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Luke Williams

Texas Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations in Texas | How Long Does the State Have to Bring Charges?

By | Criminal Defense

How Long Does the State Have to Bring a Criminal Case Against Me?

Texas Statute of LimitationsTexas law sets out the statute of limitations, the period during which formal charges must be brought against the defendant for most offenses. These time periods range from two years to over twenty years, and for some offenses there is no limitation period at all. The applicable limitation period depends on the particular offense that is alleged.

The various statutes of limitations mean that the state must present an indictment or information within said time period or prosecution will be time barred. The presentation of an indictment occurs when the grand jury has made its decision and the indictment is received by the court. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.06. The presentation of an information occurs when it has been properly filed in court. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.07. The limitations period is tolled while the case is pending after an information is filed or indictment issued. Tolling means that the time will not be counted against the limitations period.

Generally, the time period is measured based on the date the offense was committed. When computing the time period, the day on which the offense was committed and the day on which the charge was presented are excluded. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.04. Thus, the clock starts running the day after the offense was committed and is paused when the indictment or information is presented. Additionally, any time the defendant was absent from the state is excluded when computing the time period. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.05(1).

What Are the Time Periods in the Texas Statutes of Limitations?

Texas law provides that for all misdemeanor offenses there is a standard period of limitations of two (2) years. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. arts. 12.02. Thus, for any given misdemeanor charge, the State must bring prosecution within two years from the commission of the crime.

There are several periods of limitations provided for the various felony offenses, as well as a catch all time period of three years for all other felonies not specifically provided for. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(7). See the chart below for the time period provided for certain major felony offenses.


(A) Five Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(4).

  • Theft or Robbery,
  • Kidnapping or Burglary (except as provided in (E)),
  • Injury to Elderly or Disabled (unless 1st Degree),
  • Abandoning or Endangering Child, and
  • Insurance Fraud
(B) Seven Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(3).

  • Money Laundering
  • Credit Card or Debit Card Abuse
  • Medicaid Fraud
  • False statement to obtain property or credit; and
  • Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information
(C) Ten Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(2).

  • Theft of any estate by an executor, administrator, guardian, or trustee
  • Theft by a public servant of government property
  • Forgery or uttering, using, or passing of a forged instrument
  • Sexual assault (except as provided in (F)),
  • Injury to an elderly individual or disabled individual (if punishable as a first degree felony), and
  • Arson
(D) Ten Years from the Victim’s 18th Birthday


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(6).

  • Injury to a Child
(E) Twenty Years from the Victim’s 18th Birthday


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(5).

  • Sexual Performance by a Child younger than 17
  • Aggravated Kidnapping with intent to sexually abuse a victim younger than 17, and
  • Burglary of a Habitation with the intent to sexually abuse a victim younger than 17
(F) No Time Limitation


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(1).

  • Murder or Manslaughter
  • Leaving the Scene of an Accident which Resulted in Death
  • Indecency with a Child
  • Sexual Assault or Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
  • Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
  • Sexual Assault if DNA testing indicated that the perpetrator’s identity could not be readily determined
  • Sexual Assault if there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the same or similar offense against 5 or more victims
(G) Three Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(7).

  • All other Felonies.

Periods of Limitations for Aggravated Offenses, Attempt, Conspiracy, and Solicitation

The limitation period for criminal attempt is the same as provided for the offense attempted. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. §12.03(a). Additionally, the limitation period for criminal conspiracy or organized crime is that of the most serious offense that is the subject of the conspiracy or organized crime. §12.03(b) Further, the limitation period provided for criminal solicitation is the same as the period of the felony solicited. §12.03(c). Finally, an aggravated offense has the same period of limitation as provided for the primary crime. §12.03(d)

In conclusion, these limitations are set out to protect defendants from having to face charges where evidence is stale and witnesses are unavailable due to the long period of time the State has waited to bring prosecution. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure is very specific in how it has laid out the periods of limitations so that there will be no question as to the time period for a particular offense and how that time period should be computed.

*Note: The above provided chart is not all-inclusive but instead focuses on only some of the major felony offenses. An exhaustive list can be found in Section 12.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

Husband Wife Privilege Texas Rule 504

Can One Spouse be Forced to Testify Against the Other?

By | Criminal Defense, Jury Trial

Can My Spouse be Forced to Testify Against Me in a Criminal Trial in Texas?

Husband Wife Privilege Texas Rule 504Everyone knows (or should know) of the attorney-client privilege which prohibits the calling of an attorney to testify as a witness against his client and protects the attorney-client relationship. But what about the husband-wife relationship? Are spouses afforded any protection from having their spouse testify against them in a criminal trial?

Yes. In Texas there are two “Husband-Wife” privileges that apply to the marital relationship: spousal immunity and the marital communication privilege. Many people are aware that certain privileges arise but often do not know exactly what protections these privileges provide. The following article discusses both of the matrimonial privileges in Texas.

See the full text of Texas Rule of Evidence 504 – Spousal Privileges

What is Spousal Immunity? How does Spousal Immunity work in Texas?

Spousal immunity is the privilege that exists in a criminal trial for the defendant’s spouse not to be called as a witness in certain situations.  Tex. R. Evid. 504(b). This privilege applies to spouses that are married to the defendant during trial and are asked to testify as to matters that occurred during the spouse’s marriage to the defendant. The non-defendant spouse holds this privilege; meaning he or she is the one who may invoke the privilege not to testify and it is ultimately his or her decision. Tex. R. Evid. 504(b)(3). Thus, if the spouse wants to voluntarily testify for the State, she may do so regardless of whether the defendant objects to the spouse’s testimony.

