Lori Elaine Laird, J.D.

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

High Court’s Decision to Limit GPS Monitoring Is a Mixed Bag

In Uncategorized on June 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm

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With the almost daily changes in consumer information technology, such as web surfing smartphones and tablet computers, it is predictable that law enforcement technology has also made radical advances.  These new law enforcement advances frequently employ satellite technology for surveillance and eavesdropping.  While Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections are designed to shield citizens from unreasonable intrusion on one’s privacy interests, the technology of surveillance and monitoring has advanced in ways the Framers of the Constitution could never have imagined.  Sometimes significant steps forward in technology can mean equal steps backward in the right not to be subject to unreasonable search and seizure. 

The U.S. Supreme Court recently took a step in the right direction by restricting the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology for surveillance without a warrant.  In U.S. v. Jones, the Court vacated the life sentence given to a defendant accused of drug trafficking because it rejected the use of prolonged warrantless GPS surveillance via a device installed on the defendant’s vehicle.  While the Court’s 9-0 unanimous decision struck a blow for privacy interests threatened by technological gadgets used for government surveillance, the decision left as many questions open as it answered.

 The case involved installation of a GPS tracking gadget on the vehicle of Antoine Jones who Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) authorities suspected of drug dealing.  Jones was charged with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of cocaine base and five kilograms or more of cocaine.  Jones was convicted largely on evidence gathered by monitoring his movements via the GPS tracking device, which led federal DEA agents to a location where he had stashed almost a hundred kilograms of cocaine and a kilo of cocaine base.

 While all members of the Court agreed that the GPS tracking procedure without a warrant was a violation of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections, they split on the rationale.  The majority of the Court based their ruling on common law property rights.  The majority opinion found the violation to be rooted in the act of law enforcement authorities “trespassing” on the property of Jones (his vehicle) to install the device rather than the actual surveillance.  The concurring opinion found that the prolonged surveillance without a warrant was a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

While the decision to vacate Jones sentence because of the prolonged GPS surveillance without a warrant struck a blow to privacy in the face of increasingly invasive law enforcement technology, it left many critical questions unanswered.  The use of satellite and GPS technology for spying on ordinary citizen’s often requires no installation of a monitoring gadget.  Mobile phones and automobiles are now often equipped with GPS tracking.  Further, law enforcement authorities often use cell phone triangulation to track the movement of suspects.  While the concurring opinion seems to be clear that these types of surveillance and monitoring require a warrant the majority opinion is murky on this issue.  The Supreme Court’s ruling also failed to address other forms of surveillance, such as traffic cameras and web monitoring software.

The use of monitoring technology by law enforcement authorities is common in criminal cases involving drug manufacturing and drug trafficking.  With constant advances in technology, there are an increasing number of ways that surveillance by the police may run afoul of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections.  If you have been arrested for a Texas drug crime or other crime where your Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights may have been violated, experienced Houston criminal defense attorney Lori Laird is committed to protecting the rights of those accused of crimes and fighting for their freedom.

If you are facing criminal charges in Houston, Galveston, Angleton, Richmond or anywhere throughout Harris County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County or Chambers County, I will work diligently toward a dismissal of charges or acquittal after trial.  Where this is not possible, she will build the most compelling case possible to negotiate a plea reduction from a position of strength.  Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit my website at http://www.lorilaird.com to learn more about my firm.

 

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The Long-Term Consequences of a DWI Conviction

In DWI, Uncategorized on March 8, 2012 at 1:54 am

DWI and DUI arrests seem to be on the increase in Houston, Galveston and the surrounding areas of Texas.  The police utilize a number of increased enforcement procedures including saturation patrols and DWI sobriety checkpoints.  Many people that have never been arrested may find that they are facing DWI charges following a DUI arrest at or near spring break, New Year’s Eve, or other holidays.  Most people are aware of the immediate adverse consequences of a DWI conviction in Harris or Galveston counties including loss of driving privileges, incarceration in county jail or state prison, fines and assessments, installation of ignition interlock, alcohol classes, counseling, probation and other penalties.

However, some people do not realize that long after the impact of these immediate consequences of a DWI conviction, there are many long-term consequences.  A DWI conviction can have a serious impact on one’s future.  For example, a DWI conviction can have negative consequences on one’s career by creating barriers to educational and occupational opportunities.  Even a first time DWI offense by someone with no other criminal record can have an enormous impact on one’s future ability to obtain certain jobs and limit one’s earning potential.

