Monday, February 15, 2010

Probation and the Motion to Revoke

Probation can be a welcomed second chance for good folks running afoul of the law. A person on probation can expect to attend monthly meetings with a supervision probation officer, attend education classes for offenses involving drugs and alcohol, perform community service, and pay fines, fees, and court costs. Depending upon the trouble the person got into, there may be other conditions of probation, even county jail time, that must be complied with before they are successfully discharged from probation.

Problems arise when a probationer begins to violate the terms of their probation. Something as simple as a dirty urine screen can land one back in court to endure the wrath of prosecutor and judge. In the worse cases, motions to revoke probation are filed by the prosecutor which result in warrants issued for your arrest. In Texas, if a motion to revoke is filed on a misdemeanor offense the probationer is entitled to a bond. However, in a felony case the probationer can be held without bond, in the county jail, until the resolution of their case.

An important thing to remember is that everything you say to your probation officer can ultimately be used against you later. If you admit doing drugs while on probation, for instance, the probation officer can come to court later and testify about what you said. Your statement alone can be used by the judge to find a probation violation and sentence to jail, or prison. Like I tell all my clients going onto probation, your probation officer can be your friend, and slit your proverbial throat, all at the same time.

Unfortunately, probationers must be guarded in what they say to their probation officer. Especially folks who tempt fate by violating their conditions hoping the officer does not find out. If you violate probation and are confronted by your officer, remember you have the absolute right to remain silent. In that case, the supervising officer might make your life miserable, but at least you aren't supplying them information to use against you. The best approach is to contact a qualified Bryan|College Station criminal defense lawyer before saying anything incriminating to the officer. At a minimum, the criminal lawyer can talk with the officer and prosecutor without the risk of incriminating you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Possession of Marijuana, Drugs, and Other Illicit Contraband.

Bryan|College Station criminal defense lawyers regularly deal with possession issues in the field of criminal law. The most common charges brought against folks in Brazos County involve marijuana, controlled substances (including dangerous drugs), alcohol, and weapon charges. Certainly possession of illicit pornography and stolen property could be included in this list of potential offenses. The question I most often answer for clients is the difference between possession and ownership as it relates to charges brought against them.

Texas criminal law prohibits more than ownership of illegal materials. In fact, possession is the key issue. Or should I say "knowing" possession is the most common hook upon which the defense lawyer hangs their hat. Let's look first at how possession is defined.

Possession is typically defined as having "actual care, custody, control, or management" of some illicit contraband. Notice that "ownership" is not included in this definition. In other words, someone need not own something in order to possess it. A simple example helps explain the point. Suppose several college buddies (all under 21 years of age) go out for a night on the town. One person brings along a twelve pack of Bud Light which they purchased earlier in the evening. (a separate offense, by the way) Each person has a beer and finishes by throwing their empty can on to the backseat floorboard. A traffic stop then occurs where the police observe the unopened cans of beer in the front seat. Although the one friend owned the beer, each person in the car could potentially be charged with possessing the alcoholic beverage.

Another, often overlooked, aspect of the possession case is whether the charged person "knew" they were in possession. If the police cannot prove the defendant knowingly possessed contraband they are unable to obtain a conviction. Supposed the same group of friends went out together, but this time without the beer. Instead, the owner of the car had baggies of marijuana stashed under the seats, in the glove box, and in the trunk . . . all without the knowledge of his friends. The same traffic stop occurs and the marijuana is located by the police. Now, although the marijuana was within easy reach of each person in the car (and arguably in their possession) only the driver actually knew it was there. Commonly, each person would be arrested and charged, but unless the prosecutor can prove knowledge the accused friends should escape conviction. (with the help of a good criminal defense attorney, of course).

Possession charges are one of the most common criminal offenses charged against persons in Brazos County. However, the experienced defense lawyer can help the accused person navigate these dangerous waters. Help is available, so don't go it alone.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Texas Drug Free Zones

Possession of controlled substances (including marijuana) within "drug-free" zones in Brazos County (and all areas of Texas, for that matter) result in more sever penalties and punishments. Depending upon the alleged offense, the range of potential punishment can rise to the next higher level, or minimum possible punishments can be increased. Even more problematic is the provision that punishments increased under the drug-free zone provision MUST run consecutively to other sentences imposed for other crimes. In other words, sentences under this scenario are stacked one upon another.

For instance, a person gets into a knife fight within 1000 feet of premises of a school, public youth center, playground, or on a school bus. Further, the person has several grams of a controlled substance in their possession and it's found upon their arrest within the zone. If convicted of aggravated assault and convicted of possessing the controlled substance in a drug-free zone, the punishment for the drug-free zone offense must be stacked on top of the punishment for the aggravated assault. Very onerous, indeed.

Assuming facts exist to convict, the accused is in a very tight spot. The criminal defense lawyer would be successful if able to persuade the prosecutor to waive the drug-free zone allegation, thereby removing the automatic stacking provision. In any case, the prosecutor's in the driver's seat and defense lawyers must work hard to help client's make the best of a poor situation.