Spousal immunity does not stop the defendant from calling their current spouse as a witness. If a defendant chooses to do so the spouse cannot assert this privilege and will be required to testify. With that, if the defendant does not call the spouse and surrounding evidence suggests the spouse could testify to relevant matters the State is allowed to comment about that. 504(b)(2).

Exceptions to Spousal Immunity in Texas

There are two exceptions to spousal immunity in Texas.

  • First, the privilege does not apply in a criminal proceeding in which the defendant has committed against the spouse (e.g. Domestic Violence) or prosecution for bigamy.
  • Second, the privilege does not apply when the spouse is called to testify about matters that occurred before they were married to the defendant.

What is the Texas Marital Communication Privilege?

Under Texas Rule of Evidence 504(a), spouses have the privilege to prevent testimony of certain communications made during the marriage from one spouse to the other spouse.  Unlike the spousal immunity privilege, the marital communication privilege may be invoked by either the defendant or the spouse being called as a witness. Additionally, this privilege survives divorce; meaning it applies whether or not the defendant and the spouse are still married as long as the communications were made while they were married. Tex. R. Evid. 504(a)(2).

This privilege only applies to communications that were intended to be confidential, that is, they were made privately with no intent to disclose to anyone other than the spouse. A communication will still be confidential if someone overheard the conversation if the defendant spouse made the statement without knowledge or intent that the other person would hear the conversation. Basically, the requirement is that the communication made was intended for the spouse’s ears only.

Exceptions to the Marital Communications Privilege in Texas

There are two exceptions to the confidential communications privilege.

  • First, if the communication was made in whole or in part to aid in the commission of a crime the privilege does not apply.
  • Second, the marital communication privilege does not apply in prosecutions for crimes against the defendant’s spouse, any minor child, or a member of the defendant or defendant spouse’s household.

In conclusion, there are certain situations where matters occurring between spouses are kept within the sanctity of the marriage and will not come out in court. However, as you can see these privileges are very specific and it is important to be aware of what exactly is privileged and when such privileges apply.

See the full text of Texas Rule of Evidence 504 – Spousal Privileges

Apple Fake gun Toy Gun Emoji

Is It a Crime to Use a Fake Gun or Toy Gun in Texas?

By | Weapons Charges

How Do Toy Guns or Fake Guns Fit Into the Criminal Justice System?

Apple Fake gun Toy Gun EmojiIn the wake of the recent rise in gun violence, Apple made a big announcement last week that the pistol emoji is being replaced with a water gun emoji. It is no secret that 2016 has been a year filled with gun violence from the shootings in Orlando to the police shootings in Dallas. As a result, gun control has become a hot topic.  While Apple has declined to comment on the change, many believe this is a conscious step for gun control advocacy and others believe this change was fueled because of the individuals facing criminal charges for the use of the gun emoji on social media or in text messages. This change poses the questions of whether, in Texas, it is a crime to point a fake gun at someone and whether you can be charged for a deadly weapon offense when you only used a fake gun or toy gun.

Can You Be Charged With A Deadly Weapon Offense For Pointing a Fake Gun or Toy Gun at Someone in Texas?

If you were to point an Airsoft gun out a car window towards a person in another car, would Texas law find that you committed assault or an aggravated assault? It depends. If there is uncontroverted evidence shown at trial that the “gun” used was actually a fake gun or toy gun then you could only be convicted of assault. However, if all that is presented at trial is your testimony that it was an Airsoft gun and the victim’s testimony that he was in fear because he believed it was a real gun, the issue can get more complicated.

Does a Toy Gun Fit Into the Definition of Deadly Weapon?

Under the Texas Penal Code, a defendant may be found guilty of aggravated assault if he “uses or exhibits a deadly weapon” for the purposes of threatening another with imminent bodily injury. TPC §22.01(a)(2) and §22.02(a)(2). The Texas Penal Code’s definition of deadly weapons includes “anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” To determine whether a fake gun or toy gun could possibly be found as a deadly weapon courts look to the broad definition of a “gun” which may include non-lethal devices. Arthur v. State, 11 S.W.3d 386, 389 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. refused). Such non-lethal devices are BB guns, blow guns, Airsoft guns, and water guns, among others. Id. A lot of these toy guns appear realistic or are easily modified to appear realistic which leads to confusion in a criminal case. So much so that in attempt to be proactive, New York’s gun laws require toy guns to be of bright color in order to avoid such confusion.

“A toy gun is not manifestly designed to inflict death or serious bodily injury.”

If uncontroverted evidence is presented that the “gun” used was simply a toy gun there cannot be a deadly weapon finding because “a toy gun is not manifestly designed to inflict death or serious bodily injury” no matter how realistic it appears to the victim and witnesses. Cortez v. State, 732 S.W.2d 713, 715 (Tex. App. 1987) . When it comes to BB guns and pellet guns it becomes more complicated. In Alonzo v. State, a trial for aggravated robbery, where a store manager was placed in fear when defendant brandished a BB gun, the Court found that there could be no deadly weapon finding because no evidence was produced to show that a BB fired from the gun was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. Alonzo v. State, No. 07-12-00244-CR, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 3703, at *10 n.5 (App. Apr. 7, 2014). However, in Murray v. State, another trial for aggravated robbery, where an expert testified that the BB gun used by defendant was not a firearm but could potentially cause serious bodily injury, as warned in its manual, the court found that this evidence is sufficient to support an aggravated robbery conviction. Murray v. State, Nos. 05-13-00070-CR, 05-13-00084-CR, 05-13-00090-CR, 2014 Tex. App. LEXIS 6201, at *59 (App. June 9, 2014).

Ultimately, when it comes to carrying around toy guns, the best practice is to get one that looks as little like a real gun as possible to avoid any confusion. Because, as case law has shown us, if it looks like a deadly weapon, a court might find it to be a deadly weapon.

