Lori Elaine Laird, J.D.

What You Need to Know If You Are Arrested for Operating a Marijuana Grow House

In Constitutional Law, Drug Crimes, General Criminal, Marijuana on April 22, 2013 at 2:00 am

marijuanafield

If you are under investigation or in custody and facing charges of cultivation of marijuana, you may be subject to serious penalties that can deprive your of your liberty and have an adverse impact on your future.  Because more and more “grow houses” are cropping up throughout Texas and across the U.S., both Texas and federal law enforcement authorities are aggressively pursuing investigations and criminal cases against those operating marijuana cultivation operations.  Law enforcement agencies eradicated over 8 million marijuana plants in a single recent year according to the Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center.

 Law enforcement officers carefully analyze water and electricity use to identify grow houses.  There are a wide range of issues that may create the basis for a valid defense when a person is accused of operating a business for cultivation of marijuana or manufacturing of other narcotics like methamphetamine.  Some of these issues include:

 Searches of the Premises: Law enforcement agents must conduct searches that are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  A warrantless search of one’s home is presumptively unreasonable so the officers must prove a valid exception to the warrant requirement, such as exigency (i.e. emergency), hot pursuit or some other exception.  Even if a law enforcement officer obtains a search warrant, judges sometimes erroneously issue the warrant based on insufficient evidence, or officers “fudge” the facts to obtain the warrant.  When a warrant is valid on its face, there are still reasons that the search may be improper, such as when the search goes beyond the scope of the warrant.  Sometimes a “consent search” is conducted, but the person who gives consent does not own the premises or have authority to consent to the search.

 Challenging Informants: Police often use the testimony of those who purchase marijuana from those with cultivation operations or sell marijuana from the grow house to prosecute these cases.  Many times these informants may be small scale dealers who view a cultivation operation as a threat to their business or individuals seeking to gain other advantages, such as favorable treatment in their own criminal case.  Aggressive cross-examination of such informant can expose their motives to lie or distort the truth.

 Attacking Electronic Surveillance: Police may use electronic wiretaps, GPS tracking devices, and other forms of high tech surveillance when investigating a marijuana cultivation operation.  These types of surveillance may intrude on Fourth Amendment privacy interest protected by the prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures.  Experienced drug crimes attorney Lori Laird investigates information gathered through electronic monitoring to determine Constitutional and statutory grounds to seek exclusion of such evidence.

 Grow Lights/Electricity Usage: Many law enforcement agencies use helicopters with infra-red imaging equipment that will detect glow lights like a beacon.  The police may engage in various actions to investigate such discoveries including reviewing electric bills or conducting informal “visits” to detect the odor of cannabis before seeking a search warrant.  We will examine such actions for substantive and procedural violations of law and the rights of our clients.

 The use of hydroponic cultivation methods involving artificial light from grow lamps and minimal soil has resulted in marijuana grow operations springing in upper scale suburban neighborhoods.  These advances in cultivation  and drug manufacturing processes along with the real estate housing bust has resulted in many innocent homeowners and landlords being swept up in criminal charges for drug trafficking, marijuana cultivation and drug manufacturing on properties that they own.

 While the penalties for marijuana cultivation can result in a misdemeanor or felony conviction, the grading of the offense and severity of the punishment is based on the quantity of marijuana.  The penalties for marijuana cultivation include:

Amount of Marijuana        Grading                                 Maximum Sentence           Maximum Fine

2 Oz. or Less                         Class B Misdemeanor        Six Months (180 days)       $2,000

Over 2 less than 4 Oz.         Class A Misdemeanor        One Year                               $4,000

Over 4 Oz. to 5 Lb.              State Jail Felony                  180 days to 2 years             $10,000

Over 5 to 50 Lb.                   3rd Degree Felony                2 to 10 Years                        $10,000

Over 50 under 2000 Lb.     2nd Degree Felony              2 to 20 Years                        $10,000

2000 Lb. or more                 1st Degree Felony                 5 to 99 Years (or Life)        $50,000

If you are facing charges of cultivating marijuana or drug manufacturing in Houston, Galveston, Angleton, Richmond, Baytown, Webster, League City or anywhere throughout Harris County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County or Chambers County, Lori Laird is a former law enforcement officer who relies on this experience when defending drug cases in Texas.  Ms. Laird works diligently to seek dismissal of the charges, acquittal at trial or the best possible disposition.  Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit our website to learn more about my firm.

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How Facebook and Other Social Media Sites Can Damage Your Criminal Case

In Assault, Constitutional Law, Drug Crimes, DWI, General Criminal, Immigration, Plea bargain on April 4, 2013 at 4:23 am

social media

 

If you are under investigation or face prosecution for criminal charges in Houston, Galveston or anywhere in Texas, you should be acutely aware that information posted on social networks is increasingly finding its way into criminal and civil courtrooms.  Many people, especially young adults and teenagers, publish inappropriate intimate details about their lives on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace.

From time to time people post information, pictures or video on social media networks that can prove damaging in subsequent criminal cases.  Many times this information may not seem incriminating when posted but gains significance based on subsequent events.    In situations when the compromising nature of the evidence is apparent at the time of posting, those who post the information often feel a false sense of security that the information is password protected in private areas of the social network site and is inaccessible to others who may be investigating suspected criminal activity.

 While there is a variety of way information posted on your Facebook or other social media pages can be used as criminal evidence against you, some common examples include:

 Photos of underage drinking

  • Descriptions of drug use
  • Statements that seemingly place you at the location of a crime compromising mitigating alibi evidence
  • Evidence that may be used to impeach testimony or undermine defense strategies
  • Information that supports an argument of premeditation, attempt or conspiracy
  • Images that influence the judge to impose more serious sentencing

 The concept of using social network information in criminal litigation is not merely theoretical.  Some cases involve suspects boasting about their role in committing a crime with the post electronically time stamped.  This type of information can significantly complicate defense strategy when you are being prosecuted for a criminal offense.

