Lori Elaine Laird, J.D.

Archive for the ‘General Criminal’ Category

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 

Employers Facing Penalties and Criminal Prosecution for Hiring Undocumented Workers

In General Criminal, Immigration on September 10, 2012 at 4:32 am

 

If you are an employer, the legal requirement to check the eligibility to work of employees has never been more critical.  The Obama administration has concentrated its immigration enforcement efforts on auditing businesses and pursuing criminal prosecutions against businesses that hire undocumented workers.  More than 2,000 businesses are being audited by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) annually during the most recent years of the Obama administration.

The enforcement tactics against businesses also have changed under the Obama administration.  Under President Bush, businesses saw loud raids, but now ICE is employing so-called silent raids designed to disrupt the pool of undocumented employees.  The risk of criminal prosecution and fines for hiring illegal workers has increased because of the criminal liability trap that lurks for unsuspecting employers.  While an employer may face penalties for failing to inquire about incomplete or fraudulent I-9s, efforts to inquire more fully into the documents can expose a business to civil liability based on discrimination claims.  This paradox makes it essential to seek legal advice from an experienced attorney with both immigration and criminal defense experience if you are facing a business audit or criminal charges for hiring undocumented workers.

It is important to understand that the consequences of hiring illegal workers and failing to obtain and keep appropriate employment eligibility documents may include incarceration, ineligibility for government contracts and substantial fines.  If you do not have proper documentation regarding an employee’s eligibility to work after an I-9 audit, the employee must be fired but will not be removed (deported) and may be free to obtain employment with your competitor.

There are precautions that can be used to reduce the risk of facing penalties for fraud, I-9 violations or other offenses related to hiring illegal workers while avoiding discrimination claims, including the following:

  • Use of E-Verify to confirm eligibility for employment
  • Maintain I-9 records for a minimum of three years or a year after an employee leaves the company whichever is longer
  • Implement universal policies and apply them the same way for all employees
  • Preserve accurate and well-organized documentation and records
  • Performing random checks to ensure all employees are completing all information on I-9 forms

If you are hiring new employees, the requirements to verify eligibility for employment are strictly enforced.  When hiring an employee, there are three separate categories of documents that are relevant.  Documents in List A verify both identity and eligibility to work.  Documents in List B confirm identity only, and documents in List C verify employment eligibility only.  Any new employee must provide a document from List A or a document from both List B and List C.  An employer is obligated to obtain these documents within three business days of hiring an employee.  If an employee has lost the documents or for other reasons is unable to provide them, the employee must provide a receipt that shows replacement documents have been requested within three business days.  If the receipt is provided, the employee will have ninety business days to produce the actual documents.  If you cannot produce I-9 document for employees, you may face fines ranging from $100 to $1000 for each missing or non-completed form.

If you are facing penalties and prosecution for an immigration related offense including hiring of illegal workers, Houston attorney Lori Laird has knowledge and experience in both immigration and criminal defense matters.  Houston immigration attorney Lori 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.  Ms. Laird is committed to providing zealous legal representation to her clients facing penalties for violations of immigration laws.  Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit our website to learn more about our Houston law firm.

Can the Police Conduct a Search of My Vehicle or My Person During a Routine Traffic Stop?

In Constitutional Law, General Criminal on July 9, 2012 at 3:18 am

Many people make mistakes during a routine traffic stop that can result in facing criminal charges when they were completely avoidable.  It is not surprising that motorists make strategic errors when stopped by a police officer because many drivers are unaware of their rights.  We get a fair number of inquiries regarding the criteria for a lawful search that arises out of a traffic encounter with the police.  We have provided some basic guidelines regarding lawful searches during a routine traffic stop.

You may be pulled over for some sort of a traffic violation, for example, running a red light, failing to signal lane change or speeding, or for some type of “erratic driving”- maybe driving over the line, sometimes called failure to maintain a single lane.  Although there are many reasons for an officer to make a traffic stop, these are examples of two of typical grounds for conducting a stop.  In these circumstances, the officer generally does not have any legal basis to conduct an extensive search of you or your vehicle.  While the officer may scan the inside of the passenger compartment, the officer generally cannot conduct a more extensive search of the interior of the vehicle, glove compartment or the trunk of your vehicle.  However, the officer does have a right to take certain precautions to protect his safety.  If the officer sees you bend over or reach under the seat, the officer may check for weapons.  This means that it is advisable to keep your license, registration and insurance information easily accessible so that you will not be forced to dig around and give the officer a basis to look for a weapon- a weapon that may not even exist- inside the vehicle.

If you have contraband or evidence like illegal narcotics in plain view within the passenger compartment of your car, the officer can confiscate the narcotics and search the vehicle more fully because he has probable cause to believe a crime is being committed.  Even if the officer does not discover evidence of a crime in plain view, the officer may conduct a search of your vehicle if you are lawfully arrested.  For example, if an officer suspects you have been drinking, the officer may ask you to perform field sobriety tests (FSTs) and submit to a breath test.  If you fail these tests, the officer would have probable cause for an arrest and could conduct an inventory search of your vehicle subject to a lawful arrest.  Or perhaps you have an outstanding warrant for a traffic offense and the officer takes you into custody for the warrant.  The arresting officer may then conduct an inventory search of your vehicle.  The purpose of an inventory search is designed to preserve the property of the defendant and to alleviate claims by individuals that the police have lost or stolen their property.  Even though the stated purpose of an inventory search isn’t to “find evidence” to prosecute individuals- the discovery of evidence or dangerous objects found in such a search may result in additional or new charges against the driver.

Another situation where the officer may conduct a search in a limited sense is called a Terry stop.  During a Terry stop, an officer who has “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed may order you to get out of the vehicle and conduct a limited pat down of your outer garments for weapons.  It is important to understand that this pat down must be limited to a search for weapons.  If the officer does not feel anything that is obviously a weapon, the officer may not reach into your pockets or search you further.  When the officer is conducting the pat down, however, the officer may confiscate contraband like drugs if the identity of the contraband is readily apparent by touch.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they have contraband in their vehicle is to consent to a search of the vehicle.  If you are pulled over for a routine traffic violation or erratic driving, this alone is not sufficient to provide the probable cause necessary to justify an investigatory search for evidence.  This is why the officer asks you to consent to a search.  It is imperative that you do not grant permission for the officer to search you or your vehicle.  If you have been pulled over for speeding, for example, you may receive a traffic citation and pay a fine.  If you consent to a search of your vehicle, however, any contraband discovered during the search like cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin or other drugs may mean that instead of going home you go to jail/prison.  Many people are intimidated when a police officer requests permission to check the trunk or glove compartment of their vehicle, but you can and should say no.

The key point to keep in mind is that even if you have contraband or evidence of criminal activity in your vehicle, a routine traffic stop does not mean that a police officer can conduct a broad search of your person or vehicle.  If you or someone close to you has been arrested following a search during a traffic stop in Houston or the surrounding areas, criminal defense attorney Lori Laird provides tenacious criminal defense based on her unique combination of law enforcement and legal experience.  Our criminal defense law firm provides legal representation to those in Houston, Galveston, Angleton, Richmond, or anywhere throughout Harris County, Brazoria County, Galveston County, Fort Bend County or Chamber County who have been arrested.    Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit my website at www.lorilaird.com to learn more about my firm.