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Do I really need to hire a criminal attorney?


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Assault, DWI, theft, weapons charges? Do I really need to hire a criminal defense attorney to defend me or can I defend myself?

You do not have to hire a criminal attorney to defend you if you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony — the better question is should you?  The bottom line is yes, you really should.  Sometimes, even when faced with a minor crime such as a traffic violation (class C misdemeanor) – the most important thing you need to consider is do you want this charge on your permanent record?

In today’s competitive job market it is difficult, to say the least, to secure employment even if you have a sterling reputation.  Almost all potential employers will tell you that even if you are lucky enough to make it as a candidate for the job, just one negative item on your background check can and most likely will eliminate you from being considered for the job.

If that is the case for just a class C misdemeanor, consider what implications a DWI or a felony charge will have on your record.  Every employer considers factors such as ethics and liability when hiring a new employee.  They may not be able to obtain insurance for you if you have a DWI or other charges on your record.  If an employer is ever sued and the complainant presents that an employee has a criminal record, it can result in the case being lost (even if the case is based on trumped-up allegations)  All of these factors will weigh against you during the hiring process, making your chances of obtaining a good job very slim.

So think carefully before you walk into a courtroom and face the judge alone.  Criminal defense attorneys that have been in business for a long time, such as Mark Morales & Associates, are in and out of these courtrooms daily.  They know the law, they know the process and they know how to win your case…. Do you?

You can call and get a completely free consultation before you make a decision that will effect the rest of your life.  You can also call and find out how to have a criminal charge removed (expunged) from your record if you or another attorney were unable to prove your innocence in a court of law.

 

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Do you know the new Texas traffic and criminal laws?


Below is a list of selected changes to traffic and criminal statutes that went into effect on September 1, 2011.

**Please note that this is not a comprehensive list**
for a complete list of all new laws passed by the Texas Legislature
visit Texas Legislature Online

Texas Capital Building, Austin TexasCriminal Laws

•  Certain synthetic compounds deceptively labeled as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana products (K2 or spice) have been added to Penalty Group 2 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. (HB 2118, SB 331). Bath salts contain dangerous stimulants, and K2 mimics the effects of marijuana. Both have been sold in convenience stores and head shops, and have side effects that can be harmful and long‐lasting.

•  The electronic transmission or possession of visual material depicting a minor engaging in sexual conduct (“sexting”) has been added as an offense in the Penal Code. The penalty can range from a Class C misdemeanor to Class A misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. This does not apply to minors involved in a dating relationship or spouses. (SB 407)

•  The possession or use of tire deflation devices, commonly known as caltrops, for any purpose other than law enforcement use or as an antique or curio is prohibited. Criminal organizations have increasingly used caltrops as they attempt to evade apprehension, resulting in damage to patrol vehicles and innocent vehicles on the road. (SB 1416)

Traffic Laws

•  Tow trucks have now been added to the slow down or move over laws, which require drivers to slow down 20 miles per hour below the speed limit, or to vacate the lane closest to the stopped emergency vehicle that has emergency lights activated if the road has multiple lanes traveling in the same direction. (HB 378)

•  Speed limits will now be the same during night and day driving, and separate speed limits for trucks have been eliminated. The maximum speed limit on state highways may be raised to 75 miles per hour if approved after a finding by TxDOT that the increased speed would be reasonable and safe following an engineering and traffic investigation. (HB 1353)

•   A driver may not allow a child under 18 to ride in a watercraft while it is being towed on a street or highway. This does not include watercraft being towed on a beach or in a parade. (HB 2981)

Driver License

•  Hardship driver licenses will be suspended if the holder is convicted of two or more moving violations during a 12‐month period. DPS may no longer waive the driver education requirement to issue a 60‐day hardship license. (HB 90)

•  Drivers subject to the Driver Responsibility Program will be able to pay the entire three‐year amount of surcharges owed for a violation in advance, rather than paying across all three years. (HB 588).

