The term “white-collar crimes” encompasses a large number of offenses in Texas. It refers to non-violent crimes of fraud or deceit that usually center on the misuse of money. In addition to falling under state jurisdiction, these are often federal crimes.
Common Types Of White-Collar Crimes
Any type of embezzlement or any other kind of mishandling of money is a white-collar crime. Some of those most often prosecuted in Texas are:
Tax evasion — Providing false information to the IRS to avoid tax collection.
Corporate fraud — Falsification of financial information and insider trading.
Money laundering — Passing off money from illegal activities as legitimate funds.
Investment scams — Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes.
Healthcare fraud — Billing for procedures that never occurred.
Bankruptcy fraud — Hiding property or otherwise lying on bankruptcy forms.
As you can see, there are many forms of white-collar crimes. If you are facing any of these types of white-collar crimes, it is beneficial to seek out an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Possible Charges For White-Collar Crimes
The punishment for a white-collar crime depends on the amount stolen. Between $1,500 and $20,000 is a state jail felony, which incurs 180 days to two years of jail time. Up to $100,000 in theft is a third-degree felony and has a sentence of two to 10 years in prison. Up to $200,000 is a second-degree felony, which comes with two to 20 years in prison.
Finally, theft of more than $200,000 is a first-degree felony, and prison time ranges from five to 99 years. For any of the above, you may also face a fine of up to $10,000. Your punishment may exceed these typical statutory penalties if you have a criminal history or if you defrauded a large number of people or an older person.
Theft of less than the above amounts is often a misdemeanor. The lowest of these (when theft is less than $50) is a Class C misdemeanor. There is no jail for such an offense, but you may face a fine of up to $500. If you are charged with stealing between $50 and $500, you may face a Class B misdemeanor, in which case the fine increases to $2,000, and jail time is up to 180 days.
Finally, a Class A misdemeanor is for theft of up to $1,500, which can come with a jail sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $4,000.
Defense For A White-Collar Crime
A common defense for a white-collar crime is to show that the defendant was coerced or committed the crime under duress — someone else forced or pressured you to commit fraud. Alternatively, your defense could be entrapment by law enforcement or incapacity (meaning you were mentally or physically unable to commit the crime you are being accused of). You may also be able to lessen the charges by proving intoxication or insanity.
Since penalties for white-collar crimes can be steep, it’s crucial to receive representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Vinas & Graham, PLLC, is a law firm made up of highly experienced criminal defense lawyers. They provide representation for cases in both the state and federal courts. Contact them for a consultation and follow them on Facebook to learn more about the types of offenses they handle.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Give Us the Gavels!”
The lawyers in the district attorney’s office say they decided to run on their own, reflecting internal Democratic divisions over public safety.
On a winter afternoon nine months into the pandemic, Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg held a Zoom meeting with felony judges and prosecutors to discuss the backlog of cases caused by COVID-19 shutdowns at the downtown Houston courthouse. But the backlog wasn’t the only issue to come up that day. For years, the Democratic DA had been publicly criticizing local judges who set what she deemed insufficiently high bonds for defendants accused of violent crimes. Now her office would deliver a direct warning. First assistant district attorney David Mitcham, Ogg’s top lieutenant, informed the judges that there would be a “reckoning” if they didn’t start setting higher bonds.
“My reaction was like, ‘Wow, that was bold,’ ” said Joe Vinas, the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, who was on the call representing the criminal defense bar. “One of the judges asked if Mitcham was threatening him.”
Many in Houston’s legal community have thought back to that moment, now that fourteen Harris County prosecutors and one DA investigator have filed to run for criminal court judgeships this year—eight in Democratic primaries, seven in Republican primaries. It’s not unusual for prosecutors to run for judgeships, but the high number in this election cycle has raised eyebrows. In 2020 not a single Harris County prosecutor ran in any of the nine local criminal court races; in 2018, which featured 31 races, just one prosecutor ran. But with Ogg linking a sharp rise in homicides to the bail practices of reform-minded judges elected in recent years, perhaps it’s no surprise that so many of her prosecutors are challenging the 29 Democratic incumbents up for reelection this year.
Harris County has long been ground zero for the national debate over bail reform. In 2016 the legal advocacy group Civil Rights Corps sued the county on behalf of Maranda Lynn ODonnell, a 22-year-old single mother who was arrested for driving without a valid license. (Two other plaintiffs later joined the lawsuit.) ODonnell spent three days in jail because she couldn’t afford her $2,500 bail. Like Sandra Bland, who took her own life in a Waller County jail cell in 2015, ODonnell found herself behind bars not because she had been convicted of a crime but because she couldn’t pay.
The Constitution permits the use of cash bonds as a means of ensuring that defendants show up to their court dates. In practice, however, judges routinely set high bail amounts to keep defendants in jail before trial—a system that benefits wealthy defendants such as Robert Durst or O. J. Simpson, while keeping the poor behind bars for weeks or even months. The Texas constitution requires judges to set bail for nearly all defendants, although judges have broad discretion on how high those bonds will be.
ODonnell’s lawyers contended that setting bail without regard to her ability to pay violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees all Americans equal protection under the law. In essence, they argued, Harris County was jailing ODonnell simply for being poor. A federal judge agreed, declaring the county’s bail system unconstitutional.
In 2019 Harris County agreed to a sweeping set of reforms, including the elimination of cash bail for the vast majority of misdemeanor defendants. Instead, defendants would be released before trial on so-called “personal bonds,” which require no up-front payment. The landmark settlement, the first of its kind in the U.S., was endorsed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and every other major county-wide Democratic officeholder—with the exception of Ogg, who warned that letting defendants out on personal bonds would threaten the public by giving judges “unfettered and unreviewable discretion” to delay trials or excuse defendants from ever appearing in court.
