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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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Pre-Trial Intervention Program


Graffiti in Bucharest, July 2007.

Image via Wikipedia

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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Texas Statewide No-Refusal Weekend – first of its kind in the nation ever!


Fireworks display at the UT tower during Diwal...
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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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Public Intoxication


Man passed out from drinking.Public Intoxication is a Class C misdemeanor, the same as a general traffic ticket, and punishable by a fine up to $500 with the possibility of jail time up to 12 hours. Some may consider a Public Intoxication charge a minor offense since it is only a Class C misdemeanor but having this on your record could very likely affect your future by hindering job or education opportunities.

According to Texas Penal Code § 49.02, if a person appears in a public place while intoxicated to the degree that he may endanger himself or another person he is guilty of Public Intoxication. Intoxication means that a person lacks the normal use of mental or physical abilities because of the presence of alcohol, a drug (prescription, controlled, or even over-the-counter), a combination of substances, or any other substance in the body.

A public place means any place to which the public has access and includes, but is not limited to, streets, highways, and the common areas of schools, hospitals, apartments, office buildings, transport facilities, and shops. A person could be charged with Public Intoxication in a bar or even riding as a passenger in a car. At the time of the offense, the officer could merely issue a citation and release the individual to the care of an adult but an officer may arrest the person and have them remain in jail for up to 12 hours.

If a minor (under the age of 21) is arrested for Public Intoxication, the consequences do not stop with a mere fine. A minor’s license may be suspended for 30 days. A minor’s second offense can result in a suspension of 60 days and a third can result of 180 days.

Being arrested for Public Intoxication can be both a humiliating and traumatic experience but if you find yourself in that position, make sure you find an attorney that you can trust to do everything possible to help fight for you and win your case. There are good criminal defense attorneys serving Williamson, Travis, Hays, Collin,
Dallas, and Tarrant Counties that can assist you with your legal needs.

If you have any questions about what constitutes public intoxication or have been charged with any other alcohol related offense, feel free to leave a comment or visit us on Facebook and fill out a free case evaluation form with no obligation.

 

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UCW or Possession of Prohibited Weapon


brass knuckles
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Although Texas is considered a gun friendly state, it is unlawful to possess or carry many types of weapons in the Lone Star State. The laws concerning carrying a weapon can often be confusing and puzzling. This article is to help clarify those laws by explaining what it means to be charged with possession of a prohibited weapon or unlawfully carrying a weapon as we frequently handle these types of cases in Williamson, Travis, Hays, Collin, Tarrant, and Dallas Counties. Under Texas Penal Code § 46.02, it is a Class A misdemeanor for someone to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carry on or about his person a handgun, illegal knife or a club.

Examples of illegal knives and clubs include:

  • a single-edged knife with a blade length in excess of 5 ½ inches
  • a double-edged knife, a sword, or a spear
  • a club or anything made or adapted to strike someone and cause serious injury.

A weapon must be found on or about your person in order for you to be charged with Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon. The weapon must be within your reach without physically having to change your position. What this means is that you cannot be charged if a weapon was simply found somewhere in your vehicle, such as your trunk, if you are sitting in or driving your car. This only applies to weapons that are legal to carry in Texas. On the other hand, some weapons are illegal to own or have in your possession at all.

Some weapons that are illegal to own in Texas are:

  • switchblade knives (including butterfly knives),
  • brass knuckles
  • sawed-off firearms
  • short-barreled firearms,
  • explosive devices and
  • machine guns

If you are arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon or possession of a prohibited weapon, your weapon will most likely be taken from you and placed into evidence. If your case is dismissed or you are acquitted of the charge, it is possible to get your weapon back. As long as the weapon is not illegal, the judge may order the return of the weapon to you once it is released from evidence. However, depending on the outcome of the case it is also possible that the judge may order that the weapon be destroyed.

Possible punishments for unlawfully carrying of a weapon or being found in possession of a prohibited weapon include:

  • up to one year in county jail
  • a fine of up to $4,000
  • and possibly two years of post-conviction community supervision or
  • deferred adjudication with the requirement to complete up to 200 community service hours

If the charge is unlawfully carrying a weapon in a weapon-free zone, the offense is treated as a state-jail felony. If the offense is committed on any premise that is licensed or issued a permit for the sale of alcoholic beverages, the offense is then considered a third degree felony.

It is always under unfortunate circumstances that people must contact a criminal defense attorney but if you find yourself in that position, make sure you find an attorney that you can trust to do everything possible to help fight for you and win your case. If you have any questions about what constitutes Unlawfully Carrying a Weapon or have been charged with Possession of a Prohibited Weapon, feel free to leave a comment or visit us on Facebook and fill out a free case evaluation form with no obligation.

 

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What Happens After a Dwi Arrest In Texas?


ArrestedAdministrative License Revocation: To preserve your right to drive in Texas, you must request a hearing within 15 days of when you were served with a Notice of Suspension(usually the date of arrest). If you timely requested a hearing to contest your license suspension, you will be able to continue driving until the hearing. If you lose at the hearing, you can not drive after the hearing. It is our opinion you should requests the officer’s presence at the hearing. Crucial defenses can be developed at the hearing. If your license is suspended at the hearing, you may be able to secure an occupational license to drive.

lst Appearance: If you have been arrested and released for a misdemeanor DWI, you will be given a date to return to court (usually 30 days after your arrest). If you hire an attorney, the attorney can usually make this appearance for you, so that you do not have to attend. During this 30 day period, the case is sent to the County Attorney‘s office for further investigation. The County Attorney then prepares an information and files this with the County Clerk, and your case is set on the court’s docket.

Pre­trial Conference: Your attorney will discuss your case with the County Attorney to discuss the best possible resolution of your case. This conference will happen about 8­10 weeks after your 1st Appearance date.

Suppression Hearing: The Court may suppress some or all of the evidence against you if your constitutional rights have been violated. Your attorney will file motions to suppress. It occurs anywhere 6 weeks to 3 months after the pre­trial conference.

Trial: You may either request a bench trial wherein the court hears the case or a jury trial wherein a jury of your peers hears the case. If the case is a misdemeanor, the trial will be to a jury of six. If the case is a felony, the jury will be to a jury of twelve.

Sentencing: The Court imposes a sentence after a conviction at trial or after a plea bargain is accepted and a plea entered. Sentences may include jail time, numerous fees, fines, community service, alcohol classes and fines.

 

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