•  Veterans will be exempt from the fee for a personal identification certificate if they can show honorable discharge and at least 60 percent service‐related disability. Disabled veterans are exempted from driver license fees under current law. (HB 1148)

•  A veteran designation will be displayed on a driver license for applicants who provide proof of military service and honorable discharge. (HB 1514)

•  The Sunset Commission has been charged with reviewing the current oversight structure of driver education and driver safety schools, which are currently overseen by the Texas Education Agency, and determine if another state agency should have oversight. Providers of driver education courses, including DPS for the purposes of parent taught driver education, will be able to provide certificates of completion directly to those who have completed driver education courses. (HB 2678)

•  DPS will establish a deferral program for surcharges assessed under the Driver Responsibility Program to military personnel actively deployed outside the U.S. for the duration of the individual’s deployment. (HB 2851)

•  Voters will be required to present a driver license, personal identification certificate, military identification, election identification certificate, United States citizenship certificate passport, or concealed handgun license to participate in an election. DPS must create an election identification certificate to be issued by DPS for registered voters who do not have any of the other acceptable forms of photo identification. The election identification certificate will be distinguishable from a driver license or personal identification certificate, and will be issued free of charge to persons only if they do not hold any other acceptable form of identification, as
listed in Election Code 63.0101. These forms of identification include a driver license, personal identification certificate, military identification, a United States citizenship certificate, passport, or concealed handgun license. (SB 14)

•  A four‐hour driving safety course was approved for drivers under 25 years old. Drivers under 25 who are cited for a moving violation may be required to take this course. (SB 1330)

•  Applicants for a driver license or identification certificate must provide proof that the applicant is lawfully present in the United States. Applicants who are not U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or admitted to the U.S. as refugees or asylees are considered temporary visitors. Driver license and identification certificates issued to temporary visitors expire concurrent with the end of the applicant’s lawful presence, or after one year if the legal stay is indefinite. Driver license and identification certificates issued to temporary visitors are to be in the same format and contain the same information as those issued to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. (SB 1, 82nd 1st Called Session, effective September 28, 2011)

Weapons

•  A person may carry a handgun, knife, or club in a watercraft under the person’s ownership or control. The handgun, knife, or club may not be in plain view, used while engaging in criminal activity, or carried by a member of a criminal street gang. (HB 25)

•  Employers may not prohibit employees with a concealed handgun license from having firearms or ammunition in their personal cars in the employer’s parking lot. This does not apply to employees of public, private or charter schools, or employees of chemical manufacturers or oil and gas refiners. (SB 321)

Crime Labs

•  Crime laboratories are required to preserve biological evidence used in the investigation or prosecution of a felony for at least 40 years, or until the applicable statute of limitations has expired if there is an un‐apprehended actor associated with the offense. (SB 1616, effective June 17, 2011)

•  Law enforcement agencies are required to submit DNA evidence in active sexual assault cases to an accredited laboratory within 30 days of receipt. Once the evidence has been analyzed, the DNA must be compared by DPS to state and federal DNA databases. The bill requires law enforcement agencies to submit unanalyzed DNA evidence collected after September 1, 1996, to DPS for analysis. (SB 1636)

Miscellaneous New Laws

•  A new category of missing person alerts may now be issued for missing persons with intellectual disabilities. Activation of this alert includes a requirement of documentation of a qualifying intellectual disability. (HB 1075)

•  DPS must create a pass for expedited access to the state Capitol building. To be eligible, an applicant must meet the criteria to apply for a concealed handgun license, with the exception of handgun proficiency requirements. (HB 2131, effective May 30, 2011)

•  The Texas Fusion Center Policy Council was created to assist DPS in monitoring fusion center activities in Texas. The council is required to establish a privacy advisory group, recommend best practices for fusion centers in Texas and annually submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature regarding the council’s progress. (HB 3324, effective June 17, 2011)

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Safety, Texas Laws

 

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How Do I Get My Criminal Record Expunged?


 
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Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Expunctions

 

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Pre-Trial Intervention Program


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If you are a first-time offender with a misdemeanor offense in Williamson County, it is possible to have your case dismissed through the Pre-Trial Intervention Program.

The PTI Program is available for offenses such as:

  • Possession of Marijuana
  • Theft
  • Criminal Mischief
  • Driving While License Invalid
  • Assault
  • And other minor misdemeanor charges

The attorneys and staff at Mark Morales & Associates can assist you in the application process by answering any questions and assisting you with the required statements to help increase the possibility that you will
be accepted into the program.

The application includes basic information such s:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Employment Information
  • Education Information
  • Substance Abuse History

The application also requires two short statements:

  1. The applicant’s description of the offense.
    They must accept full responsibility for the misdemeanor offense.
  2. The applicant’s special interests and goals for the future.
    This is so that the county prosecutor and Williamson County Attorney’s office can determine how essential it is for you to get your case dismissed.