In the wake of Harris County’s settlement, Travis County also eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor offenses. Two recent academic studies have found that this reform has been effective. Fewer defendants are now incarcerated before trial and those released on personal bonds have proven unlikely to be rearrested. But that hasn’t stopped some politicians from arguing that more lenient bail policies are endangering public safety. And Republicans, who have not won a county-wide race in Harris County since 2014, hope to capitalize on the issue to regain some judgeships and other offices in 2022.
The concerns about bail reform have been exacerbated by local and national spikes in violent crime over the past two years. Between 2019 and 2020, murders jumped by nearly 30 percent across the country—the largest year-over-year increase in at least six decades—and homicides rose again in 2021 (although the FBI hasn’t released its final data). That trend has held true for Houston: there were an estimated 469 homicides in the city last year, an increase of 71 percent from 2019. That’s still well below the 701 killings in 1981, the city’s deadliest year, when the population was nearly one million less.
Violent crimes such as assault have also increased since 2019, both nationally and in Harris County, although nonviolent crime is down. While the national homicide rate remains below its historic peak in the early nineties, the rapid increase has received intense attention in local media, with crime stories frequently leading television news. Houston’s Fox 26 features a recurring segment called “Breaking Bond”—created in collaboration with nonprofit group Crime Stoppers of Houston—about felony defendants who are rearrested while out on bail. The series regularly features prominent local Republicans blasting Democratic judges for their bail practices.
Criminologists disagree on the reason for the rising crime, but most agree that pandemic-induced frustrations, the surge in gun sales during the coronavirus outbreak, and a general police pullback in reaction to protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd have something to do with it. There’s little evidence to connect bail reform with the surge in homicides, but one notorious case last September added fuel to the argument. After judge Greg Glass set bonds of $10,000 and $20,000 for two drug charges against thirty-year-old Deon Ledet, the Harris County man went free and allegedly killed one police officer and injured another. Prosecutors had asked Glass to hold Ledet without bond because he had twice been convicted of a felony. In March, Glass (who did not respond to an interview request) faces two primary challengers, one of them a Polk County assistant district attorney; if he prevails, he’ll face one of Ogg’s Republican prosecutors in the fall general election.
The bail controversy has attracted the attention of the Republican-controlled state government. Last August, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 6, which limits who can be released from jail on personal bond. At the bill’s signing, Governor Greg Abbott decried the “revolving-door releases of dangerous criminals back out onto the streets, who then go on to commit even more crimes.”
Harris County’s district attorney tends to frame the issue more colorfully. “When you have murderers running around on multiple bonds, people who have killed other people, who go back and kill the witnesses,” she told Fox 26 last October, “it’s a scary time, and I’m here to warn people: we don’t have to live like this.” Ogg has called on the public to pressure judges over their bail practices. Recently, her office confirmed to Texas Monthly that first assistant DA Mitcham did issue a warning to criminal court judges in December 2020. According to district attorney spokesperson Dane Schiller, “Mr. Mitcham briefly expressed his concern that some judges were releasing violent offenders on repeated bonds only for those offenders to commit more violent crimes while awaiting trial and that the situation would not be overlooked by the people of Harris County; the judges themselves would be judged at the ballot box.” (Ogg declined to answer questions for this story.)
The “reckoning” Mitcham promised will begin with the March 1 primary, in which many of the county’s judges—including some of the seventeen Black women elected on a reform platform in 2018—face challengers. (This being Houston, the prosecutors and others challenging them are a diverse group.) “The word on the street is that all these prosecutors who are running against sitting judges are doing so at least at the encouragement, if not the behest, of the district attorney’s office,” Vinas said. Schiller denied that either Mitcham or Ogg had recruited any of the prosecutors to run and added that Ogg does not issue political endorsements.
I interviewed three of the prosecutors running for judge, each of whom also denied having been asked to run by the DA. “I know that each and every one of these people is running of their own accord,” said Alycia Harvey, a prosecutor in the major offender division who is running for the 482nd District Court, speaking of prosecutors from her office. Joseph Sanchez, who is running for the 230th District Court, told me that Ogg “never came and asked me in any way to run, nor did anybody from her administration.”
One of the prosecutors, assistant district attorney Katherine Thomas, echoed Ogg’s arguments against bail reform. Thomas, who worked in the vehicular crimes division for two years and is running in the Democratic primary for the 184th District Court against incumbent Abigail Anastasio, expressed frustration that so many of her cases resulted in “very minimal bonds, even if they had several bond violations, even if they had serious criminal history. None of those things mattered. It was often like our victims didn’t have a voice.”
In all but one race—for a seat held by a Republican appointee—prosecutors will be challenging incumbents of Ogg’s own party, which observers note is also unusual. “It’s interesting to have this many prosecutors running against this many judges who are the same political party as their boss,” Vinas noted. “I’ve never, ever seen that happen here.”
For Ogg, clashing with fellow Democrats is nothing new. Since unseating Republican district attorney Devon Anderson, in 2016, on a pro–reform platform—becoming the county’s first Democratic district attorney in nearly four decades—Ogg has grown increasingly critical of fellow party members she perceives as soft on crime. In her 2020 reelection campaign, Ogg was primaried from the left by two of her former prosecutors, who said she’d broken her campaign promise to ensure fewer low-level defendants end up behind bars. Ogg won handily, going on to defeat Republican Mary Nan Huffman in the general election.
