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Embezzlement or Misappropriation of Funds Can Be a Serious Crime in Texas Federal Courts. Embezzlement is considered a white collar crime in the state of Texas and is almost always charged as a felony. Punishment can be severe depending on what was done and how the funds were misappropriated. The criminal could face fines in the million of dollars and many months in prison. If you’re being charged with Embezzlement, you will need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Contact Houston Embezzlement Lawyer Charles Johnson to speak with an experienced legal professional about what you can do to protect your name and reputation. Attorney Johnson will travel to any state court in the State of Texas and to any Federal Court in the United States of America to fight for your freedom. Contact him directly around the clock, 7 days/week at (713) 222-7577.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines embezzlement as the “misappropriation or misapplication of money or property entrusted to one’s care, custody, or control.” What distinguishes embezzlement from other types of theft is the violation of financial trust between the owner of the money or property and the offender.
Theft by employees is one of the most prevalent and costly problems faced by today’s business, either private or public. It includes, but is not limited to, “the removal of products, supplies, materials, funds, data, information, or intellectual property.” The estimated annual costs of all forms of embezzlement are up to $400 billion.
The ways that an employee can steal from an organization depend on a number of factors, including that type of money or properties that have been entrusted to the individual, and the access to company funds that the individual might be allowed because of their position. For example, a department store cashier might steal from a cash register, fail to ring up purchases, or take merchandise from storage rooms or receiving areas. Other employees with more access within the company might cheat on expense accounts, or misappropriate funds through billing, inventory, or payroll schemes.
While some research has found that theft by employees is typically a solitary event, the influence of co-workers on theft behavior has been shown to have an enormous impact on such deviant behavior. A strong argument is also made for the effects of informal sanctions; those that did not comply with the theft culture were often ostracized and pressured to leave the job.
The “typical” embezzlement scheme occurs at companies with fewer than 100 employees. The average amount stolen is $120,000 versus just $10,000 for Fortune 500 companies. Small businesses, defined as employers with less than three bookkeepers, are 100 times more likely to experience employee fraud than larger companies. The crime is often carried out over a number of years and has forced many small companies into bankruptcy.
Common Embezzlement Schemes
Bogus loan schemes include cases in which fraudulent loans are created or authorized by the perpetrator from which funds are taken for their own benefit.
Credit card/account fraud cases involve the fraudulent or unauthorized creation and/or use of company credit card or credit accounts.
Forged/unauthorized checks cases are those in which company checks are forged or issued without authorization for the benefit of the perpetrator.
Fraudulent reimbursement schemes include expense report fraud and other cases in which a bogus submission for reimbursement is made by the perpetrator.
Inventory/equipment theft schemes include employee theft of inventory and supplies, and the unauthorized use of equipment.
Payroll shenanigans cases include all forms of manipulation of the payroll systems in order for the perpetrator to draw additional income.
Theft from tax or benefit accounts include cases in which the perpetrator manipulates company accounts meant to pay corporate taxes or employee benefits to siphon these funds off for themselves.
Theft/conversion of cash receipts cases involve the simple taking of cash or checks meant for company receipts and pocketing or converting them for one’s own benefit.
Unauthorized electronic funds transfers cases apply to anyone who uses or attempts or conspires to use any counterfeit, fictitious, altered, forged, lost, stolen or fraudulently obtained debt instrument to obtain anything of value.
Vendor fraud schemes include those where either a bogus vendor is created by the perpetrator to misappropriate monies or a real vendor colludes with the perpetrator to siphon funds from the company.
Clearly the most common form of embezzlement, by nearly a two-to-one margin, is the forgery or unauthorized use of company checks for one’s own benefit. Almost 40 percent of all major embezzlement cases are principally the result of this type of scheme. The next three most common forms of embezzlement are theft/conversion of cash receipts (20.5%), unauthorized electronic transfers of funds (13.4%) and payroll shenanigans (8.7%).
