Marijuana Texas CBD Oil Legal

Not Up in Smoke Yet: Marijuana Laws in Texas 2018

By | Drug Crimes

Marijuana Texas CBD Oil LegalYou have seen it on the news…yet another state has legalized marijuana. It seems as if weed is everywhere, surely Texas has jumped on the bandwagon and legalized it too! Our firm receives calls from people all the time who all say the same thing; they thought marijuana was legal now. Not in Texas.

Current Marijuana Laws in Texas

Despite having been legalized in other states, possessing even a small amount of marijuana is a crime in Texas. The Texas Health and Safety Code says it is illegal for a person to knowingly or intentionally possess a usable quantity of marijuana. How much marijuana a person has in their possession will affect the level of severity of the offense.

  • Up to 2 0z– Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine
  • 2oz to 4oz– Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $4,000 fine
  • 4oz to 5lbsState Jail Felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 5lbs to 50lbs– 3rd Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 50lbs to 2000lbs– 2nd Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • More than 2000lbs– 1st Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 99 years in jail and up to a $50,000 fine

Proposed Texas Laws Relating to Marijuana

Texas failed to pass any new marijuana legislation in 2017, but proponents of legalized marijuana are hopeful for the 2019 legislative session. House Bill 2107 was proposed during the 2017 session, co-authored by 78 House members. The bill would have expanded the Compassionate Use Act to include Texans dealing with medical issues other than intractable epilepsy. While the bill narrowly missed being brought to a vote, it showed there was bipartisan support for such a bill, and legislators remain optimistic marijuana reform will happen in 2019.

Medical Marijuana in Texas

The Texas Compassionate Use Act was signed by Governor Greg Abbot in 2015. The Act allows for individuals with intractable epilepsy to have access to CBD oil, a low THC cannabis oil. The bill prohibits smoking marijuana. Critics of the law say it is unworkable, as it requires a doctor to “prescribe” marijuana rather than recommend it as they do in other states where medical marijuana is legal. Under current federal law, a doctor “prescribing” marijuana could be open to sanctions, while one recommending the use is not. Another issue is that the ratio of THC to CBD that is allowed under the law is not potent enough to help some patients. There is potential for changes to be made to the Act during this legislative session, with proponents of the Act looking to broaden the scope and make access easier for patients.

THC Oil in Texas (Wax, Dabs, Marijuana Concentrate)

Possessing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oil in Texas is considered a more serious crime than simply possessing marijuana. Over the last few years, vaping THC oil, which is a concentrated version of the mind-altering component of marijuana, has become popular. Under Texas law, THC oil or wax is considered a concentrate and possessing it is a felony criminal offense.

  • Less than 1 Gram– State Jail Felony
  • 1 Gram to 4 Grams– Third Degree Felony
  • 4 to 400 Grams– Second Degree Felony
  • 400 grams or more – First Degree Felony

The law considers THC oil and wax to be in a different penalty group that marijuana, due to the higher level of THC, and consequences are much harsher. So while a typical small amount of marijuana could be punishable as a misdemeanor, even a very small amount of THC oil can be punishable as a felony. This is a common misconception that we often see in our THC oil cases. The user believes that a low amount is a misdemeanor, much like a low amount of marijuana. Not so. Every THC oil case is a felony.

Edible THC in Texas

The use of THC oil in edibles can be very serious. When weighing the amount of a controlled substance, the Texas Health and Safety Code includes all adulterants and dilutants in the total weight. Popular THC laced edibles like gummy candy and brownies will be weighed in their entirety, and can result in very serious felony charges.

CBD Oil in Texas

Cannabidiol oil (CBD Oil) is made from cannabis, but is non-psychoactive. CBD oil is made from industrial hemp, and is currently legal in Texas. Recently, shops selling CBD oil products have been popping up all over the metroplex, with promises the product can relieve pain and anxiety. The Texas Department of State Health Services has begun to crack down on retailers selling food products made with CBD oil, claiming they have the power to regulate any food product that contains CBD oil.

Synthetic Marijuana in Texas

K2, or Spice, is a synthetic form of marijuana that is created by spraying natural herbs with chemicals meant to mimic the effects of marijuana. Synthetic Marijuana is illegal in Texas, and carries the same punishment as marijuana.

