Q&A With Attorney Joe Vinas on Former Texas Rangers Outfielder Josh Hamilton Indictment

Vinas & Graham

Last week, Josh Hamilton was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of felony injury to a child. The former Texas Ranger outfielder had been arrested in late October, 2019, for felony injury to a child, and this indictment was related to the same episode.

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:

AJMJosh 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)

 

Are Your Weapons Charges Considered A Federal Crime?

Weapons Charges

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.

There are several types of places where you can’t carry a firearm or weapon, even if you have a CHL. Licensed persons found to be carrying their firearms in the following places could be charged with federal weapons charges:

  •  Schools
  •  Liquor Stores/ Bars/ some Restaurants
  •  Courthouses
  •  Airports
  •  Political Polling Locations
  • Racetracks
  • Places Where Executions are Taking Place
  • Amusement Parks
  • Hospitals

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:

  • Federal Investigation
  • Grand Jury Indictment
  • Preliminary Hearings
  • Criminal Jury Trial
  • Federal Sentencing

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.

If you’re interested in setting up a free initial consultation, contact us today by calling (713) 229-9992. You can also follow us on Facebook for more legal news related to the great state of Texas.

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 Your Drug Charge Be A Federal Crime?

Can Your Drug Charge Be A Federal Crime?

The 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.

Our federal crimes attorneys know that certain circumstances make drug crimes more likely to be prosecuted in federal courts than in state courts.

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.

Drug 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
  • The defendant did not intend to distribute the drugs
  • The law enforcement search that led to the discovery of the drugs was illegal
  • The vehicle stop that led to the discovery of the drugs was illegal
  • The drugs 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.

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Theft, Robbery, and Fraud Charges: What Makes Each Crime Different?

Theft and Robbery Charges Houston

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 FraudMedicare 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.

Facing A DWI Charge In Texas: What You Need To Know

DWI In Texas

DWI Charges In Texas

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.

DWI In Texas

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.

DWI In Texas

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.

Understand the Second Amendment and Prevent a Federal Charge

Federal Gun Charge

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.

Are you aware of how Texas state gun laws differ from federal law?

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.

We can help.

Contact us today to make an appointment with our experienced legal team!

Armed Robbery: What You Can Expect When Charged

Houston Armed Robbery

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.

If you are searching for an experienced defense attorney to represent you, contact Vinas and Graham today.

A Guide to Drug Possession Charges in Texas

drug possession

If you’re arrested for drug possession in Texas, hire a law firm experienced in defending drug crimes.

Possession and distribution of controlled substances in Texas can result in serious punishment. Texas gives more severe penalties for possession and trafficking than some other states.

If you’re charged don’t go it alone. Call a Texas drug crimes lawyer to handle your case.

Texas Statutes on Drug Possession

The Texas statutes on are extensive and complicated. This article presents a brief overview of the laws and the penalties for controlled substances, marijuana, and alcohol.

Three things determine the offense level in a drug possession case:

Type of Drug

The state classifies drugs into penalty groups. There’s a special group for marijuana.

Amount

The amount of drugs determine if it’s a misdemeanor or felony crime.

Aggravating Circumstances

A factor like a drug-free zone or the intent to deliver will increase the punishment range.

Manufacture or Delivery of Controlled Substances

The minimum punishment for manufacture or delivery is a jail term between 180 days and two years, plus a fine up to $10,000.

The maximum punishment for delivery of a controlled substance is confinement in a Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) facility for 15 to 99 years. The accompanying fine can be up to $250,000.

Possession of Controlled Substances

If you’re charged with possession of a controlled substance your minimum punishment is up to than 180 days in jail, a fine up to $2,000, or both.

The maximum punishment for possession is detention in TDC for 10 to 99 years and a fine up to $250,000.

Delivery or Manufacture of Marijuana

The minimum penalty for conviction of delivery or manufacture of marijuana is up to 180 days in jail, a fine up to $2,000, or both.

The maximum punishment is confinement in TDC for 10 to 99 and a fine not to exceed $100,000.

Possession of Marijuana

The minimum punishment for possession of marijuana is a jail term up to 180 days, a fine up to $2,000, or both.

The maximum punishment for marijuana possession is incarceration in TDC for 5 to 99 years and a fine up to $50,000.

Driving While Intoxicated by Drugs, Alcohol or Both

Confinement in jail for 72 hours to 180 days and a fine of no more than $2,000 is the minimum penalty for driving while intoxicated in Texas.

The maximum punishment is imprisonment for 2 to 10 years and a fine up to $10,000.

Public Intoxication

The minimum punishment for public intoxication is a fine up to $500.

Purchase of Alcohol by a Minor

If a minor purchases alcohol the minimum punishment is a fine up to $500.

Consumption or Possession of Alcohol by a Minor

The minimum penalty for alcohol possession or consumption is not to exceed $500.

Providing Alcohol to a Minor – Class A Misdemeanor

If someone provides alcohol to a minor the punishment is a fine up to $4,000, or up to a year in jail, or both.

Hire an Experienced Houston Lawyer

A review of Texas drug possession laws makes it clear that a conviction often results in jail time.

