Top Houston Criminal Lawyers
Over the many years of representing clients in the Houston area, Federal Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson has handled the cases of many individuals charged with drug charges and or drug related offenses and have come to understand that good people fall into bad times and then bad situations. Sometimes people break the law because they wanted to provide a better life for their families. You begin to understand the forces that shape humans, and you better understand why and how someone could end up in the backseat of a cop car, and you want to help.
Houston Drug Possession Lawyer Charles Johnson sees more criminal cases involving drug charges than probably any other criminal offense aside from drunk driving. In times of economic depression people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of dealing with the stress of job loss and financial insecurity. It is no secret that until the United States Government treats drug use and abuse like a health issue instead of a crime there will always be a need for an Houston Drug Lawyer who specializes in helping people avoid jail time for drug possession charges, drug trafficking charges and/or other drug-related offenses. Our top ranked Federal Drug Lawyers are not only well-equipped to provide you with assistance through your Possession of a Controlled Substance case, but you will also find that they are also willing to listen to what you are going through without judgment or recrimination. We get that no one wakes up and decides to become a heroin or meth addict. It is the end result of a slippery slope that addicts and users have been sliding down for years.
If you are looking at Federal Level cocaine charges or heroin possession that also as related charges of “intent to distribute” or possibly other related offenses that elevate your drug crimes to the level of federal rather than local attention, you need to hire the experienced Houston Drug Trafficking Lawyers at the Charles Johnson Law Firm. There is a huge difference in not only the drug possession charges themselves, but how they must be handled. Courts are sometimes willing to overlook a possession of a controlled substance – even cocaine charges if the amounts imply a “personal use” and if it is your first offense. If your case involves not only a drug possession charge but also with intent to distribute, the courts are looking to put you away for a long time. Houston Drug Crimes Attorney Charles Johnson will mount an aggressive offense to suppress evidence, as well as paint you as a human being with a story that is worth listening to.
Those who have been arrested with large quantities of drugs are without a doubt seen automatically as villains, as opposed to those who have personal use levels. These individuals require that their drug offense lawyer suggest drug rehab or other inpatient program that will satisfy the courts that the person is taking the drug possession charge seriously. When, however, you have been arrested in Houston on drug charges that also involve drug trafficking or intent to distribute you must quickly move to mount an aggressive defense that looks to suppress evidence. The Charles Johnson Law Firm will work tirelessly to move to suppress, to push for discovery, and mount a strategic and hard-hitting defense. This is the type of Federal drug defense lawyer you need, not someone who is rushing from court to court handling arraignments and accepting the first plea deal an ADA throws out.
Moreover, you will find as you look around that many of the cheaper, flat-rate attorney’s are actually only marijuana attorney’s and not the type of aggressive drug defense lawyer who can stand up to the Feds and mount the type of defense that will see you back in your home watching the Superbowl next year. You don’t want to find out once it is too late that your drug lawyer has never handled a case of your size before. When you are looking for lawyers for drug charges, especially in cases of distribution or potential trafficking, you must find an experienced drug defense lawyer. Drug possession charges are one thing, drug distribution or trafficking is another. You need a skilled Federal Drug Trafficking Lawyer to handle this type of case.
Federal crimes such as those involving drug trafficking have high conviction rates. Without a dedicated, experienced Houston drug possession lawyer on your side you could very well be looking at a great deal of jail time for your drug-related offense. Houston Drug Attorney Charles Johnson will work aggressively to suppress evidence, create plea bargains or find grounds for dismissal. He will not rest until he finds some means of mitigating, lowering, or dismissing the charges against you. When you are seeking out lawyers for drug charges look to us!
That’s our promise to you. Call Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson today at 713-222-7577 to see how Houston’s #1 rated Criminal Firm can help your case. Attorney Johnson is directly available 24/7.
About Drug Trafficking
Drug trafficking is generally referred to as the manufacturing, transporting and distributing of large quantities of drugs. It often involves more than one person. Drug trafficking charges are wide and varied depending on the scope of the trafficking. Additionally, if the drug trafficking was directed towards minors, then prosecutors will seek enhancements to the charges. State and federal governments have adopted strict laws and severe penalties regarding the trafficking of drugs. Penalties can approach seven figures and decades in prison for severe cases. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson has proven how to successfully approach and handle these types of cases and he should be contacted immediately when an arrest is made for drug trafficking.
Drug Trafficking is probably the most charged offense in federal court and is also quite prevalent in state courts. Because of the severity of the sentences, evidence and all circumstances and conditions regarding your arrest will be thoroughly examined by the Charles Johnson Law Firm and their team of experienced investigators. Drug trafficking cases can be quite involved, and with the vast amounts of drugs coming in from Mexico, prosecutors are aggressively pursuing convictions.
Types of Drug Trafficking Laws
Drug trafficking laws vary by country and region, but generally include distribution, manufacturing, and dispensing certain categories of controlled substances. Usually, the drugs are classified according to type and the addictive nature of the drug. Highly addictive narcotics like heroin and crack typically fall into one class, while marijuana and prescription drugs are considered less harmful. International drug trafficking laws are commonly handled under customs law.
Possession of drugs with the intent to sell routinely falls under drug trafficking statutes. If someone is found with a large amount of narcotics, it may be presumed that he or she intends to distribute the drugs for money. Different regions determine how much and what kind of drug is considered outside limits for personal use. Penalties for violations of these drug trafficking laws are often based on the quantity of the substance and its type.
Those who manufacture drugs may be charged under drug trafficking laws in most places. These sections of the law typically include possession of chemicals or equipment needed to make the controlled substance. Narcotics laws in each country outline the exact chemicals or equipment considered illegal.
Drug trafficking laws may include a provision that allows law enforcement to seize assets used to commit a crime. For example, if drugs are sold from a house or vehicle, a judge may order that those assets be forfeited to the government. The property is typically sold at a public auction, with the proceeds going to fund narcotics operations.
Almost any scheduled narcotic can qualify for a drug trafficking charge. In state courts the amount of drugs (cocaine, cannabis, extasy, crystal meth, acid, heroine, prescription medication) will determine if a possession charges becomes a trafficking charge. Even if you are only going to used the drugs for your personal consumption, the amount that you possess could bring a trafficking charge. You may also qualify for a distribution charge if it appears that a small amount of drugs was packaged for distribution. Each state is different as to the amount necessary for the trafficking charge. Under the federal statute you can be charged for the amount you have and or the amount you were trying to buy from a government agent. You may never actually possess the drugs, but you will be charged.
Supplying drugs to children or using minors to distribute narcotics generally carries tougher penalties than those that apply to adults. In some areas, maintaining a home for the purpose of making or distributing drugs where children live is also considered a more serious drug trafficking offense. Stiffer sanctions might also be imposed for those who sell drugs near schools, playgrounds, arcades, and other areas where children congregate.
Laws also exist that regulate drug trafficking by criminal gangs or organized groups. Penalties might be enhanced if weapons are used in the distribution of a controlled substance. Those with profits from organized sales of narcotics can also be prosecuted under money laundering statutes in some jurisdictions.
Defenses for Drug Trafficking Charges
Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will provide skilled advice and representation to clients facing state or federal drug charges. He is considered an expert when defending against charges related to:
- Interception of a drug shipment
- Drug conspiracy charges
- Interstate drug distribution
- Undercover interstate trafficking stings
- Illegal sale and trafficking of prescription drugs
- Illegal sale and trafficking of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine (meth), MDMA (Ecstasy)
Drug trafficking charges often hinge on the prosecution’s illegal search and seizure of your vehicle, undercover drug operations, and confidential informants who are attempting to make a deal. As an expert lawyer skilled in drug cases, Attorney Johnson will thoroughly investigate how the prosecution came upon the evidence collected and determine if the method of collecting the evidence is in violation of your constitutional rights.
The court will have no choice but to keep any illegally obtained evidence out of trial. Attorney Johnson’s ability to thoroughly investigate drug cases and vigorously challenge the factual and constitutional merits of the prosecution’s case has proven effective in his defense of clients facing drug trafficking charges involving cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine (meth) or prescription narcotics.
Even if the police find drugs directly in a person’s possession, the drugs and other evidence could be suppressed (thrown away) if the police did not follow the proper procedures required under the U.S. Constitution. One of the first things Attorney Johnson will look for when defending someone accused of a drug offense is whether the police themselves acted in a legal manner. Other defenses include areas such as whether the actual weight of the substance was correct when allowing for hydration, whether the chemical composition of the substance was correct as charged, whether there was joint or constructive possession of the substance which could subject the case to a Motion to Dismiss and whether the accused was entrapped into committing the offense by law enforcement or one of its informants.
Another possible defense for drug trafficking charges would involve a violation of constitutional right to counsel and right to remain silent. Once charged or in custody, you are required to be informed of your rights and given access to legal representation if you request it. Contact Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson immediately upon arrest before saying anything that could be used against you in the future. This can often mean the difference between a conviction and walking away free of any charges. You would be surprised at how many cases result in a conviction due largely to statements made by the accused.
Other possible defenses may include:
- Lack of knowledge
- Mistake of fact (For example, thinking the drug was sugar when in fact, it was cocaine.)
- Duress (For example, if Bob was forced to transport the cocaine because if he refused, something bad would happen to his family.)
- The substance was not intended for human consumption
Lastly, Federal Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson will determine if inappropriate charges were filed. Drug trafficking is a highly political issue, and you may find yourself facing inflated charges. The right attorney can insure that any charges you do face are appropriate to the acts alleged by the prosecutor.
At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we have the experience and know-how to guide you through this complicated process from the moment of your arrest through trial, if necessary.
The defense of drug-related crimes can be difficult and complex and requires an attorney with special skills, experience and knowledge. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is highly qualified to defend your case. Whether it is identifying a drug addiction issue so that we may assist in getting them treatment or counseling, negotiating a fair resolution in an effort to have charges or a sentence reduced or preparing and taking a case to trial, the Best Houston Criminal Lawyer is available to assist and defend you.
As an extremely experienced criminal lawyer specializing in drug cases at both the Federal and State level, Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is well aware of the strategies, theories and methods employed by prosecutors when they prosecute a drug case. Attorney Johnson will use this knowledge to his client’s advantage while defending their cases to get the best possible outcome on their behalf.
We are proud to represent and care about our clients. We know the devastation that a drug conviction, an addiction or incarceration for a drug offense can bring to an individual or his/her family. We will answer your questions and guide you through the whole process, working to take away some of the confusion and uncertainty that comes along any drug offense charge, while all along seeking the most favorable outcome for you or your loved one.
Drug Trafficking by Criminal Gangs
There are nearly 1 million active gang members in the United States, based on analysis of federal, state, and local data, and the involvement of criminal gangs in domestic drug trafficking is becoming increasingly complex. Since 2001, many gangs have advanced beyond their traditional role as local retail drug distributors in large cities to become more organized, adaptable, deliberate, and influential in large-scale drug trafficking. Much of their growing influence has come at the expense of local independent dealers and small local criminal groups who cannot compete with gangs that establish control in smaller drug markets.
The influence of Hispanic and African American street gangs is expanding as these gangs gain greater control over drug distribution in rural and suburban areas and acquire drugs directly from Drug Trafficking Organizations (“DTOs”) in Mexico or along the Southwest Border.
In 2009, midlevel and retail drug distribution in the United States was dominated by more than 900,000 criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 domestic street gangs in more than 2,500 cities. These street gangs vary greatly with respect to their ethnic or racial identities, the types and amounts of drugs that they distribute, their strength and influence, and their adaptability. Their prevalence varies geographically, with the greatest concentration of street gangs occurring in the Great Lakes, Pacific, Southeast, and Southwest Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Regions.
Many Hispanic and, to a lesser extent, African American gangs are gaining control over drug distribution outside urban areas that were previously supplied by local independent dealers or small local criminal groups. Around 2007, Hispanic and African American gangs throughout the country, but especially in the Southwest and Great Lakes Regions, began to command greater influence over drug distribution in many rural and suburban areas. This trend continued in 2009. For example, in 2009, the Avenues street gang based in Los Angeles, California, expanded its operations to distribute drugs in suburban and rural locations throughout southern California.
To increase their control over drug trafficking in smaller markets, street gangs have been increasingly acquiring larger wholesale quantities of drugs at lower prices directly from DTOs in Mexico and along the Southwest Border. Several Southwest Border street gangs, such as Shelltown 38th Street, Tri-City Bombers, and Vallucos, smuggle wholesale quantities of drugs obtained in Mexico into the United States. By purchasing directly from Mexican wholesale sources in Mexico or along the Southwest Border, gangs throughout the country realize cost savings that enable them to sell drugs at lower prices than local independent dealers in small communities, driving these dealers out of business. For example, members of the Chicago-based Latin Kings street gang who operate in Midland, Texas, purchase cocaine from Mexican traffickers in south Texas for $16,000 to $18,000 per kilogram, compared with $25,000 to $35,000 per kilogram from wholesale traffickers in Chicago. With this savings, the gang undersells other local dealers who do not have the capacity to buy large wholesale quantities directly from Mexican DTOs in Mexico or along the Southwest Border.
Hispanic prison gangs, primarily in Southwest Border states, are gaining strength by working directly with Mexican DTOs to acquire wholesale quantities of drugs and by controlling most street gangs in areas along the Southwest Border.
Prison gangs are active in all 50 states and are increasing their influence over drug trafficking in areas along the Southwest Border (see Table B4 in Appendix B). Prior to 2001, the criminal influence of prison gangs was limited primarily to retail-level drug distribution. However, since that time, Hispanic prison gangs have become increasingly involved in the transportation and wholesale distribution of drugs.
Hispanic prison gangs such as Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (HPL) and Raza Unida operating in Southwest Border states have increased their involvement in wholesale drug distribution activities through cooperative relationships with Mexican DTOs. Through these relationships, Hispanic prison gangs are able to gain access to wholesale quantities of drugs. For example, in September 2009, 21 members of HPL were convicted in the Southern District of Texas (Houston) of conspiring to distribute more than 150 kilograms of cocaine and laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds. In April 2009, 15 members and associates of the Raza Unida prison gang were indicted for trafficking multikilogram quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine weekly in McAllen and Houston, Texas.
To ensure a consistent profit stream from the wholesale drugs that they purchase from Mexican DTOs, Hispanic prison gangs distribute drugs through street gangs that they largely, if not entirely, control. Through force or intimidation, Hispanic prison gangs exercise significant control over local gangs that distribute their drugs in the Southwest Border region. For example, Barrio Azteca prison gang members operating in El Paso, Texas, collect drug payments and taxes from 47 street-level gangs and independent drug dealers trafficking drugs in El Paso.
Potential Penalties for Drug Trafficking
The penalties for drug trafficking offenses vary and depend on a number of factors. These include the type and amount of illegal drugs (also called “controlled substances”) found in a person’s possession, whether the person is a repeat offender and the state in which the person is charged.
Drug trafficking or distribution in Texas is a felony upon which a wide range of penalties may be imposed. It may be anywhere from a state jail felony, which carries the lightest sentence, to a first degree felony, which carries the harshest. The factors influencing which sentence will be imposed are: (1) the amount of the drug being distributed or delivered; and (2) the type of drug and which of the four groups of drugs it is classified under. The smaller the amount of a drug in a certain group, the lighter the sentence may be.
Texas has some very heavy penalties for drug trafficking. Prosecutors may often offer plea deals to defendants where they may offer a charge with a lesser penalty in exchange for information that would help them gather evidence for a higher priority investigation.
The sentences involved may range anywhere from 180 days to two years in state jail and/or a fine of no more than $10,000 for a state jail felony, to life in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or a term of 15 to 99 years in prison and/or a fine of not more than $250,000 for the heaviest first degree felony. The harshness of the sentence imposed depends on how much of the drug is being trafficked. For example, trafficking or distributing less than one gram of a substance in the first grouping of drugs carries a state jail felony charge, whereas trafficking 400 grams or more of any one of the same drugs carries a first degree felony charge that may include a life sentence.
At the Federal level, the Controlled Substances Act (PL 91-513, 1970, last amended in 2000) provides penalties for the unlawful manufacture, distribution, and dispensing (or trafficking) of controlled substances, based on the schedule (rank) of the drug or substance. Generally, the more dangerous the drug and the larger the quantity involved, the stiffer the penalty. Trafficking of heroin, cocaine, LSD, and PCP, all Schedule I or II drugs (see Table 2.1 in Chapter 2), includes mandatory jail time and fines. A person caught selling at least five hundred grams but less than five kilograms of cocaine powder (seventeen ounces to just under eleven pounds) will receive a minimum of five years in prison and may be fined up to $2 million for a first offense. (See Table 6.1.) The same penalty is imposed for the sale of five to forty-nine grams of cocaine base (“crack”). Five grams are equal to the weight of six plain M&Ms candies, and forty-nine grams are a little more than a bag of M&Ms candies (47.9 grams). The high penalty for selling crack is an expression of the unusual severity with which legislators are trying to curb the use of this drug.
Penalties double with the second offense to ten years in prison and up to $4 million in fines. When higher quantities are involved (five or more kilograms of cocaine powder, fifty grams or more of crack, etc.), penalties for the first offense are ten years, and fines up to $4 million may be levied. For the second offense, twenty years and up to $8 million in fines are given, and the third offense results in mandatory life imprisonment. These examples are for an individual. Higher penalties apply if an organized group is involved or if a death or injury is associated with the arrest event.
These penalties apply also to the sale of fentanyl (a powerful painkiller medicine) or like-acting drugs, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, and PCP. The smallest amount, which can earn someone a minimum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $2 million, involves trafficking in LSD, where a one-gram amount carries a five-year minimum sentence in prison.
Special penalties exist for marijuana trafficking, since it may be traded in large quantities or grown in substantial amounts. The lower the amounts sold or the fewer the plants grown, the lower the sentence. A person cultivating one to forty-nine plants or selling less than fifty kilograms of marijuana mixture, ten kilograms or less of hashish, or one kilogram or less of hashish oil may get a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. Sentences for second offenses involving large amounts of marijuana may earn the trafficker up to life imprisonment.
The penalties for drug trafficking are harsh, and reflect the seriousness of this felony offense and the current political climate. A conviction can lead to jail time, forfeiture of property and fines, but that is only part of the story. It places your current employment in jeopardy, places a severe emotional strain on you and your family, adversely affects your ability to find new work, and places your entire future at risk.
Hire the Best Houston Drug Trafficking Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
A drug trafficking conviction can have an extremely adverse effect on a person’s current and future life in many regards. Both state and federal prosecutors have their eye on a conviction of the most severe charges possible and not on your rights. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will work diligently with prosecutors regarding any circumstances or conditions that could result in charges being dropped or reduced. If necessary, our firm can take your case to court and present a strong defense on your behalf.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm expertly handles all types of Texas drug-related offenses, from the less severe, like simple possession of a small amount of certain drugs, to the more serious ones, such as participating in an organized drug trafficking business with sale, distribution and manufacturing activities. We also defend charges involving controlled substances, such as, marijuana, crack, paraphernalia, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamines (meth), hallucinogens such as LSD, oxycontin, oxycodone, hydrocode, xanax, and Rohypnol club drugs. We represent all levels of people charged with drug offenses, from the student or small time person, to the professional, medical doctor or person accused of being a large scale distributor or trafficker.
