Fourth Amendment Rights Violated? Crucial Action To Take

Fourth Amendment Rights Violated? Crucial Action To Take

As a citizen of the United States of American, the law surrounding searches and seizures is very much relevant to you. It doesn’t matter what your past relationship with the law or criminal justice system might be; you are still eligible for 4th Amendment rights. Specifically, the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures by government officials. This includes Texas state police officers and your local PD.

Another piece to the puzzle is Article 1, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution which states, “The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and possessions, from all unreasonable seizures or searches, and no warrant to search any place, or to seize any person or thing, shall issue without describing them as near as may be, nor without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation”.

If you feel that your “reasonable right to privacy” has been violated, you are encouraged to seek legal counsel from a law firm that specializes in this area like Vinas & Graham/Houston.

When A Search Happens

A search is when law enforcement looks for something in a designated area. Generally, they are looking for weapons used in a crime or illegal drugs. When it comes to public spaces, the police have the right to search as much as they desire. However, when it comes to your private property, such as your vehicle or home, you aren’t held to any unreasonable searches.

If the police want to search your private property, and they have reasonable cause for doing so, they must obtain a search warrant from a judge. The “reasonable cause” has to come with evidence and facts and cannot come from gut feelings or hunches. If the police search without these constituents being in place, they are breaking the law, and you should contact an attorney to discuss your 4th Amendment rights.

When A Seizure Happens

A seizure is an incidence where the police take an item or individual into their custody. If you are detained by the police, there must be probable cause for them to do so. Law enforcement must have evidence that you have committed a crime, were in the act of committing a crime, or on the verge of committing a crime. Just like a search, a seizure cannot occur unless facts are present, and not simply a “feeling” on the police’s part.

Once a piece of property is confiscated by the police, it becomes evidence. Items that are on your person, in your vehicle, home, or office can be seized.

It is imperative that your 4th Amendment rights are not breached during a seizure. If you believe that they were, your next move should be to contact an attorney who can assist you.

The Exclusionary Rule

The Exclusionary Rule protects you from illegally obtained evidence. Once a search and seizure have already been conducted, you and your attorney can collect evidence and determine how the search and seizure process went down. Your attorney will typically petition the court in an attempt to inspect all collected evidence against you in order to determine whether your 4th Amendment rights have been upheld or not.

What this means is that any evidence collected against you under illegal search and seizure practices must be omitted from evidence. Any evidence found as a result of the illegally obtained evidence must also be omitted. In other words, fruit taken from the forbidden tree cannot be used against you.

This rule protects you from the state introducing incriminating evidence that was unconstitutionally seized, even a confession that was made before you were able to obtain an attorney.

Filing A Motion To Suppress In Order To Protect Your 4th Amendment Rights

Once charges are filed against you and a court date is on the calendar, your lawyer will typically file a motion to pause the criminal case. This is so they can suppress any evidence against you that may have been seized illegally.

Your attorney will scrutinize all evidence and put together a motion to suppress without revealing the reasons why said evidence should be omitted from the case.

Vinas & Graham/Houston Criminal Law Firm Protects Your 4th Amendment Rights

Your privacy and rights under the American & Texas Constitution are incredibly important to us. If you feel like law enforcement has illegally searched or seized your private property, contact Vinas & Graham/Houston Criminal Law Firm, today. Our country was founded on a constitutional legal system that needs to be upheld. Our attorneys look forward to helping you make sure that it stays that way.

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What Makes A Crime Federal?


Getting in trouble with the law is never fun. Whether you are being charged with committing a federal crime or not, it can be daunting to understand what all a federal crime entails.

What makes a crime federal? To be considered a federal crime, a criminal act must be illegal under U.S. federal law, which is made by Congress, or it must take place on federal property.

What all happens during a federal crime? What are the differences between federal and state criminal charges? What are some examples of federal crimes? What do you do if you’ve been charged? Find out the answers to your questions here.

How A Federal Crime Works

Federal crimes are very serious, and law enforcement agencies are able to take serious action during an investigation. Federal agents can do everything from wiretap your phone to reading your text messages, and they can obtain court orders and subpoenas to look through bank records and social media records. Those under investigation may have been under surveillance for months or even years and can be interrogated at any time by the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, or other law enforcement agencies.

Once enough evidence has been gathered, a prosecutor meets with a federal grand jury, who are impartial citizens that live in the court’s jurisdiction. If the prosecutor convinces them that a probable cause exists, they can indict or charge the person.

