Scholarship Winners BHW 2017

2017 Scholarship Winners | Veteran Law Student & Military Dependent

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

 

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

2017 Winner – Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship

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

LCDR OMAR HASAN

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

2017 Winner – Military Dependent Scholarship

The winner of the 2017 Military Dependent Undergraduate Scholarship is:

JESSICA OLMEDO

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

More Information About Our Scholarship Opportunities:

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

Military Veteran Law Student Scholarship

Military Dependent Scholarship

psychosexual evaluation sex offender risk assessment

Psychosexual Evaluations: A Risk Assessment for Sexual Allegation Cases

By | Sex Crimes | No Comments

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

Psychosexual evaluations are routinely performed to:

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

Explaining the Psychosexual Evaluation Process

How long does the evaluation last?

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

The Evaluation Consists of Four Parts

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

Clinical Interview

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

Psychometric Tests

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

Physiological Assessment of Sexual Arousal

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

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

Risk Assessment

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

Confidentiality

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

Advice for Clients and Attorneys Regarding Psychosexual Evaluations

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

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

Stale Traffic Violation Zuniga Drug Case

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

By | Drug Crimes | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Motion to Suppress for Unreasonable Traffic Delay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packingham Social Media Ban for Sex Offenders

SCOTUS Declares Social Media Ban for Sex Offenders Unconstitutional

By | Sex Crimes | No Comments

Packingham Social Media Ban for Sex OffendersIn today’s world Internet access has become virtually unlimited. And, with new technology come new problems. These problems have led the Supreme Court to address the challenge modern day Internet access has created for the First Amendment in the landmark case, Packingham v. North Carolina. In Packingham, the Court was asked to determine whether a North Carolina law, which makes it a felony for a registered sex offender to access a social media-networking site, violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

North Carolina Imposed a Social Media Ban for all Registered Sex Offenders

In 2002, Lester Packingham, a 21-year-old student, pled guilty for taking indecent liberties with a child after having sex with a 13-year-old girl. As such, Packingham was required to register as a sex offender. However, in 2010 Packingham posted to his personal Facebook account thanking God after he received a dismissal for a traffic ticket. This post was observed by a police officer and Packingham was ultimately convicted for violating the social media ban for sex offenders. After making it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, Packingham’s conviction has now been overturned.

Supreme Court holds that Banning Sex Offenders from Social Media Violates the First Amendment

In overturning Packingham’s case, the Court ruled the North Carolina law to be an impermissible restriction of lawful speech. The Court has consistently held that “[a] fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.” As such, the Court ruled that one of the most fundamental places to exchange views is cyberspace—particularly social media platforms. Social media has evolved and formed a stage for many topics protected by the First Amendment, including human thought. It has evolved so much so that “seven in ten American adults” now use at least one form of social media. Thus, the Court reasoned that while it may have once been difficult to determine which “places” are important for the exchange of ideas, it is now clear.

The Internet allows people access to vast amounts of information, which people need to thrive in modern society. North Carolina prohibited access to this information in an effort to protect children, but they ended up preventing Packingham from gaining access to large amounts of information — information unlikely to further sex crimes. As a result, the Court agreed that sex crimes involving children are repugnant, but it explained that even a valid government interest cannot escape all constitutional protections. The Court further noted that “[e]ven convicted criminals—and in some instances especially convicted criminals—might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, particularly if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives.” Thus, the Court determined that North Carolina did not meet its burden to show why the overly broad law was necessary to serve its purpose of protecting children and subsequently declared the law unconstitutional.

For further analysis, see: Amy Howe, Opinion analysis: Court invalidates ban on social media for sex offenders, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 19, 2017, 1:52 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2017/06/opinion-analysis-court-invalidates-ban-social-media-sex-offenders/ 

Seal Texas DWI Non Disclosure HB 3016

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

By | DWI | No Comments

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

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

What is an Order of Non-Disclosure?

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

Non-Disclosures Prior to House Bill 3016

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

What is HB 3016?

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

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

See the full text of HB 3016 – Enrolled version.

Orders of Non-Disclosure for DWI Offenses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the Disqualifying Factors for DWI Sealing?

