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.

I Got Caught With Prescription Drugs – Can I Get A Drug Crime Charge Against Me?

drug crimes

Yes, a drug crime charge is possible when you are caught with prescription drugs. Even though prescription drugs are legal, they can be in violation of Texas’s controlled substances laws under certain circumstances. For example, being in possession of a prescription drug without a prescription.

Yet, even having a prescription may not shield you from a drug crime charge. Take, for instance, someone with a large number of prescribed drugs, like multiple months of dosages. It could be inferred they are collecting it with the intent to sell. This inference may be even stronger depending on how it is packaged and if it is accompanied by other evidence, like cash or a scale.

What Charge Can I Receive For Prescription Drugs

Texas has one of the strictest and complicated controlled substance laws in the country. It places all legal and illegal drugs into Penalty Groups 1, 2, 3, or 4 except for marijuana. Marijuana is in a separate group on its own.At a minimum, these penalties carry a Class B or Class A misdemeanor allowing for up to 1 year in jail and fines totaling $4,000. The highest felony charge can mean life or 99 years in prison with fines up to $250,000. The punishments range from group to group and go up with a greater quantity within a group.

Prescription drugs are implicated in a number of the penalty groups, and now with medical cannabis, is implicated by the marijuana group as well. Opioid based pain killers like codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are in Group 1. Penalties start at 180 days and $10,000 fine. If there are 400 grams or more, penalties max out at life and $250,000 in fines.

Group 3 is home to prescription drugs that have a stimulant or depressant effect (like Ritalin). Group 4 is home to a wide range of prescription medications, not in Groups 1 or 3. The minimum penalties for Group 3 and 4 are the same as group 1, while the max penalty if over 400 grams are found, is life with fines up to $50,000.

Medical marijuana is not “prescribed” due to Federal laws, but Texas does allow it to be “recommended” by doctors for certain medical conditions. The analysis follows other prescription drugs, a doctor’s recommendation can shield you from liability for possession of marijuana, subject to following the rules.

The minimum penalty in the marijuana group is probation, mandatory drug treatment, and very likely suspension of your driver’s license for six months. Possession of more than two ounces risks ten years in jail and fines from $4,000 up to $50,000.

Other factors that could affect the severity of punishment in addition to quantity is if there was an “intent to deliver.” For example, if the drugs are concealed, stored in sellable amounts, and a scale is present, the inference of an intent to sell will likely be made. Past convictions will also be a factor. If found with a large number of drugs for sale, you could face federal charges as well.

Defense To A Drug Charge

There are a number of ways an experienced attorney can defend you from an illegal drug conviction. As discussed above, having a prescription or a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana can be a defense, but is not insurmountable depending on the context. There are, however, other defenses available.

An unlawful search and seizure that violates the 4th Amendment of the Constitution will lead to the suppression of the evidence seized. This is an important analysis when assessing drug possession charges, as it is impossible to convict with no evidence. Law enforcement must follow prescribed constitutional safeguards as further defined by the Supreme Court’s case law.

There are other hurdles to a successful conviction the defense counsel can leverage. Sometimes police, prosecutor, or crime labs misplace the evidence. Crime labs must also establish a clean chain of custody when making a determination that a seized substance is a controlled one.

Defense could also claim the drugs belongs to someone else or were not for human consumption. Lastly, and likely most difficult to show, is the police officer planted the drugs or entrapment. Planting requires defendants’ word against the officers, and entrapment requires showing that the defendant would not have done the crime but for the police officer’s encouragement.

Contact An Experienced Houston Texas Drug Crime Attorney Today

A drug crime conviction in Texas can have serious consequences. Call the Law Firm of Vinas and Graham to help you through Texas’s complicated controlled substances laws. As former Felony Prosecutors, they have the experience needed to protect your rights and freedom. Contact a top Houston drug crime defense firm today, and please feel to follow on Facebook.

What Is Considered A White-Collar Crime?

white-collar crime

The term white-collar crime was first coined in 1939 and now includes a wide variety of criminal activity. Generally, it is a non-violent, fraudulent, financially motivated crime, committed by corporate or government professionals. It is very often a federal investigation, as these criminal acts that often trigger federal jurisdiction.

This means the investigational firepower is much greater than just Texas. For example, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, among others, could all be involved in investigating a single white-collar crime.

White-Collar Crime Definition

White-collar crime derives its name from the professional attire worn by people associated with the crime. People of high socioeconomic status, often in positions of trust, to clients or shareholders. It’s defining characteristic is the use of deceit, concealment, or a violation of trust, without using or threatening to use force or violence. It is done for some sort of financial gain, be it gaining money, property, services, or gaining leverage over another person or business. Greed is seen as the main motivational force.