There are specific steps that are taken in the federal criminal process. They are:

  • Investigation
  • Charging
  • Initial hearing
  • Discovery
  • Plea bargaining
  • Preliminary hearing (if going to trial)
  • Pre-trial motions
  • Trial
  • Post-trial motions
  • Sentencing
  • Appeal

In most cases, the defendant will plead guilty and not even go to trial. They then usually receive a plea bargain, which can be leniency, a reduced charge, or a reduced sentence. The sentence depends on the crime, the level of offense, and the defendant’s criminal history, and the severity of sentencing varies greatly. Defendants could pay a fine or restitution to the victim(s) of the crime, or they could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Federal Vs. State Criminal Charges

There are many differences in how federal criminal charges are handled versus state criminal charges. For example, they are handled at different courts. For misdemeanors and the initial phases of felonies, Municipal Courts are in charge, and state courts also include Superior Courts. For federal crimes, the Federal Trial Court is the U.S. District Court.

If a crime occurs within a particular state’s boundaries, violating the state laws, the state will have the power to prosecute. It is most common for the defendant to be prosecuted at a state level for federal crimes against a person or property, such as cases of murder, assault, and robbery. If a crime occurs on federal property, federal agents will have the power to investigate and prosecute. Sometimes, crimes violate both state and federal law, leaving both free to charge the defendant.

As far as the process and system go, the State system is much clearer and defined, where punishment ranges are readily ascertainable. The federal system, on the other hand, is complex, convoluted, and confusing.

Learn more about the differences in court structure, the selection of judges, and the types of cases heard in state versus federal courts.

Examples Of Federal Crimes

Many federal crimes are listed under Title 18 of the United States Code, although there are hundreds of categories that violations fall under. Common federal crimes include:

How To Handle A Federal Charge

If you’ve been accused of a federal crime, it is important to realize that your case can greatly affect your future. Since the federal criminal process is highly confusing and complex, it is best to hire an experienced Houston federal defense attorney to help. Being former prosecutors allows Vinas & Graham, PLLC to help you get the best outcome for your case.

If you’re ready to get your case in the right hands, call (713) 229-9992 now or like Vinas & Graham, PLLC  on Facebook to stay in touch!

When Would You Need an Order Of Non-Disclosure?

Order Of Non-Disclosure

Most of us do what we can to lead a lawful life and stay out of trouble. Aside from a speeding ticket here or there, most of us manage to avoid any serious legal infractions and keep a clean record. But unfortunately, things do happen – serious things with serious consequences.

The outcomes of a criminal conviction are extensive, especially when it pertains to current or future employment and the ability to continue your career. Once you have a criminal record, it can mean the loss of your job. And it can make it very difficult for you to find a job in the future. Not only that, but if you were up for promotion, you could pretty much assume that you are no longer eligible (and that is to say if you are even still employed).

A criminal conviction and the resulting record can even mean cancellation, revocation, or denial of professional licenses, which can make it hard if your employment is based on a licensed profession.

If you served or are serving in the military, a criminal conviction will likely result in a reduction of your pay grade and a reduction in rank. It wouldn’t be altogether surprising too if you received a dishonorable discharge which will mean the end of your military career.

The criminal justice system in Texas is very familiar with the impact that a criminal conviction and record will have on an individual. As a result, state legislatures are taking steps to reduce the burden on offenders by leveraging orders of non-disclosure.

What is an Order Of Non-Disclosure?

An order of non-disclosure is a specific type of court order that strictly prohibits certain public entities, (courts and police) from disclosing particular information about your criminal record. An order of non-disclosure can help you if you are the offender, by legally freeing you from the obligation to disclose your criminal record background when asked applicable questions on job applications.

But it is important to note that an order of non-disclosure is not all-encompassing. Your criminal record still available to criminal justice agencies as it pertains to criminal prosecutions and to specific non-criminal organizations in the legal, medical, and educational space.

How Can I Obtain A Non-Disclosure?

There are certain eligibility requirements to obtain a non-disclosure. To be eligible, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have been placed on deferred adjudication community supervision
  • If you were convicted of the crime, you are not eligible to apply for an order of non-disclosure
  • You must successfully complete the deferred adjudication

Once it is determined you are eligible, the process to request a non-disclosure is fairly straightforward. Your first step will be to file a petition in the same court with which the criminal charge was filed against you. You will need to pay a filing fee, and the cost for this will vary from county to county.

Once your petition has been filed, and the district attorney’s office has been informed of your petition, you can set the matter for hearing. This hearing will take place within just a few weeks of you filing the petition. And, at the hearing, you need to show to the court that you are eligible for the non-disclosure and that the non-disclosure of your records is in the best interest of justice.

Your judge can be influenced by several things including whether or not you have
complied with the conditions of community supervision, the amount of time that has elapsed since community supervision ended, your overall criminal history, the facts in your underlying case, and any effect that not sealing the records might have you in the future.

Having a reputable attorney that can support you and argue your case on your behalf will provide a significant advantage. If it is then determined by the judge that you are eligible, the non-disclosure will be signed, and it will be sealed to the general public in approximately three to five weeks.