Selective Prosecution for Marijuana Offenses in Texas

Several counties across the state, including Dallas, Bexar, and Harris, have implemented a marijuana cite and release program whereby folks are not being arrested for low-level possession charges. Other counties have diversion programs for first-time or low level offenders. You should check with a knowledgable attorney in your local area to learn more about the diversion programs available.

In Tarrant County, depending on the circumstances of the case, a marijuana offender may qualify for the Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP) or the First Offender Drug Program (FODP). Again, you should check with an attorney to determine whether you might be eligible to participate in either program.

Conclusion

Regardless of whether you disagree with what the law should be in regard to marijuana in Texas, it is currently illegal to use or possess. If you are arrested for possession of marijuana, you may qualify for a diversion program that will ultimately allow you to get your record fully expunged. Contact one of our attorneys today if you have pending marijuana charges in Tarrant County. We will be happy to discuss your options and defend your case.

Final Four DWI Texas

DWI Madness | “The Final Four” Reasons Texans are Stopped for DWI

By | DWI

Final Four DWI TexasMarch Madness is here again. With the Final Four approaching, we built a bracket of our own. In this article, DWI attorney Jason Howard discusses the top four reasons people are stopped or detained for a DWI investigation in Texas. We’ve compiled and power-seeded our list based on the numerous Tarrant County DWI cases we handle every year. Before we get to the “Final Four,” here are some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the tournament list:

  • Sleeping in a running vehicle
  • Driving the wrong way on a one-way street
  • Rolling through a stop sign
  • Expired registration as seen by police scanner
  • No license plate light

Of course, there are many more reasons that folks are stopped and investigated for DWI, but below are the top four reasons that we see the most.

The Top Four Reasons Drivers Are Stopped for a DWI Investigation in Texas

#4 – Auto Accident

By auto accident, we mean everything from a head-on collision to a run-in with a mailbox. More serious accidents will usually generate the presence of officers on scene within a matter of minutes. Officers are usually looking to rule out the possibility of someone being intoxicated as soon as they arrive on scene. Minor accidents where there are no injuries might elicit a call to 911 (when there would otherwise just be a swap of insurance) if the other party involved suspects a DWI. Easy to see that if you’ve consumed alcohol and are involved in an accident, there is a high probability of a DWI investigation.

#3 – Swerving or Weaving

Please note – there is a difference between the two. Swerving is the more blatant failure to maintain a single lane by driving the vehicle all across the road. Weaving, on the other hand, is usually more subtle and sometimes observed within the lane. Regardless, if it’s late at night and a police officer is behind you and observes either of these driving behaviors, the red and blues are probably going to come on and the driver asked to step out of the vehicle for field sobriety testing.

#2 – Lane Change Problems

The #3 and #4 seeds were probably the top guesses, right? Surprisingly, we see more of numbers 1 and 2 than any other. And they probably weren’t the ones you guessed. I’ve grouped lane change issues because they can vary from the failure to signal a lane change or turn to the failure to make a proper turn at intersection (aka the “wide right” or “wide left” turn.) If you monitor your daily driving (when you’ve consumed no alcohol,) you’ll probably see that you commit many of these types of traffic infractions constantly. You’ll certainly see other people commit them. So, how does that translate to a police officer’s suspicion of drinking and driving? If it’s late at night on a Friday or Saturday, most patrol officers are quick to pull people over for any traffic violation just to check them out and make sure they’re not DWI.

That brings us to our number one reason people are stopped prior to a DWI arrest…

#1 – Speeding

We’re not talking 100mph in a 30mph zone, although we have seen some crazy speeds. No, we’re talking general, everyday speeding; 5 or 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. Nighttime patrol officers love to use their speed detection devices to initiate stops to find DWIs. That’s right! Patrol officers aren’t just looking for obvious impaired driving clues. It’s clear from our experience in handling DWI cases in Tarrant County that most officers are suspicious of anyone out late at night (especially on the weekends.) They know they only need a legal reason to stop someone at any given time. And once they establish their legal reason (even if it’s just speeding,) they then get to proceed with the “where are you coming from, where are you going, have you had anything to drink?” line of questioning. Once they get an admission of “yeah, I had a couple” or smell even the faintest odor of alcohol from the vehicle, they then get the driver out of the vehicle and begin the field sobriety tests. And once they start with the field sobriety tests, the possibility of being arrested goes up astronomically – even if you’re not intoxicated!