Since winning another term, Ogg has become even more vocal in her criticism of judges’ decisions on pretrial release. She has called bail reform pushed by Democratic judges “a driving factor in the crime crisis gripping our community.” In September, Ogg released a report connecting misdemeanor bail reform to the higher murder rate; three previous reports from the independent, judicially appointed monitor for the bail reform settlement had found no relationship. The Houston Chronicle’s editorial board characterized Ogg’s findings as misleading: “By singling out bail reform as a root cause of violent crime,” it wrote, “Ogg is tailoring a conclusion to fit her thesis.”
While Ogg and other prosecutors have pointed the finger at judges, a recent Chronicle investigation found that Harris County bail bond companies have also played a role in increasing pretrial releases. The companies lost business when cash bail was eliminated for most misdemeanor defendants in 2019; to attract clients, they have been forced to cut their fees and charge less up front to felony defendants. Since bonds have become so affordable, even a high amount may no longer keep a defendant behind bars before trial.
Ogg won handily, going on to defeat Republican Mary Nan Huffman in the general election. Since winning another term, she has become even more vocal in her criticism of Democratic judges’ decisions on pretrial releases. In October, she went on TV to warn that “when you have murderers running around on multiple bonds, people who have killed other people go back and kill the witnesses.”
Groups such as Crime Stoppers, an organization funded in part by court fees paid by defendants—and led by Ogg before she was elected district attorney—have repeatedly blamed local judges for rising crime. Unlike Ogg, Crime Stoppers has always supported misdemeanor bail reform. But the organization’s executive director, Rania Mankarious, argued that local felony judges have adopted many of the same reforms, even without a court order. “We’re seeing judges issuing glaringly low bonds,” she told me. “We don’t want the bail system to be used as a punitive measure, but we also don’t want it to be a joke.”
According to University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus, the issue of public safety appears to be splitting local Democrats. “There’s tension in the party about how to proceed on issues involving criminal justice, specifically bail reform,” Rottinghaus said. “In a partisan environment, this could be an issue where perception outweighs reality. The perception of crime is politically as bad as actual rising crime.” Republicans see the issue as their best path to regaining power in Harris County. “There is a chance that in this very partisan, very polarized world, some of these crime issues might catch on,” Rottinghaus said. “I do think that some local jurists might be in potential jeopardy.”
I’m a lawyer but I don’t really know criminal law, and I was curious about how this process works and what happens with Hamilton now, so I talked to my friend Joe Vinas. Joe is a former Harris County prosecutor who now practices criminal defense with the Houston firm of Vinas & Graham. He and I went to law school together, so I figured he wouldn’t mind me pestering him with some questions about this.
Our discussion ended up getting into the weeds a bit on criminal law and how the process works, which means that its longer than I expected, so I’m breaking it up into multiple parts.
What follows is Part I of a lightly edited Q&A I did with Joe on the subject:
AJM: Josh Hamilton has been charged with felony injury to a child. Is that what we colloquially call “child abuse”?
Vinas: It covers child physical abuse. The term “child abuse” encompasses physical abuse and sexual abuse. When you’re talking about physical abuse in Texas, the charge that we have is “injury to a child.”
AJM: What sort of range of behaviors or actions could be encompassed in a felony injury to a child charge?
Vinas: Injury to a child is a “Class A Misdemeanor Assault” where you cause bodily injuries to a child under the age of 15. So he’s accused, I believe, of slapping his daughter, who is younger than 15. Had she been 15 or older, it would have been a Class A Misdemeanor Assault case, punished by up to a year in county, and up to a $4000 fine. But because she is under that threshold age, it becomes a third degree felony, with a minimum of two years and a maximum of ten years in the Texas State Prison System, and an optional fine of up to $10,000. So had she been older, this would have been a misdemeanor charge — probably an assault of a family member charge — but because she’s under the age of 15 its a felony charge.
As far as what behaviors would statutorily fit under the definition, it could be anything as minor as a push. It could be a hit, a slap, a punch, a kick — anything that causes bodily injury. In Texas, the definition of bodily injury includes any kind of physical ailment or as low a threshold as physical pain. So as long as you make contact with somebody — physically, knowingly, or sometimes recklessly, hit somebody, or push somebody to the ground, and they feel physical pain, they don’t have to have bruising, they don’t have to have cuts, they don’t have to have any physical marks. If there’s physical pain, then you’ve met the definition of “bodily injury,” which is the minimum injury required for injury to a child.
AJM: Josh Hamilton was indicted earlier this month — for those of us who don’t practice criminal law, what is an indictment?
Vinas: An indictment sounds a lot bigger than it really is. Texas is one of many states where a suspect is entitled to have their case heard before a grand jury if we are charged with a felony offense. What that process looks like is different in every venue, in every county, and really, in every case. In Texas, every three months there is a grand jury sitting in every jurisdiction in the state. Tarrant County, I imagine, has multiple grand juries sitting at a time. Here in Houston, we have five at any given time, and they alternate days.
When an indictment is sought, a prosecutor goes into a room with a minimum of nine and a maximum of twelve grand jurors — they have twelve on the grand jury, but in order to have a quorum, at least nine have to actually show up on any given day. So if nine people are there, you can proceed.
The threshold at this stage is just probable cause — in other words, the same legal threshold to issue an arrest warrant for someone is the threshhold that must be met for a grand jury to issue an indictment.