A DUI conviction can limit educational opportunities in a number of ways.  Texas DWI convictions can be a complete bar to certain types of educational opportunities.  Some graduate schools, including law schools, may deny access to students with DWI convictions.  Most college and university applications require disclosure of any criminal convictions.  A DWI conviction can hurt one’s chances of being accepted for admission.  Financial aid may also be negatively impacted by a DUI conviction particularly a DUI involving the use of unlawful narcotics.

A DWI conviction may also limit your career options beyond its impact on educational opportunities.  Many occupations that involve professional or state licensing or certification may disqualify a potential job applicant.  A DWI conviction is a misdemeanor or felony depending on the specific circumstances of your situation and history so it becomes part of your criminal record.  Employers are increasingly conducting criminal background checks before hiring an employee so prospective employers may discover your DUI.  This can be embarrassing and may play a factor in a potential employer’s hiring decision.

Of course, the negative consequences of a DWI conviction go beyond educational and career opportunities.  Anyone convicted of DWI may also face deportation, barriers to eligibility for citizenship and other adverse immigration effects.  Because your DWI conviction is a matter of public record, anyone that runs a criminal background or public records check may discover your Texas DWI conviction including potential landlords, volunteer organizations or someone you enter into a dating relationship with.

The enormous long-term adverse consequences of a DWI conviction can haunt you for years.  Fortunately, there is a vast difference between a DWI arrest and a DWI conviction.  Experienced Houston/Galveston DWI lawyer Lori Laird is a former police officer with intimate knowledge of mistakes made by police officers and weaknesses in a prosecutor’s DWI case.  Ms. Laird analyzes your entire DWI case beginning from the initial stop to identify the strongest potential Houston or Galveston DWI defense strategy.  Ms. Laird’s goal is to obtain a dismissal of charges or acquittal after trial.  If this is not an option, she often is able to obtain a reduction in charges to avoid the harsh and lingering consequences of a DWI conviction.

If you or someone close to you is arrested for DWI, Houston DUI defense attorney Lori Laird provides aggressive DWI defense based on her unique combination of law enforcement and legal experience.  Our Houston DWI 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 for DUI.    Call 832-699-1966 today for your free consultation or visit my website to learn more about my firm.

Field Sobriety Tests–Inaccurate and Unreliable?

In DWI, Uncategorized on February 7, 2012 at 11:52 pm

There are few experiences that will raise your blood pressure more quickly than seeing flashing red and blue lights in your rear view mirror.  Many motorists pulled over by the police in Houston or Galveston counties have had little if any prior contact with law enforcement.  When you pull over and the officer approaches your vehicle, you may feel stress, fear or even anger.  However, if you have been drinking, what you do next can have a substantial impact on your future.  Many people pulled over after they having had a single drink presume that they will be arrested and hope that if they “cooperate” their chances of going home, rather than visiting the local jail, are better.  Generally speaking, nothing could be further from the truth.  When an officer pulls you over, often times their course of action is to develop evidence so that you do not go home.  It may be surprising to some, but DWI investigations are far less scientific and reliable than many drivers realize.  Most people have seen officers pull over drivers and administer standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) on television police dramas, but what most people do not realize is that an experienced DWI attorney may be able to effectively challenge both the legal basis for the stop and the SFST results.

A law enforcement officer may not pull you over on a mere hunch but must have a sufficient legal basis to justify the stop.  In most cases, this will either be a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed, such as observing you speeding or observing erratic driving behavior.  It is important to keep in mind that just because a law enforcement officer stops you does not mean that he or she has sufficient legal basis to conduct a DWI investigation.  Although speeding is a violation that permits an officer to pull you over, speeding is not evidence of intoxication.  The officer may detain you to write a traffic citation but does not have probable cause to conduct a DWI investigation which would include having you perform SFSTs.  If you are calm and provide your license and insurance information without engaging in a prolonged conversation you may well drive away from the encounter.  However, even if you have just had one drink, if the officer observes any signs of slurred speech, the odor of alcohol, red watery eyes or observes an open container of alcohol in the car—you may find yourself in the middle of a DWI investigation.