If we were to play out the DWI Final Four tournament, Speeding would be your Texas State Champion.

What Should You Do If You Are Suspected of Driving While Intoxicated?

We’ve written on this topic several times, including:
DWI Information Page
May I Legally Refuse a Field Sobriety Test?

If you have been arrested for DWI in Tarrant County after being stopped for one of these four reasons (or any other reason), contact our Tarrant County DWI attorneys for a free case evaluation.

Accident on Icy Road

Accidents on Icy Texas Roads: Who is Liable?

By | Car Wreck

Accident on Icy RoadWhen we think of extreme weather in Texas, we generally think of severe thunderstorms, hail, wind, and tornados, but ice storms can be just as dangerous and damaging. There’s also a human factor when snow and ice hit Texas that increases the likelihood of severe injuries and even death-the untrained, inexperienced, and careless driver.

A Federal Highway Administration report states that on average, icy roads cause 151,944 vehicle accidents, 38,770 crash injuries, and 559 crash fatalities a year. These ice-related accidents produce roughly 11% of all weather-related accidents in the country. This is alarming because it shows how dangerous icy roads can be, but it should also alert you to the possibility of personal injury or property damage if you decide to drive in icy conditions.

Icy Roads in the Texas News Recently

The Basics of Negligent Driving in Texas

In the simplest form, negligence involves:

  • A duty to a person (the duty to be a careful, safe driver);
  • A breach of that duty (driving too fast, etc); and
  • That breach causing damages to another person (property damage, injuries, or death caused by a car accident).

Every driver has a basic duty to other drivers to drive safely and not collide with anyone. This requires them to drive as a reasonably prudent person would drive in the given situation. When they breach that duty, or collide with another person or vehicle, they may be liable for the physical or financial damages they caused. But what if the roads were icy and the driver lost control?

Ice is NO Defense to an Accident! | Liability for Accident and Injuries in Winter Conditions

Drivers are expected to take note of weather and road conditions and adjust their driving accordingly. When the temperatures are near or below freezing and precipitation is present, there is a strong possibility of ice on the roads. Because a driver should know of the chance of icy conditions, they should drive as a reasonably prudent person would drive on icy roads.  Blaming the ice will not work if the driver crashes into another car on the road.

Precautionary Measures for Driving in Icy Weather | Driving in Texas in the Winter

When there may be ice on the roads, you should take precautionary measures when driving:

  • Don’t drive unless you have to;
  • Follow your local news or go to drivetexas.org* to get updates on road conditions;
  • Drive below the speed limit;
  • Do not get distracted from the road; and
  • Avoid hills, bridges, and low spots if you can.

If you are hit by a driver who was driving in icy conditions, even if they lost control, they may be liable for negligently driving. You should contact your attorney with the accident report and any other information from the accident to help work through your options.

For more winter weather driving tips, click here.

*drivetexas.org is run by the Texas Department of Transportation who also posts on social media outlets.

Natural Gas Home Explosion Injuries

Dallas Home Explosion Raises Injury Liability Questions

By | Premises Liability

The Dangers of Natural Gas in the Home

Natural Gas Home Explosion InjuriesUsing natural gas in your home can be very beneficial: it is more efficient than electricity, coming at cheaper cost, while getting more work done. However, gas does have some dangers associated with it. Natural gas is highly flammable and sometimes undetectable to the everyday person. This can lead to fires or even explosions in the home, causing thousands of dollars of damage.

Home Explosion in Dallas, Texas in February 2018

Natural gas is believed to be the related to a recent explosion at a home in Dallas. Current reports indicate that one person was tragically killed and others severely injured. Neighbors have evacuated their homes, while the city and the gas company look into the problem. Initial reports indicate that the explosion occurred near a gas heater in the house.