A grand jury indictment is a formal finding of probable cause by a group of nine to twelve citizens who hear the prosecutor’s version of what happened. A defense lawyer is never allowed in a grand jury proceeding in Texas, and a defendant is only allowed in a grand jury proceeding during their own testimony. A defendant cannot hear any of the evidence presented against them. And a defendant only testifies if they want to — a defendant still has their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. But a defendant doesn’t have the absolute right to testify in this proceeding — if a grand jury doesn’t want to hear from them, they don’t get to testify.
In Texas, grand jury proceedings are totally confidential and secret — the grand jurors and the prosecutor are not allowed to say what happened when they were in the grand jury room. In fact, the prosecutor is not even allowed to be in there during the deliberation process — they can only be in there during the evidence presentation process. So we don’t know what exactly happened in the proceeding in Hamilton’s case, but normally, in a case like this, the prosecutor goes in, reads some information from the police report, maybe plays a 911 recording, maybe shows some photos, maybe some video — it depends on what evidence there is and the format it is in.
But really, all the prosecutor has to do is give their version of the evidence, and then they leave the room. Then the grand jurors deliberate amongst themselves, and if nine of the twelve find that there is probable cause, they have indicted the defendant.
AJM: So in Texas, does every felony charge have to come from a grand jury?
Vinas: The basic process is, typically somebody is arrested, and the case is assigned to a district court, which are the courts that have jurisdiction over felony cases in Texas. At that point, if the defendant is out on bond, the State has 180 days to secure an indictment from a grand jury against the defendant, and if they don’t, they have to dismiss the case. The caveat to that is, so long as the statute of limitations hasn’t run, they can re-file the case without double jeopardy attaching.
If the defendant is in custody and can’t make bond, the State has 90 days to get him indicted, or, basically, the defendant gets released. That’s something of an oversimplification of the process, but he basically gets released.
So in every felony case in Texas, the defendant has the right to have his case heard before a grand jury to see if they are going to indict him, or if they are going to issue what is known as a “non-bill,” which means that the grand jury has decided not to indict him. The only time the State can proceed without a grand jury indictment is if the defendant has waived indictment. That said, in eighteen years, I’ve never seen a defendant waive indictment and go to trial without an indictment. Typically a defendant only waives indictment when they’ve reached a plea agreement with the State and are pleading guilty in exchange for probation, or less prison time, or a lesser charge, or something along those lines.
AJM: This is one of the issues I’ve been confused about — he was indicted a few weeks ago, but was arrested in October, 2019, and it seems in my non-criminal-lawyer mind you should get arrested after you get indicted. But you’re saying that’s not the case.
Vinas: Almost always, in the State of Texas, a person is arrested before a case is presented to a grand jury. Now, there are situations where a grand jury launches the investigation — its not the prosecutor, its not the police, its the grand jury that opens the investigation. And a grand jury has the power to do that — a person can decide that they think their neighbor is committing mortgage fraud, and write a letter to the grand jury, and the grand jury can launch an investigation. Sometimes when the State is investigating something or presenting something to a grand jury, the grand jury may say, hey, wait a minute, there’s more issues being revealed here that aren’t before us, and so we want to take a look at that, the grand jury has the power to do so.
But that’s pretty rare. Most grand juries will serve their entire term and never launch their own investigation on anything.
There was a very high-ranking judicial official several years ago who found himself the target of a grand jury investigation. The prosecutor disagreed with it — this was back in the mid-aughts, I think — but the grand jury indicted anyway, and then the prosecutor dismissed it the next day. This was in Houston.
So a grand jury indictment and an arrest aren’t necessarily linked in time. But in the vast, vast majority of cases, a person is arrested, and then is in custody or out on bond before a grand jury makes an indictment in their case.
– Reprinted with permission from SB Nation Lone Star Ball (link)
The carrying or use of firearms and other weapons have become hot-button topics throughout the United States, and Texas is no exception. Whether an individual has a concealed handgun license (CHL) or not, they are held to high standards regarding their ability to own a weapon.
Illegally carrying or using a weapon in the state of Texas is not taken lightly. If you are caught breaking the laws outlined in the Texas Constitution, you could be facing severe weapons charges. Weapons charges are often considered a federal crime. That’s why you should speak with an experienced criminal attorney like the ones at Vinas & Graham to learn more about what’s involved if you are charged with illegally possessing a weapon.
When you’re considering the purchase and use of any weapon, understanding the laws surrounding that decision can mean the difference between your freedom and harsh legal penalties.
Is Unlawfully Carrying A Weapon A Federal Crime?
While the second amendment of the US Constitution allows American citizens the right to keep and bear arms, each state has its own set of guidelines. In Texas, for example, it might be legal for someone without a CHL to have a gun on their property, or a property they manage. The statutory allowance for general weapon possession ends here, though.
If an unlicensed man or woman is found to be carrying a weapon, or using a weapon, in a public setting, that person would be guilty of committing a federal crime.
Can You Face Weapons Charges If You Have A Concealed Handgun License?
If you have gone through the proper steps to obtain a CHL, you will have gained the authority to carry your weapon in areas outside of your personal properties. This does not mean, however, that you have the right to carry that weapon anywhere you like.
If a location doesn’t fall under one of these categories, it is still illegal to carry your weapon on their premises if they have rules against firearms.
Are There Other Types Of Weapons Charges That Are A Federal Crime?
Illegally carrying a weapon, both with a license or without, is not the only type of weapons charges that can be viewed as a federal crime. The illegal use, obtainment, or distribution of weapons also fall under this umbrella.
