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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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Do I Have to Talk to the Police?


In the United States, a person who is going to...

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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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Theft in Texas


A car that has been burglarized. Bad for me, g...
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What Constitutes Theft in Texas?

The Texas Penal Code defines theft as taking someone else’s property without consent, either by deception or by physically stealing it. You don’t have to keep the property for it to be considered theft, but only long enough to deprive the owner of its value. And, if you take something, then return it for a reward, that is also theft under Texas law.

To charge you with theft, the police need to show that you acted with criminal intent, meaning you knew the property belonged to someone else and knew you didn’t have their permission to take it, and that you
actually have or had possession of the property. They can do by that using physical evidence, such as security camera video in a shoplifting case, or by statements from a witness, an accomplice, or you.

Types of Theft Under Texas Law

The four most common ways to commit misdemeanor theft or felony theft in Texas are:

  • Shoplifting – Taking items out of a store with the deliberate intention of not paying the store for the full value of the item. This includes taking, say, a shirt and leaving with it, or switching the tag on an
    expensive shirt with the tag on a less expensive one and paying the lower price at checkout.
  • Bad checks – Paying for an item on a closed account or an account that does not enough money to cover the amount of the check. If the check is written on a closed account, that alone is evidence of theft under Texas criminal law. If the check bounces, and you do not reimburse the merchant
    within 10 days of notification, then that is evidence of theft under the law.
  • General theft – Taking an item that belongs to someone else by any means when you do not have permission. Examples of this include taking a woman’s purse from her shopping cart when her back is turned, stealing copper from a construction site, or taking $20 from the cash register at work.
  • Buying/accepting stolen property – Taking possession of an item when you know the person selling or giving it to you is not the rightful owner. If you know a friend shoplifted an item from a store, then passed the item on to you, you have committed theft by taking it, whether you paid for it or it was a gift.

Penalties for theft in Texas

Amount Classification Penalties

Less than $50, or less than $20 if by check

  • Class C misdemeanor
  • A fine of not more than $500

$50 or more but less than $500, or $20 or more but less than $500 if by check

  • Class B misdemeanor
  • Not more than 180 days in a county jail and/or
  • a fine of not more than $2,000

$500 or more but less than $1,500

  • Class A misdemeanor
  • Not more than 1 year in a county jail and/or
  • a fine of not more than $4,000

$1,500 or more but less than $20,000

  • State jail felony
  • 180 days to 2 years in a state jail and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

$20,000 or more but less than $100,000

  • Third-degree felony
  • 2 to 10 years in a state prison and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

$100,000 or more but less than $200,000

  • Second-degree felony
  • 2 to 20 years in a state prison and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

$200,000 or more

  • First-degree felony
  • 5 to 99 years in a state prison and/or
  • a fine of not more than $10,000

Those punishments can also be enhanced under certain conditions. For example, Class B and C misdemeanor theft charges increase one level if you have a previous theft conviction, and a Class A misdemeanor
becomes a state jail felony if you have two previous theft convictions.

Also, the theft of some items such as firearms or metals such as copper or aluminum are felonies no matter the actual value.

Shoplifting charges also automatically become more serious if you are caught using tools to defeat theft prevention devices, or if you are charged with organized retail theft, meaning you were working with others
to steal items for profit.

However, in all likelihood, if you are charged with simple theft by shoplifting and are convicted or enter a plea, you probably will receive only community service and fines, as long as the value is low and it’s a first or second offense. However, you are still stuck with a permanent criminal record which may never go away.

The fact of a permanent, public criminal record is the reason why most people hire a shoplifting defense attorney to fight the charges. Avoiding a criminal record in the internet age can save you tremendous
headaches in the future. It could prevent you from getting a job, a scholarship, or worse.

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting

The criminal shoplifting record for a conviction might not be the end of it, either.  A conviction for the criminal charge of theft frequently includes restitution to the victim, but Texas also has the Texas Theft Liability Act. This civil law allows the victims of theft to sue for damages and is separate from the criminal case.

The suits are typically used in shoplifting cases. The store will send you a letter demanding that you pay the value of the stolen item, as well as costs related to recovery.  The law allows the victim to collect actual damages, plus up to $1,000 against an individual or actual damages, plus up to $5,000 against the parents or guardians if the accused shoplifter is a minor.