License to Carry Handgun LTC CHL

License to Carry a Handgun After Arrest or Criminal Charge in Texas

By | Weapons Charges

License to Carry Handgun LTC CHLThere are many consequences for persons arrested and charged with a crime in Texas.  One of the often overlooked considerations is whether and to what extent a criminal accusation impacts one’s authorization to carry a weapon with a License to Carry (LTC), formerly a Concealed Handgun License (CHL). The reality of gun possession in today’s political climate is that the restrictions are many and increasing.

Texas has very specific guidelines regarding qualifications for obtaining a License to Carry a Handgun. But, what most do not realize is that there are also strict regulations in place while a person possesses that license – especially if a person is arrested and charged with a crime.

What happens to my License to Carry or CHL if I’m arrested and charged with a crime?

Texas Government Code 411.187 spells out the scenarios that require the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to suspend one’s LTC or CHL. In regards to criminal charges, the department SHALL suspend an LTC if the license holder is charged with the commission of:

  • a Class A or Class B Misdemeanor;
  • an offense under Section 42.01 of the Texas Penal Code (Disorderly Conduct); or
  • any Felony offense.

In addition, a person’s LTC or CHL will be suspended if a person is arrested for any offense involving family violence or disorderly conduct and is subject to an active protective order.

How long will my License to Carry be suspended if I’m arrested and charged with a crime?

Unfortunately, the law is clear that the suspension will remain in place until the dismissal of the charges or for the duration of the protective order (in a family violence case.) Texas Government Code 411.187(c)(3).

What happens to my LTC or CHL if I’m convicted of the charge?

If you are convicted of any felony or of the offense of “Unlawful Carrying of a Handgun by a License Holder,” your license to carry a handgun will be revoked permanently. Texas Government Code 411.186 (3) & (4).

If you are convicted of a class A or class B misdemeanor, your license will remain suspended and you will only be able to re-apply for a new LTC when you once again meet the initial eligibility requirements.

A person is eligible for a LTC if they have not, in the five years preceding the application, been convicted of a Class A or Class B misdemeanor or disorderly conduct. What this essentially establishes is a 5-year waiting period from the time of your conviction to the time when you can apply again for your handgun license.

What about being convicted of offenses involving family violence?

Offenses involving family violence carry more significant consequences. If you are convicted of a Class C, Class B or Class A misdemeanor involving family violence, then Federal Law prohibits you from owning or possessing a firearm. Also, under Federal Law, even a plea to deferred adjudication constitutes a conviction and bars a person from owning or possessing a firearm. Because of this, a conviction for any misdemeanor involving family violence would prohibit you from ever being eligible to obtain your concealed handgun license in Texas. See Texas Government Code 411.172 (a) (9).

Odor Fight Bautista Assault Self Defense

Can Rougned Odor Be Charged With Assault for Punching Jose Bautista?

By | Assault

Odor Fight Bautista Assault Self DefenseDid Rougned Odor Assault Jose Bautista Under Texas Law?

If you live in Texas, have a pulse and have absolutely any contact with the outside world, you are very aware of the incident that occurred between Texas Ranger’s infielder Rougned Odor and the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista during last Sunday’s game. If you have no idea what I’m referring to, STOP reading, watch this video and then come back and finish reading. Bautista was attempting to break up a double play at second base by taking a hard slide at Odor’s legs (which Odor avoided). After the slide, Bautista quickly stood to his feet and squared up to Odor. Odor pushed Bautista and both men went to throw a punch, but Odor was quicker and landed a strike directly on Bautista’s jaw, causing Bautista’s sunglasses to fly and the benches to clear in an all-out brawl between both teams. Under Texas law, if Odor caused Bautista physical pain or even if this physical contact was offensive, Odor could theoretically be charged with assault.

Assault Under Texas Law

Some know (but most don’t) that it doesn’t take much to be charged with a Class A misdemeanor Assault in Texas, even less for a Class C Assault. A person commits the offense of assault in Texas if that person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another. Bodily injury as defined by Texas law means physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.

Theoretically, a simple pinch could result in a class a misdemeanor assault if it causes another pain. The law further goes on to provide that a person commits the offense of assault if a person causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative (that is a Class C and is punishable by fine only).

What are Rougned Odor’s Defenses to a Charge of Assault?

While it is highly unlikely (and unprecedented in a sports context) that Odor would be charged with assault for his actions against Bautista on Sunday, he does have some viable defenses under Texas law.


In analyzing the situation, it could be argued that Odor’s actions were a result of self defense. Texas law provides that a person can be justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. Watching the incident again, one can see that Bautista clearly committed an illegal slide by attempting to interfere with Odor’s legs. Had Odor not been able to dodge the attempt, it’s possible that this type of slide could have caused bodily injury to him, hence the reason this type of slide is illegal. Immediately upon rising to his feet, Bautista turns to face Odor in what could be perceived as a threatening stance. Odor, in an effort to distance Bautista from himself gives Bautista a shove to the chest. The shove results in Bautista winding his right hand back which could also be reasonably perceived as preparing to strike Odor. Odor, with reactions obviously much quicker than the sluggish Bautista, literally beats him to the punch and ensures that no further harm can befall him at the hands of Bautista. A reasonable jury could conclude that Odor’s reactions were justified and immediately necessary to protect himself from Bautista’s efforts to cause him harm.