Companies are capable of committing white-collar crimes, just like an individual. Take, for example, a price-fixing scheme between companies. Their aim is to raise profits and shareholder price, increasing their compensation and the value of the shares they own. Price fixing, however, violates Anti-Trust laws.

Some Common Examples

While white-collar crime encompasses many criminal activities, here’s a closer look at the most common examples and what the FBI focuses on.

Corporate Fraud – This includes falsification or other misrepresentation of financial information, self-dealing, like insider trading, or kickbacks, misuse of corporate property for personal gain, and transactions designed to avoid regulatory oversight by agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Embezzlement – When someone is entrusted with money for a 3rd party and siphons some off into a personal account, that is embezzlement. It is a breach of trust that can be perpetrated by an individual in a private company, a government official, or a trustee of a fund, to name a few examples.

Ponzi Schemes – In the 1920’s Charles Ponzi made $250,000 (around $3.6 million today) in a mail coupon scheme. Promising high returns at little risk, Ponzi attracted a lot of new investors. Everything went great until the flow of new investors slowed, and older investors wanted to cash out. A number of people have run Ponzi schemes since Charles, most notably Bernie Madoff in 2008.

Money Laundering – Money that has been obtained illegally can be laundered, or cleaned, to come back into circulation. This often involves transferring or purchasing goods or services from a legitimate-looking business. Money laundering inherently involves tax evasion.

Bankruptcy Fraud – When a debtor is faced with insurmountable debt, they can seek bankruptcy protection to wipe their debts clean. This comes at the expense of creditors who will seek a settlement to their debts in a bankruptcy hearing. If a debtor lies or conceals assets in their bankruptcy filing, that is bankruptcy fraud.

Do White-Collar Criminals Get Caught And Punished

While there certainly is a debate that white-collar criminals receive lighter sentences than other convicts, it cannot be debated that there is tremendous oversight that can be brought to bear on a white-collar investigation. As discussed above, there are many agencies that can have overlapping jurisdiction or simply cooperate assertively.

The FBI is particularly active in this area. They investigate any obstruction of justice that may occur in connection with a white-collar crime. They look into anything that impedes an inquiry from the SEC, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or any other regulatory or law enforcement agency. They have also made a point to partner with other agencies to leverage their relative expertise in tax, pensions, energy, securities, or commodities.

Punishments for white-collar crimes usually involve a combination of imprisonment, fines, restitution, disgorgement, probation, and community service. Following the Enron scandal, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 was passed that increased penalties for mail and wire fraud, often part of conducting white-collar crimes. Sentencing in Federal courts is carried out by the judge; there is no jury option. Federal judges must apply a set of complex statutory parameters that can involve mitigating evidence or aggravating factors.

Contact An Experienced White-Collar Attorney Today

If you are being investigated or indicted for a white-collar crime, make sure you find experienced legal counsel. The level of expertise and resources that can be brought to investigate and prosecute your case can be great.

Hire a top Houston area white-collar defense law firm with Vinas & Graham. As former felony prosecutors, they can help advise you through these anxious times with experience on their side. Contact us so you know what to expect and can be vigorously defended. Please feel free to follow on Facebook.

Bank Robbery: What You Need To Know

bank robbery

If you have been charged with bank robbery in Texas, you probably realize that you have been charged with a serious offense, and the consequences for a conviction will have lifelong impacts. Criminal defense attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, are experienced federal crimes attorneys who fight to protect their clients’ rights.

In general, bank robbery is defined as taking or attempting to take property, money, or anything of value from a bank, credit union, or any savings and loan association. See below for more details and information that you need to know about bank robbery and other federal crimes charges.

State Or Federal Crime

General robbery charges may be brought in state or federal courts, depending on case-specific details. Bank robbery may also be charged at the state or federal level; however, it is more often charged as a federal crime, especially when federal agents perceive a threat to the public and state lines have been crossed. The conviction rate is generally higher in federal court, and penalties are typically more severe for federal criminal convictions.

Felony Bank Robbery Charges

Bank robbery is considered a felony under state and federal law, and if you are found guilty of robbing a bank, you will have a felony conviction on your record. Felony convictions in Texas have major consequences that will impact your rights, including voting rights, firearm ownership, and possession, holding public office, and serving on a jury. Felony convictions can also limit your employment prospects and eligibility.

Bank Robbery Sentencing

Defendants convicted on federal bank robbery charges will be punished according to the federal sentencing guidelines. Penalties will depend on specific factors such as the value of the property taken, the use of weapons during the commission of the crime, and if any victims were taken hostage or injured during the commission of the crime.

