So, Is Marijuana Legal in Texas?

By Kara L. Carreras

Lately, we have heard a lot of rumblings in Texas about the legalization of Marijuana. So, what is the real scoop? In the United States, 28 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana. Many of these states have broad legalization including treatment for cancer, HIV, glaucoma, PTSD and many other medical diagnoses. Some states legalize for recreational use too.

In June 2015, the Texas Legislature passed The Texas Compassionate Use Act (Senate Bill 339). The bill was signed by Governor Abbott, but the reality is that the Act is essentially useless. The bill created a registry for physicians (specifically, psychiatry/neuropsychiatry) to dispense low-dose THC to Intractible epileptic patients. Intractable epileptic patients are defined within the Bill as patients who have tried at least two other seizure treatment programs that have failed to control symptom of seizures.

leafTexas began accepting applications for dispensing organizations on February 23, 2017. Texas Department of Public Safety is in charge of licensing the dispensaries and the Act also requires DPS to license at least three dispensaries by September 1, 2017. Although the law sounds great in theory, marijuana is still illegal within the federal system and many of treating physicians are just not willing to risk losing their DEA licenses to prescribe other types of drugs to patients. Other issues are the licensing fees themselves. Suppliers wanting to get licensed in Texas are going to have to dish out more than $400,000 for a two-year contract.

Marijuana laws have a long way to go in Texas. If you or your family member is accused of possessing Marijuana in Texas make sure you find a qualified criminal defense attorney that can give you the right advice for your situation. Goza & Carreras has represented thousands of Texas citizens accused of drug offenses and we have the expertise you need. Give us a call at 1-866-I-GOT-POT

Be Prepared for the Super Bowl 2017

football

By Kara Carreras

Super Bowl® 51 is slated to be an “Instant Classic”, but don’t get caught unprepared and in jail Sunday!

The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots game is already being touted as an instant classic! On the one hand, we have the Atlanta Falcons with their high-powered, fast offense and a super-fast defense. Julio Jones is the League’s best wide receiver and they have the possible League MVP in Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan. New England has the best coach and arguably the best quarterback in League history…Tom Brady! The Patriots are a good all round team and Brady makes everyone around him perform even better. With just a few more days to this historical game there are other things that should be on your mind too…

Texas is such a huge football state, and this year’s is set to bring even bigger celebrations in our state. We want you to have a great time, but we don’t want you to have to call us first thing Monday morning with a DWI charge against you. Here are the facts: Texas leads the United States in drunk driving deaths (according to 2013 study by Mothers Against Drunk Driving). You can be sure that enforcement and patrols all around the state, especially in Houston, will be on the lookout for intoxicated drivers on Sunday. Harris County Constable, Mark Herman says that he is already preparing more patrols for his area in Houston this weekend. Over the last 6 years DWI arrests on Super Bowl Sunday have looked like this: (these stats do not account for the entire weekend)

•2015: 65

•2014: 182

•2013: 147

•2012: 211

•2011: 207

•2010: 199

Planning ahead is the single most important thing you can do to prevent your arrest. Get a designated driver or hitch a ride with a non-drinking friend. If everyone in your group is drinking, plan to Uber or Taxi. You can split the fares on Uber. Have the number ready or download the app today! A $20-$60 taxi/Uber ride will save you thousands of dollars in legal fees, not to mention the stress of having to deal with the criminal justice system. If you do find yourself in the situation of having to hire an attorney for your DWI. Call experienced lawyers who know just what to do. Enjoy this Sunday. It will be a classic!

Inauguration Day 2017 – A History of Traditions

InaugurationBy Kara Carreras

With the President-Elect Trump’s inauguration coming in just a few days, everyone is a buzz about exactly how the 2017 transition will operate. Donald Trump will be our 45th President and this is the 58th Inauguration Day in United States history. What most media outlets are reporting is who is going and more importantly, who is not going. Regardless of who may or may not attend this is a chance to learn more about our Country’s peaceful transition of power and the traditions behind the Inauguration.

President’s inauguration is driven more by tradition than constitutional mandate. The only significant constitutional guideline for inauguration is the date and the text of the oath. The text of the oath is derived from Section II Article I of the United States Constitution and states, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Interestingly, if January 20th falls on a Sunday, the President takes his oath privately on Sunday followed by the public ceremony on Monday. From 1793-1933 the inauguration took place in March 4, which was the day the federal government began operations in 1789. This is a transition that has taken place many times in our Country’s history, but this year this tradition is of great interest to all.

