Weapons Charges Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense and Personal Injury Attorneys

TSA Airport Gun Charges Texas

Criminal Penalties for Bringing a Gun to the Airport (Accidentally)

By | Weapons Charges

Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon at an Airport in Texas

TSA Airport Gun Charges TexasWe love our guns in Texas. After all, those licensed to carry a handgun can now choose to conceal the handgun or wear it on their hip like in the old west. But carrying a handgun comes with its risks. Many places are designated as “off limits” for handguns. Chief among them is the airport. And everyday, well-meaning folks forget about their trusty handgun when they pack their bags and head to DFW International Airport, only to be reminded by a less-than-friendly TSA agent as they attempt to pass through security.

What Can Happen if I Accidentally Bring a Gun Through Security at DFW Airport?

Generally, if you carry a firearm through the security checkpoint at an airport, you can be detained and arrested. Carrying a firearm, either on your person or in your carry-on luggage, is a violation of Texas Penal Code Sections 46.02 and 46.03. The detention and arrest could take several hours and might cause you to miss your flight as you move through the process. The DFW Airport Police could also confiscate your handgun. If you are arrested for bringing a handgun to the airport, your case will be filed with the Tarrant County District Attorney.

How Serious is an Arrest for Bringing a Firearm to the Airport in Texas?

Depending on how the authorities choose to proceed, you could be charged with 3rd Degree Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor. A 3rd Degree Felony carries a range of punishment from 2-10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. A Class A Misdemeanor carries a punishment range of 0-365 days in the County Jail and a fine up to $4,000. We handle several airport gun cases every year and in our experience, the Tarrant County DA typically files the case as a Class A misdemeanor.

What Should I Do After I am Arrested for an Airport Gun Charge?

After you post bond and are released from custody, you need to hire a lawyer to help defend you on the charges. You should also consider signing up for a local gun safety course so that you can demonstrate that you understand the severity of your mistake and are taking steps to ensure that it does not happen again. Other than that, follow the advice of your attorney. Do not attempt to get your gun back. Your lawyer can help you do that with a court order, if appropriate, once the case is closed.

I Have an LTC (CHL). Are There Any Exceptions for Me?

Yes. In 2015, the Texas legislature added some language to Section 46.03 to provide for LTC holders who accidentally forgot about their weapon. Section 46.03 now provides:

(e-1) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(5) that the actor:
(1) possessed, at the screening checkpoint for the secured area, a concealed handgun that the actor was licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code;  and
(2) exited the screening checkpoint for the secured area immediately upon completion of the required screening processes and notification that the actor possessed the handgun.
(e-2) A peace officer investigating conduct that may constitute an offense under Subsection (a)(5) and that consists only of an actor’s possession of a concealed handgun that the actor is licensed to carry under Subchapter H, Chapter 411, Government Code, may not arrest the actor for the offense unless:
(1) the officer advises the actor of the defense available under Subsection (e-1) and gives the actor an opportunity to exit the screening checkpoint for the secured area;  and
(2) the actor does not immediately exit the checkpoint upon completion of the required screening processes.

So, basically, they are going to give you a chance to leave the secured area as soon as your mistake is realized. They cannot arrest a valid LTC holder unless the person refuses to leave the secured area immediately.

How Can I Lawfully Carry a Firearm on a Flight?

To carry a firearm on a flight, you must place the firearm in your checked baggage and declare it at the time you check your bags. Also, you should check the TSA guidelines before packing to ensure that you follow all of the rules and regulations.

TSA Sent Me a Demand for Money After I was Arrested. What Should I Do?

The law allows for TSA to send a civil demand letter for money damages. TSA officials consider the “severity” of your violation and then send a demand for money within the range that they consider appropriate. They will typically allow for your to pay less than the demanded amount if you pay quickly.

*See this sample TSA Civil Demand Letter.

You may pay the full demand, file a written response, or contact TSA to see if you can work out an arrangement. We have been able to help our clients pay less than what is demanded, but every case is different.

Will I Receive a Conviction on My Record For This?

