Lori Elaine Laird, J.D.

Archive for the ‘Plea bargain’ Category

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.

 

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Withdrawal of a Guilty Plea Based on Poor Legal Advice Regarding Immigration Benefits

In Immigration, Plea bargain on September 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

 

The collision of criminal law with immigration law in the U.S can create situations that are untenable for those accused of criminal offenses that are legal residents or undocumented immigrants.  When you are charged with a criminal offense as a non-resident, you may face the unpleasant dilemma of choosing between a plea agreement that keeps you out of jail or state prison and one that results in your being forced to leave the country with a permanent ban on your ability to return.  The consequences of entering into a plea agreement without legal advice on the immigration consequences of a guilty plea or bad advice can result in devastating permanent effects on one’s life.

A couple of examples will illustrate the scope of the problem.  Possession of cocaine in the quantity of less than a gram will typically be charged as a felony under Texas law.  If the state proves its case at trial, the sentence for cocaine possession under these circumstances can result in incarceration for a minimum of six month and a maximum of two years as well as a fine of up to $10, 000.  While you may be able to reach a plea agreement that results in felony probation if you have no previous convictions, this option does not pose an attractive option if you are a legal resident.  If you are convicted of this offense, an immigration judge would have no discretion to let you remain in the U.S. because the offense is categorized as an “aggravated felony” under immigration law.

The consequences can be even more devastating depending on your specific situation.  If you were brought here as a child from Russia, you may speak only English and have no friends of family remaining in Russia.  While you could accept a plea agreement that results in probation rather than incarceration, you would find yourself removed to a country that you do not know with no personal connections and an inability to speak the language.

The majority of states do not consider the failure to advise an accused of the immigration consequences of a plea to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel justifying the withdrawal of a guilty plea.  However, inaccurate advice regarding the immigration impact of a plea agreement is considered ineffective assistance of counsel in a majority of jurisdictions.  Because it can be difficult to withdraw a guilty plea, it is imperative to contact an experienced Houston Galveston criminal defense attorney before agreeing to a plea agreement that may damage your rights to immigration benefits.

While a minority of jurisdictions do not consider the failure to advice an accused of the immigration effects of a plea agreement as ineffective assistance of counsel because it is considered a collateral consequence, many attorneys in jurisdictions that do simply choose not to provide any information to clients on immigration issues.  Because the immigration impact of a criminal conviction can have even more serious long-term and life altering consequences than the criminal penalties, we are committed to providing our clients with sound legal advice on both immigration and criminal consequences of a conviction or plea bargain.  Houston criminal defense 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 the dilemma of immigration penalties on one side and criminal penalties on the other.  Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit our website to learn more about our Houston law firm.