For instance, gun trafficking and illegally obtaining a weapon’s permit are both labeled as a federal offense. Another example is violent crimes that involve the use of weapons, such as guns, knives, or explosives. By definition, any federal crime, i.e., kidnapping, carjacking, or robbery, committed with the use of an unlawful weapon will be classified as a violent crime.
What Happens If You’re Charged With Federal Weapons Charges?
If you have been accused of a federal crime due to weapons charges, this serious accusation has the power to change your life. You will be placed under the surveillance of government agencies, such as the FBI or DEA, for lengthy periods that can last years.
They will be given the allowance to obtain a heightened-level of information about you that would typically go against your constitutional rights.
There are several steps involved during federal criminal charges, including:
Grand Jury Indictment
Criminal Jury Trial
Finding A Criminal Attorney To Help With Federal Weapons Charges
If you are facing an indictment for weapons charges that have been labeled a federal crime, the worst thing you could do is face them on your own.
The legal team at Vinas & Graham has a combined 30+ years of experience within the realm of criminal law. They understand the legal statutes surrounding federal weapons charges and are ready to help you face your indictment head-on.
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.
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
How Can I Obtain A
are certain eligibility requirements to obtain a non-disclosure. To
be eligible, you must meet the following requirements:
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
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.
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
judge can be influenced by several things including whether or not
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
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.
following offenses will make you ineligible for a non-disclosure:
offenses that require you to register as a sex offender
to a child or disabled or elderly individual
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
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.
short answer to whether or not drug charges can be federal crimes is
yes, drug crimes can be federal crimes that are prosecuted in federal
courts. The federal justice department has jurisdiction over drug
crimes that take place anywhere in the United States.
crimes attorneys know that certain circumstances make
drug crimes more likely to be prosecuted in federal courts than in
Circumstances Leading To Federal Drug Crimes Charges
Drug charges that are prosecuted in federal courts are often related to large drug operations and those operations frequently take place across several or more states. When offenders are arrested by federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they will likely be prosecuted in federal court.
When federal agencies and local law enforcement agencies work together on drug crimes, they will often agree that the crimes should be prosecuted in federal court, especially when the punishment is likely to be more severe in federal court.
crimes can be related to the possession, manufacturing, distribution,
and trafficking of drugs. Simple possession cases are typically
prosecuted at the state level while the manufacturing, distribution,
and trafficking of drugs are often prosecuted at the federal level.
State Crimes Versus Federal Crimes
When people are charged with drug crimes, they generally hope to be prosecuted in the appropriate state court rather than in federal court. This is because federal sentencing guidelines are usually harsher than state court guidelines.
Federal courts are known to have severe mandatory minimum punishments and sentencing enhancements that can make prison sentences significantly longer than they would be if the crime were prosecuted in a state court.
Can Drug Charges Be Prosecuted In Both State And Federal Courts?
People are often under the impression that because of double jeopardy, they can only be prosecuted once for the same crime, but that is not always the case when it comes to state and federal prosecutions.
The legal principle that is known as ‘dual sovereignty‘ permits state governments and the federal government to prosecute state crimes and federal crimes in their respective courts, even if it means trying the same person twice for the same crime.
It is not typical that the same charges are brought in both state and federal courts, but it does happen sometimes. This principle was recently challenged in the United States Supreme Court as a violation of double jeopardy for prosecuting the same person in federal court after he had already been prosecuted in state court, but the justices voted to uphold the longstanding principle in a 7-2 ruling.
Drug Charges Defenses
Whether they are state or federal charges, drug charges do not automatically mean that defendants will wind up with criminal convictions. This is especially true when defendants have a solid defense and a skilled attorney advocating on their behalf.
Common defenses in these cases include the following:
The drugs did
not belong to the defendant
did not intend to distribute the drugs
enforcement search that led to the discovery of the drugs was
stop that led to the discovery of the drugs was illegal
were planted on the defendant by another person or an officer
Negotiating With Prosecutors In Drug Crimes Cases
Prosecutors often file as many charges as possible against defendants, even those that they may not be able to prove in a trial, to scare defendants into pleading to lesser crimes. However, pleading guilty to lesser crimes is not always in a defendant’s best interest.
Experienced drug crime defense attorneys will conduct a thorough investigation of the case facts, evidence, and the method by which that evidence was obtained. They will then be in a position to argue for lesser charges or a dismissal of charges, or they may take the case to trial if it is in the defendant’s best interest.
Contact A Federal Crimes Attorney
Whether it is a federal or state matter, if you have been charged with drug crimes, you need a skilled attorney to represent your best interests. The criminal defense attorneys at Vinas & Graham are experts in both state and federal crimes cases and they will fight to see that you secure the best possible outcome in your case.
If you have been charged or believe you are being investigated for drug crimes, contact our office as soon as possible by submitting this online form or calling 713-229-9992.
Follow our Facebook page to keep up with news and updates related to state and federal criminal law matters.
Property crimes like
theft, robbery, fraud, and burglary have one thing in common – the
removal of another’s property without consent. People often use
these words interchangeably; however, each one has unique
characteristics and penalties.
Today, we will look
at the key differences of each crime and the penalties associated
with each one.
What Constitutes Theft in Texas?
The Texas Penal Code § 31.03 defines theft as unlawfully appropriating property with the intention of depriving the owner of his/her property. It is unlawful to take property without the owner’s consent or the property is stolen and sold to another person who knows that the property was stolen. In Texas, the penalties are based on the value of the items stolen.
For thefts of less
than $2,500, a defendant can be charged with a misdemeanor (Class C,
B, or A) and be sentenced with up to one year in jail and a fine of
not more than $4,000. If a defendant is charged with stealing
property valued at more than $2,500, he or she could be facing a
felony (first degree, second degree, third degree or state felony)
with a much larger fine and years of jail time in state prison.
