Category Archives: Criminal Law

Culture Wars: The Quasi Legal Status of Marijuana

About a year ago I attended an annual conference of Texas prosecutors in South Padre Island, Texas. At this conference, a legal expert from Colorado discussed the issues his state was facing in effectively enforcing the law that made cannabis legal and rained down tourism money from legal sales. Netflix recently released a CNN series called High Profits which highlighted a couple named Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire who owned a dispensary in Colorado on the eve of retail sale legalization. Not only is it a fascinating show, but it clearly illustrates how even after a majority of the populace votes one way (to legalize the sale of retail cannabis in Breckenridge, CO), there was immediate backlash for the people on the brink of making their illegal business legal. For more information on how this saga played out in Colorado, check out this article.

In Texas, however, the change has been a bit more incremental. June 2015 was historic because Governor Gregg Abbott signed the Compassionate Use Program into law, making it legal for doctors to prescribe a specific type of hemp oil to ailing patients suffering from chronic pain. Advocacy groups want the Lone Star State to catch up to public sentiment. A 2015 poll conducted by The University of Texas  and Texas Tribune in 2015 showed 68% of Texans support reduced penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

Some local municipalities have reduced penalties for personal possession of marijuana to make it a Class C misdemeanor (essentially a ticket). So what does this mean? Is marijuana legal in Texas? Absolutely not. It can still land you in jail and cost money to defend against criminal allegations. However, the tide is slowly turning in the direction of legalization, and it is simply a matter of time before Texas joins the dozens of other states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use. The law reflects the mores and standards of the people, and a growing majority of people in this state (and nationwide) simply believe it is not good use of tax dollars to prosecute marijuana users who are not in the drug business.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this issue because it has caused many people a great deal of grief because of the disproportionate amount of prosecutions of people of color for drug use and possession. Things are changing, but the law in Texas has not yet caught up to the times, so if you’ve had a marijuana possession case dismissed or no-billed, and you need to clear up your criminal record, feel free to give us a call. I’d be happy to discuss your options so you can move on with your life.

Are You an Easy Target for Identity Theft?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the course of my practice, I have met some lovely people facing unfortunate circumstances. No one is thrilled about filing for consumer bankruptcy, but that feeling is multiplied ten fold when it is due to someone else ruining your finances. Within the past few years, I’ve met an increasing number of identity theft victims. Not all of them had to seek  bankruptcy protection, but every single one of them felt vulnerable and violated. It is the attorney’s role to protect the private information of her clients, so we take the necessary precautions at the office to do so. It is also my job to share this knowledge with others in the interest of a more equitable and just society. Here are four key ways to safeguard your personal information.

1. Store your personal documents in a safe place. Your social security card, medical records, credit card offers, and tax returns should be kept in a locked cabinet or a safe deposit box in a bank. The number of people whose identities are stolen as a result of a stolen purse or wallet containing their social security card is astonishing. Don’t carry it with you. Similarly, your mail contains information that a thief can use to impersonate you in stores or online to open credit accounts. Be sure to check it promptly, and consider opting out of promotional offers.

2. Keep an eye on your accounts. Most banks and credit card issuers have a process for investigating suspicious transactions, but you can’t alert them promptly if you don’t check your account history on a regular basis. Sign up for online banking and be on the look out for transactions you don’t recognize. It’s also not a bad idea to subscribe to a monthly credit monitoring service to confirm that your debts are reported accurately and reflect only your account activity. If you don’t want to pay for credit monitoring, you can always request a free copy of your credit report every calendar year at www.annualcreditreport.com.

3. Be cautious about sharing on social media. Many people (myself included) are active on social media in one way or another. That’s fine. No judgment here. However, if you’re traveling to Tahiti for your yearly vacation with the family, it might be wise not to announce it on Facebook. You never know who your friends are connected to, and depending on your security settings, you could be announcing your departure to a large number of people you don’t know at all. No one likes to think about the fact that when you are abroad, your home is fair game for thieves for the entire duration of your trip. Tell your close friends and family your whereabouts. Your status updates and photos can come after you’ve enjoyed all that Tahiti has to offer.