It depends. Many of our clients that were charged with Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon in the airport have had their cases dismissed. But again, every case is different. The key is to contact an attorney right away so that your rights may be preserved throughout the criminal justice process.  Our team regularly handles airport gun cases arising out of DFW International Airport or Love Field Airport. We have offices in Keller and Fort Worth and offer free consultations.

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).

Possesion of a Firearm by a Felon

Defining “Felon in Possession (of a Firearm) in Furtherance of a Crime”

By | Weapons Charges

5th Circuit Holds that Prosecutors need not provide evidence for each one of the Ceballos-Torres ‘Felon in Possession in Furtherance of a Crime’ factors.

Possesion of a Firearm by a FelonUS v Walker (5th Circuit 2016)

At trial, Henry David Walker pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute meth and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime, violations of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A). On record at the arraignment hearing and post-plea, Walker admitted to possessing nine firearms, including a 32-caliber firearm, two 22-caliber rifles, two 20-gauge shotguns, two revolvers, and a 9-millimeter semiautomatic gun—all of which were found at the scene of the arrest. US v. Walker, 218 F.3d 415. The district court sentenced Walker to concurrent terms of 151 months in prison for the conspiracy charge, and an additional 60 month statutorily-imposed mandatory sentence for the possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. Walker appeals to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that “factual basis” established after the guilty plea was insufficient to prove that he possessed the firearms in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.

The Big Issues before the Fifth Circuit: Did the Government Satisfy the “Felon in Possession” Requirements?

Walker’s plea came before the factual basis for the charge was established on record—was the apple put before the cart? The Court must determine whether a factual basis can be established after a guilty plea, and if so, whether the factual basis for Walker’s conviction was sufficient. The Court must also determine whether prosecutors need to provide evidence for each “felon in possession” factors.

Federal Law Regarding Felon in Possession in Furtherance of a Crime

A guilty plea is insufficient in itself to support a criminal conviction—the court must satisfy itself, through an inquiry of the defendant or examination of the relevant materials in the record, than an adequate factual basis exists for the elements of the offense.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 11(b)(3); United States v. Adams, 961 F.2d 505, 508 (5th Cir. 1992).

Any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug trafficking crime…uses or carries a firearm, or who in furtherance of any such crime, possesses a firearm, shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such crime of violence or drug trafficking crime …be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years…” 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i).

The mere presence of a firearm is not enough—possession of a firearm is ‘in furtherance’ of the drug trafficking offense when it furthers, advances, or helps forward that offense. United States v. Palmer, 456 F.3d 484, 489-90 (5th Cir. 2006); United States v. Ceballos-Torres, 218 F.3d 409, 410-411.

Factors that help courts determine whether the possession of the firearm was in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime include: (1) type of drug activity; (2) accessibility of the firearm; (3) type of weapon; (4) whether weapons are stolen; (5) whether the possession is legitimate or illegal; (6) whether the gun is loaded; (7) proximity to the drugs or money; and, (8) the time and circumstances under which the weapons are found. Ceballos-Torres at 414.
The Fifth Circuit Analyzes the Ceballos-Torres Factors to Determine Walker’s Fate

Walker appeals to the Fifth Circuit, arguing that his case more closely aligns with United States v. Palmer, a case in which the Fifth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction based on lack of support under the Ceballos-Torres factors. The Fifth Circuit compares the three cases to analyze the factors.

 Claiming no evidence of proximity of guns to the drugs.  Gun was locked in a safe.  Guns found alongside a substantial amount of drugs.
 Ammo matched the guns; most guns loaded.  Gun was not loaded.  Weapons loaded.
 Claiming no evidence of accessibility of the gun (no easy access). Ammo in the house did not match the gun. Ammo present that matched the guns.
 Walker is not a meth supplier.  Defense claimed he bought the gun for self-defense. Convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
 Nine firearms.  One unloaded firearm.  Multiple firearms.
 Denies weapons used in the furtherance of drug-related activity.  Denied the gun was used in relation to drug trafficking.  Court found weapons were in furtherance of drug-related crimes.

Here, the Fifth Circuit say that “the factual basis need not provide evidence for every single one of the Ceballos-Torres factors for a court to conclude that the defendant possessed a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime,” rather, they are examples a court “might include” in its analysis “to help determine” a judgment. Further, the government need not provide evidence supporting each and every factor to determine guilt.