You should not try to face either the criminal charge of theft or a civil suit in a shoplifting case without consulting a Texas criminal defense lawyer who knows how to defend shoplifting/theft offenses. We can fight the case against you by challenging the reliability of eyewitness or accomplice testimony, and by questioning the legality of any searches by police or admissions you may have made to them.

Seriousness of Theft Charges

In Texas, theft charges can run the gamut from a class C misdemeanor to a serious felony, based on the value of what was allegedly taken, whether force was used and whether the property was entered.  It is possible to face the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket or a charge that can lead to a life prison term.

The Texas theft statute is very broad.  The theft statute covers many types of criminal conduct involving the misuse of another’s property.  All of these crimes however, have one thing in common – that is, the taking of the property without the owner’s consent.  Examples of crimes that are covered by the Texas theft statute include shoplifting, writing bad checks or hot checks, receiving stolen property, possessing stolen property and auto theft.

Even a minor theft conviction can have a devastating impact on your future.  Do not make the mistake of believing that a misdemeanor theft charge is not a serious situation. Theft cases are crimes of moral turpitude.  That is, they are crimes that reflect on one’s character.  Shoplifting and the other theft charges, because they are crimes of moral turpitude, can have lifelong and far reaching consequenses.  Any misdemeanor or felony conviction for a theft charge will result in a permanent criminal record, even if you receive probation.  Since employers routinely conduct background checks, a theft conviction will make it much harder for you to find a good job.

Theft cases can become more serious crimes with the danger of harsher sentences depending on the facts and circumstances under which the alleged theft occurred. If you are accused of entering someone’s property with the intention of committing theft, you can be charged with burglary, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Theft can also become a felony if it is alleged that force was used to take an item or money. Theft committed with a weapon is aggravated robbery, a felony that can result in a lifetime prison sentence.

At the Law Offices of Mark Morales and Associates we represent people facing all types of theft and theft related charges in Texas, including:

If you have any questions about what theft in Texas or have been charged with any kind of theft offense, 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

 
 

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BWI – Boating While Intoxicated

BWI – Boating While Intoxicated

With summer activities kicking into full gear and people beginning to relax on their boats throughout the Austin lake ways of  Travis, Williamson, and Hays counties it’s a great time to discuss Boating While Intoxicated.

Enjoy your time hanging out at Devil’s Cove, Carlos & Charlie’s or The Oasis on Lake Travis — but be careful while consuming alcohol because you could get more than just a bad sunburn.

Many people are unaware that Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is a crime but it is and was responsible for more than 300 arrests in Texas in 2010. Under Texas Penal Code § 49.06, BWI is a Class B misdemeanor. It is illegal to operate a boat with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher (the same BAC that will result in an arrest for a DWI). You may also be charged with BWI in Texas if you are operating a boat and do not have normal use of your mental or physical facilities due to alcohol or drugs.

BWI FACTS:

  • A BWI carries the same penalty as a DWI.
  • A first conviction can result in a fine up to $2,000 and/or jail time up to 180 days.
  • A second conviction can result in a fine up to $4,000 and/or jail time up to one year.
  • A third conviction can result in a fine up to $10,000 and/or jail time of 2-10 years.
  • If you are found boating while intoxicated on a vessel that has an engine over 50 horsepower (this includes boats and jet skis), your license will automatically be suspended.
oasis at lake travis

Image by Tara Deck

Unlike a DWI an officer is not required to have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop your boat and test you for suspected impairment. On a boat, you can be stopped at the officer’s discretion to check the boat for safety floatation devices. The officer may then proceed to conduct a sobriety test based on factors he witnesses while on the boat such as smelling alcohol on breath, bloodshot eyes or a red face. Some of these factors could easily be explained as sun exposure but will frequently lead officers to conduct field sobriety tests. Officers may also stop boaters for other reasons including: driving the boat too fast for the waterway, aggressive turns, or failure to turn on lights and other equipment.

To investigate whether a person was boating while intoxicated an officer will likely perform some sobriety tests on the water to determine if there is reason to conduct a further investigation on land. The tests performed “on the water” will likely include such things as reciting the alphabet and divided attention tests (including hand-palm touches or a finger count). Officers are instructed to wait 15 minutes before administering sobriety tests on land, so that a person may regain his equilibrium after being removed from water to land.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do to protect yourself from being charged with a BWI is to appoint a designated driver or don’t drink and drive.