Examples of Embezzlement Schemes
- The bookkeeper pays him/herself – The bookkeeper simply takes a business check, makes it payable to him/herself and signs it.
- Duplicate payments to phony accounts – The bookkeeper pays an invoice with multiple checks over time and creates a phony bank account to deposit the second check. By the way, it is very easy to open a phony account.
- Check alteration – The bookkeeper either alters checks paid to you by customers, or creates a phony bank account to deposit checks.
- Double billing – The bookkeeper re-bills customer twice for the same work and deposits check in a phony account. It is surprising how often businesses will pay twice for the same invoice.
- Duplicate checks – The bookkeeper orders a duplicate set of checks mimicking your account and then proceeds to write duplicate checks to vendors – only the duplicate checks are deposited into the phony account. The business owner may be too busy to notice this deception.
- Credit card transactions – An employee makes a credit card sale, then issues a credit for that item back on to their own credit card.
- Petty cash expenditures – A business does not closely review the petty cash expenditures, unknowingly creating an opportunity for theft.
FBI – Financial Crimes
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates matters relating to fraud, theft, or embezzlement occurring within or against the national and international financial community. These crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust, and are not dependent upon the application or threat of physical force or violence. Such acts are committed by individuals and organizations to obtain personal or business advantage.
Theft, Embezzlement or Misapplication by Bank Officers or Employees
Title 18, Chapter 31 of the U.S. Code contains sections that deal with the various forms of embezzlement and their penalties. For example, Section 656 covers theft, embezzlement, or misapplication by a bank officer or employee.
Motivating Factors for Embezzlement
While a large number of crimes can be attributed to opportunity or the economic need of the offender, loss incurred through the actions of employees can also be a response to poor working conditions, dissatisfaction with management or compensation, or pressure from co-workers. The following are some of the primary motivating factors for Embezzlement:
- Entitlement belief
- Financial need
- Lavish lifestyle
- Gambling issue
- Shopping addiction
- Substance abuse
- Support a personal business
- Support significant other
In the overwhelming number of cases, excessive greed or the desire to live a relatively more lavish lifestyle appears to be the key motivating factor for major embezzlers – not to alleviate personal financial problems, as some might expect. Gambling continues to be a factor for many embezzlers. In some cases, the gambling problem was also part of an overall extravagant lifestyle.
The underlying question remains, however, why do these embezzlers steal so much over such a long period of time from employers who trusted them so implicitly? The classic fraud triangle theory holds that there generally must be three basic elements to exist for fraud to occur: opportunity, incentive/pressure and attitude/rationalization. For embezzlement, the opportunity factor is present in organizations in which business controls are weak and specific individuals, principally those with fiduciary duties, can exploit those weaknesses. For fraud in general, the incentive/pressure factor is often suggested to be financial woes. However, for embezzlers, other factors exist, such as a substance abuse problem, a gambling problem, a perceived need to support a loved one and, a desire to live an extravagant lifestyle or a desire to support a personal or family-owned business.
Rationalization is the most elusive segment of the fraud triangle. Researchers have suggested that one or more of the following attitudes or beliefs exist for embezzlers to engage in illicit activities:
- They believe they are entitled to the money;
- They believe they must save a family member or loved one who is perceived to be in dire circumstances;
- They believe they are in a desperate financial situation and all could be lost;
- They believe that no external or other help exists;
- They believe they are only “borrowing” the money;
- They do not understand the consequences of their actions; and,
- They do not believe or understand that what they are doing is wrong.
Costs and Statistics
While many think of the workplace as insulated from the questionable behavior found elsewhere in society, the statistics can be quite alarming. It is estimated that losses due to employee theft can range from $20 to $90 billion annually to upwards of $240 billion a year when accounting for losses due to intellectual property theft. This makes theft by employees two to three times more costly than all of the nation’s Type I index crimes combined, and accounts for approximately 30 to 50 percent of all business failures. In addition, it is estimated that as many as three-quarters of all employees steal from their employers at least once and some employees may engage in theft behavior as a regular part of their lives on the job.