As a bit of a background to Presidential inauguration, we must begin with our first President. President George Washington was sworn into office on April 30, 1789, in our Nation’s first capital of New York City. He was sworn in at noon on the balcony of Federal Hall. George Washington and his wife danced in celebration after his inauguration. This dance has transformed into many formal celebrations balls. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first President sworn into office in Washington D.C. The location chosen for our Capitol as it stands today. Jefferson’s first inauguration was the first peaceful transfer of power under our current governmental system. After Jefferson’s second inauguration, he rode his horse from the Capitol to the President’s home. Many Navy shipmen and musicians gathered to watch, and thus began the tradition of the processional parade. In 1885 Grover Cleveland’s parade lasted two hours and dawned 25,000 marching in the processional. The President customarily chooses who marches in the parade and in 1865 Abraham Lincoln included, for the first time, African Americans to march along-side him. The only President to skip the tradition of the parade is Reagan in 1985 who chose to cancel the parade due to dangerously freezing temperatures and winds. By 1829, Andrew Jackson had 20,000 in attendance at his reception and ended up sneaking out of a White House window. The first televised Inauguration was Harry S. Truman in 1949.

Attendees to the inaugurations have been usually members of Congress, high-ranking members of armed forces, judiciary, and former Presidents. To date, there have only been five former Presidents that did not attend the inauguration of an incoming president. John Adams and John Quincy Adams were both very upset over their losses to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, respectively, and choose not to attend. Andrew Jackson did not attend the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant and neither did Woodrow Wilson (although he did ride with Warren G. Harding to the Capitol). And of course, the most famous to date, Richard Nixon did not attend the inaurguation of Gerald Ford….for obvious reasons. So, will this year’s list of former Presidents “trump” the other attendees? We shall see…..

Whatever your political views, this is a time to reflect on our Country’s history, traditions and the chance to see, first hand, the peaceful transition of power that has gone on for over 200 years.

Sexual Offender Registration: Does it make rehabilitation impossible?

By Brian Goza

Everyone knows, at least in general terms, about the sexual offender registration laws. The offenders’ pictures are in the paper. There are websites and apps that have all the information: pictures, offense, address, etc. This is the reality of the world that these people live in.

I understand, and don’t disagree with the basic premise of the requirements. Protect the public, especially children, from sexual predators. No one is in favor of putting children at risk. These laws are designed with that as a goal.

It doesn’t stop with mere registration. While on supervision, whether it be through parole following a prison term, or community supervision (probation), certain sex offenders are not permitted to live in delineated “child safety zones”. These include areas near public swimming pools, schools, day care centers, and playgrounds. Many municipalities have enacted ordinances that prohibit those subject to sexual offender registration from living in the same areas even after they have been released from probation or parole.

In the vast majority of sexual offense cases the offender will at some point return to society. Whether by discharge of their sentence or by receiving deferred adjudication probation. Presumably, the goal is to have these individuals become rehabilitated so that they will be productive, law abiding citizens. They will be in the free world so it would be in everyone’s best interests to reintegrate them to the extent possible.

Sex offender registration, and particularly residency restrictions can undermine efforts to reintegrate. Many individuals are prohibited from living where they otherwise would, usually with supportive family. These individuals are then forced to acquire other, less stable, living arrangements, such as extended stay hotels. This can cause the individual to be in an environment that is less conducive to rehabilitation.

As a result, residency restrictions have come under fire. Recently, Marion, Texas abandoned an ordinance that would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1000 feet of a child safety zone. The Marion ordinance included bus stops in the definition of child safety zone. This effectively blanketed the city and made Marion off limits to sexual offender registrants. When facing legal challenge, the city repealed the law. Courts in multiple states have struck down such restrictions.

Everyone is in favor of protecting the public, and especially children. There is a glaring lack of evidence that residency restrictions contribute to that goal.

Collin County Jury Convicts Enrique Arochi in Largely Circumstantial Case.

By Brian Goza

Last Thursday, September 22, a Collin County jury found Enrique Arochi guilty of aggravated kidnapping in the disappearance of Christina Morris. The verdict followed more than a week of testimony and two full days of deliberations.

Christina Morris, a 23-year-old Fort Worth resident was last seen on surveillance video in a parking garage at the Shops at Legacy in Plano at around 4:00 a.m. On August 30, 2014. She had been at a friend’s apartment and was walked to the garage by Enrique Arochi who had been at the same gathering. She was reported missing by her family four days after anyone saw or had contact with her. Her car was found in the garage that she was seen entering with Arochi. Arochi’s car, a 2010 Camaro was seen on video leaving the garage.