Prison sentences could be less than one year in some bank robbery conviction cases and 25 years or more in other cases. If an innocent person is killed during the commission of a bank robbery or in an attempt to flee authorities after a robbery or attempted robbery, defendants could be facing life imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Conspiracy Charges

Conspiracy charges are common in bank robbery cases when two or more people were involved in the robbery. Defendants can be charged with conspiracy in addition to bank robbery, or they can be charged with only conspiracy if they never carried out the planned bank robbery.

To prove conspiracy, prosecutors only need to show that two or more people agreed to commit a crime, and at least one person took a step to further the agreement. For example, if two people planned to carry out a bank robbery and one person purchased masks to wear during the robbery, conspiracy could be charged against both people because purchasing the masks would be considered to be a step taken to further the agreement.

Bank Robbery Defenses

Bank robbery charges do not have to result in convictions, especially when you have a good defense. Common defenses include that the defendant did not intend to rob the bank, that the defendant was under duress when he or she robbed the bank, or that someone else, not the defendant, committed the crime.

Police misconduct can also be used as a defense in some cases where defendants’ rights were violated. For example, if evidence was illegally obtained, or if prosecutors cannot establish an unbroken chain of custody for the evidence against you, that evidence may not be used to convict you.

Negotiating With Prosecutors

Trials are lengthy, expensive, and the outcome is never certain, which is why prosecutors typically prefer to negotiate with defense attorneys to settle the matter prior to trial. In exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors may make concessions, such as lowering charges, dropping some of the charges against you, and agreeing to sentencing recommendations.

Bank Robbery Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with bank robbery or other serious crimes, it is imperative that you secure the help of an experienced attorney. Criminal defense attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, represent clients facing federal and state criminal charges.

Contact our office at 713-229-9992 or online to discuss your case. We will provide you with straightforward advice and an aggressive defense. When your rights and your freedom are in jeopardy, you need a skilled legal advocate fighting for you.

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Facing Drug Or Narcotics Trafficking And Distribution? Here’s What You Need To Know

drug/narcotics trafficking & distribution

If you are facing drug or narcotics trafficking and distribution charges, the first thing you need to know is that these are only allegations and not convictions. These charges are serious, however, and you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to advocate for your rights and interests.

Criminal defense attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, represent defendants who have been accused of drug crimes at the state and federal levels. Our attorneys conduct thorough investigations and focus specifically on how the prosecution’s evidence was gathered and preserved to determine if your rights were violated by police misconduct.

Federal Drug Charges

Trafficking charges can be brought under federal or state law. It is one of the most serious drug crimes, and it is often prosecuted at the federal level, especially if there are additional charges, such as drug conspiracy and money laundering. If you are prosecuted at the federal level, penalties are severe for drug trafficking convictions.

Additionally, drug trafficking cases are more likely to be prosecuted at the federal level if they involve extensive drug operations with many potential defendants and witnesses. Federal authorities and prosecutors work quickly to turn witnesses, secure incriminating testimony, and make plea agreements.

Our skilled federal crimes attorneys understand how federal prosecutors work, and they aggressively implement calculated defense strategies to protect defendants. Our goal is to reach the best possible outcome for every defense client in every case.

Drug Prosecution Strategy

Drug possession is a much less severe offense than trafficking, and prosecutors often charge defendants with trafficking even though they might only have enough evidence to prove possession. They do this because it gives them bargaining power when it comes to plea negotiations. Defendants regularly agree to plead guilty to possession so that they can avoid the significant consequences of trafficking convictions.

Proving Trafficking And Distribution

In general, to prove trafficking and distribution, prosecutors must show that with knowledge or intent, you created, manufactured, distributed, or dispensed a controlled substance or that you intended to create, manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance.

Proving intent or knowledge is often the most challenging hurdle for prosecutors to overcome in these cases. As previously mentioned, our attorneys examine all evidence collected, the method by which it was obtained, and police conduct in your case to determine if your rights were violated.

Violation Of Your Rights

If any of your rights were violated in the collection and preservation of evidence, the evidence might be inadmissible at trial, and prosecutors will be unable to use it against you. Common violations include the following:

  • There were law enforcement errors or omissions in your search warrant or arrest warrant application.
  • Law enforcement officers did not have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search.
  • You were not given Miranda warnings before your interrogation and confession.
  • There was a break in the chain of custody of the evidence to be used against you.
  • Law enforcement officers planted the evidence against you.

