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Stay of Execution Granted to look at DNA

November 7th, 2011

The law regarding retesting of DNA evidence changed while a Texas man was on Death Row. The new set of rules had never been applied to his case. Stay of execution granted. It will be interesting to see how long the stay is in place. The Houston Chronicle reports on the case here.

The Electronics and Communications Privacy Act: It’s So 1986

May 25th, 2011

In 1986, the year the Electronics and Communications Privacy Act (EPCA) was created, the Dewey Decimal System was the closest research tool we had to a Google Search Engine. Crumpled road maps, not GPS systems, helped drivers navigate the roads. Privacy laws are stuck in the snail-mail era, while millions of e-mails, texts and social media messages are exchanged largely unprotected. As privacy continues to be a concern in our electronic world, the 25-year-old EPCA could be getting a much-needed update, offering Americans important protection for their online communications.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee recently introduced the EPCA Amendent Act, a bill that would require the government to obtain a warrant before searching private e-mails and data stored on an Internet cloud. Calling the EPCA outdated, Leahy claims federal privacy laws must keep up with rapid changes in technology and law enforcement missions post-911. The bill also removes the 180-day rule that only requires a warrant to search e-mails that are unopened and stored for less than 180 days.

Privacy continues to be challenged, such as when the FBI collected 2,000 names and phone records between 2002-2006 claiming the calls being made related to possible terrorism emergencies. Or when Bradford Councilman, former vice president of then online bookseller Interloc, directed employees to write code that saved communications between customers and Amazon.com. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) cautions that allowing law enforcement broad access to electronic records in the name of ‘cybersecurity’ is unwise.

Job Hunting with a Criminal Background

May 4th, 2011

Remember when it took true detective skills to track down your best friend from the third grade? Those days are definitely gone, as the Internet has made privacy almost obsolete. While companies were once required to physically search court records, they may now easily uncover job applicants’ criminal backgrounds using the Internet and a surplus of screening companies. In an already tight job market, at least 21 percent of those job seekers have a criminal record, making job placement even less likely. Read how this is trend has affected millions of Americans.

One in four Americans, almost 65 million people, have some type of criminal record, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project. This number has grown due to stricter sentencing and enforcement for non-violent crimes, such as drug offenses and speeding tickets.

There is no federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with criminal records, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C.) has established rules about how employers may use their found information. (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.) In an economy where jobs are scarce and applicants are abundant, employers often opt for those not carrying legal baggage.

New studies called redemption research find that the risk that an ex-offender will be re-arrested decreases substantially over time, (first time offenders: 7-10 years after conviction) making the chances the same as that of someone of the same age with no record.

If have questions about clearing your record contact an experienced Texas Expunction Attorney.

Does Society Benefit From Blocked Careers?

May 4th, 2011

Which is safer: denying ex-cons a job in their chosen profession or having them gainfully employed? The Austin American Statesman explores this issue here.

Each year the debate continues as ex-offenders with criminal pasts are denied state licenses to work as doctors, nurses, barbers, roofers, foundation repairmen, parts recyclers, court interpreters, locksmiths, security guards, plumbers, elevator inspectors, boxing match timekeepers, commercial dog or cat breeders and more than 100 other occupations (nearly a third of the Texas workforce) by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

According to The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, each applicant is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and denial for one license for one occupation doesn’t necessarily automatically guarantee denial for another one.

As access to these career fields continue to be blocked, the economy isn’t making things any easier as state legislators such as Republican Florence Shapiro, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, claims the money the state spends each year on the Windham School District, the public school system for prisoners, should be eliminated. Shapiro thinks it’s the biggest waste of money she’s seen.

The question remains: If rehabilitating people is part of reintegrating them into society, how is this possible when they cannot land a job?

Texas Driver Responsibility Program Revisited

April 19th, 2011

At least 1.9 million Texans have lost their drivers licenses due to not paying surcharges under the Driver Responsibility Program. Recently the Texas House passed legislation (HB 588) allowing the Department of Public Safety to encourage drivers to pay off their surcharge obligations up front instead of over a three-year period. Read about the incentive program here.  As we all know, just because the House passes it, doesn’t mean the Governor will sign off on the legislation.

If this legislation is implemented, drivers will be able to pay a percentage of the three years worth of surcharges in a one-time sum. These rules were originally drafted when the Amnesty and Indigence programs was approved to help people save money on paying tickets, but were not immediately put into effect.

The Driver Responsibility Program was established to assess surcharges based on certain traffic offenses that occurred on or after September 1, 2003. These surcharges (administrative fees) charged to a driver are either point system or conviction based and are in addition to all other reinstatement fees. Point system surcharges are based on moving traffic violation convictions, while conviction-based surcharges include Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), DWI- Subsequent Offense, DWI w/blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 or more (Texas or out-of state conviction), No Insurance, Driving While License Invalid or No Driver License. Read further details here.

HB 588 is now on its way to the Senate.

If have questions you should contact and experienced Texas Traffic Attorney.

The Accountability Factor

April 12th, 2011

Justice Clarence Thomas on Civil Rights and the Right to Sue Government Officials:

An innocent man wrongfully imprisoned and slated for execution is almost not news in this country. Mismanaged blood samples, paid informants and egregious mistakes are common factors that have led to years wasted behind bars, innocence lost.