If you have been arrested for drug trafficking in Houston, TX, take fast action with a skilled and resourceful Houston Criminal Lawyer. Contact the Charles Johnson Law Firm immediately anytime night or day for a free phone consultation to discuss your case.
Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson can be reached directly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call us at 713-222-7577 or toll free at 877-308-0100.
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Are you currently in a situation where you are facing criminal charges for Murder? Houston Criminal Homicide Lawyer Charles Johnson represents clients charged with Homicide crimes throughout all of Texas. The Charles Johnson Law Firm can provide legal counsel at virtually any stage of your case, even if formal charges have not yet been filed against you. Currently, Texas has six types of Criminal Homicide charges:
Homicide is the act of killing another person, either intentionally or unintentionally. It is perhaps the most serious crime you could be accused of, and the potential penalties you could face if convicted are equally serious. Your lawyer must be well-versed in Texas and Federal Homicide laws to successfully represent you. If you or someone you love has been charged with any type of Criminal Homicide, you must take these charges very seriously and seek the legal advice of an experienced and knowledgeable Houston Criminal Defense Attorney right away. The Charles Johnson Law Firm will examine all the details of your case and will challenge the evidence against you. Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson has helped his clients either prove their innocence, or obtain a reduction in the charges against them. Whether you or guilty or not, you deserve to have an experienced attorney on your side who will work aggressively, to protect you and your rights. Contact Criminal Defense Lawyer Charles Johnson anytime night or day directly at (713) 222-7577. He is always available to discuss your case.
Texas Penal Code Chapter 19: Four Types Of Criminal Homicide
TPC section 19.01 states that there are four types of Criminal Homicide. They are Murder, Capital Murder, Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide.
Under TPC section 19.02 there are three basic ways to commit murder:
- intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
- intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or
- commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission
or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.
Murder is usually a felony of the first degree, the possible punishment for which is imprisonment in the institutional division for life or for any term of not more than 99 years or less than 5 years and/or by a fine not to exceed $10,000. The only exception to this that the crime is a felony of the second degree if the requirements of TPC sec. 19.02 (d) are satisfied:
At the punishment stage of a trial, the defendant may raise the issue as to
whether he caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising
from an adequate cause. If the defendant proves the issue in the affirmative by a
preponderance of the evidence, the offense is a felony of the second degree.
During the punishment phase of the trial, a defendant may argue that he caused the death while under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. “Sudden passion” is “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation.”
“Adequate cause” is a “cause that would commonly produce a degree of anger, rage, resentment, or terror in a person of ordinary temper, sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection.” Sudden passion is a mitigating circumstance that, if found by the jury to have been proven by a preponderance of the evidence, reduces the offense from a first degree felony to a second degree felony.
Thus, before defendants are allowed to have the judge or jury consider sudden passion, defendants must prove:
- that there was a adequate (legally recognized) provocation for the emotion or passion;
- an emotion or passion such as terror, anger, rage, fear or resentment existed;
- that the homicide occurred while the passion or emotion still existed;
- that the homicide occurred before there was a reasonable opportunity for the passion or emotion to cool (dissipate); and,
- that there was a causal connection between the provocation, the passion, and the homicide.
A second degree felony is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years nor less than 2 years, and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000. This is where the old offense of “voluntary manslaughter” ended up after amendments to the TPC effective in 1994. Thus, there is currently no offense of voluntary manslaughter in Texas.
A capital murder is a capital felony. The Texas Penal Code specifically defines Capital Murder (and, thus, the possibility of the death penalty as a punishment) as murder which involves one or more of the elements listed below:
- the person murders a peace officer or fireman who is acting in the lawful discharge of an official duty and who the person knows is a peace officer or fireman;
- the person intentionally commits the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction or
retaliation, or terroristic threat,
- the person commits the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or employs another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration;
- the person commits the murder while escaping or attempting to escape from a penal institution;
- the person, while incarcerated in a penal institution, murders another:
- who is employed in the operation of the penal institution; or
- with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination;
- the person:
- while incarcerated for an offense under this section or Sec.19.02, murders another; or
- while serving a sentence of life imprisonment or a term of 99 years for an offense under Sec. 20.04, 22.021, or 29.03, murders another;
- the person murders more than one person:
- during the same criminal transaction; or
- during different criminal transactions but the murders are committed pursuant to the same scheme or course of conduct;
- the person murders an individual under six years of age; or
- the person murders another person in retaliation for or on account of the service or status of the other person as a judge or justice of the supreme court, the court of criminal appeals, a court of appeals, a district court, a criminal district court, a constitutional county court, a statutory county court, a justice court, or a municipal court.
A capital felony is punishable by death or life imprisonment without parole. If the prosecution is not seeking the death penalty, life without parole is the mandatory sentence. Prior to 2005, capital felony life imprisonment was life with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
Under current state law, the crimes of Capital Murder and Capital Sabotage (see below) or a second conviction for the aggravated sexual assault of someone under 14 is eligible for the death penalty.
Note: The Texas Penal Code allows for the death penalty to be assessed for “aggravated sexual assault of child committed by someone previously convicted of aggravated sexual assault of child”. The statute remains part of the Penal Code; however, the Supreme Court of the United State’s decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana which outlawed the death penalty for any crime not involving murder nullifies its effect.
The Texas Penal Code also allows a person can be convicted of any felony, including capital murder, “as a party” to the offense. “As a party” means that the person did not personally commit the elements of the crime, but is otherwise responsible for the conduct of the actual perpetrator as defined by law; which includes:
- soliciting for the act,
- encouraging its commission,
- aiding the commission of the offense,
- participating in a conspiracy to commit any felony where one of the conspirators commits the crime of capital murder
The felony involved does not have to be capital murder; if a person is proven to be a party to a felony offense and a murder is committed, the person can be charged with and convicted of capital murder, and thus eligible for the death penalty.
As in any other state, people who are under 18 at the time of commission of the capital crime or mentally retarded are precluded from being executed by the Constitution of the United States.
Manslaughter (TPC sec. 19.04) is recklessly causing the death of an individual. Manslaughter is a felony of the second degree, which is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years nor less than 2 years, and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Texas does not officially use the term “involuntary manslaughter” or “voluntary manslaughter” which can sometimes be a little bit confusing. Many states do make the distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Instead, Texas combines involuntary and voluntary manslaughter together and it is known as just “manslaughter.”
To convict a defendant of manslaughter, prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant recklessly caused the death of another individual. There is no requirement of premeditation to this crime and no requirement for there to be intent or knowledge on the part of the defendant. The only requirement is that the defendant’s conduct was reckless.
Although manslaughter is defined broadly in Texas, there are specific types of manslaughter that are treated separately. For example, intoxication manslaughter is one, and vehicular manslaughter is another. Intoxication manslaughter deals with the defendant recklessly causing the death of another while intoxicated. Cases involving driving while intoxicated would probably be prosecuted under TPC sec. 49.08, Intoxication Manslaughter (see below), rather than under this section. Vehicular manslaughter deals with the defendant recklessly causing the death of another while driving a vehicle or vessel.
Criminally Negligent Homicide
Criminally negligent homicide (TPC sec. 19.05) is causing the death of an individual by criminal negligence. It is a state jail felony under which in general, a person can be confined in a state jail for not more than two years nor less than 180 days. In addition, a fine of not more than $10,000 may be assessed.
Criminally Negligent Homicide differs from Manslaughter only in terms of the culpability or mens rea. Criminally negligent homicide involves criminal negligence. Manslaughter involves recklessness. Thus, Manslaughter involves conscious risk creation (the actor is aware of the risk surrounding his conduct or the results thereof, but consciously disregards that awareness). Criminally negligent homicide involves inattentive risk creation. The actor ought to have been aware of the riskiness of his or her conduct but failed to perceive the risk.
Recklessness and criminal negligence are more serious forms of culpability than the negligence that can result in civil liability. Unlike civil or ordinary negligence, recklessness requires some subjective awareness of the risk. Ordinary negligence is a totally objective standard. Criminal negligence requires a “gross” deviation from the standard of care a reasonable or ordinary person would have exercised under the same circumstances. Criminal negligence is roughly equivalent to “gross negligence” which is a more serious form of culpability than ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence can be made out by showing any deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise.
Texas Penal Code Section 49.08 Intoxication Manslaughter
The final type of criminal homicide found in Texas Code is found in TPC ch. 49, “Intoxication and Alcoholic Beverage Offenses.” A person is guilty of intoxication manslaughter if the person operates a motor vehicle in a public place, operates an aircraft, watercraft or an amusement ride, or assembles a mobile amusement ride and “ is intoxicated and by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake.”
“Intoxicated is defined as having a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more or
“not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body . . .”
This offense is a felony of the second degree. A second degree felony is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years nor less than 2 years, and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000
Note that this is a strict liability offense. Guilt attaches even if the death is caused by accident or mistake. Many observers are critical of strict liability offenses because they arguably punish conduct which is not blameworthy. Supporters of strict liability offenses counter that such offenses are usually fine-only offenses. This is clearly not the case for sec. 49.08 for which a person could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
Section 49.08 does not apply to injury or death of an unborn child if the offense against the unborn child is committed by the mother of the unborn child. Thus, if a pregnant woman is driving while intoxicated and has an accident which kills her fetus, it is not a crime.
Texas Government Code – Section 557.012 Capital Sabotage
- A person commits an offense if the person commits an offense under Section 557.011(a) and the sabotage or attempted sabotage causes the death of an individual.
- An offense under this section is punishable by:
- death; or
- confinement in the institutional division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for:
- life; or
- a term of not less than two years.
- If conduct constituting an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under other law, the actor may be prosecuted under both sections.
Possible Defenses for Murder Charges
Defenses to first degree murder charges fall into two major categories: claims that the defendant did not commit the killing in question, and admission that the defendant committed the killing, but did not commit first degree murder.
Defendants admitting to having killed the victim can assert defenses that they were justified in doing so (in self defense, for example), or that they were somehow incapacitated and thus not legally liable. These defenses require the defendant to put forth proof to support his or her defense.
First degree murder defendants also may simply argue that the prosecution has not proved all elements of a first degree murder charge typically that the defendant killed willfully, deliberately and with premeditation. Though the defendant may support such an argument with evidence, he or she is not required to do so, as proof of all elements of the crime falls on the shoulders of the prosecution.
As with statutes defining crimes, the defenses recognized for a specific crime can vary by state. Furthermore, which defenses a criminal defendant may have depends on the particular facts of the case in question. For guidance, defendants should consult an attorney well versed in his or her state’s criminal laws.
In first degree murder cases, as well as other homicide crimes, defendants often argue mistaken identity i.e., that the prosecution has charged the wrong person with the killing. A defendant arguing mistaken identity often asserts an alibi if possible, which he or she tries to support with evidence of being somewhere else at the time of the killing. Other arguments in a mistaken identity defense include challenges to evidence placing the defendant at the scene of the crime. This can include challenges to witness identification as well as challenges to forensic evidence. A mistaken identity defense may also point to evidence implicating another possible suspect, but courts do not require defendants to do so.
Not all homicides are crimes, let alone first degree murders. The most common legal justification for a killing is self-defense or the defense of others.
To succeed, a defendant arguing self defense must show that the killing resulted from a reasonable use of force to resist a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm. The defendant cannot have instigated the threatening situation. The degree of force used in self-defense must be proportional to the threat perceived, and the threat perceived must be something that would place a reasonable person in fear of death or great bodily harm. Mere words or insults do not suffice.
The defendant’s reaction to the threat cannot take place after the threat of death or bodily harm has passed. Many states require that the defendant attempt to retreat or avoid danger if possible before resorting to the use of deadly force.
For example, if someone incapacitates a mugger with pepper spray, he or she may need to attempt to flee to safety instead of taking out a pistol and shooting the mugger. States differ in the degree to which they require an attempt to retreat if the threat they face occurs in the defender’s home.
Defense of Others
The reasonable and proportional defense of others also justifies some killings. The same requirements as self-defense typically apply: the use of force must be timely and proportional to the threat faced, and the perceived threat of death or bodily harm must be reasonable.
Exercise of Duty
Certain killings by law enforcement and other public officers qualify as justified homicides. If an officer kills someone in the exercise of duty and without an unlawful intent, recklessness or negligence, that killing generally does not constitute murder, let alone first degree murder.
Accident or Misfortune
Killings committed by accident in the course of lawful activities do not constitute murder. Some such killings may result in liability for manslaughter, but unless an accidental homicide takes place during the commission of a crime or as a result of other criminal intentions, they would not be covered by first degree or second degree murder statutes. In certain cases, such as parental discipline of children which results in even accidental death, the use of physical force beyond excepted norms can push the killing into murder and possibly, depending on state law, first degree murder.
Most states recognize an insanity defense to charges of first degree murder. Even states which allow the defense, however, treat it differently and often apply different tests. Most states define insanity, for purposes of determining criminal liability, as cognitively being unable to appreciate the quality of the act being committed, or unable to realize that the act is wrong. Some states also recognize a volitional aspect to “insanity” giving some defendants with disorders affecting impulse control access to the insanity defense.
Hire the Best Criminal Homicide Lawyers: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Murder charges are of course the most serious of all charges and the most seriously pursued by the State Attorney’s Office or Federal Prosecutors. A person charged with homicide (murder) in Texas risks significant jail time and most convictions will result in never being released from custody. In some cases, they face being sentenced to death. Texas has become infamous in the country for the number of murders.
However not all deaths are criminal, and there are several powerful homicide defenses provided under Texas Law. If you or someone you know is charged with some form of a Homicide charge, then you need the best possible attorney. You are entitled to the best legal defense possible. Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Charles Johnson can deliver that defense for you. Houston Criminal Homicide Lawyer Charles Johnson is available to discuss your case whenever you need him. Contact him directly at (713) 222-7577. His Law Office is headquartered in Houston, with offices conveniently located in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.
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At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we have extensive experience in the investigation of cases involving illegal search and seizure of property. Search and seizures can involve cases involving Drug Crimes, Federal White Collar Crimes or Child Pornography cases, as examples. Anytime local officials search your person, car, home, office or property, they must follow strict protocol to ensure compliance with your Fourth Amendment Constitutional Rights.
Has an illegal search of your home, vehicle, or other property resulted in drug charges involving possession, distribution or some other drug crime? Although the Constitution grants you the right against illegal search and seizure, it is often necessary to have a skilled lawyer on your side to advocate for and enforce your rights. Contact Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson for aggressive criminal defense representation anywhere in Texas. Attorney Johnson is available to discuss your case anytime night or day. You can reach him directly at (713) 222-7577.
Search and seizure law today is built around three key questions. First, did the police “search” or “seize” anyone or anything? If not, the law leaves police action basically unregulated. If so, what justification must the police have — probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or (in rare cases) something else? Finally, what process must the police follow — must they seek permission in advance from a magistrate, or can they search first and defend themselves in a suppression hearing later?
Search and Seizure: Understanding The Laws
One of the hallmarks of the US criminal justice system is our search and seizure law. The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to be free from unlawful or “unreasonable” searches and seizures by the police and other law enforcement personnel. Generally, this means that the police have to have a good reason before they may search you or your property, seize your belongings or even seize or arrest you.
The key term here is “unreasonable.” Of course, not all searches and seizures are illegal. The lynchpins to the search and seizure law are probable cause and the expectation of privacy.
In simple terms, probable cause means that there are facts or circumstances to justify a search or seizure of a place, things or a person. Generally, this means that there’s a good reason to believe that a person is or has committed crime or that evidence of a crime can be found in a particular place. Probable cause is the driving factor for any search or arrest.
With probable cause, a police officer may:
- Convince a judge or magistrate to issue a warrant that authorizes him to search a certain and particular place for certain and particular things and seize them, or to arrest a particular person, or
- Conduct a search and seize evidence of a crime, or make an arrest, without a warrant, if there are “exigent” or emergency circumstances that make getting a warrant impractical
For example, during an investigation, police officers gather evidence that a suspect is selling illegal drugs from his home. The officers may ask a judge or magistrate for a search warrant for the home (and an arrest warrant for the suspect), and if the magistrate thinks there’s enough evidence, they willl issue the warrant(s). However, if during a stakeout the officers learn that the suspect is about to destroy the drugs in his home, the officers may be justified to enter the home, search it, and seize any drugs and arrest the suspect, all without a warrant.
As a general rule, the police need to get a warrant. It’s the mechanism that makes the Fourth Amendment work, that is, it makes sure that a search and seizure is reasonable. If warrantless search and seizure is conducted, the police have to prove that a warrant was needed or that there was no time to get one.
Expectation of Privacy
Generally, unless you have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a certain place or thing, it may be searched and/or seized by the police without a search warrant. In other words, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply to any place or thing in which you don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy. You have a reasonable expectation of privacy if:
- You actually expect privacy in the place or thing. This is called the “subjective” expectation of privacy, and
- Your expectation of privacy is one that that society as a whole would think is legitimate and reasonable. This is called the “objective” expectation of privacy
Some examples of places or things where you may have a reasonable expectation of privacy include:
- Your home, or anywhere you actually live, including a rented apartment or a hotel room
- The trunk of your car
- Luggage or other containers that aren’t transparent or see-through, even if you’re carrying it in a public place, like an airport or bus station
- Your business office
- A public telephone booth, once you’ve shut the door
On the other hand, there are many places and things in which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, such as
- Things that are in “plain view,” that is, exposed or out in the open that anyone can see. Illegal drugs or weapons on the front seat of your car are good examples
- Portions of your business office or building that’s open to the public, such as a reception area
- Public places, likes restaurants and parks
- Your trash or garbage, once you placed it at the curb for pick-up or collection
The laws on search and seizure can be complicated, and the facts and circumstances of each particular case are very important to determining if an unlawful search and seizure has taken place. If you or your property has been searched already, you should contact Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson immediately to make sure that your rights are protected. He can be reached anytime at (713) 272-4586 to discuss your case.
Hire the Best Houston Search & Seizure Lawyer: Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson
Search and seizure law is complex and ever changing and the police always know it better than you. Don’t give them an even bigger advantage by agreeing to a search of your home, your car, or your person. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution says that you are supposed to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures unless the police have a warrant. In other words, the law specifically sets forth when an officer can look through your possessions and what he can take if he finds it during the search.
If I let the police search my car, new case law suggests that unless my consent is limited, they can search anywhere in the passenger compartment, including hidden places and containers. That means behind the door panels, speakers, or dash area.
