Common Money Laundering Schemes

money laundering

Money laundering is a term used to describe a scheme that involves carrying out financial transactions of illegally obtained money to conceal the source of funds. In other words, it consists of using the funds received through illegal means to carry out legitimate businesses before depositing it.

For instance, John Doe – who works at an organization – steals a large sum of money from the organization. To ensure that the bank doesn’t detect John’s transaction as suspicious, he breaks the money into smaller amounts and deposits it at a different period. Thereby, he ensures the money goes undetected. However, there are various other ways money laundering schemes occur.

Money Laundering: Ways By Which It Occurs

There are various ways money laundering occurs in our society. Nevertheless, some are more common and have more severe punishment than others. Some of the money laundering techniques include:

Cash-intensive business

This occurs when a business that legitimately transacts large amounts of cash regularly uses its accounts to deposit money obtained from business earnings and illegally-obtained capital.

This type of scheme is rampant in service-based businesses such as parking buildings, strip clubs, car washes, or other firms with relatively low variable cost. Often times, it is difficult for banks to know if the cash is dirty or not. By owning a business that involves transacting a considerable amount of money, you could be falsely indicted for money laundering.

Real estate laundering

This scheme occurs when an individual illegally gets money to purchase real estate property and then sells it off. Thus, it uses this act to make the proceeds from this transaction look legitimate.

Of course, the profits realized from this transaction will be considered entirely legal because it involved exchanging value. Nonetheless, it will be taken as an act of money laundering because of the source of the money.

Trade-based laundering

Another form of laundering is through trading. This type of scheme is similar to embezzlement. It occurs when invoices or business documents are altered to conceal the origin of “dirty” money.

Simply put, it involves increasing or decreasing the amount on an invoice meant for a business transaction to disguise the movement of money. Just as in cash-intensive business, trade-based laundering is difficult for banks to suspect.

Smurfing

This is also referred to as “structuring,” It is said to occur when a large amount of stolen cash is broken down into smaller, less suspicious amounts, which are then used to purchase money orders or cashier’s checks.

The advent of peer-to-peer marketplaces has made this scheme easier to conceal stolen funds. This could take place in the form of “dirty” money moving to online merchants, which are then passed through legitimate payment ecosystems.

Casino laundering

By extension, casino laundering is when an individual spends illegally obtained money in a casino. Here, the individual purchases chips with the stolen funds, gambles a small amount for a while, then turns the chips back in for cash, and claims all the money as gambling winnings.

Gambling winnings are regarded as legal and mostly received in cash. Though some might want to view gambling winning of “dirty” cash as legal, it is considered money laundering in the court of law.

How To Protect Your Business Against Money Laundering

Credit cards

As a business owner, you have to be extra careful with the use of prepaid credit cards. If you notice customers are making large purchases on prepaid cards, consider this a red flag. Many launderers use prepaid credit cards to disguise their stolen money.

Know your customers

As a business owner, you should document the source of large purchases. Take note of regular customers who are making multiple larger transactions. You may be at more risk, especially when it is unusual.

Educate your team

There are various forms by which money laundering occurs. It is, therefore, essential to educate yourself and your team about the tactics that they happen. Fudging invoices, overestimating, and other means may be employed to hide dirty money.

Money Laundering In Houston

Money laundering is a serious crime that can have severe consequences for you, such as hefty fines and prison sentences. You might have been a money mule without your prior knowledge. If you are facing charges for money laundering, you need experienced legal counsel to protect your rights. Vinas & Graham PLLC have won cases in both state and federal courts, and have the knowledge and tools to defend you.

Contact us on 713-229-9992 or online to schedule a consultation. Follow us on our Facebook page for more information about our law firm.

Theft Crimes That Can Land You With Federal Crime Charges

theft crimes

Theft crimes include robbery, burglary, extortion, money laundering, and acts involving unlawful taking or using a property that belongs to another person to deprive the rightful owner of it. Most people take theft with frivolity but it could have a detrimental effect on them.

Factors that determine the type of theft crime committed depend on the (financial or economic) value of the property stolen and circumstances around the case, which forms the basis of classification into petty or grand theft.

Different Types Of Theft Crimes

Out of the different criminal offenses in Houston, theft crimes are one of the most common types. Often, they carry severe punishment and could affect your future dreams and aspirations.

Here are the various types of theft crimes that fall under federal crime:

Shoplifting

Shoplifting involves taking items from a shop or store without paying for them, which is very common among kids. However, there are cases reported foradults as well. The consequences of shoplifting are serious and can be harsh for high dollar value goods.

You will be charged for shoplifting if you steal goods at a store or intentionally changethe price tag at a store to pay a different price. As mentioned above, shoplifting penalties are harsh when the stolen goods’ dollar value is high, or the person has a past criminal record.

Robbery

There are different forms of robbery cases considered in the court. Hence, the punishment for a case of robbery varies based on the amount of money stolen.

Class C Misdemeanor is levied against a person who stole property less than $100 while a person who stole above $200,000 is charged for a 1st-degree felony. Being charged for a felony could result in a jail term or prison.

On the other hand, using a gun, knife, or another weapon during a theft is termed armed robbery and has a stiffer punishment than a robbery.

Embezzlement

Cash skimming is one of the most common forms of embezzlement. Typical examples of embezzlement is a bank teller who pockets deposits, the storekeeper who takes customers refunds, and the payroll clerk who does not deposit the correct amount of employment tax due to personal gain.

