will also be performed. The polygraph is only used when the client denies any actual physical contact because the chance of recidivism is greatly diminished if there is no physical contact. If the polygraph is failed, then the results will not be used in the therapist’s evaluation because they do not indicate anything significant about the client’s situation.

Risk Assessment

The risk assessment consists of two parts, general criminality and sexual recidivism. The general criminality portion determines the client’s risk of recommitting crimes, while the sexual recidivism portion determines the client’s risk of recommitting sexual crimes. This part of the psychosexual assessment is extremely important because it allows the therapist to assign the client a risk profile to reoffend, both in general criminality and in sexual criminality. The therapist’s testimony that the client is a low risk to reoffend can be crucial for the defense in asserting that the client does not deserve a harsh punishment for the original allegation.

Confidentiality

When the psychosexual evaluation is obtained as part of the defense case preparation, it is completely confidential. Only the client and his attorney will be provided with it. Neither the client’s spouse nor any government entity can see the evaluation, unless it is used in court, and the defense attorney will only use the evaluation in court if it is beneficial to the client’s case. The evaluation is occasionally used at trial, but it is more often used during the plea-bargaining stage to improve the client’s case or during a sentencing portion of a trial.

Advice for Clients and Attorneys Regarding Psychosexual Evaluations

Clients should be honest with the therapist because it allows for a more reliable and accurate evaluation, which will be more beneficial to the client’s case. If the client lies or attempts to cheat the tests, the therapist will not be able to provide a good evaluation and may not be able to testify as well on behalf of the client.

Attorneys should provide information the therapist regarding the charges being made against the client (within the limits of discovery laws). Not only does this allow the therapist to factor that into the evaluation, but it also bolsters their testimony in court as they have accounted for the charges and facts of the case already. The stronger and more complete the therapist’s evaluation, the more likely that it will stand up in court against tough cross-examination.

Denton County Pretrial Diversion PTD

Denton County Pre-Trial Diversion Program (PTD)

By | Diversion Program

Pre-Trial Diversion (PTD) Denton County, Texas.  A Second Chance for First-time Offenders.

Denton County Pretrial Diversion PTDWhen someone is charged with a criminal offense and is experiencing their first encounter with the criminal justice system, the process can be daunting. A first-time offender typically has two primary concerns: 1) Will I go to jail? and 2) Can I keep this offense from going on my record?

While there may be options available to keep a conviction off of a person’s record, the goal for most first-time (and one-time) offenders is to land in a situation making it possible to erase all records related to the arrest from existence. Under State law (Texas Government Code 76.011), counties are allowed to establish pre-trial diversion programs. Upon successful completion, these programs allow for certain first-time offenses to be discharged and ultimately expunged from an individual’s record.

Thankfully many counties across the State take into consideration the fact that a person has no prior history and may have just made a one-time mistake. Denton County, Texas is no different. First-time offenders that have been arrested for certain non-violent offenses may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program in Denton County.

Eligibility for Pre-Trial Diversion in Denton Texas

To be eligible for a pretrial diversion program in Denton County, Texas an individual’s case must meet the following criteria:

  • The individual must be employed or enrolled in an accredited school
  • The individual charged must admit to guilt of the offense and accept responsibility
  • The individual must have had no prior arrests
  • The individual must report monthly to a probation officer
  • The individual cannot commit any new offenses and must abstain from the use of illegal drugs and alcohol

Also, ultimate discretion to allow a person to participate in a pre-trial
diversion program rests solely with the District Attorney. The District Attorney must approve of each applicant even if all criteria are met.

How Pre-Trial Diversion in Denton County, Texas Operates

Individuals participating in the pre-trial diversion program in Denton County are supervised by the Denton County Community Supervision Department (DCCSD). Individuals must pay a monthly supervision fee. DCCSD can and will tailor each program to each particular individual. A person may be required to participate in additional classes, community service or other rehabilitative programs as a result of his or her participation in the program. In addition, if any restitution has been assessed in favor of the victim in a case, repayment of that restitution could be made a condition of the program as well.  Typically, PTD lasts 12 months, but in some cases, it can be extended to 18 months.