Searches have been expanded to places the framers of the constitution could never have imagined, like inside your body. If the police stop your car and think you are intoxicated, they can ask a judge to give them a warrant to “search” inside your body for evidence of intoxication contained within your blood.
We have a huge body of case law that prevents the State from infringing on your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and ensures the police must follow all the applicable rules when searching your car or person, and all of it is thrown right out the window when you tell the police it is okay to go ahead and look through your car, house, pockets, or body.
Say NO. It really is that easy. Just like you should say “no” to drugs, you should also say “no” to searches. If you are carrying something you don’t want the police to find, do not let them search for it.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects personal privacy, and every citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes, businesses, and property — whether through police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of homes and businesses.
Lawmakers and the courts have put in place legal safeguards to ensure that law enforcement officers interfere with individuals’ Fourth Amendment rights only under limited circumstances, and through specific methods.
What Does the Fourth Amendment Protect?
In the criminal law realm, Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” protections extend to:
- A law enforcement officer’s physical apprehension or “seizure” of a person, by way of a stop or arrest; and
- Police searches of places and items in which an individual has a legitimate expectation of privacy — his or her person, clothing, purse, luggage, vehicle, house, apartment, hotel room, and place of business, to name a few examples.
The Fourth Amendment provides safeguards to individuals during searches and detentions, and prevents unlawfully seized items from being used as evidence in criminal cases. The degree of protection available in a particular case depends on the nature of the detention or arrest, the characteristics of the place searched, and the circumstances under which the search takes place.
When Does the Fourth Amendment Apply?
The legal standards derived from the Fourth Amendment provide constitutional protection to individuals in the following situations, among others:
- An individual is stopped for police questioning while walking down the street.
- An individual is pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, and the police officer searches the vehicle’s trunk.
- An individual is arrested.
- Police officers enter an individual’s house to place him or her under arrest.
- Police officers enter an individual’s apartment to search for evidence of crime.
- Police officers enter a corporation’s place of business to search for evidence of crime.
- Police officers confiscate an individual’s vehicle or personal property and place it under police control.
Potential scenarios implicating the Fourth Amendment, and law enforcement’s legal obligation to protect Fourth Amendment rights in those scenarios, are too numerous to cover here. However, in most instances a police officer may not search or seize an individual or his or her property unless the officer has:
- A valid search warrant;
- A valid arrest warrant; or
- A belief rising to the level of “probable cause” that an individual has committed a crime.
What if My Fourth Amendment Rights Are Violated?
When law enforcement officers violate an individual’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, and a search or seizure is deemed unlawful, any evidence derived from that search or seizure will almost certainly be kept out of any criminal case against the person whose rights were violated. For example:
- An arrest is found to violate the Fourth Amendment because it was not supported by probable cause or a valid warrant. Any evidence obtained through that unlawful arrest, such as a confession, will be kept out of the case.
- A police search of a home is conducted in violation of the homeowner’s Fourth Amendment rights, because no search warrant was issued and no special circumstances justified the search. Any evidence obtained as a result of that search cannot be used against the homeowner in a criminal case.
Search Warrant Requirements
Anyone who watches crime dramas on television is familiar with the scene where police officers enter a home or business brandishing a search warrant. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the people’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, which often — but not always — means that government agents must have a warrant to search and seize your person and property.
Here is the full text of the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment protects the people from unreasonable searches and seizures, which means that many searches are fine as long as they meet certain requirements. Searches are generally considered reasonable when: 1) a judge issues a search warrant based on probable cause; or 2) certain situations occur that justify a search without a warrant (a search for weapons after an arrest, for example).
The Fourth Amendment’s requirements don’t apply when a person doesn’t have a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in the place or thing searched. If there isn’t an expectation of privacy, then the Fourth Amendment doesn’t come into play, and officers conducting a search don’t have to meet its requirements.
The United States Supreme Court has created a test for determining when a legitimate expectation of privacy exists. The test has two parts:
- Did the person subjectively expect the place or thing to be private? I.e., did they actually feel that the place or thing would remain private?
- Was that expectation objectively reasonable? I.e., would society as a whole agree that the place or thing should remain private?
An example might help clarify the point: most people feel that their homes are private, so there is a subjective expectation of privacy in one’s home. Most people in society would find this expectation reasonable, so a police search of one’s home must satisfy the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement.
If someone leaves evidence of a crime on their front lawn, however, it’s likely that a police seizure of that evidence would not constitute an unreasonable search since most people in a society would not expect that an object that was clearly visible to anyone passing by would remain private. Even if the owner of the home or the evidence genuinely expected that the area would remain private, that expectation would not be reasonable, and so the seizure would not have to meet the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.
Also keep in mind that the Fourth Amendment’s requirements only apply to government actors. Private individuals, including security guards, don’t fall under the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions. While a private individual may break other laws if they conduct a search of a person or their belongings, any evidence they discover in the process would still be admissible in court.
If a government actor conducts an illegal search (one that violates the Fourth Amendment), the government cannot present any evidence discovered during that search at trial. Known as the “exclusionary rule“, this rule aims to deter police officers from conducting unreasonable searches. Opponents of the exclusionary rule, however, argue that it lets guilty criminals go free on technicalities.
In addition, evidence obtained through illegal searches cannot lead police to the discovery of other evidence. This legal rule, known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree”, is also designed to prevent government actors from invading people’s privacy by conducting unreasonable searches. If police know, so the theory goes, that any evidence they obtain based on what they discover in an illegal search will be thrown out, they won’t conduct illegal searches in the first place.
Here are a few examples to illustrate the exclusionary rule and the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine:
Officer Joe suspects that Chris is selling drugs. Without a warrant, Officer Joe walks into Chris’ house and finds drugs and a scale on the kitchen table. Officer Joe arrests Chris, but the judge throws out the evidence of the drugs and scale on the basis of the exclusionary rule.
In the example above, instead of finding drugs and a scale, Office Joe finds a map to locations throughout the city where Chris is storing his drugs for sale. Officer Joe collects the drugs and enters both them and the map as evidence. The map is thrown out because of the exclusionary rule, and, because Officer Joe would not have discovered the drugs without the map, the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine prevents the use of the drugs as evidence.
It is important to note, however, that just because the prosecution can’t use certain evidence at trial, it doesn’t mean that a judge will dismiss a case or that a jury will acquit the defendant. Prosecutors may have enough other evidence to convict the defendant even without the results of the illegal search.
Plus, while prosecutors can’t use improperly obtained evidence to secure a conviction, that evidence may enter into other areas of the trial. For instance:
- The evidence may become a factor in civil and immigration cases
- Prosecutors can use the evidence to attack the credibility of a witness under certain circumstances
- Judges may consider the evidence when determining a sentence after a conviction
Understanding the Difference between “Search” and “Seizure”
“Searches,” in Fourth Amendment law, are police tactics that infringe a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” A reasonable expectation of privacy is the kind of expectation any citizen might have with respect to any other citizen. A fair translation of this standard might go as follows: Police can see and hear the things that any member of the public might see and hear, without fear of Fourth Amendment regulation. Only when police cross that line, only when they see and hear things that members of the public would not be allowed to see and hear, has a “search” taken place.
A few examples might clarify the standard. Eavesdropping on telephone conversations is a “search.” Overhearing a conversation on the street is not. Climbing over a backyard fence is a “search.” Observing the same backyard from the window of an airplane is not. Hiding in the bushes outside a house and looking inside is a “search.” Standing on a public street and looking through open curtains into a living room is not. Opening a briefcase to inspect its contents is a “search.” Observing someone carrying a briefcase on the street is not.
When applying the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard, courts ask whether, at the moment the police officer observed the illegal behavior, he was in a position any member of the public might have been in. The duration and intensity of police observation does not matter. Thus, police officers can stake out a private home, taking up residence across the street and watching all comings and goings for a period of days or even weeks, and that behavior does not constitute a “search,” because at any given moment, any member of the public might have been looking. And police can follow a suspect’s movements along public streets, in shops or restaurants, and so forth; once again, such behavior is not a “search” (even though it amounts to something like stalking), because any member of the public might have seen any given transaction in public.
One other feature of the definition of “search” bears mention. Consensual transactions are not “searches,” even if consent was given under false pretenses. So if a police officer poses as a drug buyer, and a suspect lets him into the suspect’s house in order to sell him drugs, anything the officer sees and hears in the house is fair game—no Fourth Amendment “search” has taken place. The use of undercover agents is thus routinely permitted by search and seizure law, whether or not the police have good reason to suspect the person with whom the undercover agent is dealing of any crime. Also, if a police officer asks permission to look in a suspect’s car or briefcase, and the suspect says yes, once again no “search” has taken place. This last point is particularly important. Police officers exert a certain amount of force just by virtue of their status. For many, perhaps most, a request from a police officer will sound like a command; the tendency will be to say yes whether one wants to or not. Nevertheless, if the police officer asks, and the suspect says yes, that almost always amounts to consent. Only if the officer behaves unusually coercively—if he pulls his weapon, or grabs hold of the suspect, or the like—will a court find that the consent was involuntary.
All these rules sound complicated; in practice, they are relatively simple. In general, the police are “searching” when they are either committing some kind of trespass—grabbing a suspect’s briefcase and looking inside, breaking into a house or apartment, climbing over a backyard fence—or are engaged in some kind of electronic eavesdropping—for example, wiretapping a phone. Most of the rest of what police do to gather information falls outside the Fourth Amendment.
“Seizures” are harder to define. The Supreme Court says that a suspect has been “seized” if a reasonable person in the suspect’s shoes would not feel free to leave. If the Court took its own language seriously, every conversation between a police officer and a citizen would be a “seizure.” After all, few people, when approached on the street by an officer, feel free to turn on their heels and walk away. The consequences of that position would be huge; the police would need some adequate justification for every interaction.
Not surprisingly, the law does not operate that way in practice. The working standard seems to be roughly the same as the standard for consent. The dispositive question is this: Did the police officer behave coercively (not counting the coercion that is inherent in a police officer questioning a suspect)? If so, the encounter is a “seizure.” If not, it is not. Compared to the definition of “search,” which has acquired a good deal of definition over the years, the definition of “seizure” remains remarkably vague and open-ended. Conversations on the street between police officers and citizens often begin as consensual conversations; at some point the encounter often becomes a “seizure.” Neither the officer nor the suspect—nor, for that matter, courts—know precisely when that point is.
The Penalties for Illegal Searches and Seizures
To ensure that police officers respect individuals’ constitutional rights, the U.S. Supreme Court provides strict penalties. If the police perform an illegal search, the evidence they obtain as a result of this search will not be allowed in a courtroom.
This means that if police search you without probable cause, even if they find drugs, they will not be allowed to present this evidence to a jury. Illegal search and seizure is one of the strongest defenses available for any criminal matter.
If you have been accused of any crime, contact the firm to discuss your concerns with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Houston Attorney Charles Johnson can help you understand your rights and remedies following an illegal search or seizure.
Houston Search and Seizure Lawyer Charles Johnson will fight aggressively on your behalf to get the charges against you dismissed in cases of police misconduct, police brutality or violations of your civil rights. Those actions include:
- Illegal search and seizure
- Failure to read Miranda rights
- Arresting you without a valid search warrant
- Refusing you access to an attorney
- Racial profiling
- Making false statements to obtain a warrant
- Making false statements in court
There are many other examples of police misconduct that could invalidate the charges against you. If you have been subjected to a search or seizure action, contact Attorney Johnson immediately to inquire about possible violations of your legal rights. Houston Lawyer Johnson has extensive experience challenging evidence that was gathered during an illegal search. Once the evidence against you is suppressed, there is no basis for the charges against you, which may lead to a dismissal of all charges.
Tips for avoiding all types of searches:
- Keep your appearance neat and clean. Look like a criminal, get treated like one. There is a reason why middle-aged women driving minivans rarely get pulled over.
- Keep your car clean. When I say clean I mean get your car detailed at least a couple of times a year. People who leave the inside of their car messy often forget about things they have tossed on the floor or cannot see items other people have left behind.
- Keep your car in good working order. Don’t give the police a reason to stop you. Make sure your car is registered, inspected, and that all the lights work. A busted taillight can cost you thousands and a trip to jail.
- Put questionable items in the trunk of your car. There is no excuse to leave illegal items in the passenger compartment of your car. Better yet, don’t put anything illegal in your car.
- Don’t attract unwanted attention. If your stereo has to be that loud for you to hear it, get your hearing checked. All you are doing is inviting the police to pull you over and give you a hard time.
- Don’t carry drugs on your person. This is common sense regarding illegal drugs, but prescription drugs carried outside the containers they are dispensed in can get you arrested as well.
- Don’t carry cigarette packages or hide your drugs inside them. This is the first place police look for dope.
- Don’t leave smoking paraphernalia where police can see it. Nobody believes you use that bong or water pipe to smoke tobacco! If an officer sees something like that it will only confirm that he or she really needs to find some legal way to search you, your car, or your home.
- Be careful what a police officer can see when standing at your front door. A police officer standing at your front door can look inside when you open it. What the police see from your front door is considered in “plain view” and thus not an actual search. Once the police have lawfully seen something illegal in your home they can then seize it and get a warrant to look for more.
- If you can see out, the police can see in. Looking through a window does not constitute a search in most instances. No one should be able to look into your home and watch what you are doing without you knowing about it. Put up window shears or install windows with either faceted glass or glass that distorts the viewable image.
The most important thing to remember when asked for consent to search is to say “NO”.
Contact the Best Search and Seizure Attorney in Texas: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
If you have been arrested, detained, stopped, or investigated in Houston or anywhere in the state of Texas, you may have legal defenses available to the contest the charge or mitigate possible penalties. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson has extensive experience defending cases involving Fourth Amendment violations, motions to suppress evidence, and illegal police searches.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm is committed to providing the highest-quality defense. As a criminal defense law firm, they are dedicated to protecting their clients’ rights throughout the legal process. Attorney Johnson offers a free initial consultation that can be done over the phone. Contact him directly anytime night or day at (713) 222-75778 or toll-free at (877) 308-0100.
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If you have been charged with Assault in Houston, you may face serious jail time. When facing criminal charges it is crucial that you act quickly in retaining skilled legal representation to defend you. Your selection of attorneys is a critical choice; few criminal defense attorneys have the background and experience as the legal team at The Charles Johnson Law Firm. With extensive Assault representation experience, our client’s best interests are aggressively protected in court. Each client’s case is carefully analyzed to determine the strategy that will be employed to seek a better outcome for the client, no matter how serious the offense. Houston Assault Lawyer Charles Johnson defends clients facing the following types of criminal charges:
- Assault with a Weapon
- Assault against A Police Officer
- Gang Assault
- Domestic Assault
- Child Assault
- Assault in the First Degree
- Assault in the Second Degree
- Assault as a Hate Crime
- Assault Against a Bus Driver
It does not take much for an altercation or argument to escalate and involve the police. Some people may believe that an Assault charge consists of a violent fight between two individuals but this is not always the case. In Texas, Assault can include an attempt to hurt someone physically. In some instances, prosecutors have decided that the slightest touch is enough to file assault charges. Additionally, the law does not require the alleged victim to sustain an actual injury. Whether you are facing a first assault offense or are charged with a serious felony assault, your case will be carefully reviewed and analyzed to determine if any errors or violations of your rights have taken place during the arrest, through the chain of custody of evidence, in lab procedures or other aspect of the case that opens the door to a successful court challenge. It is vital that you do not engage in any discussions, questioning or interrogations without first contacting Houston Assault Lawyer Charles Johnson to protect you. Make the call immediately after your arrest. You can call Attorney Johnson anytime night or day and speak with him directly at (713) 222-7577. Each assault case has individual circumstances and evidence, and some may consider there is little hope. In fact, we frequently discover viable options to defend the case in court and will vigorously defend our client. Our background in the criminal justice system results in a broad understanding of how the prosecutor in the case will proceed and the strategies for staying one step ahead of the moves they make. Your rights will be aggressively protected and our legal team will seek a “not guilty” verdict, dismissed charges, a reduced charge or alternative sentencing, depending on the exact circumstances of your case. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is here to protect you and to fight for you in court.
Assault Charges in Texas
There are several different types of assault charges including but not limited to:
- Assault Causing Serious Bodily Injury
- Assault On A Public Servant, Sexual Assault
- Assault With A Deadly Weapon
- Aggravated Assault
- Sexual Assault
- Assault Family Violence
- Assault On A Child Or Elderly
Assault charges can range from Class C misdemeanors (e.g. assault by contact) to a 1st degree felony; all cases will vary based on the facts and criminal history of each defendant. On the lower end of the spectrum (Class C misdemeanor), the punishment may result in implementation of fines, attendance of anger-management or marriage counseling classes, or deferred adjudication. Higher level misdemeanors could result in jail time or probation. Felony cases may result in probation or prison time. Depending on your criminal history and the actual charge, you may be eligible for special programs like the Pre-Trial Intervention Program that could result in a dismissal of your case.
Any charge involving sex crimes, whether it is a date rape claim or a sexual assault accusation, is a serious one, with possible long-term life-altering consequences, including the possibility of jail, prison, fines, restitution and strict “sex offender probation” and lifetime supervision with severe restrictions on employment, residence, and lifestyle. Sexual assault charges also bring notable social stigma, embarrassment and humiliation. The ongoing effects of a sex charge can be devastating to one’s family, career, and financial security.
Like many states, Texas has reconceptualized rape as an assaultive or violent offense rather than a sexual offense. Like these other states, Texas no long utilizes the term “rape” in its Penal Code. Both types of “rape”, forcible and statutory ,are found in TPC sec. 22.01. and are forms of “Sexual Assault.” These are in ch. 22 “Assaultive Offenses” rather than ch. 21 “Sexual Offenses.”
Both are first degree felonies if the offender and victim are closely related. Otherwise the offenses are second degree felonies. First degree felonies are punishable by imprisonment for life or for any term of not more than 99 years nor less than 5 years. In addition, punishment can include a fine of not more than $10,000. A second degree felony is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years nor less than 2 years, and/or a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Sexual Assault (non-consensual)
If you have been arrested for sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, or any other sexual offense charge in Houston, you need straight answers from an attorney you can trust. Sex crime cases may contain circumstances that make them more volatile than other types of criminal cases. That is why it is so crucial that you have an attorney you can trust. For most people, being accused of a sex offense is extremely embarrassing and devastating. Many times the accuser is a young child who is suggestible and therefore not always reliable. If the victim is related to the accused, division may occur within the family. Additionally, false accusations of sexual abuse are sometimes invented by one parent attempting gain an advantage over the accused parent in custody disputes.
The offense that formerly would have been called forcible rape is now found in 22.011 (a) of the TPC.
§ 22.011. SEXUAL ASSAULT. (a) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) intentionally or knowingly:
(A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent;
(B) causes the penetration of the mouth of
another person by the sexual organ of the actor, without that
person’s consent; or
(C) causes the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
Note that unlike the common law definition of rape, this statute is gender-neutral, includes sex acts in addition to vaginal intercourse, and has no exemption for rape of a spouse.
