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Houston Texas Criminal Defense Blog

Assault and battery charges in Texas

Assault and battery are covered by the same section of the Texas Penal Code. Individuals who commit assault or battery in the Lone Star State can face charges ranging from a Class C misdemeanor to a first degree felony, and they can be ordered to pay a fine as low as $500 or sent to prison for up to five years. The most serious penalties are reserved for individuals who use weapons during assaults or cause serious injuries to domestic partners, witnesses, informants, or officials like police officers or emergency workers.

Individuals can be charged with assault in Texas even when they injure others unintentionally if their behavior was reckless. Class A misdemeanors are brought against individuals who issue threats that they do not follow through on or touch others despite knowing that their actions would be construed as provocative or offensive. Assaulting an entertainer or athlete raises the charge to a Class B misdemeanor, and causing bodily injuries or physically accosting an elderly person warrants a Class C misdemeanor charge under Texas law.

Community service sentences may entrench poverty

Many people in Texas think that sentences of community service are more humane than other types of criminal punishment, including jail time or heavy fines. However, one study released by the UCLA Labor Center and School of Law says that community service can replicate some of the same problems caused by court fines and debt, especially for people in low-income communities and communities of color. The study examined 5,000 cases of people ordered to community service between 2013 and 2015 to work off the fines they would have received otherwise.

The study noted that community service sentences can build a reliance on the part of government agencies for the supply of labor obtained through criminal convictions. As a result, these agencies may hire fewer people to perform this work outside the system, further entrenching unemployment and poverty in the community. Specifically, researchers said that the county needed 8 million hours of community service, equaling 4,900 paid jobs. Agencies received 3 million hours from people sentenced to work off their fines, the equivalent of 1,800 paid jobs. They also criticized the effects of community service sentences on people's financial stability. Many sentences required weeks of full-time work. As a result, people were less likely to be able to work paid jobs or take on shifts.

Violent crime is down but convictions still on the rise

A research brief from the RAND Corporation claims that more people are being arrested and convicted before turning 26 than in previous generations. This statistic is causing concern among some justice reform advocates as convicted criminals in Texas and throughout the country have less access to educational opportunities, jobs and earning power.

Figures for people who are detained and convicted are on the rise despite the fact that crime has been on a downward trajectory for some time. From 2017 to 2018, violent crime went down 3.3%. Since 1993, violent crime has been reduced by half. The rise in people being taken into custody is largely due to petty violations. Around 8% of all women taken into custody and 9% of all men are detained because of drug offenses, and the percentages are even higher for underage drinking. The likelihood of being detained and taken into custody remains disproportionately high for black men, but women and white men are catching up.

Don’t wait to build a defense against drug charges

Drug possession charges are a serious matter, and a defendant without a strong defense may suffer some of the harshest sentencing that courts hand down for non-violent offenses. Even relatively minor drug offenses can result in significant fines and time spent in jail, and Texas is well known for it's aggressive law enforcement practices.

If you recently received drug possession charges, you must begin building your defense immediately for the sake of keeping your rights secure and protecting your future opportunities and privileges. Many employers and housing managers simply toss aside resumes and applications that include drug offenses without considering the circumstances that brought the charges about. This can make finding a job and a place to live very difficult if you have drug convictions on your record, so it is crucial to make your defense your top priority.

Narcotics investigation spreads to 3 states

A narcotics investigation that began in Texas, spread to Oklahoma and Tennessee and lasted for seven months concluded with federal indictments being handed down against six unidentified suspects according to a Sept. 19 press release from the Hardeman County Sheriff's Office. The press release also states that several other suspects were identified during the investigation, which was named 'Operation Bates Motel", but the evidence against them was not strong enough to support conspiracy or engaging In organized criminal activity charges.

Agencies involved in the narcotics investigation include the HCSO, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the 46th Judicial District Attorney's Office, the Oklahoma City Police Department and the Vernon Police Department. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security also became involved when 'Operation Bates Motel" overlapped with a federal investigation into the methamphetamine trafficking activities of the Aryan Brotherhood.

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.

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