In addition to the potential defense of self defense, Odor could also raise the defense of consent. Under Texas law, a victim’s effective consent or the actor’s reasonable belief that the victim consented to the actor’s conduct is a defense to an assault charge as long as the conduct did not threaten or inflict serious bodily injury. In addition, consent is a defense to assault if the victim knew that the conduct was a risk of his occupation. Could a jury reasonably conclude that Bautista consented to the assault due to the fact that he should have known that a solid right hook to the jaw was a risk of his occupation – especially following an illegal slide? There are unwritten customs in professional baseball. Anyone who’s followed professional baseball for any significant amount of time has witnessed a fight break out in the course of such extreme competition. Ultimately, a jury could conclude that under these laws there was consent and that Bautista should have known that this type of action was a risk of his occupation.

Will Rougned Odor be Criminally Charged with Assault?

No, he won’t. Fights like this happen on the field of professional sports on a fairly regular basis (even more so on the ice during professional hockey games). In addition to clear defenses, law enforcement has broad discretion to determine whether a crime has been committed and prosecutors have broad discretion whether to pursue cases or not. It’s clear that that discretion is used regularly when these things happen (and I’m sure my prosecutor friends will comment and give even more reasons why this type of thing would never warrant criminal charges). Regardless of the national media coverage of the fight, Odor is now a folk hero in DFW. No, the only indictment being issued from this fight is an indictment on Bautista’s prior behavior and unsportsmanlike conduct. I’m not sure if this saga is over, but I would have to say that Bautista’s sentence has now been served — right off the end of Rougned Odor’s right fist.

Johnny Manziel Grand Jury Domestic Violence

Why is Johnny Football’s Case Going To The Grand Jury?

By | Domestic Violence, Grand Jury

Is it unusual for a misdemeanor case go to a grand jury? Simply put, YES.

Johnny Manziel Grand Jury Domestic ViolenceMost misdemeanor cases in Texas are charged by way of a document called an ”information.” An information does not have to be issued by a grand jury. The information can simply be prepared and reviewed by a District Attorney and then subsequently filed in a court with proper jurisdiction. Felony cases, on the other hand, must be indicted by a grand jury unless a defendant chooses to waive indictment and proceed without one.

What is a Grand Jury?

A grand jury in Texas is a group of 12 lay people qualified under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. These people must be citizens of the county in which the grand jury sits amongst other basic qualifications. Ultimately, the grand jury’s job is to listen to facts presented to them regarding the cases that they review and determine if probable cause exists for the State to continue forward to court. The grand jury does not have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt as to the person’s guilt; they simply need to determine whether it is probable that the person committed the alleged offense based on the facts and testimony presented.

People often mistake a grand jury for a petit jury like they see in movies and television. A grand jury is very different from the juries that hear and decide the final trial. During a grand jury proceeding, there are no arguing defense attorneys or heated opening and closing statements, and there is no judge that physically presides over the process. The grand jury meets together in private room with prosecutors and witnesses. A major distinction of the grand jury is that all grand jury proceedings are secret. The Texas code of criminal procedure clearly states that all grand jury proceedings “shall be secret.” Another basic distinction is that the grand jury is organized and run solely by the district attorney’s office. The grand jury is essentially a tool used by and for the district attorney.

Why is Johnny Manziel’s Misdemeanor Allegation Going Before the Dallas Grand Jury?

So – now that you know what a grand jury is and what they do – what does this mean for Johnny Football? If the filing of an “information” is the normal course of action for misdemeanor cases in Texas, why will Dallas County grand jurors review Johnny Manziel’s case tomorrow? That answer rests solely with the Dallas County District Attorney. We can only speculate as to why this may be.

Manziel’s case is obviously high profile for Dallas. If the Dallas DA’s office were to take the case and simply file it with an information or not reject it without the review of the grand jury, they face scrutiny from both sides of the aisle. If they file the case, Manziel’s supporters would claim that the DA’s office is trying to unfairly make an example of his celebrity status and constant publicized antics. However, if they refuse to file the case, Manziel’s critics and domestic abuse activists might claim that his popularity, money, and status are unfairly allowing him out of another sticky situation.

So, what better way to take the District Attorney’s name off of the ultimate decision than to let the Dallas County community – a.k.a. the grand jury – make it? More than likely this is precisely why, unlike most other misdemeanor cases in Dallas County, the grand jury will review Johnny Manziel’s case.

Does this make Johnny Manziel’s Case a Felony?

No. A grand jury can hear a misdemeanor case just like it can hear a felony case, we just do not see grand juries used for misdemeanor cases very often. If the grand jury votes to issue an indictment, Manziel only faces a misdemeanor charge for Assault (Bodily Injury) to a Family Member.  This offense is a Class A misdmeanor which carries a punishment range of 0-365 days in county jail and a fine up to $4,000.

Ultimately, this may just be the fairest way for the State to proceed and review Johnny Football’s case and precisely the right time to use the grand jury for a misdemeanor case. As a defense attorney, I wish all of my misdemeanor clients got the benefit of a grand jury review, but the volume of cases is just too high for the State to be expected to process all felonies and misdemeanors through a grand jury.

The jury is still out on Johnny Football’s NFL career, but tomorrow the Dallas county grand jury gets to decide if even more juries lie ahead for this once seemingly-invincible Heisman Trophy winner.

Links to more Manziel Grand Jury Articles:

Facebook Evidence in a Criminal Case

Facebook Likes and Twitter Tweets as Evidence in a Criminal Case

By | Criminal Defense

Facebook Evidence in a Criminal CaseIn the age of social media it seems more and more that our identities are being fast tied to what we post, like, love, or retweet on social media. Our firm handles criminal cases on a daily basis and in the course of our work we’ve seen an increasing reliance by law enforcement and prosecutors on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. More often than not, investigators are scrolling through the entirety of a person’s social media profiles scouring the information for incriminating statements, pictures or conversations. A Facebook picture or an Instagram post that one might consider innocent, humorous, or obscure could end up being a key piece of evidence used against that person in a court of law.

Here’s what you need to know about social media and the law.