Without consent is defined in subsec. (b) in 11 different ways:
A sexual assault under Subsection (a)(1) is without the
consent of the other person if:
(1) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by the use of physical force or violence;
This is the classic forcible rape scenario. Prior law required the victim to resist and the force had to be such as would overcome “such earnest resistance as might be reasonably expected under the circumstances.” There is no requirement of any resistance in the current statute.
(2) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by threatening to use force or violence against the other person, and the other person believes that the actor has the
present ability to execute the threat;
(3) the other person has not consented and the actor knows the other person is unconscious or physically unable to resist;
(4) the actor knows that as a result of mental disease or defect the other person is at the time of the sexual assault incapable either of appraising the nature of the act or of resisting it;
(5) the other person has not consented and the actor knows the other person is unaware that the sexual assault is occurring;
Drugging the victim is covered in (6) below and, at first glance, it might appear that subsec. 5 is not possible. This portion of the statute is aimed primarily at physicians who exceed the scope of a proper gynecological examination, and the victim is not aware of what is really going on.
(6) the actor has intentionally impaired the other person’s power to appraise or control the other person’s conduct by administering any substance without the other person’s knowledge;
(7) the actor compels the other person to submit or participate by threatening to use force or violence against any person, and the other person believes that the actor has the ability
to execute the threat;
The final four subsections deal with the situation where a person has control or unusual influence over the victim and takes advantage of that relationship:
(8) the actor is a public servant who coerces the other person to submit or participate;
(9) the actor is a mental health services provider or a health care services provider who causes the other person, who is a patient or former patient of the actor, to submit or participate by
exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the actor;
(10) the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser; or
(11) the actor is an employee of a facility where the other person is a resident, unless the employee and resident are formally or informally married to each other under Chapter 2,
Sexual Assault (Statutory Rape)
Forcible rape was a common law offense. Consensual sex with a child was criminalized by a statute by Parliament, and is thus termed “statutory” rape. The Texas version is found in TPC sec. 21.011 (2). It provides that an actor commits an offense if he or she
2) intentionally or knowingly:
(A) causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of a child by any means;
(B) causes the penetration of the mouth of a child by the sexual organ of the actor;
(C) causes the sexual organ of a child to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;
(D) causes the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor; or
(E) causes the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ of another person, including the actor.
Note that like the forcible rape version, the statute is gender neutral and includes sex acts other than vaginal intercourse. There is no element of lack of consent .
A child is defined as someone younger than 17 years of age who is not the spouse of the actor. Because the acts are consensual, there is, unlike in the forcible rape version, a spousal exception. Persons under 17 are presumed incapable of giving a valid consent, except when married. Age 17 is referred to as the “age of consent,”–the age at which the law assumes a valid consent can be given.
There is a defense of medical care: “(d) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that the conduct consisted of medical care for the child and did not include any contact between the anus or sexual organ of the child and the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of the actor or a third party.”
There is also a defense if the offender and victim are close in age, are not close relatives, and the offender does not have certain prior convictions for certain sex offenses. In these situations it is less likely that there is some form of improper exploitation of a young victim by an older predator.
(e) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(2) that:
(1) the actor was not more than three years older than the victim and at the time of the offense:
(A) was not required under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, to register for
life as a sex offender; or
(B) was not a person who under Chapter 62, Code of Criminal Procedure, had a reportable conviction or adjudication for an offense under this section; and
(2) the victim:
(A) was a child of 14 years of age or older; and
(B) was not a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01.
The statute does not say that the defendant must know that the victim is under 17, and Texas courts have not created such a requirement. Thus, (as in a majority of states) mistake of fact about the victim’s age is not a defense.
Aggravated Sexual Assault
If a sexual assault under sec. 22.011 involves any of the following acts by the offender, the offense is Aggravated Sexual Assault (sec. 22.021 (2):
(i) causes serious bodily injury or attempts to cause the death of the victim or another person in the course of the same criminal episode;
(ii) by acts or words places the victim in fear that death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping will be imminently inflicted on any person;
(iii) by acts or words occurring in the presence of the victim threatens to cause the death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping of any person;
(iv) uses or exhibits a deadly weapon in the course of the same criminal episode;
(v) acts in concert with another who engages in conduct described by Subdivision (1) directed toward the same victim and occurring during the course of the same criminal episode; or
(vi) administers or provides flunitrazepam, otherwise known as rohypnol, gamma hydroxybutyrate, or ketamine [so-called “date rape drugs”] to the victim of the offense with the intent of facilitating the commission of the offense;
It is also an aggravated sexual Assault if the victim is under 14 or an elderly or disabled individual. Aggravated Sexual Assault is a felony of the first degree.
Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson handles a large number of Assault Family Violence cases, both misdemeanors and felonies. These types of cases typically involve family members but may also include former spouses, domestic partners, roommates, and present/former boyfriends/girlfriends.
Frequently, assault family violence cases involve police officers responding to a call about a disturbance. The police will likely talk to both parties and make an arrest based on whose story they believe or what the evidence indicates. Unfortunately, sometimes, the person arrested is actually the victim and not the aggressor. Other times, a mere accusation of violence may be enough for a criminal case to be filed. Sometimes, penalties for assault family violence may be harsher than normal assault cases and may result in temporary or permanent loss of parental rights.
Unfortunately, having an assault family violence conviction on your record can be used to deny child custody and limit your visitation rights if you are undergoing a divorce or other child custody hearings.
Affidavits of Non-Prosecution
Unlike in TV shows and movies, an assault case cannot be dropped in Texas simply because the victim requests that the charges be dropped. Instead, the right to drop the case belongs to the prosecutor and judge. However, not all hope is lost. Frequently, criminal defense attorneys help the victims in assault cases prepare Affidavits of Non-Prosecution, which express the victims wish that the case be dismissed and may shed some light on the altercation or argument that led to the arrest and filing of charges. While these affidavits can’t guarantee that a case is dismissed, they certainly help in persuading the prosecutor to dismiss the case or reduce the charges.
Protective Orders and Court Ordered Injunctions
In some cases of assault, the prosecutor will request that a court impose temporary protective orders or an injunction to place restrictions on contact between the accused and the victim, or in the case of assault family violence on the other family members. Protective orders may vary, ranging from no contact with the alleged victim, which frequently results in the accused having to find another place to live until the case is resolved or the protective order lifted, or could result in a temporary loss of child custody. A violation of a Court Ordered Protective order is also a serious criminal matter and may result in additional criminal charges filed against the accused.
Aggravated Assault & Assault with a Deadly Weapon
Aggravated assault consists of two different charges: aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon, both of which are typically second degree felonies. An aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury occurs when during the course of an assault the victim was seriously injured. It is escalated from a mere slap to the face to a more severe resulting injury. Assault with deadly weapon occurs when the accused is alleged to have exhibited a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault. Deadly weapons can include but are not limited to: baseball bats, BB guns, bottles, clubs, drugs, firearms, knives, motor vehicles, nail guns, and even dustpans and hot water. However, if you are accused of committing an aggravated assault against someone with whom you have a domestic relationship, or against a security guard, witness, police officer, or public official the charge may be elevated to a first degree felony. If you have any questions about what constitutes assault in Texas or have been charged with assault, feel free to visit us on Facebook and post a question, leave a comment or fill out a free case evaluation form with no obligation
List of Common Texas Assault Charges
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated assault
- Aggravated sexual assault
- Injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual
- Abandoning or endangering child
- Deadly conduct
- Consent as defense to assaultive conduct
- Terroristic threat
- Aiding suicide
- Tampering with consumer product
- Leaving a child in a vehicle
- Harassment by persons in certain correctional facilities; harassment of public servant
- Applicability to certain conduct
Possible Defenses for Assault Charges
Despite what the police might say, being charged by the Police with an offense does not mean that you will be found guilty of that offense. It is also true to say that Police are human and do make mistakes. In some domestic violence cases they may be bound to take action against someone even though they would prefer not to and in other cases they may be biased or act illegally. There are many reasons why you may be found not guilty by the court, some of which include:
- The police don’t have enough evidence to prove that you committed the offense;
- The police have acted illegally or improperly;
- A witness may not attend court;
- The Police have charged you with the wrong offense;
- Where applicable the Police cannot prove that the injuries amount to actual or grievous bodily harm;
- You are able to rely on a recognised defense.
Self-defense claims are made when a defendant agrees that act of assault occurred, but it also that it was justified by the other person’s threatening actions. A jury must decide that the person accused of the crime acted reasonably. The questions which must be asked include:
- Who was the aggressor?
- Was the defendant’s belief that self-defense was necessary a reasonable one?
- Did the defendant use only the force necessary to combat the aggressor?
Defense of Others
Defense of Others claims are similar to self defense claims. When making such a claim, a defendant agrees that act occurred, but claims that it was justified by the other person’s threatening actions to a third person.
Again, to succeed, a jury must determine that the defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances.
An alibi defense is simply the argument that the defendant could not have committed the crime because that defendant was somewhere else.
One of the best and most common defenses is to challenge the credibility of witnesses including the police. A good attorney will examine all aspects of a witnesses statements, the inconsistencies and the omissions. Witness testimony may be undermined by prior inconsistent statements or rebuttal witnesses that tell a different story.
In any criminal case it is very important to preserve evidence before it gets cold. That means you should hire an experienced and aggressive attorney for your representation as soon as possible. If you do not, your rights could be impaired.
An investigation must be performed which would involve photographing the scene, examining critical evidence and interviewing potential witnesses while their memory is fresh. (A defendant cannot perform these functions by themselves since they may be viewed as tampering with a witness).
Because sexual charges are often based on the word of the accuser, the motivations and background of the accuser are highly relevant to sex crimes defense. Proper investigation and use of psychological experts can uncover facts that can be helpful to your defense.
- Lying about consensual sex. Some may make false charges of sexual assault or rape to cover up consensual sex in order to protect their own reputation from damage to hide casual sexual encounters from friends and family.
- Child custody disputes. A parent may make false accusations of molestation or inappropriate sexual behavior against his or her spouse in order to gain an advantage in family court. Such false charges are a common tactic in divorce and custody cases.
- Financial advantage. A sexual charge is an easy way for an accuser to extort money from a defendant. Celebrities are not the only targets of these schemes. An employee can easily bring such a charge against an employer. We have also seen extortion associated with extramarital affairs.
Suppression of Evidence
If photographs, computer files or other records were obtained from you, there are very strict search and seizure guidelines that the police must follow. Illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against you in court. In sex crimes cases, there are limited circumstances in which incriminating evidence can be suppressed. A motion to suppress is a Constitutional Right and an effective weapon in the hands of an experienced sex crimes defense attorney.
“Taint” can occur when children are subjected to biased and suggestive interviews. Parents, teachers, police and even therapists can ask leading questions such as “daddy touched you there, didn’t he?” Often, the adult conducting the interrogation is not consciously aware of the suggestive nature of the question. Young children, who are eager to please adults, often answer “yes” and even build false memories about events that did not actually occur.
Fighting a criminal case can be very complicated. Did you know that many cases are dismissed on technicalities? The Best Houston Assault Attorney must have knowledge of the court system and know the different personalities of Judges and Prosecutors.
Hire the Best Houston Assault Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Do not hesitate to contact Attorney Johnson if you or one of your loved ones could even possibly be facing any type of Assault charge. Don’t make the huge, regrettable mistake of acting without legal representation, the most foolish course of action when dealing with the criminal justice system.
It is important that you seek legal counsel if you have been arrested for Assault in Houston as soon as possible. Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson is an experienced and skilled lawyer who can help you protect your rights, investigate the evidence, and negotiate with the state to get the charges filed against you reduced or dismissed.
Acting promptly and aggressively is the key to protecting your freedom and ultimate well being. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is available by phone 24 hours a day at (713) 222-7577. He knows how important your case is, and wants to protect you from the very outset.
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The Charles Johnson Law Firm is one of the foremost criminal defense law firms in Houston in defending people from drug convictions, including the possession and sale of marijuana. Expert Houston Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson skillfully defends clients who have been charged with marijuana-related crimes through the entire State of Texas, with offices conveniently located in Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Our unique strategy gives our clients the best opportunity to avoid criminal penalties, and our criminal defense law firm’s familiarity with drug laws, both felonies and misdemeanors, is unrivaled. We provide each client a high-quality legal defense that is superior. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson can defend against any criminal drug charge in both federal and state courts, and our firm’s track record of success continues to grow.
Hire the Best Houston Marijuana Possession Law Firm: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Criminal Marijuana Penalties
Texas has a reputation as being extremely severe in its imposition of penalties for drug use and possession, and it is well earned. Minor marijuana possession is not decriminalized in Texas, as it is in several states, which means that even a minuscule amount can land you in jail. Marijuana possession and sale charges can be either misdemeanors or felonies, but both carry serious penalties. Jail time, heavy fines, probation, mandatory rehab programs and more are all possible penalties for drug charges. Skillful Drug Attorney Johnson’s finely tuned defense techniques have evolved from years of experience, and he brings that knowledge and experience to those facing marijuana-related criminal charges.
Of all the marijuana laws in Texas, possession of marijuana may be the most unfair. It punishes otherwise responsible citizens merely for keeping some pot for personal use and who have no intention of ever doing anything hurtful with it or profiting from it. Nonetheless, it is an offense to possess, distribute or cultivate marijuana in Texas. Depending on the quantity, possession of marijuana can be charged as a misdemeanor of felony in both state and federal court.
The prosecution may argue that you’re “in possession” of marijuana in Harris County, TX, if you’re found smoking marijuana or if you knowingly “exercised control” over the marijuana. Therefore, the location of the marijuana is very important:
- If the marijuana is found on your person, in your car, in or around your home, in a storage unit belonging to you, or in any other place that you have some authority over, the prosecution will argue that you were in possession of the marijuana since you had some control over the location.
- Furthermore, if marijuana is found in your system during a drug test or you were caught driving under the influence of marijuana in Texas, the prosecution may try to use that to prove you’ve been in possession of marijuana since you presumably “exercise control” over your body.
Marijuana Possession Penalties in Texas
- Two ounces or less include a fine up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail or both
- More than two ounces, but less than four ounces. Penalties include a fine of up to $4,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
- Four ounces or more, up to and including five pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, between 180 days and two years in prison, or both.
- More than five pounds, up to and including 50 pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, between two and ten years in prison, or both.
- More than 50 pounds, up to and including 2,000 pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, between two and 20 years in prison, or both.
- More than 2,000 pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $50,000, between five and 99 years in prison, or both.
Sale of Marijuana
Various states have different marijuana laws, and Texas is no different. Texas treats marijuana sales as a much more serious crime than possession, which is reflected in the penalties. The sale of any amount of marijuana can lead to prison time, even for small amounts.
Sale of Marijuana Penalties in Texas
- 1/4 oz – 5 lbs: 6 months – 2 years, $10,000 fine
- 5 lbs – 50 lbs: 2 – 20 years, $10,000 fine
- 50 lbs – 1 ton: 5 – 99 years, $10,000 fine
- 1 ton or more: Mandatory minimum of 10 – 99 years, with a $100,000 fine
These are for either the sale OR delivery, meaning it is irrelevant whether or not you are actually paid or just just giving it to someone. On top of that, if the delivery or sale is to a minor (in ANY amount), that is punishable by an additional 2 – 20 years in prison. Also, sale within 1,000 feet of a school or within 300 feet of a youth center, public pool or video arcade increases the penalty classification to the next highest level (which in some cases is a difference of many years).
The Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson understands the unique nature of Texas marijuana laws, and can provide a skilled defense. His unparalleled knowledge of state and federal drug laws gives him a unique ability to provide excellent legal services for you and your loved ones. If you are in need of criminal defense legal representation in the Houston area, contact Attorney Johnson anytime day or night at (713) 222-7577 to discuss your situation.
What Is Marijuana?
Cannabis sativa: There are two species of Cannabis. One species is Cannabis sativa, originally cultivated to make hemp. The stalks of the plant contain fibers that are woven to make rope, cloth, and paper. The other species is Cannabis indica, known for its psychoactive properties. Hashish is derived from Cannabis indica. In Africa, cannabis is know as “dagga,” in China as “ma,” and in India as “ganga” or “bhang”. Marijuana is the Mexican colloquial name for Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is a greenish-gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant.
THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is found in the plant’s resin. The amount of THC determines the potency of the marijuana. The resin is mostly concentrated in the flowers of the plant. Because of various cultivation techniques the amount of THC varies considerably in the flowers of individual plants.
Other Chemicals: Marijuana is a complex drug and is made up of 420 chemical components. Sixty-one of these chemicals are called cannabinoids and are unique to marijuana. Many scientific studies focus on the primary psychoactive chemical, THC but don’t know how these other cannabinoids affect the various organs, brain, and behavior.
Grades of Marijuana
- Low-grade marijuana is made from leaves of both sexes of the plant.
- Medium-grade marijuana is made of the flowering tops of female plants fertilized by male plants.
- High-grade marijuana is made of the flowering tops of female plants raised in isolation to male plants. This marijuana is called sinsemilla because it does not produce a seed.
- Hashish is produced when resin is collected from the Cannabis indica plant. The THC-rich resin is dried and then compressed into a variety of forms, such as balls, cakes, or cookie-like sheets. Pieces are then broken off, placed in pipes, and smoked or rolled into a cigarette along with tobacco or low-grade marijuana. The Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are the main sources of hashish. THC content of hashish can vary from 8% to 20%.
What are the Physical Effects of Marijuana usage?
When marijuana is smoked, the affects are felt in minutes. The high usually peaks within a couple of hours. Marijuana affects users differently. The “high” can include a feeling of relaxation, improved sense perception, and emotional well-being. Music and visual images may seem more vibrant and intense. Time seems to slow down. Some people experience physical hunger and a range of emotion from laughter to introspection. Marijuana does not always produce pleasant feelings and may cause paranoia and hallucinations. Emergency room visits have increased because some people feel anxious or fearful after smoking high-grade marijuana. Whether the marijuana is smoked or eaten, THC can remain in the body for days. About half the THC is in the blood 20 hours after smoking. Although the initial high has disappeared, physical and mental functions may be affected for days.
The physical effects of marijuana depend on many individual factors such as personal health, the time of day that marijuana is used, the problems it causes, and how well a person is able to control his or her use. Research studies have shown that one of the primary concerns for those who use marijuana is cardiovascular damage. Marijuana causes damage to lungs that is similar to that caused by cigarettes. For people who inhale deeply or hold the smoke in their lungs longer, the risk can be greater. One study that compared cigarette and marijuana smokers found that marijuana smokers absorbed five times the amount of carbon monoxide, and had five times the tar in their lungs, as compared to cigarette smokers. For those who smoke both marijuana and cigarettes, the damage can be exponentially greater than that caused by marijuana or cigarettes alone.