Employee theft does not occur in a vacuum, but is often found in conjunction with high rates of other workplace deviant behavior. The financial impacts of such behavior, when coupled with the indirect costs of higher levels of stress, increased absenteeism, higher turnover, raised insurance premiums, an increased number of lawsuits, and lower morale, make workplace deviance a problem for businesses of all sizes that can reach an annual price tag hovering in the billions of dollars.
How has the widespread infusion of technology into the workplace impacted issues of embezzlement and employee theft? One result has been the dramatic increase in costs associated with a given offense. Not only can technology facilitate larger transactions that are illegal in nature, but when coupled with poor controls it can be manipulated to make detection much more difficult. Furthermore, the types of theft in the workplace appear to be changing. In addition to cash, materials, and merchandise, employees are increasingly finding value in company-owned software and intellectual property. In 2004, it is estimated that Fortune 1,000 companies sustained losses of more than $59 billion from theft of proprietary information, with insiders to the organization being seen as a higher than average threat.18 Borrowing software from work for personal use accounts for some of the $33 billion lost to software piracy worldwide.
The Response/Current Efforts
Traditionally, organizations did not want the public stigma of being known as an “easy target” or a company that harbored embezzlers and other types of dishonest employees. Most matters were handled internally, if they were handled at all. Some organizations viewed theft as a cost of doing business. In recent years, companies have stepped forward and begun to address the reality that they have dishonest employees who are causing significant economic losses. Studies have shown that there has been an increase in the use of deterrence and apprehension strategies and an increase in the severity of sanctions brought against someone accused of theft. In 1997, retail companies alone spent over $5 billion to combat inventory losses, with theft by employees seen as accounting for the largest share of those losses. These expenditures in formal social control can be seen in both investments in security technology and loss prevention personnel. Additionally, over 40 percent of employees caught stealing is referred for prosecution and 20 percent is required to make some form of restitution.28 So while the problem of employee theft still exists within organizations, some employers have taken important steps towards acknowledging and combating the problem.
Penalties for Embezzlement
Under Texas law, Embezzlement falls under the law criminalizing theft. Embezzlement is essentially financial theft by an employee. It can be considered white collar crime in some instances but it does not have to be only a white collar offense. It occurs when the defendant is entrusted with his or her employer’s money or goods and then steals those money or goods.
In a criminal case involving employee embezzlement, the state must show beyond reasonable doubt that the employee had possession of the assets by “virtue of his/her employment”. If their position did not provide them with control of the missing assets, they would not be able to be charged with this type of crime. There are many situations where it can be a difficult task to determine if the offense can be classified as embezzlement or larceny.
Texas offers a wide variety of penalties for the crime of Embezzlement. The factor that determines the severity of the punishment if convicted on a charge of Embezzlement is the amount or value of the goods, services or cash stolen. For the smallest amounts ($50 and under), the charge will be a “Class C” misdemeanor carrying a penalty of a simple fine of up $500. The most serious charge will be for stealing $200,000 or more in goods, services or cash. This is considered a first degree felony and can be punishable by five to ninety-nine years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
White collar crimes may be charged as misdemeanors or as felonies. The charges depend on the type of crime, the severity of the crime, and the amount of money that is involved in the crime, among other things In general, the more severe a crime the more harsh the potential punishment if convicted. While white collar crimes don’t involve physical violence, they can still be serious. Houston White Collar Crimes Attorney Charles Johnson will help guide you through the legal process and will advocate for your rights every step of the way. If you are in jail, Attorney Johnson will assist in getting your bail reduced if possible so you can be released on bond until your trial date.
Defenses to Embezzlement Charges
When you are responsible for handling corporate finances and assets, errors may occur. A bookkeeping mistake or oversight could lead to an investigation. The minute you are notified of any potential allegations of embezzlement is the time to retain experienced legal counsel.