Anything you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can and will be used against you.

Period. The general rule that citizens need to know is that by exposing information about yourself on social media you are essentially waiving your privacy rights. A person can’t scream at the top of their lungs in an open room the most private fact about themselves and then expect it to go unheard. The same is true about social media. By posting on sites like Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram, you are essentially consenting to whatever information you disclose to be made public.  Even if your profile is set to private, your friends could end up sharing your content. Once public, that information is now available to everyone…including the government. If you are under investigation or suspect you might be under investigation for a criminal offense, and you have social media profiles, never post anything if you think it has even a remote possibility of hurting your case.

What can be done to protect my privacy on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?

Don’t post! The first thing you can do is to place a limit and a premium on your social media activity. Some people feel like social media websites are the perfect forum for venting frustrations, making off-color jokes or personally attacking others. If you think about what you are posting in terms of who might potentially see your post, then you should limit the things you say. Remember, anything you post will be considered public information.  If the temptation is too strong to post on social media, then you should really consider disabling your account altogether (at least while your criminal case is pending).

Can Social Media Privacy Settings be used to protect my information?

Privacy settings are the second step in preventing the government or any other unwanted viewers from obtaining your social media information. The majority of the more popular social media websites allow you to limit who can see your information and what can be seen. Putting strict limits on who and what can be seen on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages can be very effective in preventing unwanted eyes. But is it enough? For the general public, yes, it is. Further, law enforcement agents typically do not have special privileges to see information that has been set to “private” either. But, there are other ways of getting your information and viewing your profiles. Law enforcement has been known to create fake profiles with attractive pictures to entice users into accepting friend requests and allowing them to view information intended for friends only. There is nothing that legally prevents law enforcement from taking such actions.

If my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts are set to “Private,” is that enough to protect my information?

Ultimately, no. Even if a person hasn’t unwittingly accepted a friend request from an officer or agent and has limited access to their profile via privacy settings, law enforcement can still get a subpoena, court order or search warrant for your social media information.

According to their website, Facebook will only disclose records in accordance with the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C. Sections 2701-2712 and in response to:

  • A valid subpoena issued in connection with an official criminal investigation is required to compel the disclosure of basic subscriber records (defined in 18 U.S.C. Section 2703(c)(2)), which may include: name, length of service, credit card information, email address(es), and a recent login/logout IP address(es), if available.
  • A court order issued under 18 U.S.C. Section 2703(d) is required to compel the disclosure of certain records or other information pertaining to the account, not including contents of communications, which may include message headers and IP addresses, in addition to the basic subscriber records identified above.
  • A search warrant issued under the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure or equivalent state warrant procedures upon a showing of probable cause is required to compel the disclosure of the stored contents of any account, which may include messages, photos, videos, wall posts, and location information.

So, even if your privacy settings won’t allow anyone to view your profile, law enforcement agencies may still be able to get that information by way of a subpoena, court order or search warrant.

Assume that unwanted eyes will see what you post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If you’re under investigation for a criminal offense or charged with a criminal offense, you need to assume that unwanted eyes will see what you post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Our attorneys have handled cases involving cases where the government has used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram postings against our clients. We don’t want that to happen to you. Call one of our attorneys and speak to us about what you can do to protect your information and ultimately your rights.

NOTE: The United States Supreme Court has confirmed that the police CANNOT search your cell phone to discover Social Media evidence, text messages, phone call, or anything else without a proper search warrant.

Statutory Rape Texas

The Statutory Rape Dilemma in Texas

By | Sex Crimes

Statutory Rape TexasOf the various types of criminal cases we defend in Fort Worth, Texas, Statutory Rape can be one of the more frustrating. First, a word of clarification; the term “Statutory Rape” does not actually appear in the Texas Penal Code. What I refer to as Statutory Rape is actually Sexual Assault of a person under 17 years of age (and over 14 years of age) under Section 22.011(a)(2). To understand what I mean about our frustration, consider this example (based on a true story).

The Story of Sam | A Common Statutory Rape Example

A 22 year-old attractive young man, let’s call him Sam, is filling up his car (a BMW) at a gas station when an attractive young woman (Nadia) approaches him and tells him how she admires his car. Nadia then tells Sam that she thinks he is cute and gives Sam her phone number. Nadia is younger than Sam, but he’s not exactly sure how much younger. She is fully developed and is dressed in mature clothing. Over the next few days Nadia and Sam send each other text messages. The messages are flirty at first and then Nadia turns the conversation toward sexual things. Sam is a bit surprised by how forward Nadia is, but he welcomes the banter. Sam then asks Nadia how old she is because he’s always heard the old adage “16’ll get ya 20.” Nadia tells Sam that she is 18 and says that she’ll show him an ID indicating the same when they get together. She then asks Sam to come pick her up in his BMW and take her to a park near her house. Sam agrees.

At the park, Nadia shows Sam her Texas ID, which says that she is indeed 18 years old. Sam and Nadia then engage in consensual sex, after which Sam takes Nadia home. Sometime during the next few days, Nadia’s mother gets ahold of her cell phone and notices the messages between her and Sam. When she confronts Nadia, Nadia admits that she and Sam had sex. Nadia’s mother is furious and calls the police to report Sam for child sexual assault. The police conduct a quick investigation wherein Sam admits to having sex with Nadia. After all, he thought he was doing nothing wrong since she was 18. The police then arrest Sam for statutory rape for having consensual sex with a 16 year-old. Nadia is only 16.

Statutory Rape is a Strict-Liability Offense

Statutory rape (Sexual Assault under Texas Penal Code Section 22.011(a)(2)) is a strict liability offense in Texas. What does this mean? It means that a person is guilty if:

  1. The person is older than 18 years of age; and
  2. The person intentionally or knowingly has sex with someone younger than 17 years of age.