Because Walker possessed the firearms at his residence alongside the meth he supplied to dealers, he was a convicted felon at the time of the possession of the firearms, and because there were so many weapons present at the scene, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s conviction and sentence.

Warrantless Search Mattress Protective Sweep Texas

Warrantless Search Under a Man’s Mattress Held Constitutional

By | Search & Seizure

United States v. Garcia-Lopez (5th Circuit, 2016)

Warrantless Search Mattress Protective Sweep TexasFACTS: On February 5, 2014, the Wharton County Deputy Sheriff’s Department served a felony arrest warrant on Yonari Garcia at his father’s trailer home. Yonari’s father told law enforcement that Yonari was not home, however, consented to a search of the trailer. Upon entry, Garcia-Lopez, Yonari’s brother, made a beeline for a bedroom, closing and locking the door. Law enforcement followed Garcia-Lopez and demanded that the door be unlocked. Garcia-Lopez opened the door and the police entered, continuing the search for Yonari. Garcia-Lopez asked if he could sit on his bed and eat his dinner while police searched the room. The police obliged the odd request. A minute later, law enforcement discovered two sets of bullet-proof vests in plain sight, prompting a background check. Garcia-Lopez was a convicted felon and having the body armor was a violation for being a felon in possession of body armor, U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The police arrested Garcia-Lopez after being in the home a total of three minutes. After the arrest, police continued searching the Garcia-Lopez’s room. Concerned Yonari might be sheltered in a hollowed-out mattress, the police lifted the bed up, discovering ammunition and three handguns sandwiched between the mattress and box springs. After a total of seven minutes inside the trailer, the police left with Garcia-Lopez under arrest.

See the 5th Circuit’s full opinion in United States v Garcia Lopez.

Garcia-Lopez Indicted for Federal Firearms Charges

In March 2014, Garcia-Lopez was indicted on six counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of USC §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). During an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Garcia-Lopez’s motion to suppress the guns found under the mattress because law enforcement was originally in the trailer for a legitimate purpose and they had a right to search the home pursuant to the valid arrest warrant for Yonari. The court added that upon the valid search of the premises, law enforcement found contraband and arrested Garcia-Lopez. Further the court stated that upon his arrest, law enforcement had the right to make a protective sweep, so long as it did not last an unreasonable amount of time. Additionally, there was testimony that indicated that suspects have been known to hide in hollowed-out mattress to evade arrest. According to the district court, the search for Yonari and seizure of the guns was proper in every way. Garcia-Lopez was sentenced to forty-six years imprisonment and two years of supervised release. Garcia-Lopez appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that law enforcement’s belief that Yonari might have been hiding in the bed was unreasonable, and thus, unconstitutional.

Was Lifting the Mattress an Unconstitutional Search or a Lawful Protective Sweep?

The Court of Appeals must determine whether the act of “lifting up the mattress” and seizing the guns violated Garcia-Lopez’s constitutional rights. In other words, was lifting the mattress an unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?

Under the Fourth Amendment, warrantless searches are pre se unreasonable. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 474-75 (1971). A protective sweep may be conducted with [a lower threshold of] reasonable suspicion, probable cause is not necessary. Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325-27 (1990). “There must be articulable facts which, taken together with the rational references from those facts, would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing danger to those on the arrest scene.” Id. A protective sweep [must be] quick and…limited to the safety of the police. Id. Evidence seen in plain view during a lawful sweep can be seized and admitted into evidence during trial. United States v. Jackson, 596 F. 3d 236, 242 (5th Cir. 2010).

5th Circuit Holds that the Warrantless Search of the Mattress was Reasonable

Here, the Court of Appeals held that the district court’s finding of reasonable suspicion was correct because of the amount of evidence supporting such a claim. First, law enforcement became suspicious because of the standoff over the locked door. Second, Garcia-Lopez’s odd request to sit back down on the bed while the police conducted the search is suspicious in light of the circumstances. Third, the belief that a suspect could be hiding in a hollowed-out mattress is reasonable given police training and data supporting such a claim. Fourth, the search lasted a total of seven minutes—a reasonable amount of time to conduct a protective sweep. In sum, the Court says it was logical under the specific facts of this case to suspect that Yonari might have been hiding in the mattress. The Court affirms the district court’s judgment—the warrantless search under Garcia-Lopez’s mattress was not unconstitutional under the circumstances.