Even if you have only had one drink, it can be a serious mistake to engage the officer beyond producing your license and insurance information and providing brief concise answers to any questions.  It is never a good idea to admit you have been drinking or that you are coming from a bar.  The legal requirement for an initial stop is only that the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a crime is being committed based on articulable facts.  This is a lower burden than the “probable cause” needed to conduct a DWI investigation.  The key to keep in mind is that the officer must have probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence of alcohol to initiate a DWI investigation and ask you to perform SFSTs.  If the officer only stopped you for speeding, then the officer may have no evidence supporting that you are driving under the influence because speeding is not evidence of DWI.  If you keep your interaction brief and provide short concise answers, the officer may not observe sufficient physical evidence of intoxication to ask you to take SFSTs.

Also remember, even if the officer does ask you to perform FSTs, you do not have to perform them.  If you have not been drinking and are not in a rush, you may choose to perform the tests, but they can be difficult and many people who are not intoxicated fail.  If you have been drinking, it is best to avoid the tests because their sole function is to provide evidence supporting probable cause for a DUI/DWI arrest.

Regardless of which route you take, any driver who agrees to take SFSTs should be aware that these tests are physically difficult and extremely inaccurate.  Although you may have seen many versions of field sobriety tests on television, there are only three that have been approved by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as being reasonably accurate at identifying intoxicated drivers.  While you may be familiar with any of these tests only the first three listed below have any validity according to the NHTSA:

  • Walk and turn
  • One-leg stand
  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test
  • Reciting the alphabet
  • Counting backwards
  • Alternating touching your nose with a finger first with one hand than another
  • Standing with your feet together and head tipped backwards
  • Indicating the number of fingers held up by the officers

While it might be surprising to learn that only the first three tests have any legitimacy, most people do not realize that even those three are extremely inaccurate even when performed perfectly by a properly trained law enforcement officer who is fully trained in accurately demonstrating, explaining and scoring the tests.  Many officers submit subjective analysis for the objective scoring system or fail to follow the precise guidelines and procedures when demonstrating and explaining the SFSTs.  Even when all of this is done perfectly, which is not nearly as often as you might expect, the three SFSTs approved by the NHTSA still have a high failure rate.  The NHTSA acknowledges that the walk and turn and one-leg stand inaccurately identify someone as intoxicated 35 percent of the time while the horizontal gaze nystagmus test falsely identifies someone as impaired 23 percent of the time.

As a former police officer, I have conducted many DUI/DWI investigations and recognize the common mistakes made by officers when administering the tests.  I ensure that the jury also is well aware of the high rates of false positive results for intoxication produced by SFSTs even under the best of circumstances.  I also use my experience working in law enforcement on such cases to expose common errors made by officers when providing instructions and demonstrating the tests.  The tests must be precisely demonstrated and explained to be valid so my past experience as a patrol officer is valuable to clients in identifying and exposing clear departures from appropriate procedures and protocol.

I also know that the physical exercises that constitute SFSTs are highly unnatural and require a fair degree of physical fitness, balance and coordination.  I educate the jury on how foreign and unnatural these tests are for anyone who is unfamiliar with them.  The tests are all the more difficult if you suffer from obesity, a physical disability, diabetes, vertigo or other physical or mental disabilities.  I make certain a jury understands such physical and mental limitations and their potential impact on SFST results.

Many people arrested and charged with driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated presume that the DUI investigation process is based on a firm scientific basis.  What one should take away from this article is that there is an enormous margin of error in DWI investigations that permit a skilled criminal defense attorney with a background in law enforcement to protect your freedom and future.  If you are convicted of DUI/DWI in Houston, Galveston, Brazoria or Fort Bend counties you may suffer serious adverse consequences, including incarceration in county jail or state prison, substantial fines, installation of an ignition interlock device, probation, mandatory alcohol classes, driver’s license suspension or revocation, community service and other penalties.

If you are arrested for driving under the influence in Houston or anywhere throughout Harris, Galveston, Brazoria or Fort Bend Counties, Lori Elaine Laird provides a unique combination of investigative skills acquired as a former police officer and the legal experience and expertise of a successful criminal defense attorney.  Call  (832) 699-1966       today for your free consultation.