The case against Arochi was a difficult one to prove. The evidence was largely circumstantial. The only physical evidence was traces DNA found in the trunk of Arochi’s car. Cel phone records show that Arochi and Morris were in the same area after leaving the garage. The presiding judge, Mark Rusch, rejected efforts of the prosecutors to put in evidence of “deviant pornography” and other highly damaging circumstantial evidence which was obtained in a search based on an insufficient search warrant.

The defense pointed to the lack of hard evidence arguing that the State had failed to meet their burden of proof. They also pointed to the victim’s boyfriend, Hunter Foster, as a possible suspect. Foster is currently serving a 33-month federal sentence for distributing the drug “Molly” in a north Dallas nightclub. The victim’s mother has indicated that although shocked by Foster’s drug involvement, she does not believe he in connected to her daughter’s disappearance.

The jury deliberated two days prior to finding Arochi guilty. The court granted the defense request to sequester the jury during deliberations. When the jury returned for the second day of deliberations the court learned that one of the jurors had fallen ill. Judge Rusch released the juror stating that the juror “looked like death warmed over”. They reached their verdict at around 7 p.m. Thursday night.

The police and prosecutors who continue to pursue the case against Arochi appear to believe wholeheartedly that Arochi killed Morris and disposed of her body. At least in part because no body has been found, the State has proceeded Ina charge of aggravated kidnapping instead of murder or capital murder. Aggravated kidnapping, like murder, is a first degree felony. It is punishable by anywhere from 5 years to 99 years in prison. Unlike a murder conviction, Arochi is eligible for probation following his conviction for aggravated kidnapping.

The punishment case against Arochi is set to begin Tuesday, delayed one day due to the judge being sick.

Aberrant violence stemming from “Designer Drug” use.

This week in Miami, Florida a 19-year-old college student was arrested in connection with a gruesome double murder that sounds like a bad horror movie. Austin Harrouff, the son of a Jupiter, Florida dentist, stabbed and killed Michelle Mischon, 53, and John Stevens, 59. Arriving on scene, officers found Harrouff on top of Mr. Stevens lifeless body biting chunks of flesh out of his face. He was also grunting and making animal like noises. Authorities called the bizarre attack “random and unprovoked” noting that there was no known connection between Harrouff and the victims.

What could make a 19-year-old young man from a privileged background leading an apparently charmed life go this far off course? The answer may be designer drugs. Designer drugs are chemically designed substances that are meant to have the same effect as most conventional controlled substances while avoiding classification as illegal as well as positive identification in testing.

Two designer drugs that have come under scrutiny for their effects on users are two types of synthetic cathinone, commonly referred to “bath salts” and the more potent “Flakka”. Health officials have named these types of drugs “new psychoactive substances” (NPS). Many take bath salts and Flakka as a cheaper, more accessible alternative to cocaine and methamphetamine. Bath salts and Flakka are synthetically engineered to mimic Khat. Khat is a plant found in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Its leaves are sometimes chewed providing a stimulant effect. The synthetic drugs are, however, much stronger and more unpredictable than Khat, and are highly addictive.

The effect of the synthetic drugs is alarming. Flakka, suspected to have been taken by Harrouff is particularly damaging. Psychologically, it causes hallucination and extreme aggressive, often violent, behavior. This has prompted some to call it a “Zombie” drug. While high on Flakka users will exert themselves to a degree that their bodies wouldn’t otherwise be capable of, resulting in superhuman strength. Flakka causes users to enter a state of excited delirium. In this state the person’s core temperature rises to unsafe levels, a conditions called hyperthermia. This can result in severe dehydration leading to renal failure and death.

Characteristically, Harrouff was almost impossible to subdue. Police shot him with a stun gun with little to no effect. Eventually he was controlled by multiple officers and several police dogs. His mother had expressed concern regarding his behavior leading up to the killings. She had reported to the police that he was acting different, calling himself “immortal”. She told police that she did not consider him a risk to himself or others.

In Texas, Flakka is not a controlled substance and therefore it’s not against Texas law to possess it. Senate Bill 199 would have made it illegal in 2015, however, it was never voted on by the Texas Legislature. The substance has been outlawed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency making it a federal crime to possess Flakka. Expect Texas to formally follow suit and outlaw Flakka in their next legislative session in 2017.

HEALING FROM THE DALLAS SHOOTINGS

On July 7, a madman attacked downtown Dallas. We have all seen the footage and heard the heartbreaking accounts of five Dallas police officers losing their lives. Tragedy from senseless violence has been part of our lives for a long time. Oklahoma City, Columbine, Orlando, Sandy Hook, and far too many more. These aren’t just places. Mentioned together they elicit a visceral reaction. They paint a tapestry of what evil looks like in our country. And yesterday, Baton Rouge.

