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Federal Court: Russian Spies Plead guilty Very, Very Quickly

July 8th, 2010

Boy, that was fast.  The ten people accused of being Russian spies have plead guilty in Federal Court in New York City, reports the BBC.  A spy-swap seems eminent; I don’t expect that the District Judge will order a Pre-Sentence Investigation.  The eleventh alleged spy made his getaway after being arrested in Cyprus.

DNA Testing at Austin Crime Lab Under Scrutiny

July 7th, 2010

As many as 2,000 cases are under review for irregularities after allegations surface regarding the Austin PD’s crime lab and DNA testing protocol.

Texas’ “State Jail” System to be Revisited by Legislators

July 7th, 2010

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the legislature may revisit the usefulness of the State Jail system that houses some of the state’s non-violent, felony offenders.  Recidivism concerns for these individuals are feuling the concerns.

Social Networking Cites and Child Pornography

July 6th, 2010

ABC News reports that social networking cites are being targeted with child pornography.  The upshot, don’t forward the link, you could be committing a federal crime that carries a minimum of ten years in the federal pen.  Report the offensive and illegal materials to the local F.B.I.

Federal Power to Control Travel of Citizens Challenged

July 6th, 2010

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s ability to keep people from flying into and out of the country, and seeks to test the limits of this federal power.  Threat Level, a feed from WIRED magazine’s website details the story here.  Ten U.S. Citizens or residents are in a legal  no-man’s land that the fly list (which may or may not exist.

The ACLU’s thoughts on the subject can be found here.

Death Row Appeal Regarding Freedom of Religion

July 6th, 2010

It’s always interesting when two or more legal theories crash into each other in our courtrooms. A death row inmate claims that the State improperly used evidence of his devil worship as punishment evidence.

The Austin American-Statesman reports.

Domestic Violence Dominates the News

June 21st, 2010

A quick survey of newspapers around the State of Texas reveals a number of domestic violence related stories from over the weekend.

In San Antonio, a domestic violence suspect was shot and killed.  A domestic disturbance near Dallas left two officers dead.

Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are justifiably on edge when dealing with domestic violence in courts.  Potential punishments for offenders range from the most minor misdemeanors to the most serious felonies.

Many times, I have to explain to my clients that most of them will be viewed as potential future murderers, in the eyes of the system.  No officer, prosecutor or judge wants to be the one that let the murderer go on some previous charge.  Knowing the perspective of the judges and prosecutors helps a person’s lawyer better defend them in court.  The lawyer should also keep updated on what’s playing out in the news, to know when sensitivities are particularly high.

If you have been charged with domestic violence contact an experienced San Antonio Criminal Attorney.

Fines, Forfeitures, and Surcharges; Revenue Generation in a Tax Cut Era

April 18th, 2010

It has been argued before that as our governments (federal, state, and local) decrease our taxes, the governments look to other sources of revenue to keep afloat.  You hear many stories about how fines, now a mainstay in the criminal defense world, were a rarity twenty to thirty years back.  These governments have to get revenue from somewhere, and many times it is through the criminal collections process, civil forfeiture or fines disguised as surcharges, such as DPS’ Driver Responsibility Program.

The perverse structure of Texas forfeiture laws has been documented in this blog (here and here) and elsewhere.  Now, a lawsuit has been filed by the Institue for Justice challenging the system.  We will see how it plays out.

Another example of the revenue generating notions of our legislature at work is chronicled at Grits for Breakfast taking on the DPS Surcharge system.  Those doubting that the surcharge system is both broken and out of control should view this video.

And, finally, we have this story from the Austin American-Statesman about the tiny Texas town of Martindale who was operating outside of the law with regard to traffic tickets and revenues.  Under a 1975 law, a town of less than 5,000 people cannot gain more than thirty percent of its revenue from traffic fines, an anti-speed trap law, if you will.  Martindale was outside the law by a wide margin, and had no idea about the law.  The story is an interesting treatment of the needs of the city for revenue vs. the law in place.  No real mention of how the citizen gets caught in the crunch between the two.

Scent Lineups and The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: “Son, You smell guilty.”

April 11th, 2010

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will address whether or not scent lineups are reliable evidence and admissible at trial.

The Austin American-Statesman notes in a story that “scent lineups” are investigative lineups where “dogs sniff crime scene evidence and try to match it to smells obtained from suspects or from items they have touched.”

The story goes on to note, that “[f]rom 1993 to 2009, Pikett and his dogs conducted hundreds of scent lineups for about 20 Texas counties, the Texas Rangers, the state attorney general’s office and federal agencies, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, court documents show.”

Drug Demand in U.S., Drug Violence in U.S. and Mexico

April 3rd, 2010

The University of Texas is pulling back all students studying abroad in Monterrey, Mexico, and ending its study abroad program there until at least 2011, the Austin American-Statesman reports here.  The story goes on to note: “The move came four days after two Monterrey Tech students were killed in a gunbattle near the school. The March 19 shootings, between Mexican authorities and hitmen, rattled the campus and were followed by a memorial funeral service attended by more than 2,500, according to school officials.”

Anyone who practices criminal law along the border, and even parts further north, can attest to the harrowing state of things on our country’s border.  Border fences, Los Zetas, murders in Juarez, bribed public officials, along with the usual traffic of drugs and immigrants are all part of the daily fare of newspaper readers in these parts. Just this week, it appears a Mexican Military Helicopter may have flown over Zapata County, Texas.  The San Antonio Express-News addresses the systemic failures of Mexico here.