If you misappropriate assets (money or property) entrusted to your care, a charge of embezzlement can be filed against you. Embezzlement comes under white-collar theft or theft and property crime cases. The value of the property or money which is taken determines the punishment to be meted out. It can be punished as petty or grand theft.

Money Laundering

Money laundering generally refers to the concealment of the origins of illegally obtained money or investments through an outside party or body.

When the property involved in a financial transaction comes from the proceeds of some form of illegal activity that conceals or disguises the nature, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of specified illegal activity, such would be considered money laundering.

Burglary

Burglary does not require the use of threat, physical violence, or firearm, unlike robbery. There are two forms in which burglary occurs. One is to break into a building unlawfully to commit a felony while the other is to commit a felony (e.g., after work hours) while inside an enclosed building such as a place of work to steal, though permission was granted lawfully to be inside.

For example, let us say that you work at a clothing store, if you decide to take a piece of clothing from the store after looking around, that may be considered petty theft.

Auto Theft

Auto theft is also referred to as car theft. Auto theft is when a person takes another’s car without the intention of returning it later. Also, using a car without the owner’s permission or awareness, even when you have the intention to return it, is considered auto theft.

Another form of auto theft is when a person fails to return a rental car. The serious version of auto theft is when you take a car from the owner by force, threat, or physical violence.

Theft Crimes In Houston

If charged with any of the above theft crimes or fraud cases, you need the services of competent defense attorneys who have experience taking on the federal government to give you proper advice, protect your rights and fiercely pursue your case to secure the best outcome.

Contact us at713-229-9992 or online to schedule a consultation. Follow us on our Facebook page for more information about our law firm.

How Can A Houston Defense Attorney Help With Federal Crime Charges?

federal crime charges

If you are being investigated or have been charged with a federal crime, attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, know that your best defense is a skilled federal crime charges attorney. Many criminal defense attorneys regularly practice at the state level but have limited, if any, experience at the federal level. When you are looking for a federal crime attorney, the first question you should ask is how many federal cases they have handled.

Federal sentencing guidelines provide significant penalties for federal offenses. Sentencing and fines are often much more severe when crimes are tried at the federal level compared to state-level sentencing. Federal crime attorneys know what you are up against in federal court, and they know how to handle different types of charges. Keep reading to learn more about common federal criminal charges.

Immigration Fraud And Illegal Reentry

Immigration fraud and illegal reentry are federal crimes related to immigration offenses. Both crimes can come with serious consequences, including prison, fines, and deportation. Immigration fraud is typically associated with marriage fraud, fraud in immigration paperwork, or fraudulent immigration services. Illegal reentry occurs when an immigrant is caught in the United States or attempting to enter the U.S. after being previously deported.

As mentioned above, both of these crimes have serious consequences, but an attorney can help you work through your defense and challenge the immigration charges. Your argument against fraud may simply be that you did not commit fraud. For example, if you are accused of marriage fraud, your defense might be that your marriage was genuine. If you were charged with illegal reentry, your defense might be that a prior deportation was invalid.

White-Collar Crimes

White-collar crime is typically understood to be crimes that are committed for one’s financial gain. Federal laws are very tough on white-collar criminals, and even a conviction on one charge can significantly alter the rest of your life.

When it comes to white-collar crimes, your best defense is to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Even if you have not been charged, but you believe you are being investigated for a white-collar crime, an attorney can help. Your attorney will go over the facts of your case, discuss potential defenses, and preemptively meet with federal agents and prosecutors if it benefits your case.

Common types of white-collar crime charges include the following:

  • Conspiracy
  • Corporate fraud
  • Securities fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Healthcare fraud
  • Mortgage fraud
  • Insurance fraud
  • Embezzlement
  • Extortion
  • Bankruptcy fraud

Weapons Charges

Federal weapons charges typically involve crimes with firearms, such as illegal possession of a firearm, fraudulently obtaining a firearm permit, and firearms trafficking. Additionally, the use of a firearm during the commission of a crime will often upgrade your charge to a ‘violent’ crime.

Sentencing for weapons charges generally results in enhancements, which increase the severity of conviction punishments. For example, if your gun has been illegally altered, it was used in the commission of a drug crime, the gun was reported stolen, or the serial number has been removed, you will likely see sentencing enhancements.

Internet Crimes

There is a wide range of internet crimes, and the one commonality is that crimes committed are related to the use of the internet. Internet crimes frequently involve fraud, where the prosecution alleges that the defendant secured financial gains through an online scam. Common internet scams include credit card fraud, phishing, spoofing, identity theft, and data breach.

A good defense attorney understands internet crime law and knows that these cases can be difficult to prove when the defendant has a solid defense. For example, if others have access to the computer used to commit the crimes, it may be difficult to pin the blame on you. Other defenses may include that your computer was stolen and used by someone else, you did not intend to commit a crime, or that you followed someone else’s instructions without knowing that you were furthering another person’s crime.

Houston Federal Crime Charges Attorney

We know that federal crime charges and investigations can be alarming, but charges do not have to become convictions when you have a good defense and a skilled attorney. Criminal defense attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC have the experience and knowledge to handle all types of federal crime cases.

If you are the subject of a federal investigation or have been charged with a federal crime, contact our office at 713-229-9992 or submit an online form to schedule a case evaluation. Follow us on Facebook to learn more about our federal crimes attorneys and our legal practice.

How Do I Obtain A Restraining Order For Domestic Violence?

domestic violence

In Texas, victims of domestic violence may secure restraining orders to protect themselves and members of their households. To obtain a restraining order, the domestic violence victim must file a restraining order request along with details of the domestic violence abuse he or she suffered.