Research shows that people who use marijuana more than one time during the day tend to have more social and physical problems than those who only use in the evenings. Those who use at multiple times may also be more likely to be smoking to avoid problems they feel unable to confront. A person who uses marijuana in addition to alcohol or other drugs can be at additional risk. The effects of some drugs become exponentially greater when taken together. In addition, the physical tolerance that one drug produces can sometimes affect another drug, and lead to dependence on multiple substances.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
While marijuana is not in the same addictive league as cocaine, heroin, and even alcohol, recent studies raise the possibility that THC affects the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that affects the pleasure circuits. Many addictive drugs cause the release of dopamine from the neurons. One report by the National Institute of Drug Abuse states that long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction for some people. This report concludes that along with craving, withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for long-term marijuana smokers to stop using the drug. People trying to quit report irritability, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety.
Texas does not prosecute possession of drugs only. In fact, Texas will prosecute a person for possession of drug paraphernalia. Thus, it is a separate criminal charge classified as a Class C Misdemeanor and typically carries a penalty of $500. Normally, if one is charged with a possession of controlled substance, then a possession of drug paraphernalia will be charged against the person, as well.
Under federal law the term drug paraphernalia means “any equipment, product or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance.”
Drug paraphernalia is any legitimate equipment, product, or material that is modified for making, using, or concealing illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. Drug paraphernalia generally falls into two categories:
User-specific products are marketed to drug users to assist them in taking or concealing illegal drugs. These products include certain pipes, smoking masks, bongs, cocaine freebase kits, marijuana grow kits, roach clips, and items such as hollowed out cosmetic cases or fake pagers used to conceal illegal drugs.
Dealer-specific products are used by drug traffickers for preparing illegal drugs for distribution at the street level. Items such as scales, vials, and baggies fall into this category. Drug paraphernalia does not include any items traditionally used with tobacco, like pipes and rolling papers.
With the rise of the drug culture in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, the country began to see the appearance of “head shops,” which were stores that sold a wide range of drug paraphernalia. While some of the paraphernalia was crude and home-made, much was being commercially manufactured to cater to a fast-growing market. Enterprising individuals even sold items openly in the street, until anti-paraphernalia laws in the 1980s eventually ended such blatant sales. Today, law enforcement faces another challenge. With the advent of the Internet, criminals have greatly expanded their illicit sales to a worldwide market for drug paraphernalia. For example, in a recent law enforcement effort, Operation Pipedreams, the 18 companies targeted accounted for more than a quarter of a billion dollars in retail drug paraphernalia sales annually. Typically, such illicit businesses operate retail stores as well as websites posing as retailers of legitimate tobacco accessories when in reality the products are intended for the illegal drug trade.
Identifying drug paraphernalia can be challenging because products often are marketed as though they were designed for legitimate purposes. Marijuana pipes and bongs, for example, frequently carry a misleading disclaimer indicating that they are intended to be used only with tobacco products. Recognizing drug paraphernalia often involves considering other factors such as the manner in which items are displayed for sale, descriptive materials or instructions accompanying the items, and the type of business selling the items.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm is experienced in marijuana-related matters involving:
- Marijuana Possession
- Marijuana Cultivation
- Marijuana Distribution
- Drug Paraphernalia
- Search and seizure laws
- Asset seizure
- Search warrants, wiretapping and surveillance
Contact the Leading Houston Marijuana Possession Lawyer: Drug Attorney Charles Johnson
Before someone can be convicted of marijuana possession in Houston, the state must prove that the accused actually had possession or took action to control the drug. Drug possession cases are complicated and depend the police’s adherence to strict guidelines concerning search and seizure of the drug.
As you could be facing fines, probation, drug classes, community service, and jail, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced Houston criminal attorney if you have been accused of this crime. Our team at the Charles Johnson Law Firm is well-equipped to handle any type of drug crime, including those involving possession of marijuana and/or drug paraphernalia. We understand that mistakes can happen and not everyone who has been accused of a crime is guilty. No matter how serious you may believe your case to be, contact The Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson personally by calling (713) 222-7577 anytime, day or night to discuss your case.
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Credit Card Fraud is rather common all over the United States, as is the prosecution rate for such crimes. Any form of credit card fraud or abuse — even the possession of someone else’s credit card with the intention of committing fraud or theft — can be charged as a felony and lead to jail time and significant fines upon conviction. Whether you are accused of “borrowing” a friend’s Visa to pay for gas or you actively opened an account in someone else’s name and engaged in thousands of dollars of purchases, if you have been charged with fraud then you need experienced legal counsel.
It is possible to simply be accused of credit card fraud or for there to be circumstances in the case that constitute reduced charges, which means reduced penalties. No matter the case, it is important to have a Houston Credit Card Fraud Attorney to help you from the time you are accused until the end of the case.
If you are investigated for a credit card fraud crime in Houston, do not discuss anything with detectives. Even if you believe that you are innocent of the accusations or think that you can simply “explain what happened” so that the the problem is resolved, it is not wise to say anything to an investigator. Always insist on talking to an attorney first. If you have been arrested for Credit Card Fraud in Houston, TX, take fast action with a skilled and resourceful Houston Criminal Lawyer. Contact the Charles Johnson Law Firm immediately anytime night or day for a free phone consultation at (713) 222-7577 to discuss your case.
Overview of Texas Credit Card Fraud Laws
Performing a variety of fraudulent acts in connection with a credit card amounts to the crime of credit card fraud in Texas. Prosecutors must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had an intent to receive some type of benefit by the following means, the most common of which are:
- Using a credit or debit card the defendant knows is not his own;
- The card has expired, been revoked, or cancelled;
- Using a fictitious card, or the pretended number of a fictitious card
- Receiving any benefit that the defendant knows has been obtained by violation of this law;
- Stealing a credit or debit card with the intent to use it, sell it or transfer it to anyone but the cardholder;
- Buying a credit or debit card from someone the defendant knows is not the issuer of the card;
- Selling a credit or debit card;
- Inducing the cardholder to use his/her card to obtain property for the defendant’s benefit when the cardholder is financially unable to pay for it;
- Possessing a credit or debit card that is not the defendant’s own and having the intent to use it.
Credit card fraud is a problem that affects the entire consumer credit industry. It is one of the most common types of fraud and also one of the most difficult to prevent. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), credit-related complaints have consistently ranked among their top 10 complaints for many years. In fact, some organized crime rings and even drug dealers have shifted criminal career paths to engage in this simple, lucrative, and relatively safe form of crime.
Credit card fraud can occur in person or via the Internet. Most consumer action groups, police departments, retail stores, and agencies, such as Better Business Bureaus (BBB) and the FTC, routinely release information for consumers on how to avoid credit card fraud and identity theft. Nevertheless, there are numerous forms of credit card fraud that are committed by enterprising thieves, organized rings, business owners, and even otherwise legitimate cardholders.
One method of obtaining account information or even an actual credit card is through postal theft. Other methods that have proven surprisingly effective in obtaining personal information include impersonating a card or application verifier via telephone, obtaining copies of past bills, or utilizing on-line directories. In some situations, offenders are also able to take advantage of contacts within the various credit bureaus to obtain legitimate bankcard account information for counterfeiting or telephone order purchasing. After having illegally obtained legitimate cards or account information, offenders then create fictitious identification including driver’s licenses, social security cards, and other materials to aid in the commission of credit card fraud.
Once the information is obtained, there are several forms of fraud that can occur. One popular type of credit card fraud is the advance payment scheme. This scheme utilizes counterfeit or stolen credit cards. The offender either makes an advance payment on the card or overpays an existing balance with a fraudulent check. Since the account is credited upon receipt of payment, cash advances can be immediately withdrawn before the payment check has cleared. Through numerous payments on numerous cards, an offender can realize large profits within a relatively short period of time.
Another type of credit card fraud involves the illegal counterfeiting of credit cards. New technology has aided criminals in producing exact replicas of existing cards and in creating fraudulent cards including the so-called “hidden” counter-measures. Illegal counterfeiting may be primarily responsible for the overall upsurge in credit card fraud.
Counterfeiters also buy and sell magnetic strips to produce fraudulent credit cards. The magnetic strips are essential because they contain names, account numbers, credit limits, and other information for legitimate or contrived Visa/MasterCard holders. By using a desktop computer system, source material, and peripheral equipment, a counterfeiter can produce a fraudulent bankcard with relative ease. As technology has improved, counterfeiting credit cards has become a multi-step process. These steps can often include using desktop computer systems and peripherals such as laminators to produce more realistic looking cards. The counterfeited cards come complete with a hologram and fully encoded magnetic strip. Most of the supplies used to manufacture counterfeited bankcards, including the plastic cards and Visa/MasterCard holograms (the Visa dove and the MasterCard interlocking globes) are smuggled into the United States from the Far East.
Costs and Statistics
- It is estimated that the global rate of credit and charge card fraud is seven cents for every $100 transaction. Illegal credit card purchases totaled $788 million in the United States alone for the year 2004, representing 4.7 cents of every $100 worth of total purchases. Similar estimates have been reported in Great Britain, where it is estimated that £535.2 million were lost due to credit card fraud in 2007. In addition, Australia loses an estimated 4 cents per every $100 transaction to fraud.
- According to estimates, over 229 million records containing individuals’ identifying information have been compromised by data breaches since 2005, Although it is difficult to estimate or predict the number of compromised records that will be or may have been utilized for perpetrating fraud, the sensitive nature of the information contained within these records harbors the potential for increasing credit card fraud losses. Estimates of monetary amounts lost from data breaches can reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
- The Federal Trade Commission reports that victims’ information was used to perpetrate credit card fraud in 23% of the cases brought to the attention of the Identity Theft Clearinghouse in 2007.Of online credit/debit card fraud, the Internet Crime Complaint Center(IC3) reports that this type of fraud ranks 4 in the types of fraud committed over the Internet, compromising 6.3% of complaints reported to the IC3 in 2007.
- A report issued by Cybersource shows that, according to a 2007 survey of both small and large online businesses, 1.4% of all online revenue was lost due to payment fraud, with an estimate of $3.6 billion in losses for 2007. Additionally, the survey found that 1.3% of all accepted orders resulted in fraud losses. The median fraudulent order was $200 versus a median of $120 for legitimate purchases. Those retailers which also accept orders not located with the U.S. or Canada reported that international orders were rejected at a rate approximately 2.5 times higher than U.S. and Canadian orders due to suspicion of fraud. Overall, merchants rejected 4.2% of total orders on suspicion of fraud.
The Response/Current Efforts
Merchants are more at risk from credit card fraud than are consumers. Regardless of whether the transaction occurred in person or on-line, the consumer generally only has to face the hassles of reversing a fraudulent charge, canceling their lost or stolen card, or paying the first $50 of the loss (although most credit card companies waive this fee). In contrast, a merchant loses the cost of the product sold, must pay numerous credit card charge-back fees, and even faces the possibility of having their merchant account closed.
Many methods of safeguarding credit card purchases exist. Credit card companies started using holograms in 1981 to identify genuine cards at the time of purchase. At the same time, large-scale hologram counterfeiting operations developed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. A separate market emerged for these holograms, which sell for between $5 and $15, depending on the quality of the hologram. In 1994, the Canadian Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit and the Combined Forces Asian Investigation Unit arrested members of a Chinese syndicate that produced approximately 300,000 counterfeit holograms and had distributed 250,000 of them. Based on the quantity delivered and using an estimate of $3,000 lost per card, Visa and MasterCard estimated that their combined losses caused by this group approached $750 million.
The FTC recommends that consumers sign their cards in a manner that requires the user to show photo identification, carry their cards in a separate compartment of their wallet or purse, destroy carbon copies, void incorrect receipts, reconcile monthly account statements, and shred unsolicited credit card offers. These steps will reduce the likelihood of either fraudulent purchases charged to the victims’ accounts or more severe identity theft.
Credit card fraud is a recognized issue of import. One problem facing the struggle to reduce this type of fraud, however, is the lack of law enforcement resources devoted to this type of crime. Although law enforcement acknowledges the extent of the crime, resources are often such that many agencies are simply not able to allocate the time and manpower needed to police these crimes. This is especially true when a fraudulent transaction may only account for $20-50 loss per victim, such as with the recent cases involving the company Pluto Data. While these fraudulent transactions are noteworthy, they may simply not garner the resources that more salient crimes attract. Additionally, many credit card frauds may suffer from jurisdictional problems; for instance, many of the fraudulent transactions may take place in a city, state, or country other than that in which the victim is residing. Due to the lack of consistent law enforcement involvement and jurisdictional issues, ensuring transaction safety often falls to the individual; as a consequence, many, especially merchants involved with online transactions, utilize a variety of methods for ensuring credit card security and safety.
Internet credit card transactions are referred to as CNP (cardholder not present transactions). In order to validate a card, many on-line merchants use cardholder recognition software, validity checks, and red flag order settings. These “red flags” are based on subtle differences in the card’s information that have also proved fraudulent in past purchases. For example, one red flag arises when the shipping and billing addresses are not the same. This is especially true in situations involving PO Boxes and private, rented boxes (e.g., at Mailboxes Etc.). Other types of red flags are purchases of high dollar items or orders in multiples with requests for rush or expedited shipping. On-line criminals generally like to receive their items quickly for resale purposes and, since they have no intention of paying the bill, they do not mind the higher cost for shipping.
One of the latest technological advancements in the race to foil credit card fraudsters is the employment of new chip-based technology in credit cards. Rather than relying on the standard magnetic strip to divulge card owners’ information, the new technology stores this information on a computer chip embedded within the card which requires a pin to unlock—a practice that is currently underway in Europe and has been going on in France for over ten years, where credit card fraud has dropped 80%. This system is currently being unveiled in Canada and is also being employed by select card issuers in the U.S.
Also, both Visa U.S.A. and MasterCard currently offer state-of-the-art identity check offerings. Visa U.S.A. invited cardholders to link their cards to passwords that would be required when shopping at participating on-line stores. The service, “Verified by Visa,” is designed to raise the level of security and allay fears of fraud that haunt many merchants and consumers. Verified by Visa is a way to authenticate on-line buyers to on-line sellers in which customers register for a password with the bank that issues their credit card. Merchants are linked back to the card issuer that verifies the cardholder’s identity based on that password. In addition to programs such as “Verified by Visa”, Visa is also using a new “advanced authorization” system. By evaluating 40 variable factors (such as whether or not the card being used was part of a known security breach or if items are being ordered at a high-volume quick rate), the system can provide banks with an instant rating of the transaction’s potential for fraud, allowing the issuer to decline the purchase if warranted. This new system is reported to be able to flag up to 40% of false transactions which may have gone undetected previously.
Additionally, many major credit card companies have banded together to help to ensure safety by issuing what is known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This standard requires all merchants to follow the same guidelines of data security. It is unknown how many retailers are PCI compliant, but Visa estimates that upwards of two-thirds of its large and medium-sized merchants meet requirements as of January 2008. In order to assist business owners in this endeavor, card companies and payment processors are supplying tutorials and Webinars to business owners in order to help navigate the intricate technology regulations. The latest version of the security standard is scheduled for release in October 2008.
Recent initiatives in an effort to battle credit card fraud and identity theft have also emerged on a federal level. A recent amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires consumer reporting companies to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report (including information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy) once every 12 months, at the consumer’s request. This went into effect on December 1, 2004 in the Western states and is now available nationwide. This allows consumers the ability to closely monitor their own credit histories without paying charges to reporting agencies.
Defenses to Credit Card Fraud Charges
Police and prosecutors have the technological sophistication to effectively investigate credit card fraud, whether it allegedly occurs via the Internet or in person. The police may be able to follow the trail of an online credit card purchase back to the computer used in the transaction, to find a suspect in an online credit card fraud investigation. For credit card fraud cases occuring inside a store, the police may request security camera footage to show the person who signed for a specific purchase at a specific time.
Houston White Collar Crimes Attorney Charles Johnson will conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the case against you — seeking both exculpatory evidence and possible misconduct by the police investigators.
If you are facing charges for credit card fraud, contact Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson personally anytime night or day at (713) 222-7577. Attorney Johnson will be able to work with you and investigate the case against you, explaining your options along the way.
A defense attorney, who is experienced in this type of law, will be able to look for possible defenses in your case. Sometimes fraud, credit card theft, embezzlement and identity theft are committed due to a drug addiction, psychological issue, or gambling addiction. If you are suffering from an addiction or a mental issue, we may be able to argue for a lesser charge.
Other possible defenses include:
- Lack of knowledge
- Lack of intent
- Duress (being coerced to perform a crime that you otherwise would not perform)
- Age (being a minor may lessen the penalty imposed)
If you are facing charges of credit card theft or any other type of fraud anywhere within the state of Texas, we will:
- Investigate the case against you
- Investigate possible defenses and options
- Work with you and explain your options
- Communicate all charges and information clearly to you
- Prepare the best defense case for your situation
When you hire an experienced Houston Criminal Defense Attorney regarding theft charges you face, we may be able to get your charges lessened or see that you get alternative sentencing for your crime.
Penalties and Sentences
There are various punishments for different types of fraud. The sentences normally depend on the nature of the fraud committed. A few of the penalties that could be assessed under Texas law include:
- Jail or prison time
- Fines and restitution
- Loss of a professional license
- Seizure of property or wage garnishment
It is extremely important that you contact Houston Credit Card Fraud Lawyer Charles Johnson as soon as you are aware of an investigation. Prosecutors often attempt to intimidate ordinary citizens into thinking the state of Texas has a clear cut case against them. Investigators often apply for search warrants in order to look for evidence that a fraud has taken place. These search warrants limit the type of evidence that may be seized, but those who are unfamiliar with how this process works may nonetheless allow law enforcement officers to overstep their bounds when serving one of these warrants.
Hire the Best Houston White Collar Crime Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Don’t make the mistake of waiting until it is too late to do something about it. Just because you have been charged with a theft crime in Texas does not mean that you will get the maximum punishment for that charge. You have a legal right to hire a lawyer who has experience in criminal proceedings who can help represent you and get you the best possible outcome.
Experienced Houston White Collar Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson represents people on theft and fraud charges including robbery, burglary, petty theft, credit card theft, grand theft, embezzlement, shoplifting, forgery, passing bad checks, and obtaining money by false pretenses. There are many possible defenses for your case. Allow us the time to discuss your case with you and investigate the matter.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm will investigate your case, interview witnesses and present the best possible defense. Don’t let a mistake that you made affect the rest of your life. You may contact Houston Credit Card Fraud Lawyer Charles Johnson at (713) 222-7577 and speak with him directly anytime night or day, 7 days/ week to discuss your case.
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Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is a Federal Drug Defense Attorney. He represents clients who have been charged or are about to be charged with drug charges in Federal Court. The Charles Johnson Law Firm has earned an international reputation as a Leading Federal Drug Law Firm.