If you have any questions about what constitutes Boating While Intoxicated or have been charged with an alcohol related offense, 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.

 

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Criminal Records: Expunged or Sealed?


State Seal of Texas

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Having a criminal record can be a huge obstacle when doing many things that most people take for granted. Most companies run background checks on all prospective employees so having a criminal record can prevent you from being hired for a job you may otherwise be perfect for. Depending on what type of case and disposition you received it is possible that a Texas attorney can help you expunge your criminal record.

Figuring out whether you can have your criminal record sealed or expunged can be a complicated issue and it is essential that you hire an attorney that is knowledgeable about the different methods of criminal record sealing. Depending on the results of your case; whether you were convicted, arrested, detained or if your case was dismissed – there are many factors to consider. Here are the two options available when it comes to having your criminal record sealed.

Expungement vs. Sealing

Most people believe that expunging and sealing criminal records have the same meaning, but there are a few differences. When a criminal record is sealed the court file is hidden from the general public but may still be available to certain government agencies and law enforcement. When a criminal record is expunged the criminal record is completely destroyed as if the crime never occurred. All of the records associated with the offense, such as the court records, arrest record and the criminal history are erased. Not every criminal offense can be expunged. The only circumstances in which you can get an expunction is if you were acquitted of the crime and found not guilty, or if your case was dismissed.

Expunction vs. Non-Disclosure:

The legal term for having your criminal record sealed is called a non-disclosure. A motion for a non-disclosure is normally granted after you have completed a deferred adjudication, which would make you ineligible to have your record expunged. Non-disclosure normally requires a certain waiting period after your conviction. These waiting periods normally range from two to five years depending on the nature of your offense and whether you were charged with a felony or misdemeanor. There are also some minor offenses that are eligible for non-disclosure immediately. If your petition for non-disclosure is granted, government and state agencies are prohibited from disclosing the information to the general public, but can be used if you are prosecuted again for another crime.

State Laws vs. Texas Laws:

Depending on where you live it is possible that your state does not allow any records to be sealed or expunged. Some states only allow criminal records to be sealed but not expunged and others allow expunction and non-disclosure but not for more serious felony offenses such as murder, kidnapping, rape and other sex-related crimes.

Below are the current Texas Laws that deal with destroying and concealing criminal records. Legislature can change at any time, so it is very important that you find a knowledgeable attorney in your state that can guide you through the complex laws and give you peace of mind that your past is completely behind you!  If you have any other questions or would like a free evaluation of your case, find us on Facebook and we would be happy to address your concerns immediately!

TEXAS STATUTES REGARDING EXPUNCTION AND NON-DISCLOSURE

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2011 in Legal Rights

 

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How Do I Handle an Outstanding Warrant in Texas?


Wanted: Charlie Brown
Image by kevindooley via Flickr

Having an outstanding warrant for your arrest can be an alarming and daunting thing, understanding the process of resolving a warrant can help alleviate some of that anxiety.  Here are some basic guidelines on how to handle an Outstanding Warrant in Texas:

  • If a warrant has been issued for your arrest, you are typically required to turn yourself in to resolve the warrant.  If you do not turn yourself in, you could be arrested anywhere at any time, no matter the offense, to resolve the warrant.
  • Once you have turned yourself in, or been arrested for the warrant, it will be determined whether you will be given a bond and if you are, what the bond amount will be.  Some warrants are issued with a recommended bond amount. This amount will likely be the bond you pay after you turn yourself in.
  • For warrants issued without a recommended bond amount, you will go before a magistrate who sets a bond amount, this typically occurs the following morning.  Without a recommended bond amount on your warrant, you will have to wait in jail until the morning before you can see a magistrate.  There are no particular types of cases that require you to go before a magistrate; it can be for any warrant that was not issued with a recommended bond amount already set.

After you know what amount has been set on your bond, there are a few options you can take.