In some cases, an emergency protective order may be issued by a criminal court when the abuser has been arrested for domestic violence. Houston attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, represent clients with restraining order matters. We know that domestic abuse cases can be difficult and emotional for victims and their family members, and we want to help our clients secure the protection that they need.

Types Of Domestic Violence Restraining Orders And How To Obtain Them

There are three types of domestic violence restraining orders in Texas, including emergency protection orders, temporary restraining orders, and permanent restraining orders. See below for an explanation of the orders.

Magistrates order of emergency protection – This type of restraining order is commonly known as an emergency protective order and is generally issued after someone has been arrested and charged with domestic violence. Emergency protection orders will typically last between 31 and 91 days.

The victim, the state, or law enforcement officers may request that the judge issue an order of emergency protection for the domestic violence victim, and in most cases, the judge has the discretion to issue an order or deny the request. However, in cases where the defendant inflicted serious bodily injury or brandished a deadly weapon, the court must issue an emergency protective order.

Ex parte temporary restraining order – Victims of domestic abuse are often in need of immediate restraining orders, and they may ask the court to issue a temporary restraining order. Unlike emergency protection orders, temporary and permanent restraining orders are civil court matters. The judge may issue a temporary restraining order at your application for restraining order hearing.

Ex parte means that the judge makes a decision without all of the parties present; therefore, it is not necessary for the abuser to be present for the judge to issue a temporary restraining order. Temporary restraining orders are generally in effect for 20 days, and you may request an extension of the order if necessary.

Permanent restraining order – In Texas, domestic violence victims can complete and file protective order forms requesting the court to issue an order of protection against their domestic violence abuser. There will be a protective order application hearing, and the permanent restraining order hearing will be set for a future date.

Restraining orders are typically in effect for a maximum of two years, but there are exceptions under some circumstances. For example, if the court finds that the defendant committed an act of domestic violence constituting a felony offense or caused serious bodily injury, the terms of the restraining order may exceed two years.

What Does A Domestic Violence Restraining Order Do?

Depending on case-specific facts, restraining orders can order domestic abusers to do certain things, such as move out of your home. They can also order defendants to refrain from specific conduct and activities. In a domestic violence restraining order, the judge can order the restrained person to do the following:

  • Stay away from you and certain places, such as your place of work or your child’s school.
  • Cease contact with you – directly and through other people.
  • Attend anger management classes.
  • Move out of your home.
  • Pay child support.
  • Relinquish possession of all firearms.
  • Cease harassment or threats against you and your child.
  • Undergo drug testing.
  • Enter a treatment program for substance abuse.
  • Follow the terms and conditions of a visitation schedule.

How We Can Help

When it comes to your safety, it is important that you have a legal advocate in your restraining order matter. To secure a permanent restraining order, you must present credible evidence of the defendant’s violent conduct and the injuries you suffered. Our attorneys can help gather necessary evidence, prepare your restraining order application, and argue your case to the judge.

Domestic Violence Restraining Order Attorney

If you need help obtaining a domestic violence restraining order, attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, can help. We handle restraining order cases for our clients in Houston, and we will do everything we can to help you get protection and security for you and your family.

Contact our office at 713-229-9992 or on our website to schedule an initial consultation. Follow our Facebook page for more information about domestic violence restraining orders and other types of cases that our law firm handles.

Different Types Of Immigration Fraud

immigration fraud

Immigration fraud can be investigated under a wide range of scenarios. Some are purposeful schemes where documents are fabricated in order to steal someone else’s identity or to represent a fictitious identity. In other cases, immigration fraud can simply be a misunderstanding in what is being represented to immigration officials in the form of applications for admission to the United States.

Although there are big differences between purposeful or mistaken conduct, federal law enforcement will not hesitate to bring immigration fraud criminal charges should they believe that the conduct alleged fits into the federal statute that defines the behavior as a crime.

Who Can Face Immigration Fraud?

The federal criminal code is full of laws that pertain to the facilitation of illegal immigration. Although many of the crimes defined in the code pertain to the immigrant’s behavior, there is also a wide range of crimes that can be prosecuted against U.S. citizens who facilitate the entry of illegal aliens. A couple of the most common offenses that are prosecuted as immigration fraud are:

Unlawful Employment Of Aliens

Federal officials can prosecute citizens for knowingly employing unlawful aliens if it is shown that they did not comply with federal law to ascertain an individual’s legal status prior to commencing employment. The law does provide some protections for employers who rely on representations from the individual in good faith when hiring.

If found to have violated the law, employers can be subject to significant financial penalties that increase for each illegal alien they have employed. Employers are entitled to a hearing to contest the charge in front of an administrative law judge if they request one promptly after being notified of the alleged violation.

Unlawful Bringing Of Aliens Into United States

The press often covers the mass importation of illegal aliens by “coyotes”, individuals who make a living off the illegal importation of migrants. However, there are also less severe instances where U.S. citizens either knowingly or accidentally attempt to assist a family or individual and, in the midst of their sympathy, get caught up in a federal investigation for unlawfully transporting illegal aliens across the border.

In such cases, it can be argued that the individual transporting the immigrant(s) could not have reasonably known the immigrant’s status when they undertook the transportation. If argued successfully, this could result in an effective defense to the charge being presented that can absolve the suspect from any liability.

Importation Of Alien For Immoral Purpose

An investigation that stems from the illegal importation of an alien can significantly be enhanced if federal authorities believe that the aliens have been imported for an immoral purpose such as prostitution.