According to NBC DFW, the explosion prompted the evacuation of over 700 students from nearby Stephen C. Foster Elementary School.

For more on this story, click here.

For information on the Railroad Commission of Texas’ Gas Services, click here.
Pipeline Investigations from the National Transportation Safety Board, click here.

What to do if you have damage from a natural gas explosion/fire:

If you have suffered injuries or the loss of a loved one caused by a fire or explosion, it is important to know your rights.

Following a fire or an explosion, an investigation should be done to determine the cause of the incident. Depending on the cause, there may be several liability issues to address. For instance, faulty or leaking gas lines may implicate the utility company. If defective appliances contributed to the explosion, the sellers and manufacturers may be liable. These are complicated liability issues that should be discussed with your attorney.

Should you have damage from a fire or explosion that is caused by natural gas, contact your attorney to work through investigation and discuss your course of action.

Distracted Driving Injury Lawyers

The Dangers of Distracted Driving in Texas

By | Car Wreck

Distracted Driving Injury LawyersSince the invention of cellphones and the growing popularity of texting, car accidents resulting from distracted driving have increased year after year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives and injured 391,000 people nationwide in 2015. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reports that 1 in 5 crashes in Texas are caused by distracted driving. This is a nationwide issue that is taking the lives of Americans every day. However, distracted driving is an issue that can be prevented.

What is Distracted Driving?

The NHTSA defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” There are three types of distractions, according to DMV.org; visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions involve taking your eyes off the road, for example looking at something in the vehicle or an event taking place on the side of the road. Manual distractions include removing one or both hands from the steering wheel, such as adjusting the air conditioning controls or radio. Cognitive distractions take your mental focus and attention away from driving, for example, day dreaming or deep thinking. Common distractions include eating, drinking, smoking, talking on the phone, talking to a passenger, adjusting the radio or air conditioner, looking in the mirror, applying makeup or shaving, watching a video, responding to emails, and texting. Using a cellphone or texting while driving is incredibly dangerous because it combines visual, manual, and cognitive distractions. To send a text while driving, a driver takes his eyes off the road to look down at his phone screen, he takes at least one hand off the steering wheel to hold the phone, and stops paying attention mentally to think about what he is typing. Looking down at the phone just for 5 seconds while going 55 mph means that the vehicle traveled the distance of a football field without the driver paying any attention. In that distance, many things can happen, including an accident with devastating effects.

Distracted Driving Impact on Texas

Distracted driving is a growing problem in Texas. In 2016, TxDOT reported that distracted drivers in Texas caused:

  • 109,658 crashes (a 3% increase from 2015),
  • 3,000 injuries, and
  • 455 deaths

In Tarrant County alone, distracted drivers were responsible for 8,210 crashes, 23 of which were fatal crashes in 2016.

Texas Laws Regarding Texting While Driving

Laws regulating cellphone use while driving differ between states and cities. As of September 1, 2017, the use of a “wireless communication device for electronic messaging” while operating a motor vehicle is prohibited in the state of Texas after the adoption of House Bill Number 62. The offense is considered a misdemeanor and punishable with a fine between $25-$99, however it may increase to between $100-$200 if there is a prior conviction for the same offense. This includes texting and emailing while driving. The Texas Transportation Code Title 7. Sections 545.424, 545.425, 545.4251, 545.4252 provides, in relevant part:

  • If the driver is under 18, they cannot use a wireless communication device.
  • A bus driver may not use a wireless communication device while operating the bus if a minor is present.
  • All drivers are prohibited from using handheld devices while driving in school zones.

Exceptions to these laws exist for cases of emergency, reporting illegal activity, using a hands-free device, using a global positioning system, playing music, or when the device is permanently affixed to the vehicle and is part of the operator’s duties.

Ways to Bring About Change in Distracted Driving

Distracted driving isn’t someone else’s problem. It’s our problem and it could impact you or your loved ones. There is no badge of honor for multitasking while driving. We all share the road and when we are distracted while we are driving, we endanger the lives of everyone around us. Here some things you can do to prevent distracted driving and make a difference on the road:

1. Eliminate Distractions

Before you start driving, enter your destination into the GPS, adjust the air conditioning, find the right radio station or queue up your songs, and send your last text or email. Secure loose objects that might roll around once you start driving so you aren’t temped to reach for them and so they don’t roll under your feet. Take care of grooming and eat at home. Get everything done before you start driving. If you absolutely need to respond to something, pull over to a safe spot on the side of the road.

