Articles Posted in Penal Code

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camera-1-300x201In 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a challenge to the constitutionality of Texas’s law on improper photography or visual recording. Texas Penal Code § 21.15(b)(1) was found unconstitutional on its face in Ex parte Thompson, [Sept. 17, 2014], “to the extent it proscribes the taking of photographs and the recording of visual images…” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found this section of the penal code violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the United States ConstitutionEx parte Thompson was a criminal case out of Bexar County, Texas.

The First Amendment, made applicable to the State’s through the Fourteenth Amendment, protects individual’s right to exercise free speech. In Thompson, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned that a photographer’s camera is equivalent to a painter’s paintbrush and the content should thus be regulated the same in the First Amendment context.

The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the statute prohibited content based material, thus the statute was reviewed under the strict scrutiny standard. Subsection (b)(1) was a sort of catch-all provision that violated all forms of photography and visual recording—even innocent ones.

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Thumbnail image for handcuffs.jpg In 1994, four young women in San Antonio, Texas were accused of sexually assaulting two sisters who were aged 7 and 9 years old at the time. All four women were convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child. Three women were sentenced to 15 year in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, while the girls’ aunt received a 37.5 year sentence. One of the girls (now 25 years old) has recanted her story and has declared that the crime never happened.

In the summer of 1994, the two sisters were staying with their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, in San Antonio, Texas. Two months later Ramirez was shocked to learn that her nieces had told their father that Ramirez and three other women sexually assaulted them and their friends. Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez have stated over and over again that they are innocent. All four women refused to take plea bargains. Ramirez was tried in 1997, while Mayhugh, Rivera, and Vasquez were tried together in 1998.
The trials themselves were a witch hunt full of junk science and homophobia. In the 1980s and 1990s the United States was gripped by a rash of claims sexual abuse and satanic rituals performed on children. All across the country people were accused of horrific acts against minors. Many were convicted on nothing more than the testimony of the alleged young victims. Over the years, it has been proved that many of the accusations were false and many innocent people paid for crimes they never committed.

All four women in this case are lesbians. In the trials of Ramirez and her friends, the prosecution fed into the false stereotype of homosexuals as sexual deviants. Anti-gay views of the jury at the Ramirez trial were made clear by the foreman, a minister, who stated that homosexuality was a sin. Despite the lack of any physical evidence, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office who prosecuted the case painted these young women as monsters to the jury.

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k-9.jpgAn ongoing investigation into the death of two Bexar County Sheriff’s Department canines has left San Antonio with many questions. How did could this have happened? What could have been done to prevent the tragedy? And will criminal charges be brought?

On Tuesday, July 24th, Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Benoy took the dogs in a county-owned Chevrolet Tahoe with dog kennels to his home in Adkins, TX. This routine is standard for officers who work with K-9s and Benoy had done this several times before. On this particular day, though, Benoy did not follow his regular routine and left the dogs locked in the SUV with the windows rolled up at about 2 PM. It is still unclear why. He then left town for an overnight trip.

When he returned on Wednesday, almost 30 hours later, the two Belgian Malinois police dogs were dead. It is believed that they died of heat exhaustion, but animal care services will be conducting a necropsy to determine the official cause of death.

Benoy has 23 years of service, 13 of which have been as a K-9 handler. He has been placed on leave for 10 days while an investigation into animal cruelty and administration purposes is conducted. It is estimated that the total cost of a police canine is around $40,000. This includes the initial cost, the training, and the care of the animal.
The interior of a parked car can reach scorching temperatures within minutes, especially during the summer. According to PETA’s website, temperatures inside a car can reach upwards of 160 degrees on a 78 degree day. Cracking the windows has minimal to no effect on reducing the temperature. On the Tuesday and Wednesday in question, temperatures in San Antonio were 96 degrees.
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trayvon.jpgStand Your Ground Law, Shoot First Law, Castle Doctrine, Make My Day Law, Defense of Habitation Law – There are many names across the United States used to describe the approved use of deadly force by a person who feels threatened. In the wake of the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, emotions on both sides of the proverbial fence have been running high. George Zimmerman, the man who fired the fatal shot that killed 17-year-old Martin, is being charged for second degree murder. The outcome of the trial remains to be seen, but the events surrounding both Martin and Zimmerman have many people asking the same question, what is a self-defense law? In Texas, the law is found under Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code.

In March 2007 Governor Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 378, a law which allows Texans to use deadly force when they are threatened in their homes, cars, and public areas. The bill took effect September 1, 2007. This bill amended the previous law that had been in place. The biggest change to the law was the removal of a person’s “duty to retreat”. This means that Texans no longer have to make an attempt to leave a potentially dangerous situation before using deadly force in self-defense.