4. Mind the shoulder snoopers. When you’re in the grocery store checkout, and the time comes for you to swipe or insert your card, sometimes you’re not alone. Sometimes there is a person  possibly unfamiliar with Western standards for personal space. That person may be hovering over your shoulder. What do you do? If you’re able to swipe your card, and you’re using a debit card, run it as a credit card. This way you can bypass the need to insert your pin. If you’re using an EMV chip card, it may be a good idea to cover the key pad or ask the cashier to enter your transaction as a credit purchase. A person who is physically close to you can look over your shoulder and clearly see your PIN number, and if he or she has a credit card cloning device, could make many more transactions from your card without you ever knowing. EMV chip technology has cut down on some of the risk of card cloning, but not every card issuer has embraced chip technology. It may seem rude to be suspicious of your neighbors, but better safe than sorry.

There are wallets that claim to protect your cards from cloning. They have mixed reviews at best, but with some simple common sense, you can avoid being victimized by thieves. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be safe out there.

For more information on this topic, feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Challenge Presented by Difficult Clients

ANGRYThis week I’ve been confronted by the reality that a large part of what I do involves dealing with people at their worst. My clients are going through divorce. Some are facing bankruptcy. Others have been personally injured, and still others are facing jail time. Stress can do a number on a person’s ability to cope and adapt to life’s ups and downs. Sometimes that stress gets taken out on me. Occasionally, my clients will lash out at a staff member, and while I’m sensitive to what they’re going through, a vital part of my job is to remind my client that it’s never appropriate to take their frustrations out on me or my staff because we’re here to help. We’re all on the same team, and as the old adage goes: don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

There are times when I’ve had to escort clients out of meetings to remind them of the fact that while I’m sensitive to their emotional upset, at no time is it okay to curse or yell at me or anyone who works for me. How can I effectively advocate for a person who can’t maintain his composure in our private interactions? If I’m not able to reign in an irate client in private, I run the risk of allowing that person’s bad behavior to impact the outcome of his case in the eye’s of the judge when we make it to court. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take. I’d much rather offend a client and obtain the desired outcome he seeks than placate a difficult person to his own detriment.

Contrary to popular belief, lawyers are people too. We have good and bad days like everyone else, but the lawyer who can’t control her emotions is the one who cannot keep a cool head to make sound decisions for her client, and I refuse to be that type of attorney. I’ve seen lawyers in screaming fits, in tears, and visibly shaken in the hallways of court rooms, but once those lawyers reach the presence of the judge or the jury, their game face is on in spite of how they may be feeling. An important part of our job is how we relate to our clients. Any attorney who has been practicing for any amount of time has more than a few stories about the time they had to talk a client off of the ledge in order to get past the strong emotional component of their case and make sure the job is done.

We can’t always be your friend. We’re also not your therapist, although we are definitely legal counselors. Boundaries have to be maintained for our welfare and for the benefit of our clients. Keep that in mind the next time you blow off some steam on a customer service rep or anyone else you may encounter on a bad day. That person has feelings and is just trying to do his job. We’re all doing our level best to help you, and that’s made much easier when you cooperate and keep your emotions in check.

For professional advice and to schedule a legal consultation, be sure to give me a call at (713 ) 574-8626.

4 Things You Need to Know about Plea Bargains

While my practice doesn’t focus exclusively on criminal law issues, I do take criminal court appointments and receive questions about this area of law quite frequently from my friends and family. Bad things happen to good people, and my hope is that, no matter what challenge arises, my blog can be a consistent source of quality information for people who are looking fDSC_5510or answers. One of my relatives got a DWI, and she was totally thrown for a loop about what to expect, how the criminal justice system works, and specifically what were the consequences of entering into a plea agreement. I felt like this topic was so important that I would share a few thoughts about it on the blog so that it could reach as many people as possible.

1. Plea bargains are incredibly common. Although most people are steeped in the knowledge of criminal trials and the right to a jury, it’s estimated that over 90% of criminal cases are resolved through plea agreements. Courts are presented with a high volume of criminal cases to handle, from traffic tickets to serious felonies. Judicial economy requires that a certain percentage of those cases move through the system outside of a trial setting. While no one but you can decide if a plea agreement is the right decision for you to make, it’s good to know where the pressure to take the plea is coming from. Most people don’t want the hassle or expense of going to trial, so they take the deal most favorable to them to move on with their lives.

2. Deferred adjudication is not the same as probation. This point is crucial and surprisingly comes up in conversations with clients quite frequently. Deferred adjudication is a court mandated agreement where a defendant pleads “guilty” or “No Contest” to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements laid out by the court within an allotted period of time also ordered by the court. It often includes community supervision, fines, and other restrictions relevant to the crime alleged. Deferred adjudication in Texas is often offered in such a way that if the defendant successfully completes the program, the charges are dropped and the case is dismissed. Violating a deferred adjudication plan can result in a conviction. Probation, on the other hand, is simply the release into the community of a defendant who has been found guilty of a crime, typically under certain conditions, such as paying a fine, doing community service or attending a drug treatment program. Violation of the conditions can result in incarceration.