Once the application is completed and submitted, the prosecutor makes a determination as to whether or not he believes the applicant would be an appropriate candidate for the program.  If the prosecutor considers the applicant to be a strong candidate, an interview will be scheduled with the Williamson County Attorney’s
office
.  During the interview, the applicant should show remorse and reiterate their acceptance of the charges and take full responsibility for the offense.  At the time of the interview, the applicant must submit to a drug test to ensure compliance with the rules and terms of the program.  If the interview is successful and the applicant passes the drug test, he is admitted to the program pending a contract signing that outlines the rules and
conditions of the program.  It is not uncommon for the application process to take up to two months; the time may vary depending on how quickly the applicant completes the application and the amount of time it takes for the prosecutor to make a determination.

The program is for six months and includes the following requirements:

Successful completion of the program results in a dismissal of the case.  Once the case is dismissed, he is ultimately eligible to apply for an expunction.  Unfortunately, DWIs are not eligible for expunctions after the
successful completion of the Pre-Trial Intervention Program.  Failure to successfully complete any of the
requirements of the program results in a probationary offer that he is required to accept and will not result in a dismissal of the case.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Do I Have to Talk to the Police?


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The simple answer is no!

There are different factors in every case, so whether you have to talk to the police if you are detained for any reason, depends on the facts of the situation, the circumstances, the location, etc.  We have a outlined a few guidelines that are smart to follow if you are ever pulled over or detained by the police for questioning.

There are many important points to remember during any interactions with law enforcement, whether you have committed a crime or not. Most importantly you should always remain polite and courteous.

What You Should Never Do When Dealing with Law Enforcement:

  • Do not interfere with or obstruct the police during any investigation as this could lead to criminal charges being filed against you. 
  • Never lie or give false documents to the police as this is also a crime.
  • Do not run from the police. 
  • Do not argue or resist arrest, even if you are innocent or you believe the police are violating your rights. 

Your Legal Responsibilities to the Police When Being Questioned:

  • Sometimes an officer may stop and question you on the street for no apparent reason; this is perfectly legal. 
  • You are not required to answer their questions so long as it remains a voluntary exchange. 
  • You are permitted to end the interview and walk away at any time as the conversation is consensual. 
  • If you are unsure about the encounter, you are permitted to ask the officer if you are free to leave.  If you are free to leave, calmly and politely walk away.  
  • If an officer however pulls you over while driving or makes it clear that you are not permitted to leave, you should not leave but remain where you are and act politely and courteously.  If you do leave, you could be charged with evading arrest.  

What are My Legal Rights?

If you are stopped and the police ask to search your car/vehicle, you are permitted to say no and you should.  However, the police may ultimately search the car either by obtaining a warrant or if they believe your car contains evidence of a crime.

You have the right to remain silent.  Use it.  Police may tell you that they want to hear your side of the story or that by not talking to them you are making yourself look guilty.  You should not listen to this. You should invoke your right to remain silent and ask for an attorney.  Remaining silent will not make you look guilty, nor does asking to have an attorney present.

Having an attorney with you at an interview with the police will help your case, as the attorney will be able to instruct you as to what questions you should answer and as how to answer the questions while still telling the truth.  When you express your desire to remain silent and to have an attorney present, it is important to remain civil and polite to the police.  Whether you are guilty or innocent, in most cases you should remain silent.

If you are arrested and taken to jail, make sure not to discuss your case over the phone as your phone call may be recorded; only your phone conversations and meetings in jail with your attorney are not allowed to be listened to by the police.  However, if you have been detained or arrested and an officer asks you for your name, address, or birth date, you should provide him with this information as your refusal to do so would be a crime for Failure to I.D.

What About My Miranda Rights?

A lot of times people are concerned about being read their Miranda rights/warnings.  Miranda warnings are required to be read when a person is in custody and is subject to interrogation.  This means that Miranda warnings are only required to be read to a person when they have been arrested and officers are either expressly questioning them or saying things to the person to elicit an incriminating response from the person.  However, just because you may not have been read your Miranda rights does not mean your case will automatically be thrown out.  Miranda warnings deal with the admissibility of confessions.  If you confessed to a crime while in custody and you weren’t read your Miranda rights, then the confession may be considered inadmissible in court.  In order to invoke your Miranda right to an attorney you have to be clear and unambiguous that you do not wish to talk to the officers any further until you have spoken with an attorney.  Once a person invokes their right to an attorney, the police must listen to their request and cease interrogation immediately.  However, an officer may ask you standard booking questions such as your name and address without it being considered a violation of your Miranda rights.  Unfortunately, anything a person who is not in custody or under arrest voluntarily says to the police may still be used during court proceedings despite the fact Miranda warnings were not issued.

What If I’m a Juvenile and I get Stopped by the Police?