2. Some Apps are Good

Recent iPhone software iOS 11 has a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature that can be manually or automatically enabled or be activated when connected to a car Bluetooth system. This feature can sense when you are driving and silences notifications such as text messages. It can even send an auto-reply to people who have messaged you, telling them that you are busy driving. Phone calls will only come in if connected to a Bluetooth hands-free system. The customizable feature can be found in the “Settings” app under “Do Not Disturb.” An app with similar functions is “LifeSaver,” which can be downloaded in the App Store or in Google Play.

3. Speak Up When You are Riding With a “Distracted Driver”

While we can only control our own actions, we can encourage those we ride with to avoid distracted driving as well. When you’re a passenger in a vehicle and the driver is distracted, speak up and remind them about the importance of focusing while driving. Offer to take care of the distraction for them. Politely tell them that you’re uncomfortable riding in their car while they’re distracted. Talk to your friends and family about the dangers of distracted driving and hold each other accountable.

4. Make a Pledge

Hold yourself accountable by making a pledge not to drive distracted. There are many websites with pledges, some where you can donate to different foundations or dedicate your pledge to someone, such as the “Just Drive” pledge with the National Safety Council.

Injured By a Distracted Driver? Free Case Evaluation

If you or a loved one have been injured by a distracted driver, contact our personal injury attorneys for a free case evaluation. We have offices in Fort Worth and Keller or we can send one of our attorneys to meet with you if you have a difficult time traveling. We do not charge any fees for injury cases unless we win a damages award for you. Contact us today at (817) 993-9249 or send us a message.

Additonal Notice for Suppression Hearing

No Additional Notice Required for Suppression Hearing on Trial Date

By | Trial Advocacy

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Determines That There Needs to be No Additional Notice Provided to the State When Holding a Suppression Hearing On the Day of a Trial

Additonal Notice for Suppression HearingThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down a decision affirming a trial court judge’s decision to hold a suppression hearing on the day the trial was set, but before voir dire or any trial proceedings occurred. State v. Velasquez, 2018 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 52. After a prior motion for continuance by the State was granted, the defense submitted 16 pretrial motions, including a motion to suppress evidence. On the day of the trial, both sides announced ready, and the judge chose to hold the suppression hearing before jury selection. The State objected because they were not provided with proper notice of the hearing (and because their witnesses were not present to testify for the motions hearing before jury selection), but the objection was overruled and the judge ruled in favor of the defendant. The Fourth Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision, but that was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, affirming the trial court ruling on the motion.

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 28.01

The State based its appeal on Article 28.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This statute enables the judge to schedule pretrial hearings (Section 1), requires notice of these hearings to be provided to the defense (Section 2), and gives the required means of providing notice (Section 3). The State claimed that it was not provided adequate notice of the pretrial suppression hearing under this statute, and therefore, should have been given an opportunity to delay the hearing and trial.

Section 1

Article 28.01(1) allows for the court to set a pretrial hearing before it is set for a trial upon the merits. The Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that this creates two separate settings and that the court must provide adequate notice for any new and separate hearing. Included in this list of settings is a suppression hearing in Section 1(6). The court also acknowledges that many suppression hearings are done as a part of trial, and that parties should be capable of arguing for or against suppression at the time of the trial. In this case, the State was not prepared for the suppression hearing and refused to argue, forcing the court to rule in favor of the defendant.

Section 2

Article 28.01(2) requires the court to provide notice of at least 10 days to the defendant in order to allow the defendant enough time to respond and raise any additional preliminary matters. The State argues that it is entitled to notice, however, the Court points out that the statute only provides for notice given to the defendant. The Court decided that the State has no right to additional notice for a pretrial motion that will be handled on the day of the trial, so long as notice of the trial day setting was given to the State.

Section 3

Article 28.01(3) establishes the acceptable methods for providing notice to the defendant. Notice can be given through an announcement in open court in front of the defendant and his/her attorney, personal service to defendant, or by mail.