The following offenses will make you ineligible for a non-disclosure:

  • Murder
  • Capital murder
  • Aggravated kidnapping
  • Domestic violence or other family violence
  • Abandonment or endangerment of a child
  • Violation of a family violence protection order
  • Sex offenses that require you to register as a sex offender
  • Injury to a child or disabled or elderly individual

It is also important to note that if you are eligible for an order of non-disclosure, you must wait for a specified time period after the court orders a dismissal and discharge for you. For misdemeanors, you must wait two years. For felonies, you must wait five years.

Learn More About Non-Disclosures

To learn more about how a non-disclosure can help you, contact Vinas & Graham, PLLC about your case. Whether you are facing charges for a DWI or DUI, drug possession, drug delivery, theft, robbery, aggravated assault, or more, you need experienced and top-rated criminal lawyers to fight for you.

The government has nearly unlimited resources at work for them, and you do not want to fight them alone. Don’t settle for less than the best legal representation you can find. You need a team of advocates on your side with the right experience to get the best possible results on your case.

Can You Be Prosecuted For The Same Crime Twice?


Within the realm of criminal law, we often hear the term ‘double jeopardy’ being thrown around. Most men and women have a general understanding of this phrase. Others, however, do not comprehend where the term comes from and exactly what it represents.

In layman’s terms, the concept of double jeopardy deals with the fact that an accused person cannot be tried for the same crime twice. This law stems from the 5th amendment of the United States Constitution, which reads:

“…nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”

While this declaration may seem black and white, there is a decent amount of a gray area surrounding the topic.

Are you confused about the idea of double jeopardy? Do you believe you’re at risk of being tried for the same crime twice? It might be time to call a skilled criminal defense attorney.

The lawyers at Vinas & Graham have more than 30 years of combined experience trying complex criminal cases. With more than 200 jury trials behind them, they have the knowledge needed to explain best how you could be prosecuted for your crime.

Does Double Jeopardy Still Exist?

If you watch most courtroom dramas, or 1999 movies starring Ashley Judd, you often hear characters talking about double jeopardy. Thanks in part to its prevalence in popular culture, some individuals may wonder if it even exists within the real legal system.

The short answer is yes.

In most cases, the concept of double jeopardy still holds. It is a common legal myth, however, that there is no way to be prosecuted for the same crime twice. There are specific instances where the 5th amendment law may not be applicable, for example:

  • Case Dismissal
  • Mistrials or Hung Juries
  • Conviction Reversal Upon Appeal

There is one other exemption to double jeopardy that is often misunderstood: dual sovereignty doctrine.

What Is Dual Sovereignty Doctrine?

The United States legal system defines the dual sovereignty doctrine as a legal principle. This principle states that more than one sovereign may prosecute an accused person for the same crime without committing double jeopardy.

Simply put, if an individual does a crime that goes against both state laws and federal laws, that person can face trial in both the state and federal court systems. Usually, they will undergo prosecution on the state-level first.

Dual Sovereignty Doctrine And Today’s Legal System?

The attorneys at Vinas & Graham often hear clients wondering about the enforcement of dual sovereignty doctrine. While it is still relevant within the court system, there has been recent debate over whether this policy should be overruled.

In the 2016 matter of Gamble v. United States, a man by the name of Terance Gamble was charged with felony possession of a firearm. This action is considered a crime under both state and federal law; therefore, Gamble was tried in both courts.

Along with his criminal defense lawyer, Gamble argued that the prosecutions went against the 5th amendment’s ban on double jeopardy convictions. Gamble’s case shed new light on the dual sovereignty doctrine and brought into question whether it went against the constitutional rights of Americans.

Their case raised serious concerns about the enactment of dual sovereignty. In response to the trial, substantial consideration was given to its elimination. Legal heavyweights like Ruth Bader Ginsburg even weighed in on the topic.

In June of 2019, however, the Supreme Court overthrew Gamble’s suggestion to eliminate dual sovereignty, and it remains in place.

Does Your Case Qualify For Double Jeopardy?

Trying to understand whether your case falls under the double jeopardy clause can be confusing and scary. After all, no one wants to believe they could be prosecuted for the same crime more than once.

Whether you’ve experienced a mistrial, case dismissal, or are at risk for dual sovereignty, don’t try to handle the situation on your own. Prosecutors have unlimited resources to build a case against you—hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial.

The lawyers at Vinas & Graham have decades of experience pleading cases for residents of the Houston area. Starting their careers as felony prosecutors, they’re familiar with how the “other side” will look at your situation.

You deserve a fair trial and practiced legal counsel. Give us a call today or fill out our easy-to-use online form to schedule a free consultation.

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