  • You can pursue a cash bond which entails going through the jail to pay the full bond amount.  Once your case is closed, the bond amount is refunded in full.
  • Another option is to go through a bond company to bail you out of jail.  A bond company will typically charge 10% to 12% of the bond and is a non-refundable fee.
  • If you cannot afford to pay the bond or go through a bond company, you can wait out your time in jail until your case is resolved and possibly receive time served towards your case.

After you have been arrested for the accused offense, the court will set a hearing date for you to contest the charges against you.  At this point you should hire a criminal defense attorney to guide and assist you in resolving your warrant and in your court proceedings.   If you have questions about a warrant that has been issued for your arrest in Colin, Travis, Hays, Dallas, Tarrant, or Williamson County, you can visit us on Facebook for a free case evaluation with absolutely no obligation.

Helpful Links for Outstanding Warrants:

Travis County Warrant Search: https://public.co.travis.tx.us/wow/default.aspx

Austin Police Department Warrant List: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/police/warrants/warrantsearch.cfm

City of Fort Worth Warrants Online: http://www.fortworthgov.org/applications/warrantsonline/

Outstanding  Warrants: Texas Government Code § 404.058

Texas Law Enforcement Agencies and Courts – Call for a Texas Warrant Search

 

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You Have the Right to Remain Silent


Right to SilenceIt cannot be emphasized enough that in the United States, a person gives up Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights the moment they begin cooperating with police in any way prior to arrest. These rights technically cannot be reclaimed after an arrest has been made and Miranda rights have been read. this is true because police do not have to advise a person of his/her rights until after he/she incriminates themselves and/or are arrested. In other words, if the person cooperates prior to being arrested, then they have surrendered most of the rights of which the police are advising that arrestee when they are reading them their Miranda rights.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about protecting your right’s that helps to illustrate this point:

 “In the U.S., the only way for one to protect one’s rights fully is to refuse answering any questions beyond giving one’s name and identifying papers if requested and to refuse giving consent to anything (such as a search) prior to one’s arrest. Law enforcement officials in the United States rely heavily upon the subtle intimidation of their position and power and the ignorance of citizens to their rights in order to make people incriminate themselves. Police do not have to tell civilians the truth on any subject. They can make any promises and claims they like in order to induce a person to incriminate herself or himself or to allow the police to perform a search, and police are not bound by anything they promise to suspects or witnesses (i.e. promises of aid or protection).United States citizens must know their rights in order to avoid losing them by inadvertently giving them away.” – Taken from: Wikipedia “Right to Silence”

In other words the rights guaranteed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendment are not automatically invoked by the accused. In fact the opposite is true. If a person does not actively invoke their rights then their rights are automatically surrendered. This is why it is imperative that anyone who is arrested or accused of a crime should exercise their right to remain silent! Thankfully, not answering any questions asked by the police is not considered incriminating in and of itself in the U.S. legal system. Therefore, a person who finds themselves arrested and/or accused of a crime in the U.S. should answer any police questions with a polite request for an attorney. When interrogated simply and politely say “I would like to speak with a lawyer” and contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as it is possible.

This advice may sound counter-intuitive. Especially since we are taught all of our lives that the police exist to protect and serve us. Against these long established beliefs of police benevolence it is important to remember what are trained to do with people they arrest or accuse of a crime. Police officers are trained to investigate and gather evidence to build a case against the people they arrest or accuse of a crime. If you are arrested the police are not trained to be your priest, pastor, personal coach, or counselor. In short, if you are under arrest the police are not your friend.

Further compounding this issue is the fact that police officers are not infallible. They are flesh and blood human beings who make mistakes just like the rest of us. As such it is all too common for the police to bend the rules and take certain statements out of context in order to gain the upper hand and get a conviction. The police know that most people willingly provide them with the evidence needed for a conviction through confessions and statements taken during the interrogation process. It is for this reasons that while it is always a good idea to have a respectful attitude when dealing with the police, it is equally important to answer any questions they have in a controlled setting with access to competent legal advice.

After all, the State of Texas and United States Attorney’s Office take advantage of their huge budget by being able to have access to a large staff of lawyers, police officers, and crime lab experts to help prosecute their cases. This means that it is highly unlikely that a person who is accused of a crime will be able to challenge the government’s case without competent legal representation. Without an attorney the jury will more often than not accept whatever evidence the prosecutor produces.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2011 in Legal Rights

 

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