What Is Burglary?
In Texas, burglary
is defined as unlawfully entering a structure with the intent to
commit a crime. Although many burglaries involve theft, other crimes
can be considered burglary, including but not limited to murder,
assault, crimes of force or coercion, and other felonies.
If a defendant is charged with burglary in a building that is not inhabited, it can result in a state jail felony with a sentence of 6 months to 2 years and fines up to $10,000. If burglary is committed in a building that is inhabited and a felony other than felony theft is committed, the charge is increased to a first-degree felony, which has a sentence of 5 years to life in state prison and fines up to $10,000.
What Is Robbery?
Robbery in Texas occurs during the course of theft when the defendant intentionally, recklessly, or knowingly causes bodily injury to a person or threatens or places another person in fear of imminent harm or death.
In Texas, a robbery conviction results in a second-degree felony charge. The penalty for this offense includes state prison time between 2 and 20 years and a fine of no more than $10,000.
If the crime is
elevated to aggravated robbery, the charge is increased to a
first-degree felony with prison time of 5 to 99 years and a fine of
no more than $10,000.
What Is Fraud?
Fraud is a
deliberate attempt to deceive someone for personal or financial gain.
Under Texas law, there are three types of fraud – credit card,
identity theft, and health care fraud.
Credit Card Fraud – Credit card fraud occurs when the defendant uses another person’s credit card or debit card without the person’s consent, or the defendant knowingly uses a credit card or debit card that is expired or invalid. If a defendant is convicted of credit card fraud, he or she can be sentenced for up to two years in state prison and be fined up to $10,000. If the defendant’s actions are against an elderly individual, the charges can be upgraded to a third-degree felony.
Health Care Fraud – Health care fraud occurs when a patient provides false information or a provider files false claims to an insurance company. Many people use government-issued insurance, such as Medicare, to receive affordable medical treatments.
Medicare Fraud – Medicare fraud results in a federal felony conviction because Medicare is funded by the United States government. If a defendant is convicted of Medicare fraud, he or she could face extremely high fines and years in federal prison.
Identity Theft – Stealing personal information and using it for fraudulent purposes is called identity theft. Identity theft causes significant hardship and economic loss. Using another person’s identifying information to obtain goods, services, money, or anything of value is identity theft.
If a defendant is
found with less than five pieces of other people’s identifying
information, he or she could face 2 years in prison, probation,
community service and a fine of up to $10,000.
If a person is found
with more than five pieces of other people’s identifying
information, he or she could face felony charges of 5 to 99 years in
prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Contact Our Team of Criminal Law Attorneys Today!
At the law offices of Vinas and Graham, we understand the intricacies of the law surrounding property crime, including robbery. When you work with us, you get full access to our knowledgeable and skillful team that will work hard to get your charges reduced or dropped.
If you have been charged with robbery in Texas, contact us by phone, email, or use our convenient contact form to discuss your case today.
Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense with serious consequences. If you are charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), it is important for you to understand what you may face so you can protect your rights. The criminal justice system is difficult to navigate but when you know what you are up against, you will be more prepared to protect yourself.
What Is A DWI?
In the State of Texas you can be charged with a DWI under two circumstances:
You have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, or
The presence of alcohol or drugs in your system has caused you to no long have normal function over your car.
The only exceptions are if you are under the age of 21, at which point you may not have any alcohol in your system or if you drive a commercial vehicle you may only register a blood alcohol content of .04.
In the State of Texas you can be charged with a DWI under two circumstances: You have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, or the presence of alcohol or drugs in your system has caused you to no long have normal function over your car.
What Happens If I Am Stopped On Suspicion Of DWI?
If a police officer pulls you over for suspicion of DWI in Texas, you may be subject to a number of tests to determine if you are intoxicated. To determine your blood alcohol content (BAC) the officer may test your breath, blood, or your urine. Refusing to submit to a test of this nature can lead to automatic suspension of your license. The officer may also perform a number of field sobriety tests to determine if you are intoxicated or not. The officer will be looking for probable cause to arrest you for driving white intoxicated.
Punishment For A DWI In Texas
If you are found guilty of driving while intoxicated the punishments can vary depending on the severity of your actions. Punishment includes jail time, fines, and licenses suspension. For your first offense you will face a minimum of 3 days in jail and a suspended license of 90 days with the maximums being 180 days in jail and a 1 year suspension of your license.
This punishment increases if you have a BAC over .15. Punishment for this offense will range from 3 days to 1 year in jail. For these offenses you can be fined up to $4,000 depending on your measured BAC. If you are caught with an open container of alcohol in your car at the time of your arrest your minimum jail time is raised to 6 days.
For each subsequent conviction, your punishment increases.
If you are convicted of a 3rd DWI, you will face a felony charge. This conviction means you will face 2 to 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with a suspended license of 180 days to 2 years and a fine up to $10,000. Each conviction after that will again increase your punishment up to 25 years to life if you are convicted of a 3rd offense and have already served time in state prison.
Injuries As A Result Of A DWI
If you have seriously injured or killed someone while driving under the influence you automatically face higher penalties, even if it is only your first conviction. You will face a fine of up to $10,000, 2 to 10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and 180 day to 2 years of a suspended license. If you injure someone you will be charged with Intoxication Assault, which is a 3rd degree felony and if your actions led to someone’s death, you will face Intoxication Manslaughter, a 2nd degree felony.