The shootings in Dallas offer a stark dichotomy of people who feel disenfranchised. A lawful protest being protected by the police. A peaceful protest about police violence no less. A group exercising the rights given to them by our Constitution, with a law enforcement presence that ensured they had the opportunity to do so. That is how it is supposed to work. In contrast, there is someone whose actions represent the ugly and evil face of those who feel left behind.

I am white. I don’t know what it’s like to be black. I don’t know what it’s like to live being the target of racial discrimination that absolutely does exist in this country, but I understand the anger. Black lives do matter. The obvious response is that all lives matter. I spoke with a friend today trying to get my head around this. He brought some clarity. The movement is to REMIND people that black lives matter, and not to exclude others. The goal is to help bring back a disenfranchised community. To bring them back into the fold with acceptance and true equality. The acts of a single gunman served only to undermine the cause.

There are bad people in this world. Bad people are Attorneys. Bad people are doctors. Bad people are convenience store clerks. And unfortunately, there are bad Police Officers. They cannot be exempted solely because of what they are supposed to be. It must be dealt with. For more than twenty years I’ve been a criminal defense lawyer. I’ve seen the effects of a bad cop. But it is not the norm. I believe the significant majority of the officers I’ve dealt with are good people trying to protect and serve, while making a modest living. They do a dangerous job that is vitally important while receiving very little appreciation from those they protect.

Last Sunday I was at Quick Trip. In front of me was an officer getting a cup of coffee and a can of snuff. I offered to buy it for him. He politely declined, telling me that they don’t get charged for that at QT. He thanked me for the offer and I thanked him for the job he does. When I told him I was a criminal defense lawyer he looked me dead in the eye and said, “see, we can all get along.” He thanked the cashier and left. On his way out, “Thanks again, brother.” He said it TO ME.

Stanford Swimmer Sexual Assault Case- Sentence Controversy

Last Thursday, June 2, 2016, Brock Allen Turner, an All American swimmer at prestigious Stanford University was sentenced to six months in jail followed by three years of probation in the sexual assault of an unnamed young women.

Here are the facts:
On January 18, 2015, shortly after midnight, two Stanford graduate students from Sweden witnessed a clothed man on top of a partially nude woman who appeared to be unconscious. The two witnesses took action. The man and woman were on the ground behind a dumpster near a fraternity house where they had both attended a party. Lars Peter Jonsson shouted at the man asking, “What the f—- are you doing? She’s unconscious.” Turner then tried to flee. Jonasson and his friend detained Turner until authorities arrived.

Turner was arrested and charged with three felonies. Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated woman with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. He entered a plea of not guilty alleging that the assault was an alcohol fueled consensual encounter. The case was made more difficult for prosecutors by the fact that the victim had no memory of the events due to of an alcohol induced blackout. In March, a jury did not buy Turner’s explanation and Turner was found guilty.

Turner appeared again in court to learn what punishment he would receive. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky could have sentenced Turner to up to 14 years in prison for the three convictions. A pre-sentence report from the Santa Clara County probation department recommended a much more lenient outcome, that Turner be given probation with a jail term of not more than a year.

At the sentencing hearing, the 23-year-old unnamed victim read a long, gut wrenching statement to the Judge asking that he send a stern message to Turner and others who might commit such crimes. It outlined what happened to her and the effects it has had on her life. “I am a human who has been irreversibly hurt.” she stated. She also said that Turner’s status as an All American swimmer at Stanford should not be considered as a justification for leniency stating “If I had been sexually assaulted by an un-athletic guy from a community college, what would his sentence be? How fast he swims does not lessen the impact of what happened to me.”

Also submitted to Judge Persky was a letter from the defendant’s father, Dan Turner. In it he talked about the effects and change to his son since the incident. “The verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways” said the senior Mr. Turner. However, he also blamed the incident on alcohol consumption and promiscuity, suggesting that his son could educate others and the danger of binge drinking. Most inexplicably he called the encounter “20 minutes of action” and said that prison time was not appropriate for that kind of offense.

Ultimately, Judge Persky followed the recommendation of the probation officer and declined to grant the prosecutors’ request for a six-year prison term for Turner. Turner will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Judge Persky reasoned “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on (Turner)…I think he will not be a danger to others.”

There has been widespread outrage over the sentence. The Santa Clara County District Attorney criticized the decision to levy only six months in the county jail, with only three months actually being served, but did not call for Persky’s removal, “While I strongly disagree with the sentence…I do not believe (Persky) should be removed from his judgeship.” He also praised the strength of the victim. “She has given voice to the thousands of sexual assault survivors.”