Chapter 9 of the Texas Penal Code clearly states when, where, and why force may be used by a person to defend themselves or others. In addition to protecting one’s own self from harm, the law states:
1. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect a third person
2. A person is justified in using force, but not deadly force, against another when the force is immediately necessary to prevent the other from committing suicide or inflicting serious bodily injury to himself 3. A person is justified in using force against another when the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land or unlawful interference with the property Continue reading

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The legal system in the State of Texas has come under fire lately for their inconsistencies. Two recent cases highlight the unstable nature within the courts. The state takes a hard-line on criminals, but are citizens actually getting fair trials? San Antonio, Texas has come under scrutiny in the past as well for executing an innocent man, Ruben Cantu. Currently, there are 23 inmates on death row from Bexar County.

Steven Michael Woods Jr. was executed on September 13, 2011. A drifter with no prior record, he was the 10th person put to death in the state of Texas this year. He was convicted of capital murder in 2002 for the 2001 deaths of a man and woman in The Colony, TX, located in North Dallas. Woods and a co-defendant (Marcus Rhodes) were tried for the deaths. Woods admitted he was at the scene, but insisted that he did not do the actual killings. There was no physical or DNA evidence linking Woods to the murder. Woods’ conviction was based primarily on witnesses’ testimonies. Witnesses were not present at the murders and based their testimonies on conversations they had heard. Rhodes, who admitted to shooting and stabbing the victims, pleaded guilty to avoid a trial. Backpacks belonging to the victims were found in Rhodes’ car and the guns used were found at the home of Rhodes’ parents. Rhodes, who admitted to doing the actual killings, is serving a life sentence in prison while Woods, who did not murder anyone, was executed.

The case against Woods’ was primarily based on Texas’ Law of Parties (Texas Penal Code Section 7.02). The law states that a person can be held criminally responsible by aiding and abetting a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend to kill. In other words, a person can be convicted of guilt by association, even if they did not have the intent or knowledge that a murder was going to be committed.
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Governor Rick Perry signed several bills into law that will impact the San Antonio area and surrounding communities, Bexar county, and Texas. The regular 82nd legislative session ended on May 30, 2011, and the following Senate Bill took effect on September 1, 2011. The following summary of the law concerns the Penal Code, the Family Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Family Code, and the Education Code. This new law, and all Texas laws, can be located at the Texas Constitution and Statutes website. As with all new laws, the changes made apply only to offenses committed on or after the effective date.

SB 407, Relating to the creation of the offense of electronic transmission of certain visual material depicting a minor and to certain educational programs concerning the prevention and awareness of that offense. Penal Code Sections 37.09 and 43.26 amended, and Section 43.261 added. Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 6 and Articles 38.45, 39.15, 42.12, 45.0215 and 45.0216 amended, and Articles 6.09 and 45.061 added. Family Code Sections 51.03, 51.08, 51.13, 58.003, 59.004, and 61.002 amended, and Section 54.0404 added. Education Code Section 37.218 added.

Previously, minors who were convicted of “sexting” (sending sexually explicit material via electronic means) would be tried as adults under pornography laws. The term “sexting” has recently made it into the Oxford Dictionary. The consequences for the minor could have been a possible felony conviction and registration as sexual offenders, which would have resulted in a lifetime of negative stigmatisms. Under the new law, the punishments more accurately fit the crimes and take into account a defendant’s impressionable age and whether it is their first conviction.

The new law uses a tiered system and minors are to be charged with misdemeanors. Individuals who are 17 years of age and younger can be tried for both the promotion and the possession of sexting material. Minors facing their first conviction of sexting will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor (maximum fine of $500). A second offense is a Class B misdemeanor (up to 180 days in jail and maximum fine of $2000) and a third offense is a Class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail and maximum fine of $4000).

There are several requirements associated with the new law. County court judges are required to take a minor’s plea in an open court. Parent(s) of the minor are required to be in attendance in the court. All records are to be expunged on the 17th birthday of the minor if they have been convicted of only one sexting offense. For cases punishable by fines only, the case will be transferred to juvenile court. If the defendant is convicted and required to complete an educational program, the defendant and/or the parents are held financially responsible for any costs. The courts are allowed to seal the records of minors who attend and complete an educational program.

In addition, the new law requires the Texas School Safety Center, in cooperation with the Office of the Attorney General, develop the program for the psychological, social and legal consequences to be used by Texas school districts to educate students. The program must be written by January 1, 2012, and updated each year. The program will be available beginning the 2012-2013 school year. Each school district will decide what grade level is appropriate for introduction.
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crime scene tape.jpgA female teenager in Texarkana, Texas has been formally charged with three counts of capital murder in the deaths of a Texarkana woman and her two children. According to reports, the suspect’s mother contacted officials saying that her daughter confessed. After being interviewed at her home, the teenage girl was arrested and remains at a juvenile detention facility. According to police, the girl had information about the May 11th fire that killed the three individuals that only someone at the scene would have known.