Exceptions for Admission into the Denton County PTD Program

Because the District Attorney has ultimate discretion on allowing a person into the pre-trial diversion program, even a person who does not meet the minimum requirements may be allowed to enter into a pre-trial diversion.

The Final Result of Successfully Completing a Pre-Trial Diversion in Denton County, Texas

Upon successful completion of the Denton County Pre-Trial Diversion program, the District Attorney files a Motion to Dismiss the case and the case becomes eligible for an expunction.

FORT WORTH

Primary Location
209 W. 8th St
Fort Worth, TX 76102
817.993.9249

KELLER

*By Appointment Only
204 S. Main St #195
Keller, Texas 76248
817.482.6770

Emergency Aid Police Arrest Texas

Does the Emergency Aid Exception Apply to Vehicle Stops?

By | Warrantless Search

Officers Are Justified in Stopping Vehicles to Render Emergency Aid Making Evidence Found in the Process Fair Game

Emergency Aid Police Arrest TexasThe Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently handed down an opinion dealing with the emergency-aid warrant exception and whether that exception extends to vehicular stops. The issue facing the court was whether a traffic stop of Appellant Toussaint to warn him that a gang member had ordered a hit on him was justified under the emergency aid exception to the Fourth Amendment. The court reversed the suppression order from the trial court holding that the emergency aid exception did justify the stop because this was a proper exigent circumstance.

US v. Toussaint (5th Circuit – 2016)

The Facts—Trial Court Found the Exigent Circumstances Had Expired

An FBI agent monitoring a wiretap overheard a suspected gang-member order his associate to kill Toussaint who could be found in a specific neighborhood driving a specific car, a silver Infiniti. Immediately the agent contacted a local police officer who met with several other officers to determine the plan to locate and warn Toussaint of the hit. The officers drive to the specified neighborhood and search for silver Infinities until they find one with an occupant leaving the neighborhood. The officers follow the vehicle, observe the driver, Toussaint, speeding and pull him over. Once pulled over Toussaint flees the officers on foot until he was caught and placed under arrest. During a search of Toussaint incident to arrest officers found a pistol and a bag of crack cocaine. The amount of time between the FBI agent overhearing the initial threat and Toussaint’s arrest was about 45 minutes.

Toussaint was charged with drug and firearm violations. Toussaint filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the stop arguing that the stop was not justified. The trial court granted Toussaint’s motion to suppress finding that the exigency of the emergency had expired by the time the officers stopped Toussaint.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Courts Decision—Holding the Emergency-Aid Exception Applied in this Case and the Exigency Had Not Expired

The court held that the emergency-aid exception extends to vehicular stops when under the circumstances of the need to assist persons with serious injuries or threatened with serious injury. The emergency aid exception allows officers to conduct warrantless searches or seizures when there is a need to assist persons with serious injuries or threatened with a serious injury. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 at 483. Under this exception, officers can enter areas they otherwise are not allowed in order to help someone. While the majority of such cases involve warrantless entries into homes, the court determined that there is no logical reason to not extend the exception to vehicular stops. Additionally, looking to reasonableness, “the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment,” the court stated “the benevolent act of trying to notify a driver that his life is in danger epitomizes reasonableness.” Thus, the court held that the emergency aid exception can be used to justify a traffic stop under proper exigent circumstances.

Then, the court held that the exception applied in this case and officers were justified in stopping Toussaint. The court stated that trial courts must examine objective facts of the circumstance in determining whether there was an objectively reasonable basis for believing exigency actually existed. The officers’ subjective motivations are never relevant in the determination. When the officers received what all parties agreed was a credible threat against Toussaint, who was located in a specific neighborhood and driving a specific vehicle, the court held it was reasonable for the officers to believe there was a serious threat on Toussaint’s life. Further, that exigency still existed at the time of the stop because the threat on Toussaint’s life had not ended within the 45 minutes it took officers to locate him and warn him. Since the stop was justified the search was proper and evidence was legally obtained because it would be contrary to the needs of law enforcement to force officers to ignore evidence found when they stop vehicles to render emergency aid.

In conclusion, the court held that the emergency aid exception extends to vehicular stops and that here, the stop of Toussaint was justified under this exception because there was a serious threat on his life. Accordingly, the court reversed the suppression order because the trial court was improper in granting the motion.