A substantial amount of the evidence that is used to bring such charges can be based on the testimony of the immigrant themselves. Although this testimony may not absolve the immigrant from deportation, it may assist them in remaining in the country while the case winds through the criminal justice process. This type of motivation can be used in the defense of the citizen who is alleged to have committed the offense.

False Impersonation Of U.S. Citizen

It is a felony to falsely represent that you are a U.S. citizen. This fraud can be in the form of presenting forged documents such as a passport or driver’s license to federal authorities or to a prospective employee. It can also be proven through the presentation of applications that are signed under oath representing that the individual is a U.S. citizen.

The maximum penalties for a violation of this statute carry upwards of three years in prison. If convicted, not only will the suspect face a significant period of incarceration, but they will likely be subject to deportation proceedings if they are in the U.S. illegally or on a limited visa status.

U.S. Citizen Or Not Vinas & Graham Has You Covered

The above violations of federal immigration law are, but a snapshot of the wide range of laws federal authorities have at their disposal to bring federal immigration fraud charges against immigrants and U.S. citizens. Although the prospect of facing the U.S. government is daunting, it can be less so if you have the right legal team in your corner. The attorneys at Vinas & Graham have been defending individuals against a wide range of federal crimes for over 30 years. Let their experience work for you in ensuring that you are protected from the long reach of the law when you need it most.

Contact Vinas and Graham or visit the Vinas & Graham Facebook page for more information.

Will My Case Go Before A Grand Jury?

grand jury

The Texas grand jury process is not meant to be transparent. The Texas Code of Criminal Conduct makes it clear that only prosecutors, court staff, and witnesses who are under examination may be in the presence of the grand jury. The rationale behind this process is for the grand jury to be presented evidence that the state or federal government feels necessary to convince the grand jury that probable cause exists to charge the suspect with a criminal offense.

The use of the grand jury is limited in Texas to the initiation of felony-level offenses. No matter the severity of the felony, Texas law requires that the evidence to support the charge must be heard by a grand jury before a formal indictment can be issued against a suspect.

What Crimes Are Considered Felonies?

Texas bases its felony charges on the maximum amount of incarceration a suspect could serve if they are convicted of the offense. In Texas, there are five different levels of felony charges that prosecutors can bring before a grand jury to hear:

Capital Felony: Maximum penalty of life in prison without parole or death;

First-Degree Felony: Maximum penalty of either life in prison or at least 99 years with a mandatory minimum to serve at least five years;

Second-Degree Felony: Maximum to serve 20 years;

Third-Degree Felony: Maximum to serve 10 years; and

State Jail Felony: Maximum to serve two years.

Although the grand jury only hears felony cases in Texas, this does not preclude them from reviewing the evidence and determining that only a misdemeanor offense occurred. This reduction in charge is often the result of a poor presentation of the evidence by the prosecution. If the grand jury amends the charge, this could be a pivotal indication to the defense team that the case against the suspect may have significant evidentiary issues. If argued persuasively, the gaps in the evidence can cast serious doubt as to the viability of a conviction before a jury.

Unfortunately, Texas law continues to shield the grand jury from the general public and those facing the criminal charges ruled on by the grand jury. Although reform has been discussed at length, the fact remains that it is challenging to obtain the details of the grand jury proceeding without significant pre-trial litigation.

Arguing For A Grand Jury Transcript To Be Released

There are ways to request that the court order the release of grand jury transcripts. The case law supporting this request is narrow and requires that the defendant show a “particularized need” for the transcript, which outweighs the need for secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

If successful, the transcript can assist in preparing for the cross-examination of witnesses, and a further understanding of the facts that prosecutors allege show the suspect’s guilt.

Regardless of the likelihood of success, the litigation process alone can be a useful exercise in testing the evidence of the case, as it may reveal weaknesses in the case that would have not otherwise been discovered.

Understanding And Preparing For The Grand Jury With The Most Experienced Legal Team Available

Law enforcement is trained to work in the shadows, securing evidence in the least intrusive manner possible to keep the suspect in the dark on the likelihood of criminal charges being brought. If you feel that you may be the subject of a criminal investigation, you must enlist the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

With over 30 years of experience, the attorneys at Vinas & Graham are ready to investigate your suspicions to ensure that you have the guidance you need throughout the criminal justice process, regardless of whether a Texas grand jury hears it or not. To start the representation process, contact Vinas and Graham, or visit the Vinas & Graham Facebook page.

Federal Conspiracy Charges: Understanding The Five Elements

federal conspiracy charges

Facing a federal conspiracy charge can be extremely expensive, cost you a good portion of your life, and can be a gut-wrenching experience. The good news is that you can only be convicted of a conspiracy charge if it is proven that two or more people agree to break the law together. Although the crime itself doesn’t have to be committed, as long as there is an overt act, you could face a conspiracy charge.

A federal criminal conspiracy is built up of five elements:

  • Two or more persons that;
  • Intentionally;
  • Agreed;
  • To violate federal law or defraud the United States; and
  • Commit an overt act in furtherance of the agreement.

If charged with a conspiracy charge, you can face some hefty penalties, which include years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

To present a defense to the federal conspiracy charges, you must first understand the details behind each element of the offense. Only through this understanding can you then fashion a defense that is both exhaustive and effective in the eyes of federal prosecutors and judges.