 Here are some examples of actual criminal cases where police and prosecutors have effectively used social media information including:

 Example 1: The defendant was charged with murder, narcotics and weapons offenses.  He posted photos of himself in public areas of his Facebook page flashing gang signs, which complicated his case where gang membership was alleged.  He attempted to keep private references to violent criminal offenses and threats against others.  The judge found that because he shared these details with “friends” on Facebook he lost all expectation of privacy in the information.

 Example 2: Police used evidence communicated by a Hell’s Angel to a witness via a Facebook “poke” as evidence he threatened a witness.

 Example 3: A defendant accused of vehicular homicide for the death of her boyfriend and passenger during a drunken driving collision had arranged a fairly lenient plea bargain.  However, the judge decided to reject the plea agreement and to impose a much more serious penalty when the defendant posted pictures of herself intoxicated and bragging that she was “so drunk” prior to acceptance of the plea.

 A recent survey of over 1,200 law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level revealed that 80 percent of law enforcement officials indicated they use social media to gather intelligence in criminal cases.  Fifty percent of those surveyed revealed that they check social media on a weekly basis when investigating criminal offenses.  The majority of those law enforcement agencies indicate that the information they glean from social media sites assist them in solving crimes more quickly.

 Some “public” information takes a bit of maneuvering to find.  Someone can have their Facebook settings as private as possible, but their friends or relatives might not be as savvy, allowing police to collect information by looking at what a suspect posts on their friends’ public pages. Drug dealers have been known to post innocuous public updates that include location information so clients — and unwittingly, law enforcement — know where to find them

 The rules of evidence in criminal cases can be complicated, but Houston criminal defense attorney Lori Laird is intimately familiar with the legal rules regarding the admissibility and exclusion of evidence.  Generally, you should not speak to anyone about your criminal case which includes disclosing information on your social media pages.  If you are the subject of a criminal investigation or you have been charged with a crime, the best option is not to post any information on your social media pages.  If you have posted damaging information, Ms. Laird may be able to have the evidence excluded.

 If you are facing criminal charges, experienced criminal defense attorney Lori Laird provides legal representation in Houston, Galveston, Angleton, Richmond or anywhere throughout Harris County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County or Chambers County, Lori Laird can provide answers to your questions and provide effective legal representation.  Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit our website to learn more about my firm.

 

Expungement of Texas Criminal Records: Protecting Your Reputation and Future

In General Criminal on September 18, 2012 at 4:55 am

Many people that submit an application for a job, student financial aid, rental property, college application, home loan or similar opportunity find their request denied with no justification provided by the decision-maker.  Sadly, the basis for this denial is a criminal record that the applicant has no idea even exists.  There is a misconception shared by many in Texas that if they are not convicted of a crime or successfully complete probation they do not have a criminal record.  In reality, anyone who has been arrested will have a criminal record even if the district attorney dismisses the charges.  At the Law Offices of Lori Elaine Laird PLLC, we have helped many people reclaim their future by clearing their criminal record through the expungement process or pursuit of an order for non-disclosure.

If you have been arrested in Texas for a felony or misdemeanor, you have a criminal record even if no formal criminal charges were filed; your case was dismissed; or you were acquitted after trial.  Effectively, you have a criminal record if you have been arrested for a criminal offense in Texas, even a fairly minor misdemeanor.  These criminal cases may be discovered by employers, landlords, lenders or academic institutions that perform background checks.  It is estimated that eighty percent of all employers now conduct criminal background checks during the hiring process.

Fortunately, the negative blemish of a criminal arrest and/or criminal charges that can impact your personal and professional reputation may be removed from your criminal record through the expungement process.  Expungement is available in the following situations depending on the specific alleged offense.

  • No formal charges filed
  • Charges dismissed
  • Acquittal after trial
  • Class C misdemeanors (i.e., disorderly conduct, public intoxication)

The requirements involved in seeking expungement can be complicated and the application may be opposed by the prosecutor so it is important to have an experienced Harris County or Fort Bend County criminal defense attorney like Lori Laird on your side.  There is a minimum period of time that must elapse before seeking expungement, which amounts to two years if you are seeking expungement of a misdemeanor.  Ms. Laird can evaluate whether you are eligible for expungement and prepare your Petition for Expungement.  The petition must include a range of information, such as your personal information, criminal offense to be expunged, law enforcement agencies with the records, and the legal/factual basis for granting your request.

The court will schedule a hearing where your request will be granted if it is not opposed.  If the petition for Expungement is contested, Ms. Laird can represent you and advocate for your interest at the hearing.  If you are charged with any criminal offense in a Harris or Galveston County criminal court, Ms. Laird may seek deferred adjudication so that there is no disposition until you complete probation.  If you successfully complete probation, the charges may possibly be dismissed possibly leaving you eligible to seek expungement once the waiting period has elapsed.

Even in cases where you are not eligible for expungement, Ms. Laird may still be able to prevent public disclosure of your criminal case by filing a Petition for Non-Disclosure.  If this process is successful, law enforcement agencies and courts will be barred from disclosing information about your criminal case to third parties like employers, loan agencies, landlords, educational establishments and others.

If you have questions regarding clearing your criminal record, Ms. Laird offers a free consultation to those in Houston or elsewhere in Galveston, Angleton, Richmond or anywhere throughout Harris County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County or Chambers County, Lori is committed to providing zealous legal representation to her clients tempered by sound legal advice.  Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit our website to learn more about our Houston law firm.  Or visit our website for more information:  www.TexasCriminalDefender.com  or www.lorilairdcom