3. No contest and guilty pleas are final convictions. People ask me the difference between guilty and “no contest” or “no lo contedre” quite often, so here it is: a guilty plea is an admission of guilt that results in a court finding the person guilty of the crime they are alleged to have committed. No contest or no lo contendre is a plea that has the same effect as a guilty plea except it does  not include an admission of guilt. It’s basically like saying, “I neither confirm nor deny.” Either type of plea will typically result in a finding of guilt by the bench and result in a final  conviction.

4. Not all criminal cases have to remain on your record for life. All of this talk about the criminal justice system would be incomplete if I failed to mention the fact that in Texas most crimes that have been dismissed, no billed, or for which a defendant is found not guilty, can be removed from the defendant’s criminal record through expunction or non-disclosure. Check out my blog on expunction and non-disclosure here.

If you’re looking for common sense legal advice, don’t hesitate to call me at (713) 574-8626. Knowledge is power!

 

Should I Hire a Lawyer or Handle It on My Own?

ttronslien-8953 (1)I get asked this question in different ways from time to time, so I thought it would make a great blog topic. Is it a good idea to hire a lawyer or go pro se?

In most instances, we have no problem going to a professional for services. Car making a funny noise? Go to a mechanic. Need a haircut? See a barber. Broke your key in the door? Call a locksmith. But when it comes to legal services, people with absolutely no legal experience or training strangely believe that they can do it themselves, get the outcome they want, and successfully represent themselves in court. This is almost always a terrible mistake.

“I have the right to represent myself in a court of law”, you may be thinking. This is true. You absolutely do, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Like me, President Lincoln was an attorney, and he had a great reason for making this remark: the law has its own set of rules, guidelines, and vocabulary. There is a reason lawyers have to attend several years of school and pass their state bar examinations. Competence in the courtroom comes with years of experience handling legal problems again and again. A person without this background is simply not prepared to properly represent him or herself.

Typically when a person goes pro se, that person quickly realizes they’re in over their head and hires an attorney. When I meet someone who has filed their own lawsuit, I look at what they have done on their own and determine what, if anything, I can do to fix their mistakes and protect their interests. This often results in my new client paying more than he or she otherwise would if they had simply come to me with their legal problem from the very beginning. The additional work needed to pick up where a pro se litigant has left off usually results in me having to spend more time on their case, and therefore a higher bill. Sometimes they’ve waited too long to seek my help, and I can’t do anything for them because the case is too far gone.

Even a skilled lawyer who represents himself is at a disadvantage. We are humans, and our emotions tend to cloud our judgment when it is our own personal interests at stake. I take my own advice in this regard. When my grandmother passed away, I advised my mother (her executor) to hire an attorney. I did not want to bungle my grandmother’s estate. I had recently graduated from law school and had not yet learned how to handle probate matters. I wouldn’t pull my own tooth if I had a toothache, and something tells me you wouldn’t either. The same principle applies to the law: when in doubt, hire a professional.

How to Safely Interact with Police Officers

IMG_9754Recently a young woman named Sandra Bland was pulled over in a routine traffic stop. She and the officer who pulled her over got into a verbal altercation that resulted in her arrest; she died under suspicious circumstances three days later.  This incident and the fact that several members of the public have had interactions with the police that resulted in arrests, injuries, and death led me to want to shed some light on how best to avoid confrontational situations with the police. Every circumstance will be different, but there are some general guidelines that people should be aware of when they are pulled over, questioned, or otherwise interacting with police officers.

1. You Have the Right to Remain Silent. Use it.

In the case of Sandra Bland, the police officer and Ms. Bland had a series of arguments about issues like whether or not she had the right to smoke a cigarette in her car, whether she had to get out of her car at the officer’s command, and whether or not she had the right to film her interaction with the officer. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to say as little as possible to the police. You have the right to remain silent for a reason. Anything you say to a cop can and will be used against you in court, so it’s best to remain mum to the extent possible. Even before you’ve been formally arrested, the police officer is conducting an investigation. In the event of traffic stops, the officer is observing you to determine whether or not you’re intoxicated and clues such as your breath, demeanor, and tone of voice can be used to convict you if you are arrested, so why give them any additional cues? Nothing good comes from arguing with a police officer.