Court of Criminal Appeals’ Conclusion

Ultimately, the CCA held that it was appropriate for the trial court to hold a suppression hearing on the same day as trial, despite not giving additional notice to the State. The notice of the trial setting was sufficient to make the State aware of the possibility of a suppression hearing, and the State should have been ready for that hearing. The court sees a distinction between a pretrial setting and handling a matter just before the trial begins. Because suppression hearings are often held in conjunction with trials, this action was proper. Article 28.01 does not apply in this instance because there was no new, separate setting, and the party complaining about notice was the State. The Court understands that there could be improvements to the notice requirements, but as a member of the judicial branch, they are not empowered to make those changes.

Uber Lyft Accident Liability Texas

Are Uber and Lyft Liable for the Accidents of their Drivers?

By | Car Wreck

Uber Lyft Accident Liability TexasIn the past couple of years, rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber have risen to prominence, grabbing a sizable market share from traditional taxi cab and town car companies. With more and more of these companies offering rides from their part-time drivers, we are also seeing accidents involving the drivers for these companies. These accidents can sometimes have confusing liability issues that accompany them. It is important to know how to proceed and what you are entitled to if you are involved in an accident with a rideshare driver, as a passenger or another driver.

Can You Sue the Rideshare company? Who is Liable in a Lyft or Uber Accident?

As with most legal questions, the answer is, it depends. Liability for an Uber or Lyft accident will depend upon whether the driver is logged on to his rideshare company’s app, and if so, whether the driver is waiting for a ride request or actively giving a ride. The Texas Insurance Code Chapter 1954 requires rideshare drivers to carry specific insurance policies that provide coverage regardless of their activity, so you will need to ascertain a few facts before you determine your course of action.

Was the Driver Logged on to the Rideshare App?

If the driver was NOT logged onto the ridesharing app, then the driver’s personal insurance will be responsible for covering the driver in the event of an accident. There generally will not be any ramifications for the rideshare company, and no real reason to pursue any claims against them. Of course, we would need many more facts to determine the exact course of action. If the driver is logged on to the rideshare app, you will need to determine whether they are in-between rides, or actively participating in a ride.

Was the Driver in-between Rides When the Accident Happened?

This is the largest gray area in the new insurance law. While coverage is required, there is no requirement regarding who must cover the driver. Many insurance companies exclude coverage on drivers using their personal vehicles for ridesharing purposes, and rideshare companies are hesitant to provide the additional coverage since they are not required to by law. Ridesharedashboard.com lays out the coverage options in Texas, pointing out that currently, only GEICO and Farmer’s offer coverage to both Uber and Lyft drivers, while MetLife will cover Lyft drivers only, and Allstate is currently working on their rideshare policy.

Nonetheless, the Texas Insurance Code Sec. 1954.052 requires rideshare drivers to be covered by a 50/100/25 policy. This means that they must be covered up to $50,000 for bodily injury or death of each person in an incident, $100,000 for bodily injury or death of a person per incident, and $25,000 for damage or destruction of property of others. This is a higher level of coverage than the standard 30/60/25 policy required for Texas drivers. This should not be an issue as drivers are required to notify their insurance provider if they are driving for a rideshare company. However, it will be very important to determine who is covering the driver in the event of an accident. Fortunately, there is a safeguard in Sec. 1954.054 that requires the rideshare company to cover claims in the event the driver’s policy has lapsed or does not cover the claim. If you find yourself in this situation, please get as much information from the driver as possible and contact an attorney immediately.

For driver’s logged onto the rideshare app but currently in-between rides:

  • Uber Provides: 50/100/25 coverage for its drivers and can supplement the personal policy
  • Lyft Provides: 50/100/25 coverage in the event a driver’s personal policy does not cover this much.

Was the Lyft or Uber Driver Engaged in a Ride?

The term “engaged in a ride” can mean two things: either the driver was on his way to pick up a passenger, or the driver currently had a passenger in the car. If the driver involved in the accident was currently engaged in a ride, that driver MUST be covered by a $1 million coverage policy according to Texas law. Recent legislative action in many states has pushed for this coverage, influencing these companies to adopt these insurance policies. Should you be involved in an accident with an engaged rideshare driver, whether as passenger or third party, this insurance should provide coverage for damages caused by the driver.