Others have not been as forgiving of Judge Persky. As of this week alone (June 7, 2016) more than 400,000 people had supported an online petition at www.change.org calling for Persky to be ousted. In a letter to be delivered to the California State, the petition accuses the judge of being lenient due to Mr. Turner’s status as “a white male star athlete at a prestigious university.”

Neither the Attorneys for Turner, nor the unnamed victim have commented since the sentencing.

JOHN EARL NOLLEY MURDER CONVICTION OVERTURNED

For almost 19 years, John Earl Nolley, of Bedford has been in the Texas prison system for the
murder of his friend Sharon McLane. On Tuesday, May 17, he was allowed to walk out of
Tarrant County’s 213th District Court a free man.

Nolley was convicted in 1998 of the stabbing murder of McLane which occurred on December
14, 1996. The jury sentenced him to life in prison. The key evidence leading to his conviction
was the testimony of John O’Brien. O’Brien was a jailhouse informant who had befriended
Nolley while the two worked in the Tarrant County Jail library. He testified that Nolley admitted
to stabbing McLane after an attempted robbery in her apartment. He also testified that Nolley
saw McLane’s blood on his shoes.

O’Brien was no stranger to trouble himself. He was a habitual felon who was in jail awaiting
trial on charges that carried punishment of 25 years to life in prison. After his testimony
assisted prosecutors secure a conviction, he was given a plea bargain allowing him to remain
free on deferred adjudication probation.

Beyond the testimony of O’Brien, the evidence against Nolley was sparse. O’Brien’s testimony
portrayed a robbery gone bad but no other evidence supported that scenario. Nothing was
taken from McLane’s apartment, including cash in McLane’s purse. A bloody palm print was
found at the crime scene but a forensic analysis couldn’t say who left it. Evidence of another
suspect was largely ignored by law enforcement.

In the initial stages of the investigation, Nolley denied being at McLanes on the day of the
murder. He later admitted to having been there to sell McLane marijuana. He later explained
that he initially lied to the police because he was on probation and selling marijuana would be a
violation of that probation.

Following the conviction, O’Brien, now serving time on a new charge, admitted to giving false
testimony against Nolley in an effort to get a better deal on his charges. Also, further forensic
analysis indicated that the bloody palm print did not come from Nolley or McLane.

In a collaborative effort from Nolley’s attorneys and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s
Conviction Integrity Unit, the case was reexamined. Nolley’s defense team included The
Innocence Project founder Barry Scheck and Fort Worth attorney Reagan Wynn. In a
culmination, Tuesday Judge Louis Sturns of the 213th District Court officially vacated the 1998
conviction. While the case is still under investigation and Nolley has not been officially
exonerated, neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel expect the case to be retried. Judge
Sturns granted Nolley release on his own recognizance pending a final resolution of the
charges.

Surrounded by family, friends, and members of his defense team, Nolley called himself
“blessed” to have received so much support during his ordeal.

It just got easier to get arrested for DWI in Texas.

Leming v. Texas and what it means.

The highest criminal tribunal in Texas recently handed down an opinion which significantly
reduces the burden on police officers when effectuating a traffic stop in some DWI cases.
In a highly disputed plurality opinion, The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that an officer can
pull over a motorist for not maintaining a single line of traffic alone, whether the motorist is
driving in a safe manner or not. This overruled a prior opinion from various Texas Courts of
Appeal.

At issue is the interpretation of Texas Transportation Code Sec. 545.060 which reads in
pertinent part:
(a) An operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic:
(1) shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single line; and
(2) may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely.

Prior opinions from Texas intermediate Courts of Appeal and construed the statute to require
that the officer must see the vehicle fail to maintain a single lane of traffic and deem that
movement to be unsafe.

Writing for the plurality, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Kevin Yeary, a Republican from
San Antonio announced the court’s decision: “Thus it is an offense to change marked lane’s
when it is unsafe to do so; but it is also an independent offense to fail to remain within a
marked lane of traffic so long as it remains practical to do so, regardless of whether the
deviation from the marked lane is, under the particular circumstances, unsafe.”

This ruling significantly decreases the burden on prosecutors seeking to establish the legality of
a police stop in a DWI case, and effectively broadens the power of the police to stop and detain
motorists. Writing in dissent, Justice Michael Keasler, a Republican from Dallas, stated: “The
court’s holding today only increases the likelihood of fishing expeditions the Fourth
Amendment protects against.”

The court’s ruling in Leming can only be seen as an expansion of police power and a further
erosion of the civil liberties contained in the Fourth Amendment.

#DWI #texaslaw #criminalappeals