Regardless of the federal or international drug charge, Federal Drug Lawyer Charles Johnson has the drug defense experience to handle your case. He has successfully handled sophisticated drug defense cases that included Trafficking, Importation, Distribution and many others. When faced with a federal drug crime there is absolutely no substitute for experience. If you have been charged with drug crime and need a Federal Drug Defense Attorney, contact Attorney Johnson directly anytime night or day at (713) 222-7577. In Federal and International Drug Defense, experience makes the difference.
Federal Drug Crimes Overview
The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, also known as the Controlled Substances Act, classifies narcotics, marijuana and other drugs into five categories, or Schedules. Besides establishing requirements relating to manufacture and distribution of drugs, the law also defines penalties for violations of the Act. Depending on the nature and quantity of the substance involved, as well as the presence of sentence-enhancing factors, the criminal penalties can be severe. If you are facing federal drug charges, call Federal Drug Crime Lawyer Charles Johnson for advice on the law, your rights and how to proceed. He is available around the clock to take your call.
Offenses at the Federal Level
Federal drug offenses differ from those at the state level, even though the conduct in question might be the same. In defining crimes, Congress’ authority comes from its Constitutionally-granted powers over the areas of commerce, taxation and the postal service.
Some of the drug crimes under the Controlled Substances Act include:
- Drug trafficking: manufacturing, distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute illicit drugs
- Manufacturing: operating places for the purposes of manufacturing, distributing or using illicit drugs, or endangering human life while so doing
- Continuing criminal enterprise crimes: trafficking in illicit drugs by a person in concert with five or more other persons
- Conspiracy: involves attempts and the promoting and facilitating of manufacture, distribution or importation of illicit drugs
- Protected location offenses: distributing illicit drugs to persons under age 21 or within a school or playground zone; employing persons under age 18 in drug operations
- Simple possession: possessing controlled substances without a valid prescription from a licensed medical practitioner (unlike trafficking, simple possession does not involve intent to distribute the drugs)
Other drug offenses under the Act include investing illicit drug profits in businesses affecting interstate commerce and unauthorized importation of controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforces the federal controlled substances laws and regulations.
In addition, drug crimes at the federal level may include violations of tax law, such as tax evasion, or engaging in activities prohibited by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Federal Sentencing Guidelines
Federal drug laws specify minimum and maximum terms of imprisonment, based on the type and quantity of drug involved. Likewise, under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, these factors are taken into account, along with:
- Whether the offense involved injury to another person
- Whether a weapon was possessed or used
- The defendant’s criminal history
While judges have discretion to depart from sentencing guidelines, they must still stay within the mandatory minimum and maximum terms specified by statute. Where the offense occurs in a school or other protected zone, penalties may be enhanced.
Hire the Best Federal Drug Crimes Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Drug crimes can be charged and prosecuted under federal law, state law or both. Because federal drug crimes can carry significantly harsher penalties, it is important to contact a knowledgeable lawyer who is familiar with both federal and state drug laws. If you are facing either federal or state drug charges, call Federal Drug Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson now at (713) 222-7577. He can explain the intricacies of both systems and vigorously represent your interests.
Charged with a Federal Crime? What To Expect
The following is a short summary of what you can expect if charged with a Federal Crime.
By the time you read this material, you or your loved one will have already entered the Federal Criminal Justice System. Whether you are in custody or in the “free world”, one firm rule applies: Do not discuss your case with anyone but your lawyer. Anything you say can and will be used against you. This is true whether you talk to a police officer, a person you just met in a holding cell, or a “friend”.
RELEASE OR DETENTION
The first thing to worry about is whether you are going to be released while waiting for trial. There is no bond set automatically in federal court. Your family cannot simply pay a bondsman to get you out.
Court Appearance: If you were arrested and taken into custody, you will soon appear before a United States Magistrate Judge. This is not the District Judge that will hear your trial. This Magistrate Judge will decide if there are any conditions that would allow your release.
Pretrial Report: In order to assist the Magistrate Judge, a Pretrial Services Officer will interview you and give the Magistrate Judge a written report about your background and criminal history. The Officer will not ask you about the facts of your case and you should not volunteer any information. If you lie to the Officer, it will hurt you later on.
Chance for Release: You are most likely to be released if you have little or no criminal history, if you have solid employment and family ties in your community, if you are a United States Citizen, and if you are not charged with a serious drug trafficking offense or crime of violence. Even if you are not a good risk for release, the Magistrate Judge must still hold a hearing and find reasons to keep you in custody. The only time this hearing is unnecessary is when you are being held in custody for other reasons — such as a sentence in another case, a parole warrant, or a probation revocation warrant.
When you are facing criminal charges, your choice of legal representation is a critical issue. You must ensure that you have legal representation from a proven attorney with a record of successfully defending difficult cases.
In order to protect your rights and to fight a possible Federal drug conviction, it is very important to hire the Best Federal Lawyer you can find. Your future is at stake, and this is not a time to cut corners. A knowledgeable Drug Crime Defense Lawyer will be able to sort out the details of your drug crime charges and diligently work to provide evidence that will benefit you. At the Charles Johnson Law Firm, we have been successful at lowering or dismissing charges against our clients and will look to do the same for you. To counteract the aggressive investigation and prosecution from the federal government, you will need an equally aggressive criminal defense attorney. Federal Drug Crime Lawyer Charles Johnson understands federal drug crime cases inside and out and will provide an unmatched dedication, commitment and an aggressive approach when defending your case.
Honesty: Defendants often believe it is better not to tell their lawyers the truth about their case. This is not a good idea. Everything you tell your lawyer is privileged and cannot be told to others. The best defense is one that prepares for all the bad evidence the prosecutor may present against you at your trial. Your lawyer must know all the facts. It is foolish to ignore the dangers and simply hope everything will turn out all right. That is the sure way to be convicted.
Bad Advice: If you are in custody, you will probably get a lot of free advice from other inmates. Unfortunately, much of that advice will be wrong. Many of the other inmates are in state custody and know nothing about federal criminal law. Even the ones facing federal charges may give you bad advice; they may not know any better, or they want to mislead you.
Respect: Treat your lawyer with respect and that respect will be returned to you. Lawyers are human beings who tend to work harder for clients who do not mistreat them.
When people talk about “rights” in the federal criminal justice system, they are usually talking about the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution. These rights include freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel, due process of law, equal protection under the law, protection from double jeopardy, a speedy and public trial, the ability to confront one’s accusers, subpoenas for witnesses, no excessive bail, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
Caselaw: There are many books and thousands of cases that discuss what these rights mean. The law is always changing. A court opinion written in 1934 by a Montana court of appeals is probably no help in your case. Your case will mostly be affected by recent published opinions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.
Application: Not all of these rights apply in all cases. If you never made a statement to the police, then it will not matter whether you were told of your right to remain silent. If you consented to a search of your car, then it will not make a difference whether the police had a search warrant.
There are no benefits to being locked up. Jail has many rules and regulations. Some of those rules are made by the jailers. Some of these rules are made by the United States Marshal.
Clothing: You can get clothing two ways. The way to get underwear, tennis shoes, socks, etc, is to buy them through the jail commissary. Despite what others tell you, your lawyer cannot simply bring you these items. In most instances, trial clothing can be brought to the U.S. Marshal’s office shortly before your court appearance. You will be allowed to change in the holding cell at the federal courthouse.
Other Possessions: Sometimes the jail may allow you to receive magazines by subscription or books mailed from a store. It depends on the jail’s rules. Most other items need to be purchased through the commissary. All jails prohibit your lawyer from bringing you any items, such as cigarettes. You may keep legal documents in your possession.
Visits: Your friends and relatives must follow the jail’s rules when making appointments to visit you. You must put the names of these persons on your visitation list.
At some point you will come to court for an arraignment. This is the time when you enter a plea of “Not Guilty”.
Indictment: Before the arraignment, you will have been indicted by a Grand Jury. Neither you, nor your attorney, has a right to be present at the Grand Jury session. A Grand Jury decides if there is enough evidence to have a trial in your case. If there is not, then the case is dismissed. If there is, the Grand Jury issues an Indictment. An Indictment is the document that states what the charges against you are. The Grand Jury sessions are rarely transcribed, so it is usually not possible to receive a transcript of their sessions.
Hearing: The arraignment takesplace before a Magistrate Judge,notthe DistrictJudge who will hear your case. The Magistrate Judge will ask you several questions:
- Do you understand what you are charged with?;
- Do you understand the potential penalties if you are convicted?; and
- How do you plead to the charges?
Since you will have discussed the case with your lawyer by this time, you will be able to answer the first two questions “Yes”. Your answer to the third question is “Not Guilty”. You cannot plead “Guilty” at an arraignment. Pleading “Not Guilty” will never be used against you.
Discovery: Federal law provides only limited access to the government’s evidence against you. Under local rules, you and your attorney are permitted to have copies of only certain types of documents in the government’s file. The rules of discovery must be strictly adhered to, and your attorney will discuss these rules with you more thoroughly as your case progresses.
Motions: Before or after investigating your case, your attorney may feel it appropriate to file a motion(s), which may be heard before or at trial. You should never file your own motions without fully discussing the proper procedures with your attorney. If you have ideas about specific motions that could be filed your case, you should discuss with your attorney whether those particular motions would be appropriate or beneficial to your defense.
Many defendants want a quick trial. This is usually for two reasons. First, defendants who are in custody want to get out of the county jail as soon as possible. Second, defendants believe that if they are not tried within the Speedy Trial Act’s 70-day time limit, then their cases will be dismissed.
Pretrial Detention: There is no question that conditions in the county jail are not good. However, a defendant is rarely ever helped by going to trial as soon as possible. The prosecutor is prepared to try the case when it is filed. Your lawyer is only then beginning to investigate the case. Your lawyer does not have access to offense reports of the law enforcement officers that have already investigated the case. Also, “aging” a case has other benefits — the case becomes less important over time, witnesses’ memories fade, etc.
Dismissal: There are many exceptions to the Speedy Trial Act. Generally, a prosecutor can get a continuance of the trial whenever requested. The usual reason why a prosecutor requests a continuance is because there are codefendants who have not been arrested yet. The speedy trial deadlines do not begin to run until all charged defendants have appeared in court. Also, any time any of the defendants file motions, the time until those motions are decided is not counted toward the speedy trial deadline.
A felony trial in federal court is decided by twelve jurors. The jurors only decide if you are “Guilty” or “Not Guilty” of the charges in the Indictment. Jurors do not decide punishment. The District Judge decides punishment.
Jury Selection: The trial begins with the selection of the jury. A panel of potential jurors is called to court from voter registration lists. The District Judge, the prosecutor, and your lawyer talk to the panel and ask questions. The lawyers are allowed to keep certain members of the panel from sitting on the jury. The first twelve of the remaining panel members become jurors.
Opening Statements: Before the evidence is presented, the lawyers may make opening statements. Opening statements are when the lawyers tell the jury what they believe the evidence will show.
Order of Proof: The prosecutor presents evidence first. You are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You do not have to present any evidence or testify. If your lawyer does put on evidence, it will happen after the prosecutor has finished presenting evidence.
Rules: During the trial, the lawyers must follow the rules of evidence and procedure. These rules are complicated. The rules can both help and hurt you. For instance, the rule against hearsay evidence prohibits a prosecutor from calling a witness to testify how he heard about what you did. The same rule will stop your lawyer from introducing an affidavit made by some person who is unwilling to come to court and testify.
Prior Acts: Although you are only on trial for the charges in the Indictment, there are two ways the jury can learn about other accusations against you. First, if you testify then the prosecutor will be able to introduce your prior convictions. Second, the prosecutor can introduce your prior acts –even if they are not convictions — if they are similar to the crime you are charged with (for example, prior drug sales in a drug distribution case).
Final Arguments: After all the evidence has been presented, the lawyers argue the facts to the jury.
Jury Deliberations: Jurors are usually average working people from the community. They are not specially trained in law. They use their common sense when deciding the case. Although the District Judge will instruct them about “the presumption of innocence” and “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”, jurors rely on many things in coming to a decision in a case. Jurors often rely on things such as: the appearance of the defendant, the defendant’s character, and their own biases and prejudices. They cannot be questioned about how they reached their decision.
Verdict: If you are found “Not Guilty”, you will be released. If there is a “Guilty” verdict, then the District Judge will order the Probation Department to prepare a Presentence Investigation Report to assist the District Judge at sentencing. It takes approximately two months between a conviction and sentencing.
Release: If you were previously on pretrial release,the District Judge may continue thatrelease until sentencing, unless you were convicted of a crime of violence or a serious drug trafficking offense.
Statistics show that most defendants plead guilty. You make the decision to plead guilty. That decision is never simple. Some possible benefits of a guilty plea are that:
- the prosecutor may dismiss some charges;
- the prosecutor may not file new charges;
- the prosecutor may recommend a favorable sentence;
- you may get credit for accepting responsibility, etc.
Plea Agreement: Any promises the prosecutor makes for your guilty plea will be stated in a written plea agreement. That agreement is signed by you, your lawyer, and the prosecutor.
Plea Hearing: You must enter a guilty plea in court before the District Judge. The District Judge must ask you many questions so the record shows you understand what you are doing. During the hearing, the prosecutor will briefly tell the District Judge the facts of the case. You must agree to those facts for the District Judge to accept your guilty plea.
Effect of Plea: Once the District Judge accepts your guilty plea, you are just as guilty as if a jury returned that verdict. Once you are convicted of a felony, you lose certain civil rights, including the right to vote; the right to sit on a jury; and the right to possess firearms.
After Plea: The procedure after a guilty plea is the same as after a conviction at trial. A Presentence Investigation Report will be ordered and you will either be released or detained until sentencing (see “Trial” section).
Some defendants give prosecutors information against other persons for the possibility of a reduced sentence. There is no guarantee that a defendant will get a lower sentence for “giving people up”. Cooperation usually requires a defendant to testify in court or before a Grand Jury.
Many times, federal defendants are first arrested by state officers on state charges. Sometimes, even when federal charges are filed, the state charges are not dismissed. It is possible to be convicted of both state and federal charges for the exact same offense. This is not “double jeopardy”. It is also possible to receive “stacked time” (a consecutive sentence), by pleading guilty to an unrelated state or federal case before being convicted in your federal case. Be careful not to do anything about your other cases without telling your attorney. If you are summoned to “jail call”, do not agree to plead guilty to your state charge in exchange for “time served” without telling your lawyer. Despite what the state prosecutor may tell you, this conviction will affect your federal sentence.
Sentencing takes place approximately three (3) -six (6) months after you have been convicted by a jury or guilty plea. The District Judge decides the sentence. Unlike state court, you cannot simply agree with the prosecutor to serve a particular amount of time or probation.
Federal Sentencing Guidelines: The District Judge decides your sentence based upon a book called the “Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual”. That book works on a point system. You get points for the seriousness of the offense and your role in the offense. Points may be subtracted if you accept responsibility for the offense or if you were only a minor participant. The Manual also considers your criminal history. Your criminal history is the record of your prior convictions in state and federal courts. A chart at the back of the Manual determines your sentencing guideline range, based upon your criminal history points and the points you received for the offense conduct.
Mandatory Minimum Punishments: Some drug and firearms cases have mandatory minimum punishments. These minimum punishments apply even if the Federal Sentencing Guidelines would otherwise give you a lower sentence. For instance, anyone possessing over 280 grams of crack cocaine after August 3 2010, with the intent to deliver it, must receive at least ten (10) years in prison; even if that person is a first offender.
Departures: If the District Judge sentences you to more or less time than your sentencing guideline range, it is called a “departure”. Departures are unusual. The District Judge must have a good legal reason for a departure. The District Judge cannot depart downward below a mandatory minimum punishment, unless the reason is that you have provided substantial assistance to the government in the prosecution of others or you qualify for the “safety valve” provision as a first offender. Only drug cases qualify for the “safety valve”.
Presentence Investigation Report: Before the sentencing hearing,the District Judge will review a Presentence Investigation Report prepared by a Probation Officer. That report summarizes the offense conduct, your criminal history, and other relevant background information about you. Most importantly, the report calculates a range of punishment for the District Judge to consider in your case. The Probation Officer creates the report based upon information from the prosecutor, independent investigation, and an interview with you in the presence of your lawyer.
Interview: It is important to be honest with the Probation Officer at the presentence interview. If you mislead the officer you may increase your sentence for “obstruction of justice”. Also, you will not get credit for accepting responsibility unless you talk truthfully about your crime. Do not talk about any other conduct for which you have not been convicted, unless your lawyer tells you to.
Objections: Before the District Judge gets the Presentence Investigation Report, it will be sent to your lawyer. The probation office will also mail a copy directly to you for your inspection. Review it carefully. If there is anything incorrect about the report, your lawyer can file objections. Some mistakes are more important than others. If the report says your car is red rather than blue, that is probably not important. If the report says you have five (5) prior felonies when you do not, that is important.
Sentencing Hearing: At the sentencing hearing, the District Judge will review your objections to the Presentence Investigation Report and make findings about any facts or legal issues that cannot be agreed upon. Your lawyer will address the legal issues and point out the facts in your favor. District Judges do not want to hear from witnesses who are just there to plead for a reduced sentence. Letters of recommendation and other helpful evidence should be provided to your lawyer well before sentencing so the District Judge can see them before the hearing. Before the District Judge pronounces sentence, you can make a statement.
Concurrent and Consecutive Sentences: No area of law is more confusing to defendants and lawyers than whether multiple sentences (more than one) may be served at the same time (concurrent) or one after another (consecutive).
Present Charges: If your federal Indictment has several related charges, and you are convicted of them, you probably will serve these sentences at the same time. However, it is possible for the District Judge to “stack” unrelated convictions so each must be served before another begins.
Other Charges: Sometimes a defendant is already serving a sentence before being convicted in a federal court. Unless the District Judge specifically orders the new sentence to run at the same time as the previous sentence, they will be stacked and will run consecutively. You would have to finish your other sentence before the new one begins. Even if the District Judge runs the new sentence at the same time as your previous sentence, you will not get credit for the time you served prior to sentencing.
If you were on release until sentencing, you may be allowed voluntary surrender. This means about 45 days later you report directly to the federal prison designated for sentence. Otherwise, you would go directly into custody if you received a prison sentence.
An appeal is not a new trial. An appeal is a review of your case by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is located in New Orleans, Louisiana. You may only appeal after you have been sentenced. A notice of appeal must be filed within 10 days after judgment (your sentencing order) is entered, or you lose that right. Transcripts of all testimony, and all the legal documents in your case, are sent to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals decides whether the District Judge made any mistakes in ruling on the law in your case. If the Court of Appeals decides there were some important mistakes made by the District Judge in your case, the usual remedy is that you will be allowed to have a new trial or a new sentence. That is called a “reversal”. It does not happen often. It is nearly impossible to be released while your appeal is being decided. The decision to appeal should be made only after a careful discussion with your lawyer. The Fifth Circuit is strict about accepting cases that raise legitimate issues. A claim that you received “too much time” will not prevail in the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit will dismiss your appeal if you do not present an issue they consider meritorious. Also, you and your lawyer can be sanctioned (punished) if you present a “frivolous” issue on appeal.