Embezzlement is a crime, so all the defenses available for other crimes can be used. Common defenses include:
Insufficient evidence – A criminal charge or case can be dismissed if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. This defense will not work as long as a jury can find you guilty without a reasonable doubt. However, 40% of federal embezzlement cases are dropped because of insufficient evidence, so it can be worth pursuing.
Duress – Duress occurs when a person is situated where he/she truly believes they will be in some danger or harm if they do not participate in the crime. Common duress defenses in embezzlement cases that generally do not work include embezzling money to satisfy an addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) or to prevent family hardship. A duress defense will more likely work in cases where you would lose your job unless you participated in an embezzlement scheme.
Entrapment – Entrapment occurs when the government compels an innocent person to commit a crime they would have otherwise not committed. Stings are generally exempt. However, setting up “bait” to get you to commit embezzlement can be entrapment. When bringing an entrapment defense, the prosecution will usually contend you were inclined to commit the offense anyway.
Absence of intent to commit a crime – Most crimes require an intention to commit the crime. Embezzlement requires that you intended to take money or property from others. Without the required intent, the embezzlement charge may be dismissed. For example, maybe you thought you were the true owner of the money or property that you are accused of embezzling.
Insanity – Insanity is always a possible defense, but it is a “tough sell”in any court for any crime. This defense allows you to claim you were either insane at the time of the offense or during trial. The success rate of an insanity defense is low and it would most likely be ineffective in embezzlement cases.
Incapacity – This is different from insanity. In embezzlement cases, this defense may work only if you can show you were somehow mentally incapacitated at the time of committing the embezzlement. An example would be if you were under heavy medication and didn’t realize you deposited company money into your own account.
Intoxication – Voluntary intoxication is almost never a defense to a crime. If you drink voluntarily, you should realize the risks of doing so. This defense rarely comes up in embezzlement case.
Embezzlement charges can be quite complex. In many cases there may be many items that must be reviewed in order to determine the best defense. Some crimes may be a result of miscommunication or deception. It is important to get your story out. There are many ways that a defense attorney will be able to help you protect your rights. The goal of your attorney is to not only help you defend against the charges but to also help you guard your professional reputation. A conviction on these types of charges can be detrimental to your career so it is important to defend the charges as vigorously as possible. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will review all aspects of your case in depth to provide a complete defense of the charges.
If you have been charged with Embezzlement, you are probably facing stress at your home and workplace. Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson can help relieve that stress by ensuring that you are protected by the best Texas embezzlement lawyer available. If you want the best in knowledgeable legal representation & a criminal law firm that will treat your case with consideration and concern, please contact us 24/7 at (713) 222-7577 for a FREE confidential consultation. Your initial consultation can be done over the phone, and will be free and completely confidential. During this consultation you will be informed about the law, your rights and your legal options, with a reliable idea of how much an effective embezzlement defense may cost. Rest assured that The Charles Johnson Law Firm will zealously defend you against any type of White Collar Crime accusation.
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The Charles Johnson Law Firm is one of the foremost criminal defense law firms in Houston in defending people from drug convictions, including the possession and sale of marijuana. Our unique strategy gives our clients the best opportunity to avoid criminal penalties, and our criminal defense law firm’s familiarity with drug laws, both felonies and misdemeanors, is unrivaled. We provide each client a high-quality legal defense that is superior. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson can defend against any criminal drug charge in both federal and state courts, and our firm’s track record of success continues to grow.
Hire the Best Houston Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Criminal Marijuana Penalties
Marijuana possession and sale charges can be either misdemeanors or felonies, but both carry serious penalties. Jail time, heavy fines, probation, mandatory rehab programs and more are all possible penalties for drug charges. Attorney Johnson’s finely tuned defense techniques have evolved from years of experience, and he brings that knowledge and experience to those facing marijuana-related criminal charges.