Two Or More Persons

Although this element seems straightforward, it can pose substantial hurdles for prosecutors to overcome. What communications can the government show that proves two or more individuals conspired? Are there questions as to the willingness of any of the alleged conspirators? These questions can pose significant doubt in showing that more than one person was involved in the planning of the commission of a crime.

Intent

Proving that a suspect to a criminal conspiracy intended to be involved may be one of the thorniest issues in a conspiracy prosecution. To show intent, you must demonstrate knowledge. Unless there is testimony from witnesses or admissions from a suspect alleging that a suspect did not have any knowledge of the alleged crime can be an effective way to stop the prosecution in its tracks.

Agreement

A written contract does not need to be presented to sustain a guilty finding on a federal conspiracy charge. However, evidence showing more than just a mere conversation is. Did the parties agree to perform the criminal act, or did they just joke about it? There is certainly a significant difference between the two, which can be the difference between a jury finding a suspect guilty or not guilty.

Violating A Federal Law

For federal prosecutors to take on a conspiracy charge, they must show that a federal, not state law was violated. Although Texas conspiracy charges are also criminal offenses, arguing that the federal government holds no jurisdiction over the case can be an effective way to push back against government overreach.

The Overt Act

Overt is an open act. For an overt act to be proven, it must be an act that is more than just a vague action, and it must be shown that the act was undertaken in furtherance of the planned criminal act. However, the act itself does not need to be considered illegal for it to satisfy the fifth element of a conspiracy.

The question of fact is whether the alleged act is also an everyday act. A good defense to the element is to show that the alleged act is simply an act that is performed every day and that there is no showing that on this occasion, the action was in furtherance of a plan to undertake an illegal act.

Fight Conspiracy Charges At Their Core With The Right Defense Attorney

Federal prosecutors are well funded and well trained. They are taught to build strong cases based on sufficient evidence and then, when a suspect is vulnerable, to seal the case with a confession. If you feel you may be a suspect in a federal conspiracy case, do not wait for federal agents to come banging on your door, as it may be too late. Instead, enlist the services of an aggressive and experienced defense attorney.

With over 30 years of experience defending clients against conspiracy charges, the attorneys at Vinas & Graham have the backbone to fight back against a government that, at times, take their investigations too far in pursuit of an unjust conviction. Don’t delay, contact the attorneys at Vinas & Graham to get your case in the hands of a trusted defense attorney.

To learn more, visit the Vinas & Graham Facebook page.

What To Look For When Searching For A Houston DWI Lawyer

DWI

A DWI is a severe offense that can be expensive; it can affect your day to day life and is just downright stressful. We all know the dangers of driving under the influence, but sometimes all it takes is a drink or two for you to face a DWI charge.

If you find yourself in this predicament, it will be your best bet to hire a professional Houston DWI attorney like those at Vinas & Graham, PLLC. Their experience can prove vital in ensuring that you obtain the best result possible.

Look For A DWI Lawyer Who Can Act Fast

When you hire a DWI attorney, look for one who can begin investigating the case right away. It’ll be in you and the lawyer’s best interest to start the investigation as soon as possible, as evidence tends to disappear the longer it takes to uncover it. A delay will also cause you to forget details of what happened when you were stopped, which can be a vital element of the defense. Why would you want to have the process take longer than necessary simply because the defense attorney you call is too busy to get back in touch with you promptly?

Experience Counts

DWI defense is a specialty practice, meaning that finding a lawyer with substantial experience can put you a step ahead. An experienced attorney will go through every detail and use every piece of favorable evidence they can to increase your advantage.

Fashioning A Creative Strategy

Knowledge and experience will allow your defense attorney the ability to fashion the right strategy to approach your case. DWI defense is not straight forward, despite state prosecutors claiming otherwise. It takes a multi-pronged approach both in defense tactics and mitigation practices to ensure that all your bases are covered and that you are given every opportunity possible to resolve the case in a manner that is favorable to you and your loved ones.

Understanding What Is Important To You

DWI attorneys must understand the goals of their clients long before the case winds through the litigation process. To understand these goals, a DWI attorney needs to spend the time with their client to understand the underlying issues behind the DWI charge. Only through this process can the client’s needs be met, and the attorney’s understanding be satisfied.

Standing By You Every Step Of The Way

In many cases, the most critical characteristic of a DWI defense attorney is their loyalty to their client, no matter the circumstances. A skilled DWI attorney will not only assist in the defense of the case but also be there in their client’s time of need. “Being there” is an essential element of representation as it is common for client’s anxiety, stress, and fear to overcome them unless their questions are answered in a way that is practical and thorough. This peace of mind might be one of the most essential elements of a DWI defense as it keeps the client’s eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

What Questions Should I Ask My Attorney?

Coming prepared for your initial attorney/client consultation will make the representation process more efficient and the manner of representation more thorough. When preparing for this meeting, come armed with the following questions:

Is There A Charge For The Initial Consultation?

One of the easiest ways to negatively affect an attorney and a potential client relationship is a misunderstanding as to what the cost of the initial consultation will be. To avoid this confusion, you must clarify this issue before setting up the meeting.

Once you are clear on the initial consultation cost, questions surrounding billing and hourly rates are also important. Understanding whether the attorney will charge hourly or a flat rate will ensure that there is no confusion down the road when the stakes are at their highest.

What Experience Does The Attorney Have?

When you are searching for a lawyer to defend your DWI case, you want to find someone that has extensive experience, and that has a track record for success. Asking the attorney to provide some recent case results is a good way to get a grasp of an attorney’s ability to litigate their DWI cases successfully.