Probation means your term of imprisonment is suspended, you must follow restrictive conditions, and report to a probation officer. Probation is not available for federal drug trafficking crimes. Except for minor fraud cases, most federal defendants do not get probation. “Shock Incarceration” or “Boot Camp” is not probation. That is a military discipline program followed by time in a halfway house. It is available mostly to young, nonviolent, first-time offenders.
Most defendants who are sentenced to prison go directly into custody or continue to remain in custody. Where the sentence will be served depends on several factors.
State Custody: If the reason you first came into custody was a state charge, parole warrant, or probation revocation warrant, then you are in state custody, not federal custody. Neither the United States Marshal, nor the District Judge, has the authority to take you from state custody so that you may begin serving your sentence in a federal institution. This means you will remain in the county jail, or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, until your State of Texas (or whatever other jurisdiction you owe time) sentence is completely served. Even if you got a federal sentence that is to run at the same time as your previous sentences (see “Sentencing” section), you will do that time in the other jurisdiction’s prison.
Jail Credit: In the federal system, the district judge does not have the authority to award jail credit at your sentencing hearing. See United States v. Wilson , 112 S.Ct. 1351 (1992); 18 U.S.C. §3585(b). Under the statute giving a defendant convicted of federal crime the right to be credited for time spent in official detention before sentence begins, the Attorney General is required to compute credit after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence, rather than the district court at time of sentencing. Statute giving defendant convicted of federal crime right to receive credit for time spent in official detention before sentence begins does not authorize district court to award credit at sentencing.
Federal Custody: You are in federal custody if you were brought in on a federal warrant. It does not matter that you are being held in the county jail or that state charges or revocations are later filed. It is always better to be in federal custody, because the State of Texas will give you credit for serving your state sentences no matter who has custody of you.
Designation: If you are in federal custody, then a federal institution must be designated for your sentence. This designation takes about one (1) month and is made by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During that month, you will probably remain in a county jail. The decision about where you will go depends upon the seriousness of the crime, your criminal history, the location of your family, among other things. A recommendation by the District Judge to send you to a particular place is not binding on the Bureau of Prisons.
Good Time Credit: The Bureau of Prisons can give you up to 54 days a year of “Good Time Credit”. This is time subtracted from your sentence. The credit is a privilege for good behavior, not a right. It does not begin to be counted until after your first year in prison.
Release: There is no parole in the federal criminal justice system. You will serve the majority of your sentence, minus Good Time Credit. You will receive a term of supervised release that begins after you are released. Like probation or parole, supervised release means you have to follow rules and report back to a probation officer. Violating supervised release can mean going back to prison.
You must use your own judgment about writing letters. You should not write about the facts of your case to anyone other than your lawyer. If you have any questions about your case or suggestions about it, you should contact your attorney immediately.
Federal Drug Charges in Houston, TX
Houston is in a unique position because of its convenient location. It is a criminal hotbed for illegal drug activity and because of its reputation, law enforcement; the FBI and the DEA are on high alert when it comes to detecting and convicting those guilty of trafficking or other federal drug crimes. Because drug activity is so rampant in Texas, the state has exceptionally harsh penalties for those who commit federal drug crimes. How one is prosecuted will depend on whether or not they have any priors on their record, the type of drug, and the quantity. A prison sentence for a federal drug crime can be as little as five years or it can be as long as life in prison.
The state of Texas has long been involved in a “war on drugs.” Federal prosecutors in the state of Texas come down hard on criminals involved in selling, distributing and trafficking large amounts of drugs. Not only do you face years in prison if convicted, non-citizens face deportation from the United States. At The Charles Johnson Law Firm, we are here to defend you against Federal Drug Charges.
Houston Federal Drug Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson comprehends the differential factor between State and Federal drug crimes. If in fact you or a loved one are under investigation for a drug crime, or if you have been apprehended for or charged with a drug crime in Texas or Houston, you could face harsher punishment than you expect. If you or a loved one’s alleged crime is based upon large amounts of illegal drugs, transporting or distributing drugs over state lines or over and across the border, or other specific details, you could face federal drug crime charges rather than state charges.
The significant thing to know pertaining federal drug crimes is that a conviction will carry a much harsher punishment, a longer mandatory at the very least sentence, and the possibility of no bond or bail. Attorney Johnson defends cases at the Federal Level that involve drug crimes such as:
- Federal drug trafficking
- Federal drug manufacturing
- Federal drug sales and distribution
- Internet drug distribution
- Federal drug importation and transportation
- Mailing drugs over and across state lines or national borders
- Drug smuggling into or out of the United States
- Other crimes related to drugs and money laundering
Contact Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson anytime night or day to discuss your case. You can speak with him directly by calling (713) 222-7577. If in fact you or a loved one think you are part of a federal drug investigation, don’t wait to contact a lawyer you can trust. Rest assured that The Charles Johnson Law Firm will zealously defend you against any type of Federal Drug Charge.
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Any DWI arrest carries the potential for significant penalties and requires the attention of a highly experienced lawyer. But when that DWI arrest involves serious injury or a fatality, there is simply no room for error. The question is no longer as simple as getting your license back or avoiding some time in the county jail.
Accidents do happen and tragically, someone can die. Mitigating factors are thoroughly checked out such as whether the person broke any traffic laws, was driving with a suspended license, or if the person was negligent in some way. These are usually tried as misdemeanors. However, if a person is found to be intoxicated or under the influence of something, it is treated in Texas as a second degree felony and the prosecution goes after the person diligently. In intoxication manslaughter cases, the prosecution only has to prove that the driver was indeed, intoxicated. The term of incarceration could be anything from two years to twenty years.
If you have been charged with DWI after being in an accident that involved a death, you may be facing very serious charges of intoxication manslaughter. It is imperative that you speak with Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson as soon as possible after you have been charged, or think you may be charged. Attorney Johnson has the experience you can rely on for aggressive and effective defense strategies against the charges. The skilled attorneys at the Charles Johnson Law Firm do not believe there is any such thing as being slam-dunk guilty. No one truly intends to commit intoxication manslaughter. They do not wake up and say “I’m going to get drunk tonight and drive and see who gets in my way.” No matter what the circumstances of the accident are, your personal story is behind the charges and will make a difference in the outcome of your case. We will make sure that the judge and jury know that this isn’t just about an intoxication manslaughter case. It is about you and your family.
Intoxication manslaughter is a Second Degree felony which holds people liable for any death which occurs because of criminal negligence, or a violation of traffic safety laws. A common use of the vehicular manslaughter laws involves prosecution for a death caused by driving under the influence (determined by excessive blood alcohol content levels set by individual U.S. states), although an independent infraction (such as driving with a suspended driver’s license), or negligence, is usually also required.
Intoxication manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and other similar offences require a lesser mens rea (Latin for “guilty mind”. In criminal law, it is viewed as one of the necessary elements of a crime) than other manslaughter offenses. Furthermore, the fact that the defendant is entitled to use the alcohol, controlled substance, drug, dangerous drug, or other substance, is no defense. For example, in Texas, to prove intoxication manslaughter, it is not necessary to prove the person was negligent in causing the death of another, nor that they unlawfully used the substance that intoxicated them, but only that they were intoxicated, and operated a motor vehicle, and someone died as a result.
Types of Intoxication Manslaughter
In Texas, intoxication manslaughter does not only apply to automobile drivers. Individuals may be charged with this crime under any of the following circumstances:
- If they are operating a car, truck, motorcycle, or any other type of motorized vehicle in a public place
- If they are operating a boat, airplane, or amusement park ride
- If they assemble an amusement park ride
If the alleged offender has done any of these things while intoxicated, and someone was killed by the vehicle they were operating or had assembled, they can be convicted of intoxication manslaughter. There is no requirement that the prosecutor prove negligence, that their intoxication was the direct cause of the crash, or that they were behaving unlawfully by using the substance that caused their intoxication.
Defenses For Intoxication Manslaughter
Intoxication manslaughter cases should be attacked on two fronts if the case is going to trial. Notwithstanding whether a person is or is not intoxicated, a good lawyer would examine the Texas Peace Officer collision report which was completed as part of the investigation. Just because a driver may be intoxicated does not mean that he should be held criminally liable for the death of another.
There have been cases where the deceased driver was as much at fault if not more at fault than the accused. Examples could include the deceased having run a red light, the deceased having operated his motor vehicle at night without lights, the deceased also being intoxicated, the deceased merging improperly into traffic, and the list goes on. A lawyer familiar with crash reconstruction and who has worked with reconstruction experts should be able to present this defense if it is available. The issue is one of causation and is set forth in Tex. Penal Code Section 6.04. In a nutshell, what 6.04 states is that if an accused’s conduct is insufficient in itself to cause the result, and the conduct of another contributed to the result and the contributing cause was sufficient to cause the result, the accused cannot be held liable.
A good accident reconstruction expert’s report may convince a prosecutor to agree to probation if causation is questionable. That in itself may be worth the investment in hiring both a reconstruction expert and a lawyer who knows how to present such findings.
The second line of defense is whether a person is intoxicated. Scientific evidence can be compelling for a jury. However, the State is allowed to rely upon opinion evidence based upon observations such as lack of coordination, blood shot eyes, smell of intoxicants on breath, slurred speech etc. Some of these symptom could be explained by lack of sleep, allergies, injury, but not all.
Most police departments have on board video cameras and video may very well have been used in this case. Video can be a two-edge sword. Many a video has convinced a defendant to make the best deal possible, while other videos have convinced an accused to take it to trial
In blood draws/test results, there are several considerations. A blood sample can be lost, yet there can be a medical record from a laboratory stating what the test result is. In fact, most hospitals don’t retain the blood samples, but for a very short period. If the blood draw was for medical treatment, sometimes there is a chain of custody problem that makes admission of the medical records unreliable. Most courts, when dealing with a chain of custody issue on medical records as the result of medical treatment rule that any problems goes to the weight of the evidence, not the admissibility, that is, the records gets admitted but the defense lawyer gets to argue that it is not reliable because of the poor chain of custody.
Mandatory blood draws can be attacked, however, you should hire a lawyer familiar with the statutory and administrative requirements for blood draws.
Houston Intoxication Manslaughter Defense Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
When you are charged with intoxication manslaughter or intoxication assault, you have more than just the prosecutor against you. You have the victim’s family and the public screaming for your head. You don’t have to go through this alone. The Charles Johnson Law Firm will fight aggressively to protect your rights and your future.
After a car accident in which there has been a fatality, it is an extremely upsetting situation for everyone involved. Law enforcement will collect evidence at the scene and this evidence is an important part of the documentation of the case. It is crucial that if you have been charged with intoxication manslaughter that you contact The Charles Johnson Law Firm quickly. The evidence in the case can be reviewed and an attorney can advise you what can be done in your case. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson can offer a free evaluation of your case, and it is advised that you take advantage of this so it can be determined what can be done and what options may be possible in your case.
Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call us at 713-222-7577 or toll free at 877-308-0100.
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As a result of the increased efforts of local and national law enforcement task forces to discover Online Solicitation of Minors, Houston Sex Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson has frequently represented individuals who have been accused of communicating with a minor using the computer. In fact, the law in most jurisdictions allows for an officer to pose as a minor while communicating with a suspect. Soliciting either an actual minor or a police officer posing as a minor may result in the filing of charges and subsequent prosecution. A common misconception is that no crime is committed unless there is an actual meeting. In actuality, the offense of On-line Solicitation or Importuning may be completed merely through the communication or “chat.” If there is an attempt to actually meet, additional charges may be warranted.
Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is well-versed in the various defenses that must be explored in all cases of this kind. These defenses may include issues of entrapment, client knowledge, or jurisdictional questions.
Accusation of soliciting a minor online can often result from entrapment-type situations commonly depicted on televisions shows. However, soliciting a minor online can also be the result of a mistake or an accident. For example, an individual can be charged with soliciting a minor when they thought they were communicating with an adult on the computer, but may have actually been talking to an underage person. No matter the reason for the false claims against you, it is important to contact an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer who will make every effort to find defenses or other mitigating factors that will result in an acquittal of the charges against you.
An allegation of On-line Solicitation or Importuning calls for great effort and resources, as the stakes are high – one faces not only a potential prison term, but also the stigmatizing and debilitating effects of sex offender public registration, which makes it difficult if not impossible to obtain employment, and may even severely restrict one’s ability to reside in certain locations.
Jurors are often familiar with programs like “To Catch a Predator”, giving them preconceived notions which need to be addressed and diffused. Our lawyers know first-hand that with thoughtful and extensive examination of pertinent case law and pre-trial motions, a successful defense of On-line Solicitation and Importuning allegations can be achieved.
It is important to remember that if you have been accused of soliciting a minor online, the state prosecutor is required to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be a very difficult burden of proof to meet, and any doubt in the mind of the judge or jury can result in a dismissal or reduction of the charges against you. Therefore, it is essential to contact an experienced Child Sex Abuse lawyer to help you begin developing the best legal defense for your particular case. Contact Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson for a free consultation today at 713-222-7577 anytime, night or day if you have been falsely accused of soliciting a minor online.
Online Solicitation of a Minor Defined
Since the 1990′s, the internet has changed the way we communicate, do business, meet people, and almost all other aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, it has also led to new criminal charges, many of which carry steep penalties. The most severe online offenses are those related to the potential harm of an underage person, such as online solicitation of a minor.
Online solicitation of a minor is communication with a minor via the internet that aims to arouse, sexually gratify, harass, or arrange to meet a minor face-to-face in the real world. In Texas, a minor is any person who is 17 years of age or younger. Exchanging sexually oriented materials, conversations, or invitations with a minor is a serious legal offense in our state.
Sexual exploitation can result in numerous physical and psychological consequences for children that may be multiplied for victims of child pornography because they face a lifetime of possible revictimization through the continued distribution of videos, photographs, or computer images depicting their exploitation (Klain, 2001). The mass media continues to feed into the stereotype that all Internet offenders are “predators” or “pedophiles”. According to ABC World News Tonight in June 2006, there are approximately 563,000 registered sex offenders nationally. However, decades of research indicates that only ten percent (10%) of sex offenders are truly predatory in nature.
This is not to discount that Internet victimization is one of the most dangerous Internet threats, but society must be cautious in using such characteristics without empirical data to support such a homogenous label. In the National Juvenile Online Victimization (N-JOV) study, approximately seventy-eight percent (78%) of cases, the offender was one of the victim’s family members, second generation family member such as grandparents, uncle or aunt, or stepparents or parent’s intimate partner.
Children exploring the Internet for education and entertainment are at risk of encountering sexually explicit material, sexual exploitation, and Internet offenses while remaining undetected by parents. The Internet has become a conduit for sexually explicit material and offenses against children. Children are extremely vulnerable to victimization due to their curiosity, naiveté, and trusting nature. These crimes present law enforcement with many complex problems due to the fact that they transcend jurisdictional boundaries and often involve multiple victims in multiple states and countries. Internet crimes must be pursued vigorously by law enforcement.
The greatest obstacle facing law enforcement is that children and parents do not report the majority of Internet crimes. In situations where the abuse is a parent, a relative, or acquaintance, the abuse may be more likely to come to light inadvertently as a result of inquiries by social welfare and reports from neighbors, rather than as a result of police inquiries into online crime (Wolak, 2005, in press). Community involvement, parental supervision, and early intervention and prevention programs on Internet safety are essential in protecting children from online solicitation and exposure to pornography.
The computer age presents complex challenges for law enforcement, victim services, parents, legislators, and the community. The proliferation of computer technology obviously has enhanced our lives in many ways, such as enabling improved productivity and efficiency at work, school, and home (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Unfortunately, this technology is not without potential threats and harm for criminals to prey upon innocent victims. According to ABC World News Tonight in June 2006, there are approximately 563,000 registered sex offenders nationally. End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (EPCAT) International reports violence and harms against children and young people in cyberspace include: the production, distribution, and use of materials depicting child sexual abuse; online solicitation; exposure to materials that can cause psychological harm, lead to physical harm, or facilitate other detriments to a child; and harassment and intimidation.
Today the Internet has approximately two hundred (200) million users worldwide who can communicate with each other. Children of all ages are browsing the Internet. Forty-five (45%) of children in the United States, more than thirty (30) million of whom are younger than eighteen (18) use the Internet. By 2005, it was estimated that there are seventy-seven (77) million children online. Approximately one hundred three (103) million people use instant messaging (IM) programs such as AOL’s AIM, Microsoft’s MSN Messenger, and others. MySpace.com reports more than eighty-five (85) million members and the number of visitors to MySpace went from 4.9 million in 2005 to currently over sixty-seven (67) million. Like most new technological developments, this brings both positive and negative implications, especially for parents and their children.
Some children are especially at risk due to a range of vulnerability-enhancing factors common to all environments. They are in socially and economically difficult situations, have experienced sexual abuse and exploitation, are lonely, or feel alienated from their parents. Others have low self-esteem, feel awkward, are confused about their personal identity and sexuality, and lack confidence. Gender is also seen to be a risk factor, with seemingly more girls than boys appearing to be harmed through cyberspace interactions (although boys are increasingly featured in pornographic images circulating online).
Demographics of an Internet Offender
Sex offenders and child pornographers are a heterogeneous mixture. Before the advent of the Internet, between one-fifth and one-third of people arrested for possession of child pornography were also involved in actual abuse. The majority are male and come from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. Many are skilled in technology. Not all fit the clinical classification of “pedophilia”. The mass media continues to feed into the stereotype that all Internet offenders are “predators” or “pedophiles”. This is not to discount that Internet victimization is one of the most dangerous Internet threats but society must be cautious in using such characteristics without empirical data to support such a homogenous label. We have to remember that in a previous generation, campaigns to prevent child molestation characterized the threat as “playground predator” or “stranger danger” so that for years the problem of youth, acquaintance, and intra-family perpetrators went unrecognized.
In an analysis of 600 cases of child sexual abuse in which the Internet played a role, either the offender- victim relationship was initiated or conducted online, the case involved the online sharing or distribution of child pornography, or the case involved child pornography stored on a computer or digital media. One hundred twenty six (126) cases involved a face-to-face relationship between the offender and the victim prior to any use of the Internet in committing abuse. N-JOV data indicated that the Internet was involved in eighteen percent (18%) of all sex crimes against minors and that nearly half of the eighteen percent (18%) were committed by acquaintances or family members, with a total of at least 460 arrests a year. This study found ninety-five percent (95%) were non-Hispanic Caucasians and forty-seven percent (47%) were twenty-six (26) or older. Thirty-five percent (35%) were married and over a third lived in small towns. Eighty percent (80%) were employed full time and fifty-one percent (51%) had incomes ranging from $20,000-$50,000 per year.