A person may NOT have their DWI record sealed if:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results of HB 3016 and the New Non-Disclosure Law

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

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

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

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas Queeman

Auto Accident Turned Homicide Conviction Reversed by CCA

By | Criminal Negligence | No Comments

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

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

Trial Court Found Appellant Guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Cyberbullying Law | David's Law

Texas’ New Cyberbullying Law | Cyberbullying Offense 9/1/17

By | Legislative Update | No Comments

David’s Law | New Cyberbullying Law in Texas

Texas Cyberbullying Law | David's LawOn June 9, 2016, the Governor signed SB 179 into effect—otherwise known as David’s law. David’s law, named after David Molak, a 16 year-old boy who committed suicide after relentless cyberbullying, was created in an effort to punish such reprehensible actions. In 2011, lawmakers added the term “cyberbullying” to the Texas Education Code under the bullying section. However, this provision did not create any legal punishment for cyberbullying. It only required school districts to develop their own policies to prevent and intervene in such cases. David’s law changes this by amending the Education Code regarding bullying to include cyberbullying as a criminal offense.

Full Text of new Cyberbullying Law

What is Bullying?

Bullying is a significant act(s) by one or more students directed at exploiting another student and involves any verbal or written statement, electronic communication, or physical act that results in:

  • physical harm to a student;
  • damaging a student’s property; or,
  • causing a student reasonable fear of harm.

Bullying also occurs when there is ongoing, severe, and persistent statements or physical acts that create an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for a student. Furthermore, cyberbullying includes such conduct that substantially interferes with a student’s education, substantially disrupts school, or infringes the rights of the victim at school.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying occurs when a person uses any electronic communication device to engage in any type of bullying described above. Relevant communications include, for example, statements made through social media outlets or text messages.

Where does Bullying/Cyberbullying have to Occur?

David’s law applies to bullying that takes place on school property, during any school-sponsored or school-related activity, or in a vehicle operated by the school district (i.e. a bus). Additionally, David’s law includes cyberbullying that occurs off campus and outside of a school-sponsored or related activity if:

  • it interferes with a student’s educational opportunities; or,
  • substantially disrupts the orderly operation of a classroom, school, or school-sponsored or school-related activity.

What are the School’s Responsibilities?

Schools must install a way for students to report bullying/cyberbullying anonymously. Additionally, upon receiving a report, school officials must report the incident to the alleged victim’s parents within three business days and to the alleged bully’s parents within a reasonable time.

Furthermore, under David’s law a school may, but has no legal obligation to, report conduct constituting assault or harassment to the police. A report may include both the name and the address of each student believed to be involved.
Punishment

Cyberbullying will be classified as a Class B misdemeanor beginning September 1, 2017. However, the offense becomes a Class A misdemeanor, if the offender has been previously convicted of cyberbullying or if the bullying was done to a victim under 18 years-old with the intent that the minor commit suicide or self inflict serious injury to themselves. Additionally, a student charged with cyberbullying can face administrative sanctions such as expulsion or alternative schooling.

A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year.

Texting While Driving Law Texas

Texting While Driving in Texas | Texas’ New Traffic Law

By | Traffic Offenses | No Comments

Texting While Driving Law TexasVirtually every state in America has a statewide law banning the use of cell phones or texting while driving. Until recently, Texas has had minimal restrictions on cell phone usage while driving. Such restrictions include:

  • drivers with learner’s permits are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving;
  • Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communications devices;
  • school bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present; and
  • in school zones, all drivers are prohibited from texting and using handheld devices while driving.

However, after many failed efforts, Texas has finally passed a law banning the use of handheld devices in certain situations, namely texting. On June 6, 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 62, which makes using a portable wireless communication device (i.e. a cell phone) to read, write, or send an electronic message (i.e. a text) while operating a motor vehicle a misdemeanor offense.

Notice is Required to be Posted by DPS of the New Ban

The Texas Department of Transportation will be required to post signs on interstate and U.S. highways entering the state indicating that texting while driving is prohibited and carries a fine. Additionally, the new law requires that the driver’s license test cover knowledge about the effects of texting while driving or other actions that constitute distracted driving.