Is The Attorney Familiar With The Court You Will Appear In?

An attorney that has been to a courtroom many times will have a good understanding of how that courtroom handles cases and can use this knowledge in their strategy. Ensuring that your attorney has sufficient experience with the practices and procedures of the specific court will ensure you have an advocate who can easily navigate their way around the courtroom, which will result in more efficient handling of your case.

Confirm The Attorney You Are Talking To Will Be The Attorney Handling Your Case

Sometimes when you go to an office and have a consultation with an attorney, they may not be the attorney who will handle your case. Ensure which attorney at the firm will be with you every step of the way. If it is not the attorney you are meeting with, request a second consultation with the representing attorney before you determine if you wish to retain the firm.

Don’t Risk Retaining Anything But The Best In Your DWI Case

A DWI offense is a serious charge. If you are convicted, you are facing severe penalties, including significant jail time. The risk a DWI carries in Texas makes it critical to retain the expertise and advice from an experienced legal counsel. The attorneys at Vinas & Graham will do everything in their power to get you the best possible outcome just as they have for many others in their over 30 years of defending DWI cases. To find out more, follow them on facebook.

Understanding Weapons Possession Charges In Texas

weapons possession charges in Texas

Texas does not mess around when it comes to charging individuals for unlawfully possessing a weapon. Although the penalties for violating Chapter 10 of the Texas Penal Code are quite clear (i.e., you could face serious jail time if convicted), the actual law is rather confusing.

As a result, understanding weapons possession charges in Texas will save you a lot of second-guessing and will protect you from facing a criminal charge that you may not have known existed before being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser.

The Definition Of A Weapon

The first step in understanding weapons possession charges in Texas is to understand exactly what the definition of a weapon is. There are obvious weapons under the Texas Penal Code, such as firearms and knives, whose definitions are relatively straight forward.

However, some weapons are not so clear. Weapons such as a “tire deflation device” better known as a spike-strip, or a “chemical dispensing device,”which is defined as something that projects a chemical that incapacitatesor causesan adverse neurological reaction (a personal mace canister is excluded from this definition), also fall under the criminal weapons possession charge.

Once you have figured out the true definition of a weapon as it pertains to Texas criminal law, the next step is to figure out how possession of such “weapons” can result in an arrest and a trip to the courthouse.

Lawful VS. Unlawful Weapons Possession

In basic terms, lawful possession of a weapon occurs when an individual possesses the weapon on their property or when they are traveling to their property, such as walking from the house to the car. Unlawful possession essentially covers all other forms of possession of a weapon where the individual either knowingly possesses the weapon or is even reckless in the possession of the weapon, even if there is an argument that the possession of the weapon may not have been intentional.

There are, of course, exceptions to both lawful and unlawful possession. For instance, if your firearm is in plain view in your vehicle, you may be subject to an unlawful weapons possession charge even though under certain circumstances, such as the firearm being in your glovebox,could be considered legal possession.

Further, if you are committing another criminal act except for Class C misdemeanor charges involving traffic or boating, you will also be subject to a weapons possession charge under Texas law.

A License To Carry Does Not Grant Absolute Immunity From A Weapons Possession Charge

Some Texans may argue that they are immune from a weapons possession charge because they have sought and been granted a permit to carry a firearm or other weapon openly. Although this does address much of the Texas Penal statute, this does not absolve them fully from criminal liability.

Weapons possession charges can be brought against an individual with a carry permit if they are in the process of committing another criminal offense at the time of the weapons possession. This is a common occurrence if law enforcement pulls over an individual under suspicion of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs. If during this interaction, it is determined that the individual is intoxicated and is also in possession of a weapon, a weapons possession charge can be brought, which could significantly enhance the penalty imposed if they are convicted.

What Should You Do If Facing A Weapons Charge In Texas?

Facing a criminal charge in Texas is a stressful and difficult process that is full of uncertainties. What is important from the onset is that you begin to formulate an understanding of the severity of the criminal charge, and you formulate a general understanding of what law supports the charge. Although much of this research can be conducted on your own, there is no substitute for receiving the right counsel from the right legal ally at the right time.

You must utilize this counsel in the most efficient way possible. Come armed with questions, go through scenarios that involve the legal process, and figure out ways to best portray yourself in court to both the judge and prosecutor. This preparation process will go a long way in navigating the system in a way that will ensure that you get the best possible result you can for your weapons possession charge.

With over 30 years of experience in handling complex criminal defense matters, the Houston attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, have the knowledge and experience to guide you through your Texas weapons charge. You can schedule a consultation by calling 713-229-9992 or by submitting an online form. Follow the Vinas & Graham Facebook page to receive additional information about Texas weapons charges and other criminal defense matters.

Charged With An Internet Crime? Here Are Some Steps You Need To Take

internet crimes

Chances are, if law enforcement is investigating you for an internet crime, you will not know it until they come to your home or place of business armed with a search warrant. Due to the nature of these investigations, it is a common tactic for police to build a case without tipping off the defendant. And, when they feel they have enough evidence to charge the individual with a crime, they will seek a warrant from a Texas judge. This warrant will serve as their license to seize the property of the suspect that they feel will further support the commission of the alleged crime.

No one wants to be in the position of being forced to turn over their computers and other technology so that law enforcement can strengthen their case against them. However, given the expansive nature of the internet crimes statute in Texas, these types of arrests can stem from investigations of alleged conduct that some individuals may not even know is a crime.

If you are facing allegations of committing internet crimes, there are certain steps that you should immediately take to ensure that you are protected.