*There is an exception to the law is the actors are less than 3 years apart in age, meaning that if the minor is 16 and the partner is 19 (but not more than 3 years older) then he will not be charged.

Other than the 3-year age gap exception, there are no other exceptions to statutory rape in Texas, hence strict liability. There is no Consent defense; consent is irrelevant for this offense. There is not Mistake of Fact defense when the minor lies about her age and no Mistake of Law defense for when the actors don’t know what the age of consent is in Texas. That is why we call this one of the more frustrating offenses in the Texas Penal Code.

Let’s take Sam’s case. Sam genuinely had no idea that Nadia was only 16. In fact, short of asking for her birth certificate, he showed due diligence in finding out her age before they had sex. He asked about her age and even saw her identification, which we now know was a fake ID. How can the state punish Sam when he tried to do everything right (fornication arguments aside)?

We often encounter this scenario or one like it. Our Fort Worth sexual assault defense attorneys have been able to get charges reduced under these circumstances. Many times, if we are hired before the grand jury considers the case, we will request to make a presentation to the grand jury and highlight these facts, urging the grand jury to no-bill the case and dismiss it. When we are negotiating with prosecutors on these types of cases, we do everything we can to get the charge amended to a different offense that doesn’t require sex offender registration (e.g. Injury to a Child). We have had considerable success in doing this, but it can be fact dependent (and personality dependent).

Sex Offender Registration for Consensual Sex with a Minor

Make no mistake; a conviction for statutory rape requires the offender to register as a sex offender in Texas. In fact, Statutory Rape is a lifetime registration offense. So although it may seem like a minor offense based on an age technicality, it is terribly serious. Further, even if your attorney is able to get your case reduced to a non-sex offense and you do not have to register as a sex offender, the court might still require you to undergo sex offender caseload on probation. You should fight this requirement as the sex offender caseload can be extremely difficult (and frustrating), especially when you never had the intent to commit a crime in the first place.

Free Consultation with a Fort Worth Statutory Rape Defense Attorney

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a Statutory Rape offense, contact our team of Tarrant County criminal defense attorneys. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to defend your future and your name with care and compassion. Contact us today at (817) 993-9249.

Paxton Fantasy Football Illegal

Texas Attorney General Says Fantasy Football Constitutes Illegal Gambling in Texas

By | Gambling

Is Fantasy Football Illegal in Texas? AG Paxton Says “Yes.”

Paxton Fantasy Football IllegalYesterday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion stating that participating in daily fantasy football websites is illegal gambling in Texas. The opinion specifically states that participating in daily fantasy sports leagues is illegal gambling under section 47.02 of the Texas Penal Code.

Section 47.02 of the Texas Penal Code states that a person commits an offense if he or she makes a bet on the partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest.

The key term that the Attorney General focused on in the opinion is the term “bet.” A “bet” is defined as an agreement to win or lose something of value solely or partially by chance. Texas Penal Code 47.01(1). Attorney General Paxton specifically stated that because the outcome of games in daily fantasy sports leagues depends partially on chance, an individual’s payment of a fee to participate in such activities is a “bet.”

Under 47.02 of the Texas Penal Code, gambling is a Class C misdemeanor offense, wherein offenders could face a fine of up to $500.00. Gambling under Section 47.02 of the Texas Penal Code is a fine-only offense that does not involve jail time as a punishment.

Can I keep playing daily fantasy sports?

It’s up to you. If you continue to play daily fantasy sports in Texas, you would be participating in illegal gambling as the law is interpreted by Attorney General Ken Paxton. Again, according to the attorney general, participating in daily fantasy football league sites constitutes a Class c misdemeanor.

Opponents of the AG’s opinion argue that daily fantasy sports involves skill to really win.  Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is one of the outspoken people who disagrees with the Paxton opinion.  He believes that just about everything in life and business involves chance and could be considered gambling as Paxton defines it.

What is important to remember though is that the attorney general cannot and will not be responsible for the actual investigation or prosecution of these cases. Local law enforcement and local district attorneys would be the responsible agencies for enforcing this law. Investigation of these cases would have to be tedious and would require a significant amount of resources in order to prosecute the lowest level of offense under Texas law. Whether the State would go to the extent needed to prove these types of gambling charges beyond a reasonable doubt is yet to be seen.

The law does allow a defense to prosecution for gambling if the person engages in gambling in a private place, no person receives any economic benefit other than personal winnings; and except for the advantage of skill or luck, the risks of losing and the chances of winning are the same for all participants.

What does this Fantasy Sports AG opinion mean for the average Texan?

The opinion means that, according to the State’s highest-ranking attorney, participating in daily fantasy sports leagues is illegal gambling. Now, it’s up to each local jurisdiction’s law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and courts to decide if prosecuting these cases is a priority or not. Law enforcement uses discretion on a daily basis as to what crimes and actions they should focus the bulk of their enforcement actions on. It’s unknown at this time if or whether law enforcement will spend the resources necessary to prosecute these cases.

Hopefully, if you choose to continue to play daily fantasy football, you are good at it and can cover your potential fines. We’ll have to wait and see which, if any, jurisdictions choose to enforce this opinion. Based on the resources it would take, I seriously doubt that we’ll see any citations written for this. Good luck out there!

Read the Texas AG Paxton Fantasy Football Opinion

DNA Innocence

The Last Man Exonerated – Kerry Max Cook

By | DNA, Murder

DNA InnocenceI usually do not repost articles that others writers send to my email, but I decided to make an exception for this one.  Reposted below is a compelling article written by Michael Hall with Texas Monthly, regarding the current plight of Kerry Max Cook, a man who hopes to obtain a complete exoneration for a murder that he did not commit (as later demonstrated by DNA evidence).  You can either read the story below, or see the original article HERE.  You can also check out an updated Article by Michael Hall HERE.