Of all the marijuana laws in Texas, possession of marijuana may be the most unfair. It punishes otherwise responsible citizens merely for keeping some pot for personal use and who have no intention of ever doing anything hurtful with it or profiting from it. Nonetheless, it is an offense to possess, distribute or cultivate marijuana in Texas. Depending on the quantity, possession of marijuana can be charged as a misdemeanor of felony in both state and federal court.
The prosecution may argue that you’re “in possession” of marijuana in Houston, TX, if you’re found smoking marijuana or if you knowingly “exercised control” over the marijuana. Therefore, the location of the marijuana is very important:
- If the marijuana is found on your person, in your car, in or around your home, in a storage unit belonging to you, or in any other place that you have some authority over, the prosecution will argue that you were in possession of the marijuana since you had some control over the location.
- Furthermore, if marijuana is found in your system during a drug test or you were caught driving under the influence of marijuana in Texas, the prosecution may try to use that to prove you’ve been in possession of marijuana since you presumably “exercise control” over your body.
Marijuana Possession Penalties in Texas
- Two ounces or less include a fine up to $2,000, up to 180 days in jail or both
- More than two ounces, but less than four ounces. Penalties include a fine of up to $4,000, up to one year in jail, or both.
- Four ounces or more, up to and including five pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, between 180 days and two years in prison, or both.
- More than five pounds, up to and including 50 pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, between two and ten years in prison, or both.
- More than 50 pounds, up to and including 2,000 pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $10,000, between two and 20 years in prison, or both.
- More than 2,000 pounds. Penalties include a fine of up to $50,000, between five and 99 years in prison, or both.
Sale of Marijuana
Various states have different marijuana laws, and Texas is no different. Texas treats marijuana sales as a much more serious crime than possession, which is reflected in the penalties. The sale of any amount of marijuana can lead to prison time, even for small amounts.
Sale of Marijuana Penalties in Texas
- 1/4 oz – 5 lbs: 6 months – 2 years, $10,000 fine
- 5 lbs – 50 lbs: 2 – 20 years, $10,000 fine
- 50 lbs – 1 ton: 5 – 99 years, $10,000 fine
- 1 ton or more: Mandatory minimum of 10 – 99 years, with a $100,000 fine
These are for either the sale OR delivery, meaning it is irrelevant whether or not you are actually paid or just just giving it to someone. On top of that, if the delivery or sale is to a minor (in ANY amount), that is punishable by an additional 2 – 20 years in prison. Also, sale within 1,000 feet of a school or within 300 feet of a youth center, public pool or video arcade increases the penalty classification to the next highest level (which in some cases is a difference of many years).
The Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson understands the unique nature of Texas marijuana laws, and can provide a skilled defense. His unparalleled knowledge of state and federal drug laws gives him a unique ability to provide excellent legal services for you and your loved ones. If you are in need of criminal defense legal representation in the Houston area, contact Attorney Johnson anytime day or night at (713) 222-7577 to discuss your situation.
What Is Marijuana?
Cannabis sativa: There are two species of Cannabis. One species is Cannabis sativa, originally cultivated to make hemp. The stalks of the plant contain fibers that are woven to make rope, cloth, and paper. The other species is Cannabis indica, known for its psychoactive properties. Hashish is derived from Cannabis indica. In Africa, cannabis is know as “dagga,” in China as “ma,” and in India as “ganga” or “bhang”. Marijuana is the Mexican colloquial name for Cannabis sativa. Marijuana is a greenish-gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant.
THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is found in the plant’s resin. The amount of THC determines the potency of the marijuana. The resin is mostly concentrated in the flowers of the plant. Because of various cultivation techniques the amount of THC varies considerably in the flowers of individual plants.
Other Chemicals: Marijuana is a complex drug and is made up of 420 chemical components. Sixty-one of these chemicals are called cannabinoids and are unique to marijuana. Many scientific studies focus on the primary psychoactive chemical, THC but don’t know how these other cannabinoids affect the various organs, brain, and behavior.