For drivers “engaged in a ride:”

  • Uber Provides:
    • $1 million coverage for damages caused by driver
    • $1 million coverage for damage done by an under/uninsured motorist
    • Supplemental coverage for collision and comprehensive personal policies
    • These will cover the rider if a rider is in the car with the Uber driver
  • Lyft Provides:
    • Lyft will take over as primary provider
    • $1 million coverage for damages caused by driver
    • $1 million coverage for damage done by an under/uninsured motorist
    • Supplemental coverage for collision and comprehensive personal policies

What Should You Do if You are Involved in an Accident with a Rideshare Driver?

  1. Get to a safe place and call 911. Safety and health are the first priority.
  2. Take pictures of the accident and surroundings.
  3. Get the names, phone numbers, addresses of everyone involved and any witnesses.
  4. Get the name of the rideshare driver, determine whether they were logged on to the rideshare app, whether he/she was engaged in a ride, and get a picture of the insurance policy
    • Under Sec. 1954.056b, the drivers are required to provide this information in the case of an accident
    • If you are the passenger of a rideshare when the accident occurs, screenshot the app on your phone
  5. Call your attorney.

 

To review companies’ insurance policies, click on their Logo below:

Uber Accident Coverage TexasLyft Driver Liability in Texas

Bus Driver Consent Search Wise 2017

Can a Bus Driver Give Consent to Search the Passenger Compartment?

By | Search & Seizure

The Case of the Not Too “Wise” Bus Passenger

United States v. Wise, 877 F.3d 209 (5th Cir. TX 2017)

Bus Driver Consent Search Wise 2017FACTS: In this case, police officers were conducting bus interdictions at a Greyhound bus stop. After a certain bus stopped, the driver got off the bus and the officers approached him requesting consent to search the passenger cabin of the bus. The bus driver consented to a search and two experienced narcotics officers in plain clothes boarded the bus. The officers did not block the exit or otherwise obstruct any of the passengers from departing the bus. One officer walked to the back of the bus while the other officer remained at the front.

The officer at the front of the bus noticed a man who was pretending to be asleep. The officer found this suspicious, because in his experience, criminals on buses often pretended to be asleep to avoid police contact. The officer walked past the “sleeping” man and turned around. The sleeping man (named Morris Wise) then turned to look back at officer, revealing that he was not asleep after all. The officer then approached Wise (now awake) and asked to see his bus ticket. Wise gave the officer a bus ticket, bearing the name “James Smith.” The officer had a hunch that James Smith was a fake name. The officer then asked Wise if he had any luggage with him on the bus. Wise said yes and motioned to the luggage rack directly above his head.

Wise then gave the officers consent to search the duffle bag in the overhead compartment. The officers did not find any contraband in the duffle bag. The officers also noticed a backpack near Wise and asked if the backpack belonged to him. Wise denied ownership of the backpack. The officers then asked the other passengers about the backpack and no one claimed it, so the officers removed the backpack at the bus driver’s request.

Outside the bus, a trained police canine alerted to the backpack. The officers then cut a small lock off the backpack, searched it, and found seven brick-type packages that appeared to contain cocaine.

The officers then went back onto the bus and asked Wise if he would mind getting off the bus to speak to the officers. Wise complied with the officers’ request and got off the bus. The officers asked Wise if he had any weapons, which he denied that he had any weapons, and then they asked him to empty his pockets.

From his pockets, Wise gave the officers his ID card with bearing the name “Morris Wise” and a lanyard with several keys attached to it. Not surprisingly, one of the key opened the lock that the officers had to cut off of the backpack (that Wise said was not his). The officer then arrested Wise, and the government charged him with several drug-related offenses.

Motion to Suppress the Search as the Fruits on an Illegal “Checkpoint Stop”

Wise filed a motion to suppress the evidence as a violation of his 4th amendment right against unreasonable searched and seizures. The district court held that the officers’ conduct in searching the bus constituted an unconstitutional checkpoint stop. In addition, the district court held that the bus driver did not voluntarily consent to the officers’ search of the luggage compartment where the backpack was located. As a result, the district court suppressed all evidence the officers seized after the stop.