Other DWI Crimes & Penalties
There are two other DWI crimes. If you are a minor who has been convicted of a DWI you will face a number of other penalties. You will face fines and a suspended license, probation , community service, alcohol education, and other punishments. While you may not face jail time, any further DWI arrests under age will more than likely include jail.
Having a child passenger in your car at the time of your DWI also incurs harsher penalties. For this, you will face a felony charge of 6 months to 2 years in the state jail, have a suspended license of 90 days to 2 years, and be fined up to $10,000.
In addition to the above punishment you may also face other penalties. After your license has been suspended you may be forced to pay annual charge of $2,000 for three years to maintain your driver’s license. You may also have to install an ignition device which you must blow in order to prove you are not intoxicated before starting your car. Other punishments may include alcohol education and intervention programs.
You will also find some difficulty after your jail sentence regarding your suspended license. In order to drive again you will need to work through the DMV to reinstate you license. This could include more fees than the ones previously mentioned. You must also have specific car insurance (which comes at a higher rate) for a number of years after you renew your license.
Having a child passenger in your car at the time of your DWI also incurs harsher penalties. For this, you will face a felony charge of 6 months to 2 years in the state jail, have a suspended license of 90 days to 2 years, and be fined up to $10,000.
Hiring An Experienced Attorney If Charged With A DWI In Texas
Being charge with a DWI can lead to many consequences which can follow you through your life. It is important for you to hire an attorney who focuses on DWI cases to help protect you. An experienced DWI attorney may be able to lessen your conviction or even have the charges dropped altogether, but remember each case is unique. Your attorney will make sure none of your rights were violated throughout the process. For example, they will make sure all evidence was collected in a reasonable manner and that you were informed of your rights at the appropriate time. They will also makes sure your rights are protected throughout the entire court case.
If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated make sure the Houston law firm of Vinas & Graham, PLLC is who you choose to represent you, call us at (713) 229-9992 or contact us on our website. The criminal justice system can move fast and be complicated and our lawyers will investigate all aspects of your case to make sure you are treated fairly in the eyes of the law.
If you own a gun, it’s important that you understand how the federal law relates to your individual right to bear arms.
Recently, the widely publicized events surrounding mass shootings have brought attention to the law as it pertains to gun owners and firearms in general. As a result, our second amendment rights are often brought up during debates by those on both sides of the gun-control argument.
Although many people cite the second amendment, its history is rarely fully understood by those who reference it. In fact, gun ownership is a sticky issue that has long been a source of confusion.
Misunderstanding your right to bear arms can have serious consequences, especially for gun owners.
Read on to find out what you need to know to avoid a federal charge!
The Right to Bear Arms
It has been assumed that the second amendment is a protection of the individual’s rights for many generations. But, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Supreme court ruled in favor of it supporting an individual citizen’s rights.
Prior to the 2008 Supreme court ruling, it was held by courts that the right to bear arms was in place for states to protect themselves from federal interference if necessary.
The Supreme Court Ruling that Changed Everything for Gun Owners
In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act, banning the public carry of loaded guns in public.
26 years later, Reagan supported the Brady Act, a gun control law that was named after one of his aides that had been shot during an assassination attempt on the former president.
The National Rifle Association took a hard line opposition approach against the Brady Act. Although they had supported gun control measures previously, they began to widen their scope of what was acceptable when it came to owning firearms.
In 2008, the Supreme court made an unprecedented ruling regarding the right to bear arms.
In the case of the District of Columbia v Heller, the courts decided by a 5 to 4 vote, to overturn a handgun ban in the city.
According to conservative justice Antonin Scalia, “For the first time in history, the supreme court affirmed an individual’s right to keep a weapon at home for self-defense.”
Texas Law Versus Federal Law
Gun critics have argued that Texas laws regarding handguns are too permissive.
There is no license to carry a gun once it’s purchased in the state of Texas. However, a permit is required to carry a handgun.
Texas legislature passed a bill in 2015 allowing handgun permit holders to carry their handguns openly, causing controversy throughout the media and nation.
Texas does reportedly adhere to the federal law when it comes to regulations on who can and cannot own a gun.
However, Texas differs from the federal law in one important area. After five years, according to Texas state law, a convicted felon can own a gun again, if they keep it in their home. Based on federal law, this could result in an arrest of the gun owner.
Another gray area in the Texas state laws relevant to the right to bear arms is the gun owner’s mental health. While Texas state law states that those who are deemed mentally unfit cannot own a firearm, this is a law that is evolving and is somewhat subject to one’s perspective.
Texas Gun Laws Come Under Fire After Mass Shooting
In 2017, Texas was brought into the spotlight after Devin Kelley opened fire at a church in what was termed the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history, according to Fox News.
It was found that Kelley did not have a license to carry. Not only that, but his history included domestic violence as well as a bad conduct discharge from the military. These three factors should have prevented Kelley from purchasing and carrying the firearm used to commit the shooting.
Because the discharge was not classified as dishonorable, it did not set off a red flag.
Since the killing, Texas has been criticized by gun control activists nationwide. This publicity has created suspicion among lawmakers and activists.
Some might argue that this has put Texas gun-holders in a position for greater risk of getting charged with a federal crime, even if they are not guilty of breaking state law.
What to Do if You’re Charged with a Federal Gun Crime
Because the federal and state laws differ, Texans might commit a crime without knowing that they are doing so. If you understand the Texas state law but are not familiar with the federal law, you may be at risk of being charged with a crime.
Should you get charged and convicted of a federal crime, you could face sentencing.