Grades of Marijuana
- Low-grade marijuana is made from leaves of both sexes of the plant.
- Medium-grade marijuana is made of the flowering tops of female plants fertilized by male plants.
- High-grade marijuana is made of the flowering tops of female plants raised in isolation to male plants. This marijuana is called sinsemilla because it does not produce a seed.
- Hashish is produced when resin is collected from the Cannabis indica plant. The THC-rich resin is dried and then compressed into a variety of forms, such as balls, cakes, or cookie-like sheets. Pieces are then broken off, placed in pipes, and smoked or rolled into a cigarette along with tobacco or low-grade marijuana. The Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are the main sources of hashish. THC content of hashish can vary from 8% to 20%.
What are the Physical Effects of Marijuana usage?
When marijuana is smoked, the affects are felt in minutes. The high usually peaks within a couple of hours. Marijuana affects users differently. The “high” can include a feeling of relaxation, improved sense perception, and emotional well-being. Music and visual images may seem more vibrant and intense. Time seems to slow down. Some people experience physical hunger and a range of emotion from laughter to introspection. Marijuana does not always produce pleasant feelings and may cause paranoia and hallucinations. Emergency room visits have increased because some people feel anxious or fearful after smoking high-grade marijuana. Whether the marijuana is smoked or eaten, THC can remain in the body for days. About half the THC is in the blood 20 hours after smoking. Although the initial high has disappeared, physical and mental functions may be affected for days.
The physical effects of marijuana depend on many individual factors such as personal health, the time of day that marijuana is used, the problems it causes, and how well a person is able to control his or her use. Research studies have shown that one of the primary concerns for those who use marijuana is cardiovascular damage. Marijuana causes damage to lungs that is similar to that caused by cigarettes. For people who inhale deeply or hold the smoke in their lungs longer, the risk can be greater. One study that compared cigarette and marijuana smokers found that marijuana smokers absorbed five times the amount of carbon monoxide, and had five times the tar in their lungs, as compared to cigarette smokers. For those who smoke both marijuana and cigarettes, the damage can be exponentially greater than that caused by marijuana or cigarettes alone.
Research shows that people who use marijuana more than one time during the day tend to have more social and physical problems than those who only use in the evenings. Those who use at multiple times may also be more likely to be smoking to avoid problems they feel unable to confront. A person who uses marijuana in addition to alcohol or other drugs can be at additional risk. The effects of some drugs become exponentially greater when taken together. In addition, the physical tolerance that one drug produces can sometimes affect another drug, and lead to dependence on multiple substances.
Is Marijuana Addictive?
While marijuana is not in the same addictive league as cocaine, heroin, and even alcohol, recent studies raise the possibility that THC affects the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that affects the pleasure circuits. Many addictive drugs cause the release of dopamine from the neurons. One report by the National Institute of Drug Abuse states that long-term marijuana use can lead to addiction for some people. This report concludes that along with craving, withdrawal symptoms can make it hard for long-term marijuana smokers to stop using the drug. People trying to quit report irritability, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety.
Texas does not prosecute possession of drugs only. In fact, Texas will prosecute a person for possession of drug paraphernalia. Thus, it is a separate criminal charge classified as a Class C Misdemeanor and typically carries a penalty of $500. Normally, if one is charged with a possession of controlled substance, then a possession of drug paraphernalia will be charged against the person, as well.
Under federal law the term drug paraphernalia means “any equipment, product or material of any kind which is primarily intended or designed for use in manufacturing, compounding, converting, concealing, producing, processing, preparing, injecting, ingesting, inhaling, or otherwise introducing into the human body a controlled substance.”
Drug paraphernalia is any legitimate equipment, product, or material that is modified for making, using, or concealing illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. Drug paraphernalia generally falls into two categories:
User-specific products are marketed to drug users to assist them in taking or concealing illegal drugs. These products include certain pipes, smoking masks, bongs, cocaine freebase kits, marijuana grow kits, roach clips, and items such as hollowed out cosmetic cases or fake pagers used to conceal illegal drugs.