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana.He spent 18 years in prison, and just before his scheduled execution in 1999, a private investigator discovered that prosecutors had failed to turn over important evidence. Read the whole story here.

In 1963, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant’s innocence. Thompson sued the former Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish, Harry Connick Sr. for failing to train his prosecutors about this legal obligation. (Connick claimed that he misunderstood Brady and was unsure if his prosecutors had adequate Brady training.) Thompson was awarded $14 million (plus $1 million for court fees) for the civil rights violation.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently threw out the verdict, claiming that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a solo prosecutor. Read his first majority opinion here.

Thomas’s opinion not only ignores a man’s near-death because of prosecutorial concealment, it removes district attorneys’ accountability for their subordinates leaving no one responsible for civil rights violations.

Silencing the Twitter

April 4th, 2011

Most potential jurors understand and are familiar with the traditional rule that jurors are sworn to silence during criminal trial proceedings. It’s common knowledge that they aren’t allowed to discuss the case with fellow jurors, witnesses or lawyers. Jurors are supposed to keep an open mind until all the evidence and arguments are presented, which means that watching newscasts, listening to radio broadcasts and reading newspaper articles that might give them a biased view of the case is out of the question. Unless you somehow missed these basic juror requirements in your middle school civics class, these rules are a given.

But electronic communication devices have eased into our social consciousnesses, commenting on everyday occurrences from the sidelines. These devices, media tools and social networking sites spew information, making it very difficult to keep a balanced view with all of the information flying around. Cell phones, Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, iPhones, BlackBerry smartphones, text messaging and blogs have completely transformed how information is spread.

Catching up to the times, the Judicial Conference of the United States has released these gadget use rules to the federal judiciary to be included in juror instructions in order to curb all the twittering.

State courts continue to set their own jury instructions.

Will the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole Be Incarcerated?

April 4th, 2011

Could Texas Board of Pardons and Parole officers find themselves in jail for contempt of court because they have failed to comply with a U.S. District Judge’s order?

Raul Meza, 50, was convicted of murder in the 1982 killing of 8-year-old Kendra Page at a Southeast Austin elementary school playground. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, and later received another four years for possessing a weapon while in prison. While Meza was never convicted of a sex crime, his lawyers said during his trial that he admitted to sexually assaulting Kendra. Read more here.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that before instituting sex offender restrictions, state officials must follow certain procedures including alerting a defendant of allegations, offering an opportunity to attend an evidenciary hearing and providing a written final decision including detailed reasons. Last year, the board unanimously decided that Meza “constitutes a threat to society by his lack of sexual control,” but they did not give specific reasons for their decision. Hence, Yeakel’s contempt of court ruling.

Is Jail on Your List of Spring Break Destinations?

March 13th, 2011

Spring Break. Those two words conjure up different images, depending on your age. If your definition of the term translates into massive drinking, wild abandon and reckless behavior, take a minute to glimpse your future. I’m not saying that you should miss out on all the fun, but if you drink and drive in Texas, the consequences will last long after that lingering headache subsides and your final vacation moment sits in framed photograph.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will be in full force during Spring Break, March 12-20, 2011. They’ll be increase patrolling especially during hours when drunk driving incidents occur. Get the details here.

While sleeping on hard floors, consuming bad food, and bunking with questionable roommates could occur on both a Spring Break trip and a jail visit, the latter doesn’t usually rank high on Spring Breakers fun places to visit. If you’re charged with drunk driving, some souvenirs for obtaining a 0.8 blood alcohol level (BAC) and your first DWI conviction include a Class B misdemeanor on your record, fines up to $2,000, a $1,000 surcharge for three years to keep your license, up to six months in jail, a possible suspended driver’s license for one year, education classes, at least 24 hours of community service and higher insurance premiums.

So, if your Spring Break plans include a little debauchery, plan ahead with a designated driver. Your foresight will save you time, energy and money. And make for much better memories.

Stop! You’re on Candid Camera.

March 8th, 2011

Speed cameras have popped up sporadically throughout Texas, giving the ‘Big Brother is Watching You’ saying a whole new meaning. But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is not interested in seeing these automatic devices in Texas, and recently denied the City of Plano’s request for their police officers to use handheld laser speed guns equipped with cameras and GPS devices because of a Texas law which bans such devices. Abbott sited the Transportation Code, which prohibits the use of automated devices to gather evidence before initiating a traffic stop. (Plano was not as interested in mailing citations as gathering additional evidence during a conventional traffic stop for later use in court.)

Abbott says no.

State Representative Vicki Truitt (R-Southlake) argued that these automatic devices can’t discern extenuating circumstances, or request proof of registration from the driver. If the car’s owner is not the driver, the unaware owner could easily find himself in court for a violation that someone else caused.

Additionally, laser guns have shown ‘wild errors,’ (also used in the United Kingdom) clocking a parked car at 22 MPH and a slow-moving bicycle at 66 MPH. Reading problems seem to occur when the laser beam slips from one portion of a vehicle to another, such as from the windshield to the grill.

Read the whole story here.