Brass Knuckles, Silencers and Prohibited Weapons in Texas

What Weapons Are Illegal to Possess in Texas?

By | Weapons Charges

Prohibited Weapons in Texas | Are Brass Knuckles Illegal in Texas?

Brass Knuckles, Silencers and Prohibited Weapons in TexasYes, brass knuckles are illegal to possess in Texas. Under Texas’ Open Carry laws, qualified Texans can now carry a handgun in a holster on their waist just like they could in the Wild West. But there are still many other weapons that are illegal to possess or carry in Texas. Section 46.05 of the Texas Penal Code outlines the weapons that are prohibited to possess in Texas. The following is the list of weapons that are prohibited weapons in the state of Texas under Section 46.05:

  • Explosive weapons*
  • Machine guns*
  • Short-barrel firearms*
  • Firearm silencers*
  • Brass knuckles
  • Armor-piercing ammunition
  • Chemical dispensing devises
  • Zip guns; and
  • Tire deflation devices

*However, explosive weapons, machine guns, short-barrel firearms, and firearm silencers will not be considered prohibited weapons if the item is registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.  There is no such exception for brass knuckles in Texas.

What are the Consequences of Possessing Brass Knuckles or a Prohibited Weapon in Texas? | What is the Punishment for Possession of Silencers?

A person commits a criminal offense if they intentionally or knowingly possess, manufacture, transport, repair, or sell any of the prohibited weapons.

  • Possession of an explosive weapon, machine gun, short-barrel firearm, firearm silencer, armor-piercing ammunition, chemical dispensing device, or a zip gun is a third degree felony, punishable from 2-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
  • The possession of a tire deflation device is a state jail felony, punishable from 6 months to 2 years in a State Jail Facility and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Finally, the possession of brass knuckles is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by 0 – 365 days in county jail and a fine up to $4,000.

Defending Against a Brass Knuckles Charge | What Defenses are Available in a Prohibited Weapons Case?

For persons charged with possession of brass knuckles and other prohibited weapons offenses, there are several defenses that are recognized under the law.

  • It is a defense if the person’s conduct was in connection to the performance of official duty by the armed forces or National Guard, a governmental law enforcement agency, or a correctional facility.
  • Also, it is an affirmative defense if the person was dealing with a tire deflation device or armor-piercing ammunition solely for the performance in one of those official duties.
  • An affirmative defense is also provided to a person dealing with a short-barrel firearm or tire deflation device solely as an antique or curio.
  • Lastly, it is a defense if the possession of a chemical dispensing device if the person is a commissioned security officer and has received training on the use of the device by a training program provided by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement or approved by the Texas Private Security Board of the Department of Public Safety.

Prohibited Weapons and Brass Knuckles Defense Attorneys in Fort Worth, Texas

If you are under investigation for a prohibited weapons case or if you have been charged with possession of a prohibited weapon, contact our team of Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys today. We provide a free consultation on every criminal case. As avid hunters with military experience, we are familiar firearms laws and defenses in Texas. Contact us today at (817) 993-9249.


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Firearm possession by felon

Felon in Possession Even if Felony is Reversed

By | Weapons Charges

Firearm possession by felonUnder section 46.04 of the Texas Penal Code, it is unlawful for a felon to possess a firearm.  Of course, it’s more complicated than that.  There are nuances.  But for the purpose of this post, I’ll leave it at that.

So here’s our scenario: A person is convicted of a felony.  Check.  Then that same person is caught possessing a firearm in violation of section 46.04.  Check.  He is then convicted for being a felon in possession.  Check.  But here’s the curveball…what if this person later challenges his original felony on appeal and wins?  Now the predicate offense is gone.  Poof!  Can his subsequent conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon still stand when he is no longer a felon?