Evoke Your Right To Counsel

Law enforcement often makes significant errors in their investigations. They leave loose ends that they realize after the execution of a search warrant. In some cases, police will want to take a second bite of the investigative apple by attempting to make contact with the suspect a second time before the preliminary hearing.

Texas law provides that when a suspect is criminally charged, they must be heard by a judge within 48 hours. For law enforcement looking to shore up their case before the initial hearing, this period can provide them with a lifetime of opportunity.

You do not want to wait for the preliminary hearing for you to evoke your right to counsel. Do it right away, even if you have not officially retained counsel. The evocation of counsel ensures that law enforcement is on notice that they cannot question you without your lawyer present. Simply stating, “I will not speak to you without my counsel present” should suffice. If law enforcement continues to push you, it is essential to remain silent; sooner or later, they will get the point and back off.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

The best witness in an internet crimes case is the suspect. Even if you have asserted your right to counsel, this does not preclude law enforcement from presenting evidence as to what you have said to others about the alleged offenses.

It is often the time right after the initial contact with law enforcement that suspects open their mouths the most, trying to vent to their loved ones about the circumstances surrounding the police encounter. Although some laws protect certain individuals from testifying against a suspect, such as the Marital Privilege law, do not count on these laws to protect you when you pour your heart to third parties.

The one, and only person you should talk openly about the criminal case with, is your attorney. The Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel and the Attorney-Client Privilege ensures that whatever you say in these meetings cannot be brought against you as evidence when your internet crimes case goes to trial.

Be Prepared For Your Preliminary Hearing

The Preliminary hearing in an internet crimes case is where the prosecution must present sufficient evidence to show that it is more likely than not that the crime alleged did, in fact, occur. This hearing is also where the judge determines the imposition of bail.

There are serious consequences that result from excessive bail, such as sitting in the county jail until your case is heard before a jury, which can be months away from the preliminary hearing. To give yourself the best possible chance of avoiding such an outcome, you must come to the preliminary hearing prepared to argue why little or no bail is required to ensure that you appear for future court appearances.

Internet Crimes Are No Joke

The Texas statute regarding internet crimes is broad for a reason. The statute’s purpose is to catch as many suspects as possible who may or may not be performing illegal acts online. Although the penalties are significant and the consequences are serious, an internet crime charge is not necessarily a straight path to a conviction if you can take immediate steps early in the process to mitigate your risk.

Are you or a loved one facing internet crimes charges? Reach out to us today to get your initial consultation underway. Let’s get you on the path to fighting these charges with the best representation out there in Vinas & Graham, PLLC. Be sure to follow us on Facebook for other legal and defense topics!

What’s The Difference Between A Murder Charge And A Capital Murder Charge?

murder charge

The difference between a murder charge and a capital murder charge is about context. A capital murder must have all the elements of murder, plus something additional. The contexts that trigger a capital murder charge come in a few different forms. One is of an aggravated nature, exacerbating what is already murder but with greater intent or callousness.

Another is when the murder is intentional and occurs in the process of carrying out other felonies. Lastly, capital murder protects and applies to certain public servants and government spaces.

A murder or capital murder charge in Texas can carry severe penalties. Texas ranks second in jail time given for crimes against a person. In particular, murder in Texas is a first-degree felony carrying up to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Capital murder also allows up to 99 years in prison, but a court could give a life sentence or even the death penalty.

What Is Murder

Murder is not simply one person killing another. There are three different conditions a killing can meet to be considered murder. Texas, like ten other states, does not differentiate between 1st and 2nd-degree murder.

The most obvious type of murder is the intentional and knowledgable killing of someone. It is what we commonly think of as murder, and any good Sherlock Holmes story or Murder She Wrote episode is an example. Generally, it is a premeditated, planned killing with the hopes of achieving something or a motive.

A defendant could also be found guilty of a murder charge without an intent to kill. If there was intent to do serious bodily injury, and the act was clearly dangerous, the defendant could be found guilty of murder. For example, a defendant could claim when they shot the victim; they only intended to wound them. Maybe there is evidence supporting that claim, and the jury thinks the defendant is telling the truth.

The jury could still return a guilty verdict because there was intent to do serious harm, and the act, shooting someone with a gun, is clearly dangerous. In a case like this, an intent to kill may not be required.

The third way a killing can rise to a murder charge is when it occurs during a felony, and the act that caused the death was clearly dangerous. For example, let’s take a look at a hypothetical bank robbery. The bank robbers, armed with guns, have no intention to kill anyone during the bank robbery, or during the getaway, which involved driving at a dangerously high rate of speed.

Yet, if they do kill anyone during their bank robbery or the getaway, they could very well be found guilty of a murder charge. Bank robbery is a felony, and a jury could determine that robbing a bank with guns or driving at a high rate a speed during a getaway, to be clearly dangerous.

What Turns Murder Into Capital Murder

As discussed above, a capital murder must meet one of the criteria for murder, with another aggravating or exacerbating factor. Our bank robbery hypothetical from above can illuminate this. If the bank robbers intentionally killed anyone during the carrying out of their felony, that would be capital murder.

Felonies accompanied by an intentional killing that could rise to a capital murder charge include kidnapping, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, obstruction of justice, or terroristic threats.

Even without any intent, if the bank robbers kill more than one person during their heist, that would qualify as capital murder. Also, if during the robbery, a police officer is killed carrying out their lawful duty to stop the robbery, that would constitute capital murder. Police and firefighters in Texas are offered this special protection. It also extends to members of the judiciary, such as judges and prosecutors.