Kerry Max Cook walked off Texas’s death row in 1997, but earlier this week he filed two motions in the 241st District Court in Smith County that he hopes will finally clear his name. Cook (pictured above) and his Dallas lawyers, working with the New York-based Innocence Project, petitioned for post-conviction DNA testing on untested evidence he is certain will show once and for all that he is innocent of killing Linda Jo Edwards in Tyler in 1977. He also asked to have the DNA motion considered by a judge from outside Smith County, where he claims he was a victim of “the most well-documented and notorious instance of prosecutorial misconduct in the annals of Texas jurisprudence.”

Now would seem to be a good time to file these motions. Since 2000, four dozen Texans have been exonerated, most by DNA evidence. Recently we’ve seen several high-profile cases in which men sent to prison—including death row—were exonerated and freed, to great fanfare. Timothy Cole, convicted of rape in Lubbock in 1985, was exonerated posthumously in 2009 after a court of inquiry found him innocent. Anthony Graves, a former death row inmate, was freed in 2010 after a special prosecutor found his trial prosecutor had “handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare.” Michael Morton, convicted of killing his wife in 1987, was freed in October after tests revealed his wife’s blood and another man’s DNA on a bandana near the crime scene.

Cook was released when these other men were still in prison. Any yet, unlike them, he is not legally an exoneree. That’s because, even though his death sentence was overturned twice by higher courts, and even though DNA taken from the murder victim didn’t match him, when prosecutors were preparing to put him on trial for a fourth time, Cook pleaded no contest instead of not guilty. Thirteen years later, his murder conviction is still on his record.

Why did Cook plead no contest to a murder he didn’t commit? Good question. Cook’s case is a strange one, one of the strangest in Texas history. He was arrested in June 1977 for the rape and murder of Linda Jo Edwards, who had been stabbed, beaten, and mutilated in her apartment. Her roommate told of seeing a man at the apartment whom she assumed was James Mayfield, a married man with whom Edwards had been having an affair. But the affair had ended three weeks before the murder. Police instead zeroed in on Kerry Max Cook, who lived in the same complex and whose fingerprints were found on a patio door of the apartment. Cook said he was innocent.

The prosecution made a strong case at Cook’s first trial in 1978. A police detective testified that his fingerprints could actually be dated as having been left there within hours of the murder. The roommate who originally thought the killer was Mayfield now said it was Cook. A jailhouse snitch said Cook confessed to him that he’d killed Edwards. And a gay hairdresser named Robert Hoehn said that on the night of the murder he and Cook had watched the movie The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea; Hoehn said he had performed sex acts on Cook, who also had masturbated during a scene involving the torture of a cat. The prosecution’s theory was that Cook, aroused by the torture scene, had rushed out to rape, kill, and mutilate Edwards, a total stranger. Cook, who says he knew Edwards and had visited her apartment by invitation (thus accounting for the prints), was found guilty, convicted, given the death penalty, and sent to death row.

Ten years later, stories in the Dallas Morning News began alleging serious improprieties at the original trial. For example, the snitch admitted that he had lied as part of a deal with prosecutors (his pending murder charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter in exchange for his testimony), and the detective’s testimony about being able to tell the age of fingerprints was shown to be highly misleading, if not downright absurd. In 1991 Cook’s sentence was overturned on a technicality and sent back to the trial court.

By this point, the state’s case was in the hands of a tough prosecutor named Jack Skeen, who had been elected Smith County DA in 1983. Cook had found his own advocate in Jim McCloskey of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey group that helps the wrongly convicted. Centurion did some research and found four dozen people who knew Mayfield, the man Edwards had been having an affair with; none had ever been interviewed by police. McCloskey became convinced of Cook’s innocence and wrote a report titled “Why Centurion Ministries Believes Jim Mayfield Killed Linda Jo Edwards.”

Cook’s second trial was moved to Williamson County in 1992, but it ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. By this point other evidence that suggested prosecutorial misconduct had been revealed—the state hadn’t turned over evidence that Mayfield’s teenaged daughter had repeatedly threatened to kill Edwards in the weeks before her death. The state also withheld evidence that Cook and Edwards did indeed know each other and that Hoehn had originally told the grand jury that he had not had sex with Cook (who, he had also said, didn’t pay any attention to the movie). Finally, the state hadn’t revealed a written statement from the detective who had testified about the age of the fingerprint in which he said he had told prosecutors this opinion was unsound and couldn’t be backed up by any science. Still, he stated, prosecutors pressed him to give it, and he did, to devastating effect.

At trial number three, in 1994, even without the testimony of the snitch or the detective regarding the age of the fingerprints, the state was allowed to use the testimony of Hoehn, who had recently died. Cook was again found guilty and again given the death penalty.

In 1996 Cook finally got his first vindication. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the latest conviction, pointing to the massive official misconduct. “Prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset,” the majority opinion declared. Cook made bail in 1997, but the state prepared to try him again. Skeen, who was elected Prosecutor of the Year by the State Bar of Texas, remained convinced of Cook’s guilt.

In an attempt to head off a fourth trial, Skeen’s office offered Cook a deal: plead guilty, be sentenced to time served, and go home. Cook refused. He was innocent, he swore. In early 1999, Edward’s underwear was sent to a DPS lab for modern forensic testing. On February 5, the lab confirmed the presence of semen. Six days later a hopeful Cook gave a blood sample. The next day, before the results of the DNA test came back, the DA’s office made another offer: a no contest plea, in which he would maintain his innocence while acknowledging that witnesses against him “would testify sufficiently to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that he’d killed Edwards. Again Cook refused. On February 16, the DA came back with a final offer: a no-contest plea in which Cook would maintain his innocence while only acknowledging the evidence the state would offer to try and convict him. Cook took the deal. He didn’t want to run the risk of another trial, another guilty verdict, and another death sentence in law-and-order Smith County.