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addressed this scenario in Ex Parte Jimenez.  To paraphrase the CCA’s answer…it depends.  It depends on when the person’s predicate felony was reversed.  If the predicate felony is reversed PRIOR to the conviction for possession of a firearm by a felon (as it was in Cuellar v. State, 70 S.W.3d 815), then the felon in possession conviction should not stand.  It should be reversed.  But if the predicate felony is reversed AFTER the person is convicted for possessing a firearm as a felon (as is the case here), then the conviction should not be disturbed.

The CCA looked to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Lewis v. United States, 445 U.S. 55 (1980) which explained that “to obtain a valid conviction, the prosecution must prove the status of the defendant at the time he possessed the weapon.”

Therefore, if the defendant had the status of a felon at the time he possessed the firearm, a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon is not void if the predicate felony is subsequently set aside.

In Jimenez’s case, because his felony conviction was reversed AFTER he was convicted of possession of a firearm, the CCA denied him relief.

Judge Meyers dissented, opining that the facts of the case fit the criteria for an actual innocence claim under the CCA’s opinion in Ex Parte Elizondo, 947 S.W.2d 202 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996).

5th Circuit Terry Stop

Time’s Up! Your Terry Stop is Over. Please Return to Your Squad Car.

By | Uncategorized

5th Circuit Terry StopThe Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Federal) issued an opinion on September 27, 2011 in United States v. Macias, addressing an unconstitutional search and seizure by a Trooper in Pecos County, Texas.  On November 22, 2009, Trooper Juan Barragan stopped Robert Macias, Jr. for failure to wear his seatbelt.  Upon stopping the defendant, Trooper Barragan started asking him questions.  His initial questions dealt with common issues such as the defendant’s purpose for traveling and the defendant’s lack of insurance.  As time went on Trooper Barragan began asking more and more questions unrelated to the reasons he stopped the defendant in the first place.  After his initial questions, the trooper asked the defendant about his employment and the specific reason he was traveling to see a doctor.  The trooper also repeated questions that the defendant had already been asked and had answered.  The initial exchange between the two took approximately two minutes.

After the initial exchange, the trooper asked the defendant to come back to his patrol car with him.  The trooper then began to ask the defendant another series of questions.  Trooper Barragan asked if the defendant had his “own little company” and if he had ever “been in trouble before.” This second series of questions lasted approximately one minute.  The trooper then went back to the defendant’s vehicle (it was actually he defendant’s sister’s vehicle) and asked the defendant’s passenger a series of questions regarding her relationship with the defendant and the purpose of their trip.  Two more minutes elapsed during this series of questions.  The trooper then went back to the defendant and asked him more questions at which point he elicited from the defendant that he had been previously imprisoned for an attempted murder conviction.  The trooper then told the defendant that he was going to go back to his patrol vehicle and write him a citation for failure to wear his seatbelt.  Eleven minutes elapsed from the time that the defendant had been pulled over to the time that he received the citation.

Ten minutes after returning to his patrol car, the trooper returned to the defendant and gave him the citation.  The defendant signed the citations.  Then, just as the trooper was about to leave, he asked the defendant for consent to search his vehicle.  The defendant protested that there was nothing in the vehicle, but he ultimately gave consent to search the truck after his protestations were met by the trooper noting that the defendant has a “shady” background.  Seventeen minutes after he began the search of the truck, and forty-seven minutes after initiating the stop, Trooper Barragan found an unloaded firearm and ammunition in a closed bag belonging to the defendant.

A grand jury indicted Macias for being a felon in possession of a firearm.  Macias moved to suppress the firearm as fruits of an unconstitutional detention.  The district court denied Macias’s motion to suppress and Macias entered a conditional plea of guilty with the option to appeal the district court’s denial.

The Fifth Circuit analyzed the legality of the stop based on the traditional Terry v. Ohio analysis.  392 U.S. 1 (1968).  The Court first looked to whether the Terry stop of the vehicle was justified at its inception and then whether the officer’s subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop of the vehicle in the first place.  Macias conceded that the stop was valid, but that the Trooper exceeded the scope of the stop when he asked questions unrelated to the purpose and itinerary of the trip.  Macias argued that these questions impermissibly extended the duration of the stop without developing reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity.

