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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


Graffiti in Bucharest, July 2007.

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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?


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


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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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License Suspension in Texas


Texas law requires that the department shall suspend a person’s driver’s license if the department determines that the person had an alcohol concentration of .08 in accordance with Section 49.01 (2)(B) of the Texas Penal Code, while operating a motor vehicle in a public place or while operating a watercraft; or (2)  the person was a minor on the date that the breath or blood specimen was obtained and had any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system while operating a motor vehicle in a public place or while operating a watercraft.

Being arrested for a DWI in Texas does not necessarly result in having your driver’s license suspended.  There are options available to contest the suspension or to allow you to continue to drive legally despite the suspension.  Remember that each state has different laws regarding DWI’s and suspensions so it is important to find an attorney in your state that is knowledgable about DWI laws.

To assist you with the process of a license suspension in Texas, here is a break-down of what happens after a DWI arrest in Texas:

  • After you are arrested for a DWI, you have 15 days to request an ALR hearing.
  • A criminal defense attorney may request the hearing for you or you may request one yourself prior to hiring an attorney.  ALR hearings are used to contest driver’s license suspensions.
  • At an ALR hearing, license suspensions may be overturned completely or the suspension may be postponed until a later time pending the outcome of the hearing.

Driving is a necessity to life, so of course it’s important to ensure that you can continue driving legally. If an ALR hearing is not successful in overturning your license suspension, another option available in Texas counties, such as Williamson, Travis, and Hays, is to file a petition for an Occupational Driver’s License.  An Occupational Driver’s License is an incredibly helpful option that allows you to maintain the ability to drive as needed despite your license being suspended as a result of a DWI arrest or other offense.

Here is a list of items you will need in order to have the petition granted and continue driving after your license suspension:

  • A letter from your employer explaining your need to drive.  The letter should include a list of all counties in which you may need to drive during your license suspension along with the times of day and days of the week that you would need to drive.
  • An SR-22 insurance form from either your insurance company or another insurance company.  An SR-22 is a supplement to the insurance that you currently have.
  • Filing Fee’s.  Fees vary by county in which the offense was committed
  • A copy of your three-year driving record.  This can be obtained from Texas DPS. You can visit their website and download the application at http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/InternetForms/Forms/DR-1.pdf
  • A personal letter listing any activities in which you need to attend outside of work, i.e:
    • School classes,
    • church,
    • court settings,
    • AA meetings,
    • doctor appointments,
    • childcare,
    • carrying out essential household duties, etc.
    • This list must also include all of the counties in which you may need to drive during your license suspension along with times of day and days of the week

Once all of the requirements have been submitted, a petition is drafted and filed with the court.  Once your petition is filed in court, a hearing may be required, depending on where the petition is filed.  If the court grants you an Occupational Driver’s License you will be eligible to drive for the reasons and times approved by the judge in your petition and outlined in the order resulting from the court’s approval.

IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER:

  • While driving with an Occupational Driver’s License the order should always be in your possession. 
  • If you are pulled over and do not have the order in your possession you will be arrested. 
  • Once your suspension period is over, you simply have to pay a reinstatement fee and you will receive your regular license back. 

If you have any questions 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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Texas Statewide No-Refusal Weekend – first of its kind in the nation ever!


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Everyone loves the Fourth of July.  It has become the unofficial celebration of summer as people across the United States enjoy the very essence of independence and freedom.  Everywhere you go you see families’ barbequing, neighborhood block parties and friends hanging out wherever it’s cool – lakes, pools, rivers, beaches – everyone enjoying a good time just waiting for the sun to go down and the fireworks to start. Unfortunately, the days following the Fourth of July, many of those same people reunite at hospitals, police stations, attorney offices – and even more unfortunate, funerals.