What is the Punishment for Texting While Driving in Texas?

Under the new law, the sole offense of “texting while driving” is not an arrestable offense. A driver’s first offense will be punishable by a fine between $25 and $99, and any subsequent offenses will carry a fine between $100 and $200. Additionally, the Department of Motor Vehicles is not authorized to assign points to a driver’s license for a “texting while driving offense.”

However, if at trial for the offense it is shown that the defendant caused the death or serious bodily injury of another person, the offense will become a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year. Additionally, if the conduct constituting the offense is also a violation of another law, the defendant may be prosecuted under either law, or both.

Possible Defenses to a Texting While Driving Charge:

A driver may have a defense to prosecution if the driver was:

  • not moving;
  • using a hands-free device, including voice-operated technology;
  • reporting illegal activity or summoning emergency help;
  • reading an electronic message that the person reasonably believed concerned an emergency;
  • relaying information to a dispatcher or digital network through a device affixed to the vehicle as part of the driver’s job;
  • activating functions to play music; or
  • using a GPS function.

Additionally, the law does not apply to drivers of authorized emergency or law enforcement vehicles acting in an official capacity or to drivers licensed by the Federal Communications Commission operating a radio frequency device other than a portable wireless communication device.
Furthermore, the law prohibits the search and seizure of a driver’s cell phone unless authorized by another law.

Concerns Regarding HB 62 (Texting While Driving Law)

Supporters of the law believe it will increase safety and reduce distracted driving incidents, while opponents see it as an overreach of the government into citizen’s lives. Some fear the law will allow law enforcement to gain more power to stop citizens by mistaking a person’s legal actions for texting. However, despite these reservations, this law takes effect on September 1, 2017, preempting local ordinances, and applies only to offenses committed on or after that date.

Links to the full text of the bill:

http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/billtext/pdf/HB00062F.pdf#navpanes=0
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/billlookup/History.aspx?LegSess=85R&Bill=HB62

License Plate Scanner BROCA MARTINEZ

Whether “Unconfirmed” Insurance Creates Reasonable Suspicion to Stop

By | Reasonable Suspicion | No Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co Defendant Suppression New Trial Arizmendi

When a Co-Defendant’s Wins a Suppression but You Already Pled Guilty

By | Criminal Appeals | No Comments

“Buyer’s Remorse”—Rolling the Dice on Plea Deals

Co Defendant Suppression New Trial ArizmendiThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion concerning a motion for a new trial based on evidence obtained from a co-defendant’s motion to suppress hearing. The issues facing the Court were whether the defendant, who had recently entered into a plea deal, satisfied the requirements for granting a new trial on the basis of such evidence; and, whether the defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim was properly brought before the court.

State of Texas v. Arizmendi (Court of Criminal Appeals, 2017)

The Facts — Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion for New Trial in the “Interest of Justice.”

Rosa Arizmendi, Defendant, was convicted (after pleading guilty) for being in possession of more than 400 grams of methamphetamine with intent to deliver after officers stopped her co-defendant’s vehicle, of which she was a passenger. Both Defendant and Co-defendant were arrested as a result of the stop. On April 28, 2015, Defendant entered into a plea deal, receiving twenty-five years confinement and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, Defendant voluntarily waived her right to appeal.

Six days later, a hearing for a motion to suppress was held regarding Co-defendant’s case. The video of the stop was introduced into evidence, and the arresting officer testified, noting that he initially noticed the vehicle because it looked clean and subsequently stopped the vehicle for crossing over the while line delineating the roadway from the improved shoulder. However, the trial court concluded that Co-defendant’s vehicle was not in any violation of Texas law. The Court explained that the vehicle only came in close proximity of and possibly touched the inside portion of the white line, which is not a violation of Texas law. Thus, granting Co-defendant’s motion. See, State v. Cortez, 501 S.W.3d 606 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

Based on this information, Defendant filed a motion for new trial, “in the interest of justice,” alleging the verdict in her case was contrary to the law and evidence. Defendant’s motion referred to Co-defendant’s hearing alleging a lack of probable cause or other lawful reasons for the stop. Furthermore, Defendant asserted the officer’s testimony was new evidence not available at the time of Defendant’s guilty plea. Defendant’s counsel further asserted that because she failed to tell Defendant that a motion to suppress was an option, Defendant received ineffective assistance.