2. Obey Their Commands 100% of the Time

People often get in trouble with the police when an officer gives an order that they ignore. Even if you don’t agree with with what you’re being instructed to do, always, always, always obey a uniformed officer’s directions. Failure to obey a police officer can result in your being charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, or worse. More often than not, the officer is simply trying to do his or her job. It’s never worth the risk of being arrested, so when in doubt, simply do whatever he or she is telling you to do.

3. Never Ever Run Away from the Police

Under no circumstances should you ever run away from a police officer. Countless individuals have been injured or killed because they chose to run away from a uniformed police officer in hot pursuit. Once you’ve been chased, apprehended, and caught, the police officer is not going to be very friendly, and you are absolutely going to jail. If you’re being approached by a police officer in a vehicle  or on foot, never ever run away. Running away endangers your life and the lives of others around you, particularly if you’re fleeing in a motor vehicle.

It’s a sad state of affairs in America when the police are as much of a threat to the general public as are “bad guys,” but it’s irresponsible to ignore a problem that has been plaguing the black and Hispanic youth in our society for decades. The advent of camera phones and social media has simply made this problem come out of the shadows. It’s time for people to smarten up about the way they deal with interactions with police officers because as a general rule, if you didn’t call the police, they are probably not on your side. You may be a suspect. Until you find out the reason for their inquiry, follow these simple guidelines and leave with your reputation and your life in tact. For more common sense advice about life and the law, be sure to contact Kimberly Moss at (713) 574-8626.

Are You Proactive or Reactive?

Hey youMost of the time I meet people in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes a loved one has recently died. Other times my clients have pending criminal charges or lawsuits filed against them. In these instances, my clients are reacting to the slings and arrows of life. Crises happen and are sometimes unavoidable. However, there are times when you can prepare for what lies ahead. Being prepared for the future and planning for some of the inevitable challenges that we all face is how I define being proactive. Instead of reacting to your circumstances, you are creating options and opportunities for yourself.

  • When a person comes to me to write a last will & testament, I know my new client is proactive.
  • When a person comes to me to ask questions about a contract before signing it, I know he or she is proactive.
  • When the owner of a start-up comes to me to incorporate his new business, I know he is proactive.
  • When a person inquires about power of attorney documents so that their affairs are handled before they go overseas for military service or business, I know that person is proactive.
  • Any time I am asked to actively market oil, gas, and minerals for mineral owners seeking a sale or a lease of their property, I know my clients are proactive.

You may be wondering, “why does this matter?” It matters because being proactive puts my client in the driver’s seat of his or her life. I have a greater ability to assist the proactive client because I know that person is looking ahead to what could be instead of instinctively reacting to their current circumstances.  This changes the dynamic of our relationship and allows me to make suggestions, ask questions about their concerns, and generally be of more value.

I appreciate all of my clients, but frankly, the proactive clients are my favorite. They have emergencies. Everyone does, but more often than not, they are better prepared when trouble comes their way because they sought my counsel before something has even gone wrong in the first place. Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. Contact a lawyer to discuss your future, your business, the birth of your first child, you pending nuptials, or any other major life change you may be facing. You might be surprised what you learn, and how I may be of use to you in the long run.

To schedule a consultation with an attorney who wants to build a lifetime relationship with you, call (713) 574-8626.

Can I Have My Record Expunged?

DogglassesI get this question often, so it seemed like a great topic for a blog. If you live in Texas and you’ve successfully completed deferred adjudication (commonly called probation), you may be eligible for non-disclosure. Non-disclosure is different from expungement. The expungement of a criminal record is the complete removal of your criminal record from all law enforcement agency databases. Non-disclosure is the directive to keep your criminal record private and makes it an offense to release your criminal record to any third-party. Both of these processes result in the same outcome: your criminal record is withheld from the public, and you can then deny it on most employment applications.

You may be wondering: am I eligible for an expungement? To be elgible for expungement, you must meet all of these requirements:

1. You were arrested, prosecuted, and then acquitted or found innocent;

2. You were arrested, convicted, and later pardoned by the governor;

3.  Your case was dismissed; your indictment was found to be void or based on false information;

4. You have not been found guilty of any felony for the past 5 years;

5. You did not receive court-ordered supervision; and

6. The statute of limitations for the offense has expired, meaning the time wherein a charge may be brought against you has passed.

For more information about clearing criminal history from your record, please contact us at (713) 574-8626 to schedule an initial consultation with an attorney.