Don’t fight allegations by yourself. Contact Vinas & Graham, PLLC if you face any of these charges:

  • Driving While Intoxication (DWI)
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
  • Drug Possession
  • Drug Delivery

Schedule a consultation with the experienced Houston lawyers of Vinas & Graham, PLLC today. We’re ready to handle your case.

What to Know About Gun Laws in Texas

Gun laws in Texas

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.

Restrictions

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.

Carrying

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.

The previous Concealed Handgun License (CHL) now applies as a general License to Carry (LTC).

Open carry of long arms, such as rifles and shotguns, remains legal.

Banned Locations

Carrying a firearm is not allowed in certain locations.

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.

Use

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.

What Are the Legal Penalties For Drunk Driving?

penalties for drunk driving

You made a mistake and decided to get behind the wheel after having a few drinks.

After being pulled over and charged, you might be wondering, “what are the penalties for drunk driving?”

A few factors go into your punishment, ranging from the severity of your drunkness to if this is your first offense.

If you’re worried about the consequences of your actions, or just want more information on the penalties of drunk driving, read on.

First Offense

You left the bar after having a few beers, felt perfectly fine, but forgot to use your blinker. The police officer smells your breath or hears you slur your words and decides to breathalyze you.

Let’s assume this is your first time getting pulled over for drinking and driving.

No matter what, the highest possible penalties for drunk driving on the first offense in Texas are 180 days of jail time and $2,000 in fines. You could have your license suspended for a range of 90 days to a full year.

The minimum amount of jail time, however, is three days.

Since Texas has an implied consent law, if you refuse to take a test, your license will be suspended for 180 days.

Second Offense

Texas doesn’t have a “lookback” period, meaning if you get a DUI when you’re 22, it still counts as your first offense when you’re 62.

If you’re pulled over for your second time, the penalties increase across the board.

Your jail time could range from 30 days to a full year, and your fines can be up to $4,000 dollars. Your license could be suspended anywhere from 180 days to two years.

In addition, your car could have an ignition interlocking device placed in it, meaning that if you have any alcohol on your breath, the car won’t start.

If you refuse to take a test, your license will be suspended for two years.

Third Offense

You’ve heard the saying: three strikes, and you’re out.

In Texas, if you’re pulled over and charged with a DUI for the third time, not only could your car be confiscated, you could also be looking at two years of jail time.

Your fines could be up to $10,000, the installation of an ignition interlocking device is possible, and your license will be suspended 180 days to two years.

Refusal to take a test will result in a license suspension of two years.

Getting Professional Help to Deal with the Penalties For Drunk Driving

Hiring an attorney can go great lengths in helping you after being charged with a DUI.

From legal headaches to paperwork, to navigating the legal system, there’s plenty that you could use assistance on.

The Houston-based team of Vinas & Graham, PLLC. is here to help, be it first, second, or third offense.

Contact us today to get started.

What to Do if You’ve Been Charged With Assault

Charged with assault

Recently charged with assault? You’re probably feeling confused, scared, irritated, or generally uncertain about how to proceed.

That’s normal!

Fortunately, while getting charged with assault can be a serious consequence, there are several legal steps you can take to protect yourself.

Information is key, and we’re here to break down exactly what you can do if you’ve been charged with assault.

Know the Types of Assault Charges

First things first, you need to understand that each state has its own penal codes. In Texas, assault charges vary depending on the particular crime.

There are three factors to consider:

  • Intentionally causing bodily injury to another person
  • Intentionally threatening someone with bodily injury
  • Intentionally causing offensive physical content

After this, you need to know the various levels of assault factors.

For example, a simple assault resulting in minor injuries may be classified as a Class A misdemeanor. However, a simple assault that only involved perceived threat or touching might be considered a class C misdemeanor.

Does all of this seem confusing? It certainly can be. This brings us to our next step.

Get Representation

Because there are so many factors involved in being charged with an assault, you need an aggressive and competent defense attorney.

Your defense attorney can help represent your case, lessen your sentence, and work with the court to change potential consequences. Your attorney will also help you if you are being unfairly framed or tried.

Attorneys ensure that all evidence and statements receive proper documentation and timely submission to the court. They also will help you prepare for your own testimonies when being questioned under oath.

You probably already know that having an assault charge on your record can entirely ruin your future and make finding a job significantly harder.

Our best words of advice: don’t take any chances!

Stay Out of More Trouble

This might seem like a no-brainer if you’ve been charged with assault, but you absolutely do not want to be getting in any more trouble with the law during this time.

What does this mean for you? Play nicely with the law.

No speeding. No illicit substance use. No unpaid tickets.

While this might seem like overkill, you don’t want the court to have any more reason to be suspicious of your actions.

Show Up At All Times

If you do need to show up in court, make sure you arrive in a timely manner. Dress professionally and formally.

No t-shirts, no jeans, and definitely no sweatpants!

If you’re being charged with assault, you also want to present yourself in a calm and non-threatening manner. Be friendly, polite, and be sure to keep your cool. You don’t want to give off the wrong impression from the start!

Final Thoughts for Being Charged with Assault

Even though it may feel scary, the attorneys at Vinas & Graham have decades of experience in helping people of all backgrounds with their assault charges.

If you’ve been charged, please contact us today!

We promise to give you the help you need.