The State argued that Defendant waived her right to appeal as a result of the plea deal and had not presented any new evidence likely to result in a different ruling. Noting, all evidence could have been discovered had Defendant been diligent. The State further asserted that Defendant was merely suffering from “buyers remorse.” Moreover, the State contended Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim was not apart of the original motion for new trial and, therefore, was untimely. However, the trial court rejected these arguments and granted Defendant’s motion for new trial “in the interest of justice,” and the State appealed.

The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Trial Court’s Decision — Holding Defendant Satisfied the Requirements for Granting a New Trial Based on Newly Discovered Evidence.

On appeal the State contended that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Defendant’s motion and further reiterated its previous assertions.

The Court of Appeals, however, rejected the State’s arguments. The Court held Defendant’s motion was not barred because the trial court implicitly granted Defendant permission to appeal when it set Defendant’s motion for hearing. The Court also determined Defendant did, in fact, present new evidence. The video of the stop did not contain audio and, therefore, the testimony was new because it was not available at the time of Defendant’s plea. Accordingly, since the Court found there was new evidence they declined to rule on the ineffective assistance claim and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed and Remanded — Holding Defendant did not Satisfy the Requirements for Relief.

The State appealed again and the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower courts’ decisions. Here, Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea deal and after learning of her co-defendant’s favorable outcome Defendant filed a motion for new trial. The Court concluded that Defendant’s assertions were without merit because her failure to discover “new evidence” was a result of her own lack of due diligence. Furthermore, the “new evidence” Defendant asserts was either cumulative, collateral, or would not have brought about a different result.

To obtain relief the Court noted Defendant must satisfy the following four-prong test:
• The newly discovered evidence was unknown or unavailable to Defendant at the time of trial;
• Defendant’s failure to discover or obtain the new evidence was not due to the defendant’s lack of due diligence;
• The new evidence is admissible and not merely cumulative, corroborative, collateral, or impeaching; and,
• The new evidence is probably true and will probably bring about a different result in a new trial.

Defendant asserted the following as newly discovered evidence:
• The trial court’s ruling on Co-defendant’s motion to suppress;
• The testimony of the arresting officer at Co-defendant’s suppression hearing; and,
• The arresting officer’s statement about Defendant’s vehicle being a clean vehicle.

First, the Court explained that the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress was not evidence; it was only a legal determination. And, furthermore, even if it was considered evidence Defendant’s failure to discover was due to her own lack of due diligence. Second, the officer’s testimony was evidence, but aside from the testimony regarding the clean vehicle, it was merely cumulative and Defendant had access to the video, which conveyed the very same facts as the testimony. Furthermore, the Court determined the officer’s testimony regarding the clean vehicle was collateral, at best. The Court explained that the officer’s subjective intent was irrelevant to the ruling. Moreover, Defendant could have sought a police report or even filed her own motion to suppress to obtain such evidence—just as her co-defendant did. Finally, the Court concluded that Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim was not properly before the court because it was not made within thirty days of the judgment and, therefore, was untimely.

Thus, all evidence Defendant asserts as “new” was either cumulative, collateral, or would not have brought about a different result. As such, the Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions and remanded with instructions to reinstate Defendant’s judgment and sentence.

This case prompted two concurring opinions and a dissent. See below.

Arizmendi Hervey Concurrence
Arizmendi Newell Concurrence
Arizmendi Alcala Dissent

Takeaways

It is paramount that defense attorneys review all evidence and timely seek any additional evidence that may be relevant to a client’s case. Moreover, it is crucial for attorneys to provide clients with all possible options and outcomes before entering into a plea deal. Here, Defendant had all the same options as her co-defendant; however, Defendant was not properly counseled and, consequently, Defendant will spend twenty-five years in prison while her co-defendant remains free.