There are several ways that a murder becomes a capital offense in Texas. One being whoever “intentionally commits the murder in the course of committing or attempting to commit…arson…” Tex. Penal Code §19.03.

This case raises two interesting legal points. First, privileged communications that are recognized under the law. The Texas Rules of Evidence govern what privileged communications are not admissible in court. There are certain privileged communications that the courts will not allow to be admitted against a defendant in court. For example, the common privilege is the attorney-client privilege. Other common privileged communications are the husband-wife privilege, clergy-penitent privilege, and the physician-patient privilege. There is no parent-child privilege specifically addressed by the Texas Rules of Evidence. There have several attempts by lawmakers to add a parent-child privilege to the Federal Rules of Evidence, however none of them have ever passed. Thus, it remains in Texas and in Federal Court that parents may be forced to provide incriminating information against their own child. Even the few states who do recognize parent-child privilege only apply the privilege to communications between a minor child and his or her parent.
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The regular 82nd legislative session ended on May 30, 2011, and the following House and Senate bills will all take effect on September 1, 2011. The following summary of the laws concern the Texas Penal Code, the Business and Commerce Code, the Alcoholic Beverage Code, and the Family Code. These new laws, and all Texas laws, can be located at the Texas Constitution and Statutes website. As with all new laws, the changes made apply only to offenses committed on or after the effective date.

HB 2577, Relating to the unlawful use of a criminal instrument or mechanical security device; providing a penalty. Texas Penal Code Section 16.01 is amended.
So, what exactly is a criminal instrument or mechanical security device? Any tool that is legal to buy or own, but is intended to be used in a crime. For example, owning an electronic lock-pick (like the kind used by a locksmith) is not a crime. But, using said lock-pick to break into someone else’s house is a crime. Under the new law, subsection (a) (1) states that a person who possesses a criminal instrument or mechanical security device with the intention to use in a crime can be charged. Penalty is one category lower that the offense intended. Subsection (a) (2) states a person who manufactures, adapts, sells, installs, or sets up an instrument or device to use or aid another person to use them can be charged. Penalty is a state felony.

SB 488, Relating to criminal background checks on users of online dating services and to disclosures of online dating safety measures; providing a civil penalty. Chapter 106 is added to Business and Commerce Code.

Finding someone special just got a little safer in the state of Texas. Under the new Internet Dating Act, providers must disclose to its members whether or not they conduct background checks, and whether or not they exclude or allow people with criminal records to utilize their website. When conducting a background check, online dating providers must check for any felony offenses, any sex offender registrations, and any convictions of family violence. Texas requires websites to provide a statement, or “Safety Awareness Notification”, that reminds members that background checks are not 100 percent fail-safe, criminals are able to manipulate technology, not all states make criminal records public, and the background checks do not cover foreign convictions and are limited to the three checks listed above. Websites that do not comply with the new law by September 1, and do not act in accordance with the law, are subject to civil penalties.
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The regular 82nd legislative session ended on May 30, 2011, and the following House and Senate bills will all take effect on September 1, 2011. The following summary of the laws concerning the criminal justice system will effect the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which can be located at the Texas Constitution and Statutes website. As with all new laws, the changes made apply only to offenses committed on or after the effective date.

Misdemeanor Fines and Costs:
House Bill 27 amends the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 42.15 and 45.041. This bill applies to defendants of misdemeanor cases who are unable to pay the full amount of the court fines and costs in one payment. When a judge declares the sentence in a case, under the old law the judge could either require the defendant to pay the entire amount of the fines and costs at the time of sentencing or require the defendant to pay the entire amount at a later date. Under the new law, the court has the authority to set-up a payment plan for a defendant. For many people, this will help alleviate much of the stress associated with a misdemeanor case.

New Conditions for Defendants Being Placed on Deferred Adjudication:
For defendants who are going to be placed on deferred adjudication community supervision, House Bill 1106 outlines information that the court must supply. According to amended article 42.12, the court must inform the defendant that they have the right to petition for an order of nondisclosure (i.e. sealing of records, as outlined in Government Code 411.081) if the defendant is eligible. The defendant is limited in pursuing a petition of nondisclosure based on the nature of the offense and/or the defendant’s criminal history. In addition, the bill also outlines the information that must be presented to a defendant in the event of a dismissed case. “A judge who dismisses the proceedings against a defendant and discharges the defendant” must provide a copy of the order of dismissal and discharge and inform the defendant of their right to nondisclosure.
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