Last year in Texas alone, officers responded to 337,000 crashes over the Fourth of July weekend.  In 2009, the “no refusal holiday program” was created to enforce Texas DWI laws in order to help lower alcohol related accidents.  The program allows law enforcement and prosecutors to designate a holiday weekend, such as New Year’s Eve, Halloween, or Super Bowl weekend, where law enforcement officers can stop a driver for DWI suspicion and take a blood sample to test for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).  According to a press release Tuesday in Austin regarding the statewide program— “drivers also can be arrested with a BAC below 0.08 when a law enforcement officer has probable cause, based on the driver’s behavior, to believe the driver has lost the normal use of mental or physical faculties due to the introduction of alcohol or any substance into his or her body.”  Along with extra patrol on the road, there will also be additional enforcement on the water all across the state enforcing no refusal.  So not only are you at risk drinking and driving, but drinking and boating as well.

The concept of this program is simple – you cannot refuse.  If you are stopped for a busted tail-light, not using your blinker, not wearing a seatbelt, speeding or any other minor traffic violation and the officer suspects that you are intoxicated you will be required to have your blood drawn or take a breathalyzer test .  During “No Refusal Weekends,” judges are on standby to sign a warrant permitting the police to take a blood sample after a suspected driver refuses to submit to a breath or blood test.  Basically, if you drive on a “No Refusal Weekend,” and an officer suspects you have been drinking, he can obtain a sample of your blood to test for BAC whether you like it or not.

You might wonder how law enforcement is able to do this without violating your rights.  When you obtain a Texas driver’s license, you have implicitly consented to provide a sample of breath or blood when it is requested by law enforcement agents during a DWI arrest but you may refuse until the law enforcement agent obtains a valid search warrant.  Under normal circumstances, an officer has to wait for a warrant to obtain a sample of your blood and judges are not always readily available… unlike “No-Refusal Weekends” when judges are standing by to issue these warrants at a moment’s notice.

The best thing you can do if you have been drinking during a “No Refusal Weekend” is to call a cab or have a designated driver.   If you have any questions about your arrest or rights after a DWI, DUI, BWI or any other alcohol related offense in Texas please join us on Facebook or post a comment anywhere on this blog and an experienced Texas attorney will be happy to assist you.

KEY MESSAGES:

  • During the July 4th holiday, alcohol is a major factor in fatal crashes.
  • Motor vehicle traffic crashes killed 410 people during the Fourth of July holiday period in 2009.  Of that number, 40 percent involved drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter or higher.
  • Alcohol-impaired-driving crashes killed 10,839 people in 2009, accounting for 32 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.  That’s an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality every 48 minutes.
  • Beware: the rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2009 was four times higher at night than during the day.

Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.

  • This summer don’t let your 4th of July end in an arrest—or even worse, death. Make smart decisions. Plan ahead so you can ensure a safe way home.
  • Cops are cracking down, and there will be no second chances.  If you are caught driving with a BAC of .08 or higher, you will be arrested.
  • Remember, don’t ever get behind the wheel of a vehicle when you are impaired, and don’t ride with a driver who has been drinking.
  • Whether way too many or just one too many, it’s not worth the risk. Drunk driving creates serious consequences.
  • Alcohol impairs many of the skills that safe driving requires, including judgment, concentration, comprehension, coordination, visual acuity and reaction time.
  • Driving with a BAC of .08 or higher is illegal in every state. Yet too many people still ignore the law. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, more than 1.44 million people were arrested for driving under the influence during 2009.
  • The tragedies and costs from drinking and driving impaired do not just end at the potential death, disfigurement, disability and injury caused by impaired drivers.
  • People who break the law often face jail time, the loss of their driver licenses, higher insurance rates, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses from attorney fees, fines and court costs, car towing and repairs, lost time at work, etc.
  • Driving impaired or riding with someone who is impaired is not worth the risk. The consequences are serious and real. Not only do you risk killing yourself or someone else, but the trauma and financial costs of a crash or an arrest for driving while impaired can be really significant and not the way you want to celebrate the July 4th holiday.

Remember: Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.
(information provided by Traffic Safety Marketing
a program sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

 

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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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