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Houston Texas Criminal Defense Blog

Texas hemp law creates difficulties for police and prosecutors

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325 into law on June 10, he placed police officials and prosecutors in the state in a difficult position. The law legalizes hemp cultivation in Texas, but it does not apply to marijuana. This is a problem for law enforcement and the criminal justice system because the Lone Star State's crime laboratories are not currently able to measure THC concentrations, which is necessary to tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana.

County attorneys in several parts of Texas have responded to the situation by announcing that they will no longer prosecute individuals for possessing small quantities of marijuana. They say that pursuing these cases would be a waste of taxpayer money as they would lack the forensic evidence needed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This has prompted several police departments in the state to advise their officers to not arrest individuals for possessing marijuana.

Search warrants are rarely needed to access electronic data

Police officers in Texas and around the country generally must obtain warrants if they wish to search the residences or automobiles of suspects, and judges only issue these warrants if they are satisfied that there is probable cause to believe evidence of criminal activity will be discovered. However, the Fourth Amendment protections that guarantee the right of individuals to be secure in their persons, homes, papers and effects do not seem to currently apply to digital information.

Only Washington, Utah and California have passed laws requiring law enforcement to obtain search warrants to access confidential digital information. In the vast majority of cases, law enforcement need only present technology companies with a subpoena to gain access to this data. This worries civil rights groups because police do not have to show probable cause to obtain a subpoena. The ride-sharing company Uber was presented with more than 1,400 requests for information by police departments and federal agencies in 2017. A search warrant only accompanied 231 of these requests. The company says that it handed over data on 3,000 of its customers and drivers anyway.

Police tunnel vision can lead to wrongful convictions

A study conducted by two criminologists at Texas State University has raised questions about the way high-profile crimes are investigated by the police. After reviewing the investigations of 50 crimes that resulted in a wrongful conviction, the research team discovered that detectives often became convinced that a person of interest was the perpetrator and abandoned all other avenues of inquiry. In many of these cases, investigators coerced confessions from suspects and ignored exculpatory evidence.

One of the wrongful convictions studied involved a man who was sent to prison in 1990 for the murder of a 15-year-old girl. The strongest evidence against the man was a confession that he later claimed was coerced. The case file reveals that detectives investigating the murder changed their theory of the crime when DNA evidence was discovered that exonerated their prime suspect. This evidence was subsequently instrumental in freeing the man after 16 years of imprisonment.

Questions remain about eyewitness reliability

Jurors in Texas criminal cases tend to believe identifications made by eyewitnesses, especially if the witness is very confident about the identification. However, research indicates that there are still several questions about and potential problems with eyewitness accounts. Witnesses are often asked to identify the perpetrator of a crime by picking him or her out of a live lineup or out of a photo array. The outcome of the identification process is often introduced by the prosecution in a subsequent criminal trial.

Many wrongful convictions that included eyewitness identifications have been highlighted by the efforts of the Innocence Project, and researchers have known for some time that eyewitnesses are not as reliable as people tend to think they are. Research has been conducted on several different possible indicators of accuracy, including how quickly the witness picks out the party and the witness's pattern of eye movement when looking at the lineup. Witness confidence, though, has drawn the most attention.

Medical prescriptions aren't an excuse for abusing medications

Some people find it confusing that the phrase "controlled substances" refers to prescription medications you can obtain from a pharmacy and to illegal narcotics and other prohibited drugs. For example, most anti-anxiety medications are controlled substances, as are painkillers and even cholesterol medications.

Prescription drugs, with the exception of certain psychiatric medicines and painkillers, usually fall farther down on the schedule of controlled substances, in Schedules III-V. Schedule I substances, the most dangerous according to their position on the schedule, are on that list because the government believes they have no medical value and a high risk of addiction or abuse.

Court fees and fines punishing poverty

The accumulation of fines and fees that emerge from the criminal justice system can be particularly damaging to people living in poverty in Texas. Across the country, multiple state, county and city governments have developed a growing dependence on the proceeds of court fines and citations in order to fund their activities. As a result, impoverished people are disproportionately affected as they are far less able to pay these fines. While the original citation issue can be relatively minor, an inability to pay can escalate the issue rapidly. People may find themselves facing the loss of their driver's license or even jail time as a result of being unable to pay fines.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that people cannot be thrown in jail because they are too poor to pay fines. Nevertheless, local jails are filled nationwide with people with no criminal convictions, or even charges in some cases, who are unable to repay their bills. In other cases, people are put on probation and in extended contact with the criminal justice system until they finally pay off all of their nearly unrepayable debts.

How civil asset seizure impacts criminal activities

When Texas residents are accused of a crime, the authorities may seize assets that are suspected to be connected to a crime. While many law enforcement groups have argued that seizing assets, known as civil asset forfeiture, is a crucial tool for law enforcement to stop drug trafficking, a study has found that it actually has little impact on the prevention of crimes.

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement agencies to seize property that may have been involved in criminal activity. Property that can be seized includes vehicles, houses and cash. The proceeds of the property are often split between the prosecutor offices and the police department. However, it is important to note that the owner of the property does not have to actually be charged with a crime in order for law enforcement to seize the property.

Texas man facing felony charge over alleged phone scuffle

A 58-year-old man is facing a felony charge for allegedly punching a woman in the face and then kicking her as she lay on the ground. The incident is said to have taken place in Raymondville on June 10. The man, who remains in custody on a $150,000 bond, claims that he was acting in self-defense. He has been charged with domestic assault in the third degree, which is a Class E felony in Texas.

Police became involved when a deputy was dispatched to the Texas County Memorial Hospital after the Texas County Sheriff's Department received a report of an assault. Initial reports do not make clear if it was the alleged victim or doctors who called law enforcement. According to media reports, the woman identified her assailant and told the deputy that he had become enraged because she was speaking with her son on the telephone. Initial reports reveal that the woman had a lump and a small bruise on her face but no stomach or hip injuries.

Prescription medication and driving: Things you need to know

Although prescription medication is designed to improve your health, don't overlook the many potential side effects. If you neglect to discuss this with your doctor and pharmacist, it's possible you could make a costly error, such as operating a motor vehicle at the wrong time.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes it clear that you should double-check the side effects of your medication before driving. While most medications won't hinder your ability to operate a motor vehicle, some do. They cause side effects such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed movement
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to focus
  • Excitability
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fainting

Police in Texas find marijuana in senior city official's home

Law enforcement officers including Texas Rangers took part in a search of the Wichita Falls deputy city manager's home that led to the seizure of undisclosed amounts of marijuana and evidence that the drug was being cultivated on the property. Media reports reveal that the man tendered his resignation after learning about the May 28 search of his Wendover Street residence. Wichita County District Attorney's Office investigators also took part in the multi-agency operation.

The investigation into the man's alleged activities began in April when a confidential informant told members of the Wichita County District Attorney's Office Drug Enforcement Division that marijuana plants were being grown in the man's home. The informant is said to have told investigators that he stepped forward despite believing that the man would not be prosecuted because he was a senior city official.

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