Do you know what to do if you’re charged with a federal gun crime?
If you find yourself in this position, you may be able to reduce the consequences of your actions by hiring the right lawyer.
You should seek the counsel of an attorney who’s trained in the area of gun ownership and understands how gun laws vary. They can help you navigate the legal system and explain your rights to you. They can also provide representation that can help your case.
If you’re charged with a gun crime, it’s critical that you have an experienced attorney working for you.
Do You Need Immediate Legal Advice?
Are you in a situation that requires legal advice right now?
Don’t put off getting the answers that you need. If you’re facing legal problems, the advice of an attorney can make a big difference in the outcome of your case.
The charge of armed robbery is an extremely severe offense. It carries hefty penalties – including time in prison if convicted.
For example, there’s the case of a Houston man who was sentenced to 77 years in federal prison for a string of armed robberies during 2014 and 2015.
However, each case is different and there are a myriad of factors which can affect sentencing decisions.
Always remember that you’re innocent until proved guilty, but here’s what you can expect to happen if you have been charged with armed robbery.
About the Charge
Technically there is no charge of ‘armed robbery’ but it is usually a more colloquial way of talking about the charge of ‘aggravated robbery’.
That charge refers to an alleged robbery where there was a deadly weapon involved – which could be a gun, for example or another weapon which could be used to kill another person.
It may also be where a person caused, or threatened to cause, injury or death to another person during the robbery.
Where this charge is brought, it is highly advisable to hire a criminal lawyer to defend your case. You need a professional who can navigate court procedures and do their utmost to protect your rights at all times.
The Legal Procedure
If you are arrested, you will be read your rights. One of these is the right to an attorney, which we urge you to take advantage of.
You’ll be held in a cell for up to 48 hours before a preliminary hearing with a judge. There’ll then be a bail hearing, where the judge decides whether to allow you to go free until your trial (with conditions).
In return, the defendant pays a given amount to the court, which is returned when the case closes.
Charges (an indictment, in this case) are then filed by the prosecution. Usually, the defendant consults with their attorney at this point, and the defense has the opportunity to peruse the evidence.
A plea is then entered by the defense in an arraignment hearing.
If the plea is ‘not guilty’, an actual trial will go ahead when the court is available to hear the case in full. At the end of this, you’ll either be cleared and let go, or sentenced.
What Penalties Can You Expect if Found Guilty?
If you are charged with armed robbery in Texas, you should know that it is treated as a first-degree felony offense.
If you are convicted, the judge hearing your case can send you to jail for between 5 and 99 years. The court may also fine you up to $10,000.
The actual penalty varies wildly. It depends on whether there are any mitigating circumstances, and how serious the crime was – and how many counts you are facing.
In the case referenced in our introduction, a 77-year sentence was the result of a string of armed jewelry robberies, so its length is hardly surprising.
I’ve Been Charged With Armed Robbery
Everyone has the right to a lawyer to defend them in court. This is regardless of what you may or may not have actually done, and your attorney is duty-bound to represent you to the best of their ability.
This is a fundamental right, enshrined as the ‘Right to Counsel‘ by the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution.
Everything is bigger in Texas, and gun ownership is no exception.
Texas is known as one of the most gun-friendly states. 35.7% of surveyed Texas adults own a gun, and there are more firearms dealers in the Lone Star State than in any other.
Gun laws in Texas have the reputation of being loose, but what laws are on the books, exactly? Read on for all the basics on Texas gun laws and the recent changes that may affect you.
Purchase and Ownership
With few exceptions, there are no restrictions on purchasing and owning guns in Texas.
Texas residents do not need any special licenses, permits, or registration to own a gun or to buy a new one. There are no waiting periods, and the state does not require universal background checks for private sales.
In general, Texans see gun ownership as a basic right.
People who have lost the right to own firearms are those confined to a penal institution and convicted felons. In some cases, it’s possible for people with a felony on their record to have the firearm ban lifted.
Minors under the age of 18 may not purchase a gun without parental or guardian permission. However, they may do so with written permission.
Gun laws in Texas work within the framework of national laws established by the federal government.
Licensed manufacturers, importers, and dealers must conduct a background check for all firearms transfers, in accordance with federal law.
NFA weapons such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, armor-piercing bullets, and explosive weapons are not banned by the state but are subject to heavy regulation under federal law.
Open carry is legal in Texas.
With regard to handguns, this is a recent change. Gun laws in Texas had previously banned the open carry of handguns unless the carrier was hunting. Handguns could only be carried with a concealed carry license.
That changed when Governor Greg Abbott signed a new open carry bill that went into effect in the beginning of 2016. Handguns may now be openly carried in a holster.
In general, schools, government buildings, religious centers, sporting events, and airports are gun-free zones. Guns are also banned from businesses who get more than 51% of its revenue from the sale of alcohol.
Individual businesses and private property owners may choose to ban weapons on their premises.
All open carry is subject to disorderly conduct statutes. Residents carrying guns must do so in a responsible manner. Residents may also not carry weapons while intoxicated.
Of course, deadly conduct is illegal. Pointing a gun, loaded or not, is a misdemeanor. Firing a gun at a person, house or vehicle is a third-degree felony.
Stand Your Ground
Texas observes the “Castle Doctrine,” also known as the “Stand Your Ground” rule. Residents may use deadly force to protect themselves and their property against unlawful intrusion.
Learn More About Gun Laws in Texas
Vinas & Graham, PLLC, is a Houston-based law firm with expertise on state and federal criminal law. For more insight into gun laws and other legal issues in Texas, visit our blog.
The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.