Two months later, the test results came back: the semen belonged to Mayfield—who had given a blood sample a month after the plea deal. Skeen’s office maintained that the results didn’t prove anything—after all, Mayfield had recently had a sexual relationship with Edwards, and who knew when that semen had been deposited there? Cook was still guilty. As Assistant DA David Dobbs said later, “The important thing for us was to insure that he got a conviction for murder that would follow him for the rest of his life.”

In 2003, Skeen became judge of the 241st District Court. One of Cook’s motions filed Tuesday specifically asks for his case to be tried by someone other than his former prosecutor. In this motion for recusal, Cook’s attorneys note new evidence that they say suggests Skeen failed to follow the law. In particular, in May 2011 Cook’s lawyers say they found a polygraph report on the jailhouse snitch that indicated deception during his 1977 questioning—a report that was never turned over to any of the defense lawyers, either in 1978 or 1994. Cook’s lawyers write, “the State was unquestionably obligated to provide this highly exculpatory document to the defense.”

The CCA, in its review, concluded that the improprieties in the case were confined to the original investigation, in the late 1970s. A footnote to its majority decision in 1996 reads: “We note the acts of misconduct … took place nearly 20 years ago and we do not imply any complicity in said acts on the part of the current District Attorney or current members of the Tyler Police Department.” But Judge Charlie Baird, in a separate opinion, disagreed, saying that he thought the misconduct went further: “the State’s misconduct in this case does not consist of an isolated incident or the doing of a police officer, but consists of the deliberate misconduct by members of the bar, representing the State, over a fourteen year period—from the initial discovery proceedings in 1977, through the first trial in 1978 and continuing with the concealment of the misconduct until 1992.” By that point, Skeen had been DA for nine years.

One of the more intriguing questions is whether Skeen knew the results of the DNA test before making the plea offer in 1999. In Chasing Justice, a book Cook wrote about his experience, he says that McCloskey suspected so. “I’ll tell you what I think,” Cook remembers McCloskey saying. “I think they ran a preliminary test on the semen stain and have at least got a blood type; they know you aren’t the donor.” In the DNA motion, Cook can only speculate on what happened:

Based on statements made by the District Attorney, what likely occurred between February 12 and February 16, 1999 is that an initial analysis was performed on Mr. Cook’s blood sample for purposes of comparison to the semen stain on Ms. Edwards’ clothing, which had only been provided the day before the prosecution’s offer to Mr. Cook of 40 years in prison. And in hindsight it is apparent that this initial analysis excluded Mr. Cook as the individual that raped and murdered Ms. Edwards. Just after Mr. Cook entered his no-contest plea, a local newspaper reported that, ‘[t]esting continues on a recently discovered semen stain on the dead woman’s underwear, said Skeen. But initial indications were that the new evidence would not prove helpful to prosecutors, he [Skeen] said.’ The prosecution knew that once a jury was informed that the semen from Ms. Edwards’ panties did not belong to Mr. Cook, the State would not be able to convict Mr. Cook of her rape and murder. Again, Mayfield did not submit his blood until after the plea agreement was entered, so when the prosecution made the deal with Mr. Cook they may not have known with scientific certainty who did rape and kill Ms. Edwards, but they absolutely knew who did not—Kerry Max Cook.

The intent of the DNA motion seems to be to start the ball rolling to get Cook eventually declared actually innocent. This is a tall order in Texas, especially this long after the verdict. The motion states:

Mr. Cook is factually and actually innocent of the 1977 rape and murder of Ms. Edwards and requests further DNA testing to verify and corroborate the other powerful evidence of his innocence. While previous DNA testing has already provided exculpatory evidence and established overwhelming proof of Mr. Cook’s innocence, there is a substantial volume of additional un-tested evidence that will further corroborate Mr. Cook’s innocence.

The motion is referring to things taken from the bloody crime scene that were never tested for DNA, including Edwards’ bloody blue jeans, a hair found on her body, and other biological samples taken from her bra and a knife.

One of the great mysteries of the case is why Mayfield, whose semen was found inside Linda Jo Edwards’ lifeless body, was never tried for her murder. If his DNA profile were to be found in the untested blood or hair, could Mayfield (who lives in Houston and has refused requests for interviews for 35 years now) ultimately be prosecuted? Could Cook be exonerated?

Cook’s case is a deeply tragic one. He was one of the first of the modern wave of men to be freed after years of wrongful imprisonment. And yet Cook never experienced a profound public vindication. He never got to raise his arms high as he was cheered leaving the courthouse—like Morton recently did. He doesn’t get millions of dollars in compensation from the state for those wasted years—like the others do. He doesn’t have a brotherhood of fellow exonerees—like the men in Dallas have. He isn’t even, technically, an exoneree.

“Every day I fight against the darkest depression imaginable,” he says, “because of what Smith County did to me and continued to do to me for 35 years. First there was the horror of my prison experience as an innocent man, then my fate when I was freed, which in some ways was almost as bad. I developed severe PTSD. I was forced to move five times by people who found out about my past. Kids won’t play with my son because they find out he’s the son of a man who was on death row. My wife and I–we have no insurance. I can’t get an apartment, I can’t get a real job. It’s been unbelievable. Nobody knows what it’s like. It’s like I’m behind another set of bars. I’m not free.

“I want the official exoneration. I want what Ernest Willis and Tim Cole and Michael Morton got. I deserve it. It’s my turn.”