The government appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

First, the court held that the district court incorrectly characterized the officers’ bus interdiction as an unconstitutional checkpoint. The court noted that the Supreme Court’s cases involving checkpoints involve roadblocks or other types of conduct where the government initiates a stop to interact with motorists. In this case, the officers did not require the bus driver to stop at the station. Instead, the driver made the scheduled stop as required by his employer, Greyhound. In addition, the officers only approached the driver after he had disembarked from the bus, and the driver voluntarily agreed to speak with them. The court concluded that the interaction between the officers and the driver was better characterized as a “bus interdiction.”

Second, although Wise had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his luggage, the court held that as a passenger, Wise did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the luggage compartment of the commercial bus. As a result, the court concluded that Wise had no standing to challenge the officers’ search of that compartment, to which the bus driver consented.

Third, the court held that the officers did not seize Wise, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, when they approached him, asked to see his identification, and requested his consent to search his luggage. Instead, the court concluded that Wise’s interaction with the officers was a consensual encounter because a reasonable person in Wise’s position would have felt free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter.

Finally, the court held that Wise voluntarily answered the officer’s questions, voluntarily emptied his pockets, and voluntarily gave the officer his identification and keys.

Can Police Stop You for Driving on the Improved Shoulder of the Road?

By | Drug Crimes

State v. Cortez (Tex. Crim. App. 2018)

Jose Cortez was stopped because a Texas State Trooper allegedly observed him driving on an “improved shoulder” in violation of Texas Transportation Code § 545.058. The officer testified that Cortez touched the white “fog” line of the road and crossed it twice. During the ensuing stop, the trooper searched Cortez’s vehicle and found drugs. Cortez moved to suppress the stop (and the search) arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to initiate the stop.

What is Driving on the Improved Shoulder?

The Texas Transportation Code also defines “improved shoulder” as a “paved shoulder” with the “shoulder” being the “portion of the highway that is:

  •  adjacent to the roadway;
  • designed or ordinarily used for parking;
  • distinguished from the roadway by different design, construction, or marking; and
  • not intended for normal vehicular travel.”

The Texas Transportation Code §545.058 prohibits drivers from driving on the shoulder unless it is necessary and done safely, “but only:

  1. to stop, stand, or park;
  2. to accelerate before entering the main traveled lane of traffic;
  3. to decelerate before making a right turn;
  4. to pass another vehicle that is slowing or stopped on the main traveled portion of the highway, disabled, or preparing to make a left turn;
  5. to allow another vehicle traveling faster to pass;
  6. as permitted or required by an official traffic-control device; or
  7. to avoid a collision.”

Court Suppressed the Traffic Stop Because Driving on the Shoulder Did Not Violate Any Laws

In this case, the trial court determined, after careful review of dashcam footage and officer testimony, that Cortez did not appear to touch the fog line, and that even if he did, that was not a violation of the law. The courts also reasoned that if Cortez did cross the line, he was doing so to let the officer pass and to exit the highway, both reasons justified by the statute. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the stop. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

What Does This Mean for Texas Drivers?

First, it is not illegal to touch the white line of the shoulder under Texas Transportation Code § 545.058. If you are pulled over for this, the courts have determined this is not a violation of the law and does not provide a reasonable basis for an officer to pull you over and search your vehicle.

Second, if you do cross the white line, that is not necessarily a violation. If one of the acceptable reasons above is present, then it is permissible to cross the shoulder line and the police will not have a reasonable basis for stopping you and should not stop you or search your vehicle.

Overall, you should pay close attention when you are driving. But the courts have acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to drive in a perfectly straight line. The police do not automatically have a reasonable basis to stop you if you cross the white line, and they have NO basis for stopping you if you merely touch it. However, as we have always said, if you are stopped, be polite, be courteous, and do not consent to any searches.

NOTE: Presiding Judge Keller dissented in this case and would hold that driving on the white fog line does constitute driving on the improved shoulder in violation of the transportation code.

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.