Identifying Internet Offenders
There is no one type of Internet child pornography user, and there is no easy way to recognize an offender. In the 2005 Wolak survey, solicitors did not match the stereotype of the older male “Internet predator”. Many were identified as other youth and some were female. Having a preconceived idea of a child sex offender can be unhelpful and prove a distraction for investigating police. Those convicted of sexually abusing children will not necessarily seek out or collect pornography, with one study putting the number of offenders who do so at around ten percent (10%).
This explosion of computer use, and the ease with which identities can be concealed on-line, has offered obvious opportunities to those who produce and consume pornography and those who seek to exploit vulnerable populations for sexual gratification. The Internet technology affords perpetrators a foundation for repeated, long-term victimization of a child. These crimes present law enforcement with many complex problems due to the fact that they transcend jurisdictional boundaries and often involve multiple victims in multiple states and countries.
N-JOV data reflected that the most common use of the Internet with family (70%) and acquaintance (65%) offenders was for seduction or grooming of victims either through online conversations or sharing of pornographic images. Forty-nine percent (49%) of family offenders and thirty-nine percent (39%) of acquaintance offenders produced pornographic images of their victims, which they stored or disseminated using the Internet. Forty-three percent (43%) used the Internet to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Relatively small numbers of offenders (2-4%) used the Internet as an inducement to enter the offender’s home and use it to advertise or sell victims online. Seventy-five percent (75%) of these cases involved some form of sexual contact and forty-five percent (45%) involved intercourse or other penetration. In a quarter of these cases, the sexual contact continued for over a year before being reported to the police.
How Sex Offenders Select Victims
A greater number of sex offenders are using the Internet searching for potential child victims through “kid only” or “kid friendly” chat rooms, online games, and instant messenger. The “set-up” for victimization requires long-term thought and planning. But a distinctive aspect of interaction in cyberspace that facilitates the grooming process is the rapid speed with which communication can become intimate. Chat rooms can be frequented by sex offenders that groom and manipulate their victims by playing on the emotional immaturity of children in virtual anonymity. The goal of the “set-up” is to gain control over the victim. The length of time spent during the “set-up” varies upon the vulnerability of the child. The longer an offender knows a child the better they are at “zeroing” in their grooming tactics and strategies.
Grooming is a term used to describe the process of desensitizing and manipulating the victim(s) and/or others for the purpose of gaining an opportunity to commit a sexually deviant act [Title 22, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 810.2(b)(15)]. Grooming inflicts psychological harm on the child. In teen chat rooms, the activities that precede the process of initiating direct contact with a child may simply involve the offender providing a description of themselves to all of the users of the public chat room so that the offender is masquerading as a particular kind of child, of a particular age, in the hope of attracting an equivalent age and the same or opposite sex child (i.e. 14/m/tx) (O’Connell, 2001). A sex offender may begin victim selection by observation in which an offender may “lurk” in chat rooms or massive multiplayer online games listening to conversations between children. An offender may search public profiles that include information such as name, age, location, hobbies, interests, and photographs. The offender will then wait for a child’s response and determine if they will initiate a conversation. After selecting a victim, the offender will introduce him or herself by instant message (IM) or by a private message to the child. Additionally, victim selection can involve viewing the child’s public profile. A victim’s information may be obtained through an Internet service provider request or a URL a child must provide in order to create their own website.
In the initial stages of grooming, the offender will suggest that the child move from a public domain to a private chat room or IM for an exclusive one-to-one conversation. The offender will engage in conversations related to school, home, hobbies, parental relationships, or interests of the child. The offender will gather information regarding the likelihood of activities being detected. The offender will manipulate the child to create an illusion of being the child’s best friend. The interactions take on the characteristics of a strong sense of mutuality (i.e. a mutual respect club comprised of two people that must ultimately remain a secret from all others). During these interactions, the child is praised, made to feel special, and very positive conversations are tailored to the age of the child. Gifts or money may be offered to the child. Sadly, sex offenders tend to target children who are neglected or come from dysfunctional homes. For these children, the sex offender offers an alternative relationship that makes the child feel special and loved.
The offender introduces the idea of trust, affection, and loyalty but it is based on deception and manipulation. This grooming tactic provides a forum to move into the next stage of victimization. The offender will begin to exploit social norms and test the child’s boundaries. The offender could ask the child “have you been kissed?”, “have you ever been skinny dipping?”, or “do you wear a bikini?” If the child does not respond negatively to the boundary violation, it is tantamount to accepting the behavior or language. During boundary violations, the offender has positioned the child into believing that they share a deep sense of mutual trust.
Offenders who intend to maintain a relationship with a child will progress carefully and methodically into sexually explicit language. The nature of the conversations will progress from mild conversations (i.e. “I love you” or “I want to kiss you”) to extremely explicit (i.e. masturbation or oral sex). The target child may be drawn into producing pornography by sending photos, using a web-cam or engaging in sexual discussions. To silence the child and ensure their continued compliance in sexual exploitation, the offender may use a variety of tactics including rewards, violence, threats, bribery, punishment, coercion, peer pressure, and fear (Klain, 2001). Research indicates that this pattern of conversations is characteristic of an online relationship that may progress to a request for a face-to-face meeting.
Child Pornography Under federal law, child pornography is defined as a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, photograph, film, video, or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where it
- depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene, or
- depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse, or sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, and such depiction lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (18 U.S.C §1466A and 18 U.S.C. §2256)
Sexually explicit conduct includes various forms of sexual activity such as intercourse, bestiality, masturbation, sadistic or masochistic abuse, and lascivious exhibition of the genitals. It is illegal to possess, distribute, or manufacture these images.
Pornography and Child Pornography on the Internet
Both adult and child pornography has saturated the Internet due to the lack of censorship by the industry. The Internet provides the social, individual, and technological circumstances in which an interest in child pornography flourishes. Cyberspace is host to more than one (1) million images of tens of thousands of children subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. Of the estimated 24.7 million Internet users between the ages of ten (10) and seventeen (17), approximately 8.4 million youths received unwanted exposure to sexual material.
Child pornography is the second highest category, after indecent exposure, of sexual re-offense behavior. The vast majority of children who appear in child pornography have not been abducted or physically forced to participate. In most cases the child knows the producer and it may even be their father who manipulates the child into taking part by more subtle means. Most children feel a pressure to cooperate with the offender and not to disclose the offense, both out of loyalty to the offender and a sense of shame about their own behavior.
Physical contact between a child and a perpetrator does not need to occur for a child to become a victim or for a crime to be committed. Innocent pictures or images of children can be digitally transformed into pornographic material and distributed across the Internet without the victim’s knowledge (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Digital graphic software (i.e. Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft PhotoEditor) allow offenders to edit “innocent” pictures. After a picture is scanned into a computer, these image-editing programs can be used to put several photos together or to distort pictures and create a believable image of a reality that never existed. This process is called “morphing”. In some countries, morphed images or pictures are not illegal. Offenders may claim in court that a picture is morphed, no matter how disturbing, is not a picture of a real child or a situation which actually took place, and thus is not illegal.
In April 2002, the United States Supreme Court found that provisions of the Child Pornography Act (CPPA), which prohibited the depiction of virtual and simulated child pornography, were invalid under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court found that in the absence of a “real” child, the Court could see no “direct link” between such images and the sexual abuse of children. The Court’s majority could not see a substantial risk of producers of child pornography using virtual images of children. Additionally, children can be exposed to “virtual” pornography. Virtual pornography is legal the United States and in some other countries.
In the 2005 Wolak study, almost all of the arrested child pornography possessors (91%) used home computers to access child pornography and almost one (1) in five (5) arrested (18%) used a home computer in more than one (1) location to access child pornography. Additionally, Wolak found that in fourteen percent (14%) of child pornography investigations, the offenders not only had possessed pornography but had sexually victimized children and two percent (2%) possessed pornography and attempted to sexually victimize children. Eighty-four percent (84%) of the investigations involving child pornography did not detect concurrent child sexual victimization or attempts at victimization (Wolak, 2005). According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, forty percent (40%) of child pornographers investigated have sexually molested children. From January 1997 through March 2004, 1,807 child pornographers were arrested and 620 (34%) of these offenders were confirmed child molesters (Kim, 2004).
Although most Internet pornography is created offline, technology has evolved to create “real” life pornography that can be viewed in real time, using web-cameras, phone cameras, digital cameras, and streaming video. A user can be notified of the date and time to log on the computer to view a child being sexually abused. The advent of mini-cameras has allowed for pictures and videos to be created without the subject’s knowledge. The user may pay money or exchange images with the direct abuser (Palmer, 2004).
These illegal images can be presented in various forms including print media, videotape, film, compact disc, read-only memory (CD-ROM), or digital versatile technology (DVD) (Klain, 2001) and can be transmitted through computer bulletin-board systems (BBS), USENET Newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, web-based groups, peer-to-peer technology, and an array of constantly changing world wide web sites.
Using Child Pornography to Groom Children
Children can be exposed to pornography through spam or potential abusers. The accessibility of pornography online, the ease and perceived anonymity of transmission, and the environment of “virtuality” itself makes the use of pornography in online grooming easier for an abuser. Pornography is a tool for inducting and socializing a child into behaviors that reflect the content of the pornographic materials. Sex offenders frequently use pornography as a tool to assist them in the grooming process.
Children exploring the Internet for education and entertainment are at risk of encountering sexually explicit material, sexual exploitation, and offenses against children while remaining undetected by parents. Children are extremely vulnerable to victimization due to their curiosity, naiveté, and trusting nature. The Internet has become a conduit for sexually explicit material and offenses against children. In 2006, Wolak reported fifty-four percent (54%) of boys and forty-six percent (46%) of girls received unwanted exposure to sexual material. Ninety percent (90%) of all solicitations happened to teenagers (ages 13 to 17). Eighty-six percent (86%) received images of naked people and fifty-seven percent (57%) received pictures of people having sex and/or violent or deviant images. Lastly, eighty-three percent (83%) of unwanted exposures occurred when youth were surfing the web and eighty-nine percent (89%) of incidents the senders were unable to be identified.
Sex offenders use pornography to escalate the relationship with the child. According to the Klain study, the most common purposes for which offenders use child pornography are:
- Pornography creates a permanent record for sexual arousal and gratification.
- Pornography lowers the child’s inhibitions to engage in sexual behavior.
- Pornography may be used to teach children how to behave, pose, or re-enact scenes.
- Pornography may be used to blackmail child victims by threatening to show the photographs, videos, or other depictions to parents, friends, or teachers. The threat becomes more potent because the child may fear punishment by the criminal justice system.
- Pornography created to sell for profit or trade between individuals. The Internet’s anonymity, enhanced by increasingly sophisticated encryption technology, facilitates the increasing demand for child pornography.
Repeated exposure to adult and child pornography is deliberately used to diminish the child’s inhibitions, break barriers to sexual arousal, desensitize the child that sex is normal, and arouse the victim. Children depicted in pictures are often smiling or have neutral expressions, a factor that appears to be designed to represent the children as willing participants in sexual or degrading acts. There is a recent trend for pictures to be taken in domestic settings such as a kitchen or bedroom, thus further “normalizing” the activity for children who view images.
It has been reported that children under ten (10) who have been exposed to sexually exploitative material have themselves become users of it. Eight percent (8%) of youths admitted to going voluntarily to X-rated sites. Children at most risk of being violated through pornography productions are within the home and family. The child knows their abuser as a parent, a relative, a guardian, or an acquaintance. In these situations, the abuse may be more likely to come to light inadvertently as a result of inquiries by social welfare and reports from neighbors, rather than as a result of police inquiries into online crime.
Reporting Internet Crimes
The impact of online child victimization (i.e. solicitation and harassment) is not completely understood. Family dynamics often play a significant role in children’s denial of a crime and their willingness to participate in the investigation and prosecution. A child’s ability to acknowledge and accept the crime can be linked to family values, peer pressure, and feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Only three percent (3%) of all incidents of predators harassing children on the Internet is reported. The Crimes against Children Research Center found less than ten percent (10%) of sexual solicitations and only three percent (3%) of unwanted exposure episodes were reported to authorities such as a law-enforcement agency, an Internet service provider, or a hotline. In 2005, only one (1) incident out of more than 500 incidents of sexually explicit material was ever reported to an Internet service provider.
Ninety-five percent (95%) of parents could not identify common chat room lingo that teenagers use to warn people they are chatting with that their parents were watching (NCMEC, 2005). Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents did not know the meaning of A/S/L (Age/Sex/Location) (NCMEC, 2005). Parents should watch for the following questionable abbreviations:
- 53x means “sex”
- 121 means “one to one”
- A/S/L means age, sex, location. Watch for personal information being exchanged (i.e. 14/m/tx). This is a 14 year old male from Texas.
- CYBER used as a verb and means “cybersex”
- CONNECT means “to talk privately”
- DIKU means “do I know you”
- ESAD means “eat sh*t and die”
- F2F, FTF means “face to face” or “let’s meet F2F”
- FOAD means “f*ck off and die”
- GP means “go private”
- H4U means “hot for you”
- H&K means “hugs and kisses”
- ILU means “I love you”
- IWALU means “I will always love you”
- KOC means “kiss on the cheek”
- KOL means “kiss on the lips”
- LTR means “long term relationship”
- LMIRL means “lets meet in real life”
- LUWAMH means “love you with all my heart”
- LU means “love you”
- MOSS means “member of the same sex”
- MOTOS means “member of the opposite sex”
- MUSM means “miss you so much”
- NIFOC means “naked in front of the computer”
- OLL means “online love”
- P2P means “person to person”
- P911 means “my parents are coming”
- PA means “parent alert”
- PAL means “parents are listening”
- PANB means “parents are near by”
- PM means “private message or one on one chat”
- POS means “parent over shoulder”
- pr0n is an alternate spelling for porn or pornography
- PDA means “public display of affection”
- RL, IRL means “in real life as in “wants to see you IRL”
- SWAK means “sealed with a kiss”
- TOY means “thinking of you”
- WIBNI means “wouldn’t it be nice if”
- WTGP means “want to go private”
- WUF means “where are you from”
- WTF means “what the f*ck”
Acronyms and words used in daily IM or discussion boards
- AFAIK means “as far as I know”
- BTW means “by the way”
- CUL means “see you later”
- HHOK means “ha ha only kidding”
- IANAL means “I am not a lawyer”
- IIRC means “if I remember correctly”
- IMHO means “in my humble opinion”
- KEWL means “cool”
- OMG means “oh my god”
- OTOH means “on the other hand”
- WUT^2 “what up with you too”
Characteristics of Youth Who Form Close Online Relationships
- Sixteen percent (16%) of girls and twelve (12%) of boys have close online relationships.
- Girls aged fourteen (14) to seventeen (17) were twice as likely as girls ten (10) to thirteen (13) to form close online relationships.
- High parent-child conflict and being highly troubled were associated with close online relationships. Girls with high levels of parent-child conflict report yelling, nagging, and privileges by parents at higher levels than other girls. The highly troubled girls had levels of depression, victimization, and troubling life events at higher levels than other girls.
- Boys who had low communications with their parents, and who also reported that their parents were less likely to know where and who they were with were the most strongly associated with close online relationships.
- Girls and boys who reported high levels of Internet use and home Internet access were more likely to report close online relationships.
- Youths with problems were most likely to attend a face-to-face meeting with people they first met online.
Warning Signs that a Child may be at Risk
- Excessive use of online services especially during the late night hours
- Unsupervised time in unmonitored chat rooms
- Mood swings and withdraws
- Greater desire to spend time with people online than with “real life” people
- Unexplained files downloaded (i.e. .jpd, .gif, .bmp, .tif, .pcx, .mov, .avi, .wmv, or .mpg)
Defenses to Online Solicitation of a Minor
People are often arrested and charged with online solicitation when they meet the minor in question in person. However, it is important to note that a person can still be charged with this offense even if the meeting never occurs. Despite this, a person may be found innocent of online solicitation if one or both of the following apply:
- He or she is legally married to the minor in question
- He or she is less than three years older than the minor
Solicitation of a minor laws have frequently been challenged by defendants on the basis that they violate a defendant’s right to free speech, but have survived such claims. Viable defenses remaining will depend on a particular state’s laws. Some earlier laws required a defendant to actually communicate with a child and defendants could raise the defense of impossibility where prosecution involved communication with an officer who was merely posing as a child but who was in actuality an adult. In response to the success of the impossibility defense, many state statutes changed their laws to permit a conviction based on a defendant’s belief that they were talking to a minor. Other states have also built in “Romeo and Juliet” defenses for a defendant who is involved in a dating relationship with a child who was not more than three years younger than the defendant.
Although not an outright “defense,” another defensive angle is to prove that the defendant did not know that the person on the other end was a minor. Most states have strict liability laws — which means the state is not required to prove that a defendant knew how old the child was, only that the child was underage. However, some juries have engaged in “jury nullification,” by finding a defendant not guilty if they believed that the defendant did not have a reason to believe the child was underage. Showing that the conversation was just an online fantasy or proving that they never intended to actually meet the minor are generally not good defenses. Before a defendant decides to pursue a defensive theory, they should discuss the practicality of the defense with a criminal attorney in their area.
Solicitation of a Minor: Misdemeanor or Felony?
Online solicitation of a minor is usually classified as a felony level offense. As with most felonies, the range of punishment can include a deferred or suspended sentence, up to several years in prison. A defendant in Texas can receive anywhere from two to twenty years in prison. Although a deferred sentence can allow a defendant to remain free, the restrictions of probation tend to be more intense for online solicitation charges because they are considered sexually related offenses. The court can order a defendant to submit to maintenance polygraphs, complete individual or group sex offender counseling, to submit to a sex offender evaluation, and to refrain from being around any children while on probation. The court can also require a defendant to pay for these programs which can run up to $500.00 or more per month.
The long-term consequences can be even more severe. Because online solicitation of a minor is considered a sexually related offense, a defendant can be required to register as a sex offender. If a defendant fails to register, they can be charged with a new felony offense of failure to register as a sex offender. Once a defendant has a sexually related offense on their record, some states will significantly increase the punishment for a second offense if a defendant is ever charged with another sexually related offense. Beyond the court system, online solicitation will also affect employment opportunities. With more open access to the court systems, more employers are performing background checks and will not hire certain candidates. Applicants with sexually related offenses are generally the first to get cut.
When you have been charged with a severe legal offense, it is very important to understand your rights and defense options. An experienced Houston Criminal Lawyer can help you decide what steps you need to take next. The attorneys of the Charles Johnson Law Firm are aggressive child sex crime defense lawyers who will make every effort to fight the allegations against you. Contact us for a free consultation today at 713-222-7577 anytime, night or day if you have been falsely accused of soliciting a minor online.
Online Solicitation of a Child Charges: Choose the Right Houston Criminal Lawyers
by Charles Johnson
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