The Court cited various cases including United States v. Pack, 612 F.3d 341 (5th Cir.), which held that an officer may ask questions on subjects unrelated to the circumstances that caused the stop, so long as these unrelated questions do not extend the duration of the stop.  Macias’s argument was that the Trooper’s actions after the stop unconstitutionally extended the duration of that stop.  Macias specifically noted that the trooper ran computer checks, engaged in detailed questioning about matters unrelated to Macias’s driver’s license, his proof of insurance, the vehicle registration, or the purpose of the itinerary of his trip that unreasonably prolonged the detention without developing reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity. The Fifth Circuit agreed.

The Fifth Circuit noted that the only evidence that the trooper could point to that might lead to reasonable suspicion of additional criminal activity was Macias’s extreme nervousness.  It held that extreme nervousness in and of itself was not sufficient to support the extended detention.

The Fifth Circuit ultimately concluded that the search of the truck violated the Fourth Amendment (Terry Stop prohibitions) and that all evidence resulting from that search should have been suppressed.  Macias’s judgment of conviction was reversed and vacated and the case was remanded for entry of judgment of acquittal.

The case contains a lot of applicable case law (a horn book in itself) for attorney’s practicing in the Fifth Circuit in regards to Fourth Amendment searches and seizures.

Gun possession Illegal Alien

Second Amendment Not Written For an Illegal Alien

By | Immigration

Gun possession Illegal AlienThe Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

But who are “the people?”  Does that include everyone, even illegal aliens?  Nope, says the 5th Circuit.

In a recent case, the Appellant argued that his conviction for being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) violated the Second Amendment. The court held that “the people” referenced in the Second Amendment does not include aliens illegally in the United States. The court noted that the Constitution does not prohibit Congress from making laws that distinguish between citizens and aliens, and between lawful and illegal aliens, and as a result 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) is constitutional under the Second Amendment.

U.S. v. Portillo-Munoz, (5th Circuit) decided June 13, 2011.  See the full opinion in United States v. Portillo-Munoz.

Read about a different case (with a different conclusion) in Breitbart’s article.

Reckless Discharge of a Firearm in Texas

Pleading a Tautology | Reckless Discharge of a Firearm

By | Weapons Charges

Can the State prove Reckless Discharge of a Firearm by simply proving discharge of a firearm in the city limits?

Reckless Discharge of a Firearm in TexasYesterday, the Court of Criminal Appeals handed down State v. Rodriguez, a case in which the State appealed the lower court decision setting aside the information (charging document) for failure to plead an offense.

The State charged Roman Rodriguez under section 42.12 of the Texas Penal Code for reckless discharge of a firearm inside city limits. The information alleged that the defendant

recklessly discharged a firearm by pulling the trigger on a firearm which contained ammunition and was operable.

Upholding the 4th District Court of Appeals (San Antonio), the CCA held that the charge was deficient because it failed to allege that the act was done recklessly. The CCA noted that,

The State’s information alleged that Mr. Rodriguez recklessly discharged a firearm inside [the city limits] “by pulling the trigger on an firearm which contained ammunition and was operable.” Well, of course he did. Everyone who discharges a firearm pulls the trigger, and every firearm that is discharged contains ammunition and is operable if it discharges.

The Court explained that, in essence, the State pled a tautology – “The defendant recklessly discharged a firearm because he discharged a firearm.” The Court further noted that there are many occasions where a person might discharge a firearm inside the city limits by pulling the trigger on an operable firearm containing ammunition, such as: “if a person shoots a robber or a rapist climbing into his bedroom window,” or “if he shoots a rattlesnake lying in the bushes.”

Accordingly, because the State only alleged “how” the defendant discharged the firearm and failed to alleged how he “recklessly” discharged the same, the information was deficient and should be set aside.

Judge Price concurred in the result and writes separately to express his opinion that the statute (section 42.12) is “hopelessly ambiguous” regarding the recklessness requirement.  Presiding Judge Keller joined in Judge Price’s concurrence. Judge Womack also concurs without opinion.