Capital crimes can extend to non-killers as well. Let’s look at a white-collar crime to contrast with our blue-collar bank robbery. An executive has been embezzling money from his company. An employee finds a discrepancy in the company’s finances. The executive hires a hitman to kill the nosey employee. Paying for murder, or accepting payment to commit a murder, is a capital crime. This implicates both the executive and the hitman.

Another instance of a capital crime is when the victim is under the age of 10. Jails are also protected by capital murder charges. Anyone killing or conspiring to kill someone while in jail, or killing someone while trying to escape from jail, is subject to a capital murder charge. Lastly, if someone kills more than one person by the same means, even at different times, like a serial killer, those qualify as capital murders.

Contact An Experienced Texas Murder Defense Attorney Today

If you are facing a murder or capital murder charge in Texas, call the former Felony Prosecutors at The Law Firm of Vinas and Graham. A murder conviction can have serious consequences for your freedom. The Law Firm of Vinas and Graham has the experience needed to assure the state carries its full burden of proof, and you take advantage of any defenses or mitigations at your disposal.

Contact our top Houston defense firm today, and please feel to follow us on Facebook.

RICO Charges: Types You Need To Be Aware Of

RICO charges

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, is a federal statute that greatly enhances criminal and civil penalties for criminal conduct that engages in an “enterprise” of “racketeering activities.” Passed in 1970, its legislative history and early implementation was focused on the five mafia families of New York City. It was needed to combat their infiltration into legitimate businesses and unions. The RICO Act, however, encompasses a wide variety of blue and white-collar activities.

The Federal Government has ample resources to investigate crimes, and RICO penalties are significant. They carry $25,000 fines and 20 years imprisonment per RICO conviction, as well as forfeiture of all ill-gotten gains. RICO also allows triple damages to any successful claimant in a civil action. The steep penalties of RICO often lead to the defendant pleading out to lesser crimes and offering to cooperate.

RICO Charge Elements

A “racketeering activity” is defined by the statue. They include breaking state laws such as murder, gambling, bribery, extortion, kidnapping, drug dealing, or arson. They also include federal crimes like bankruptcy fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, human trafficking or slavery, and terrorism. While not an exhaustive list, it is clear the scope of a RICO charge can touch many activities, but the state or plaintiff must still show it was an enterprise.

An enterprise is evidenced by a “pattern” and “continuity” of actions. A pattern, as defined by the RICO statute, requires two racketeering activities occurring within ten years of each other, excluding prison time. These are called “predicates.” The exception to the two predicate rule is the collection of an unlawful debt, which is enough by itself.

It is not enough that simply two predicates were committed within ten years to show an enterprise. They must be continuous or related. Evidence of a relationship can be the same method of crime, same victim, for the same purpose, or anything that can show the predicates were not isolated events.

Continuity can be extended beyond an ongoing enterprise. Past behavior that suggests future behavior may be enough. For example, the ex-mobster in witness protection, which starts mafia-type activity in their new community, may meet the continuous requirement.

Notable Examples Of RICO Charges

A variety of real-life examples can illuminate the scope and possible applicability of RICO charges. Frequently, the accused plead guilty to lesser charges or offer cooperation than risk-taking on RICO’s harsh penalties of 20 years per count. RICO also requires disgorgement of any ill-gotten gains. In pursuit of this, a RICO indictment can immediately freeze the defendant’s assets, which can further incentivize the accused to plead out or cooperate.

Mafia – The prominence of the mafia in RICO’s creation and application demands one of its cases be highlighted. The Bonanno crime family’s boss, Joseph Massino, faced 11 RICO counts in May 2004. The RICO charges were predictable for a mafia case. They included murder, extortion, loan sharking, arson, and money laundering. Immediately after the conviction, Massino contacted the judge and offered his cooperation, becoming the first mafia boss ever to cooperate with authorities.

Other Gangs – Likewise, RICO charges have been levied against gangs like the Hell’s Angels and Latin Kings for similar crimes and drug dealing, with mixed success. In the Hell’s Angel’s case, the government failed to show the acts were part of the Hell’s Angel’s enterprise; therefore, higher-ups in the organization were not liable for the acts of the underlings.

Politicians – While being the Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry, Gil Dozier required companies doing business with his agency to make political contributions. He was convicted of five RICO counts for extortion and racketeering, serving four years before a presidential pardon in 1986.

Insider Trading and Wire Fraud – Michael Milken was accused of 98 counts of racketeering and fraud related to manipulating stock and bond prices. He was one of the first non-organized crime figures to face RICO charges. As is often the case when facing RICO charges, Mr. Milken pleaded guilty to six lesser counts and served 22 months in jail.

Securities fraud and Ponzi schemes – In 1995, Congress amended the RICO Act to exclude securities fraud. Both Scott Rothstein and Bernie Maddoff, convicted of securities fraud and running Ponzi schemes, were indicted on RICO charges. While Rothstein pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated, Maddoff appealed the applicability of RICO. Upon review, the appellate court agreed that securities fraud had been excluded from RICO, and those charges were dropped.

Contact An Experienced RICO Defense Attorney Today

Are you being investigated or indicted on a RICO charge? The level of expertise and resources of the Federal Government combined with the steep penalties of RICO charges, can be downright scary. Hire a top Houston area defense law firm of Vinas & Graham. As former felony prosecutors, they understand RICO and can help protect your future and your assets. Contact us today, and please feel free to follow on Facebook.