Reduced And Dismissed Charges

Not only do prosecutors sometimes overcharge defendants with a more serious crime that they do not have enough evidence to prove, but also, they will sometimes tack on additional charges that they may not be able to prove. As previously mentioned, our attorneys are familiar with prosecution tactics, and they do not encourage clients to accept a plea deal that is unfair or unconscionable.

Our attorneys approach negotiations with your best interests in mind. They will fight to reduce or dismiss your charges for reasons such as lack of evidence or search and seizure violations. They will also work to help you secure a more favorable outcome in your case if you offer substantial assistance to authorities in the investigation or prosecution of another person.

Investigation For Drug Crimes

It is never too early to contact a federal crimes attorney. If you suspect that you are being investigated for drug crimes, our attorneys will meet with you to discuss your suspicions. We can go over defense and negotiation strategies before you are even charged. If it is to your advantage, we will reach out to appropriate authorities regarding their attention to you and the investigation they are conducting.

Drug Or Narcotics Trafficking And Distribution Defense

If you are being investigated or you have been charged with drug or narcotics trafficking and distribution, contact Vinas & Graham, PLLC, at 713-229-9992 or online to schedule a consultation. Attorneys Joe Vinas and Spence Graham have more than 30 years of legal experience, and they have the knowledge and skills to provide you with the highest quality defense representation.

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Steps To Take If You Feel You Have Been Arrested Due To An Illegal Search And Seizure

illegal search and seizure

Under federal laws and Texas state laws, you have a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. With some exceptions, law enforcement officers may not conduct searches that violate your reasonable expectation of privacy without a search warrant or your express permission.

Evidence collected in violation of your rights may not be admissible in court, and attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, will fight to suppress any illegally obtained evidence in your case. See below for more information about illegal search and seizure and the steps you should take if you believe your rights have been violated.

Know Your Privacy Rights

It is important to know your privacy rights so that you can recognize when those rights are violated. Privacy laws are complex, and they are often subject to interpretation. Because of the legal complexities, it is always critical to consult with an attorney if you think you may have been subjected to an illegal search and seizure.

As mentioned above, law enforcement officers may not conduct a search that violates your reasonable expectation of privacy without a search warrant, except under some specified circumstances. For example, they may conduct a warrantless search if they have your permission to search your property, or they may conduct a warrantless search to check for weapons or contraband under certain fact scenarios.

An officer is also permitted to seize evidence or contraband without a warrant if the items are within the officer’s plain view, so long as the officer is lawfully present when he or she viewed the evidence. This issue is frequently raised when an officer pulls over a vehicle and subsequently identifies drug paraphernalia within the officer’s plain view, located inside of the car. The drug evidence will generally only be permitted to support a possession charge if the officer’s vehicle stop was legal.

Search And Seizure Violations

When an illegal search and seizure results in an arrest and prosecution, defendants can challenge the admission of evidence that was illegally obtained. Even evidence obtained with a search warrant might be inadmissible in some cases if a police officer lied or omitted important facts in the warrant application.

With some exceptions, incriminating evidence that is illegally obtained by police may not be used by prosecutors to prove guilt. Even in cases where a defendant is undeniably guilty if the court rules that evidence was illegally obtained and no other evidence exists, charges against the defendant may be dismissed.

Do Not Answer Questions Until You Have An Attorney

If you are questioned by police officers or prosecutors, it is critical that you not speak with them unless you have an attorney present. As Miranda warnings provide, it is true that anything you say to them can be used against you.

You should not argue with law enforcement officers, and you should not give any information to police or prosecutors, even if you think the information is helpful to your defense. You do have a right to an attorney when you are being questioned in police custody, so you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Preserve Any Existing Evidence

It is necessary to preserve any evidence in your favor, especially evidence that shows that the police violated your rights by conducting an illegal search and seizure. Helpful evidence may include contact information for witnesses, your arrest report, and police camera footage. You should also take notes about everything that happened before, during, and after your arrest, including statements made by the police.

When Evidence Is Illegally Obtained

As previously noted, if you can prove that evidence was illegally obtained, in many cases, the evidence cannot be used against you and will be suppressed by the court. If the court suppresses evidence against you and the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to prove your case, your attorney may negotiate with prosecutors for a plea to a lesser charge or seek to have the case against you dismissed altogether.

Search And Seizure Defense Attorney

If you believe your arrest was based on an illegal search and seizure, you need a criminal defense attorney who has experience representing clients in both state and federal court matters. Attorneys at Vinas & Graham, PLLC, have the knowledge and skills necessary to aggressively defend your case and hold law enforcement agencies accountable for illegally obtained evidence.

Contact us to schedule a consultation at 713-229-9992 or by submitting an online form. Follow our Facebook page for more information about search and seizure violations and other criminal defense matters.