Questions also arise in the case of juveniles and whether a parent or guardian’s presence is required.  A common misconception is that a parent/guardian has to be present whenever officers wish to speak to juveniles.  However, police may speak to a juvenile at school without the presence of a parent/guardian.  A parent or guardian’s presence is only necessary if the child is being talked to at a juvenile center.

If you or someone you know has been contacted by the police about a potential charge or if you have any questions about what you should say to the police, contact our office immediately so that we may help you fight your case or even prevent you from being charged.

 

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Minor in Possession – Consumption


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My son was charged with Minor in Consumption-Minor in Possession, what does this mean?  What is going to happen to him?

MINOR IN CONSUMPTION

A minor (in alcohol related offenses, a person under the age of 21, the legal drinking age) can be charged with a Minor in Consumption charge for simply consuming an alcoholic beverage.  An officer does not have to actually see him drink the alcoholic beverage but may make the determination to charge him with the offense if he smells alcohol on him or if he agrees to take a breath test and blows a number indicative of alcohol consumption.  Mere possession of alcohol is not sufficient to warrant him being charged with Minor in Consumption.  An affirmative defense does exist if he consumed the alcohol in the visible presence of his adult parent, guardian or spouse.

MINOR IN POSSESSION

Just as it is illegal for a minor to purchase alcohol, it is also a crime for a minor to be found in possession of alcohol.  Possession of alcohol for this charge can be considered in various ways.  If he is found holding a beer can/bottle, whether it is empty or full he can be charged with Minor in Possession.  He could also be found in possession at a party where this is alcohol present even if he is not physically holding any alcohol.  He may be at risk of being charged with Minor in Possession whenever he is at a party, nightclub, or in a vehicle where is alcohol is present.  However, if he was is in the visible presence of his adult parent, guardian or spouse he may not be charged with Minor in Possession.  Additionally, he may not be charged with Minor in Possession if he was in possession of the alcohol in the course and scope of his legal employment.

CONSEQUENCES

Minor in Consumption and Minor in Possession are both Class C misdemeanors, the same level as a speeding ticket.  These charges along with the other alcohol related offenses of the Purchase of Alcohol by a Minor or the Attempted Purchase of Alcohol by a Minor can result in various ranges of punishment depending on if this was the first time he was charged with an alcohol related offense.  Frequently, a court will allow a minor to be placed on deferred disposition which allows the case to be dismissed once certain requirements have been fulfilled.

If this was the first time the minor was charged with an alcohol related offense and placed on deferred disposition, the judge may order the minor’s driver’s license to be suspended for 30 days or if he does not yet have his license issue an order to deny the issuance of one for 30 days; up to a $500 fine; 8 to 12 hours of community service; and mandatory attendance of alcohol-awareness classes.

If this isn’t his first time being convicted of an alcohol related offense then the judge may order he be fined between $250 and $2,000; 20 to 40 hours of community service, and can be sentenced to up to 180 days in jail.  The judge may also suspend the license for 60 days if this is not the first alcohol related offense but 180 days if the minor has been previously convicted twice or more of an alcohol related offense. The judge may further impose the attendance of an alcohol awareness class.  Unfortunately, if a minor has been convicted twice or more for an alcohol offense, he is not eligible for deferred disposition and thus not eligible for a dismissal of his case through this method.

If the minor is under the age of 18, the court may also require the parents of the minor attend the class as well.  If he doesn’t complete the conditions set out by the judge within the allotted time, then his license may be suspended up to six months or denied issuance of a license or permit for six months if he has not yet been issued one.

Some people may not consider these types of cases as serious charges since they are only Class C misdemeanors but we think otherwise.  We understand that an alcohol related offense on your child’s record could impact their chances of getting into college or even being hired for certain jobs.  As criminal defense attorneys who have handled a wide range of cases, and several MIP and MIC charges, we will fight our hardest to achieve the best results possible for your child’s case.

Visit us on Facebook and contact us for a free consultation at any of our Texas locations, Georgetown, Austin, San Marcos and McKinney.

 

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Employee Criminal Background Checks


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With the tough economic times, large quantities of people are being forced to seek new employment.  Frequently, this entails new employers running background checks to inquire about the potential employee’s criminal history.  Federal law permits employers to conduct this search.  Fortunately, some people are eligible to have their criminal records sealed or expunged depending on the outcome of the case.  If your record is sealed that means that potential employers outside of the government realm will not be able to see that you had a criminal charge against you.  In Texas, an expunction completely erases the criminal charge and you can legally under oath say that you were never arrested for an offense.  To find out if you are eligible for an expunction or an order of non-disclosure visit our website or join us Facebook and submit a free case consultation form.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Is It Legal?

 

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