Dealer-specific products are used by drug traffickers for preparing illegal drugs for distribution at the street level. Items such as scales, vials, and baggies fall into this category. Drug paraphernalia does not include any items traditionally used with tobacco, like pipes and rolling papers.
With the rise of the drug culture in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, the country began to see the appearance of “head shops,” which were stores that sold a wide range of drug paraphernalia. While some of the paraphernalia was crude and home-made, much was being commercially manufactured to cater to a fast-growing market. Enterprising individuals even sold items openly in the street, until anti-paraphernalia laws in the 1980s eventually ended such blatant sales. Today, law enforcement faces another challenge. With the advent of the Internet, criminals have greatly expanded their illicit sales to a worldwide market for drug paraphernalia. For example, in a recent law enforcement effort, Operation Pipedreams, the 18 companies targeted accounted for more than a quarter of a billion dollars in retail drug paraphernalia sales annually. Typically, such illicit businesses operate retail stores as well as websites posing as retailers of legitimate tobacco accessories when in reality the products are intended for the illegal drug trade.
Identifying drug paraphernalia can be challenging because products often are marketed as though they were designed for legitimate purposes. Marijuana pipes and bongs, for example, frequently carry a misleading disclaimer indicating that they are intended to be used only with tobacco products. Recognizing drug paraphernalia often involves considering other factors such as the manner in which items are displayed for sale, descriptive materials or instructions accompanying the items, and the type of business selling the items.
The Charles Johnson Law Firm is experienced in marijuana-related matters involving:
Contact the Best Houston Marijuana Possession Lawyer: The Charles Johnson Law Firm
Before someone can be convicted of marijuana possession in Houston, the state must prove that the accused actually had possession or took action to control the drug. Drug possession cases are complicated and depend the police’s adherence to strict guidelines concerning search and seizure of the drug.
As you could be facing fines, probation, drug classes, community service, and jail, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced Houston criminal attorney if you have been accused of this crime. Our team at the Charles Johnson Law Firm is well-equipped to handle any type of drug crime, including those involving possession of marijuana and/or drug paraphernalia. We understand that mistakes can happen and not everyone who has been accused of a crime is guilty. No matter how serious you may believe your case to be, contact The Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson directly by calling (713) 222-7577 anytime, day or night to discuss your case.
Arrested for Marijuana Possession or Sales? The Best Houston Lawyer
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Although individuals within the United States are entitled to privacy and freedom from government intrusion, there is a limit to that privacy. State or federal law enforcement officers are permitted, where justified, to search your premises, car, or various other assets in order to look for and seize illegal items, stolen goods or evidence of a criminal offense. What rules must law enforcement follow when engaging in searches and seizures? What can they do in upholding the laws, and what can’t they do?
What police officers May Do:
- Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, law enforcement officials may engage in "reasonable" searches and seizures.
- To establish that a search is "reasonable," the authorities need to generally demonstrate that it is more likely than not that a crime has occurred, and that if a search is conducted it is probable that they will find either stolen goods or evidence of the criminal offense. This is often designated probable cause.
- In a few situations, police officers must first make this showing to a judge who issues a search warrant. In the majority of special circumstances, however, law enforcement may be able to conduct a search without a warrant. In fact, virtually all searches are "warrantless."
- Police may search and seize items or evidence when there isn’t any "legitimate expectation of privacy." In various other words, in the event you did not have a privacy interest in the items or evidence, the authorities can take them and, in effect, no "search" has transpired.
Note: In deciding whether or not there was a "legitimate expectation of privacy," a court will take into consideration two matters:
- Did you have an expectation of some degree of privacy?
- Was that expectation reasonable in our society’s view?
Example: You have a semi-automatic rifle that you had stolen from a pawn shop. You leave the rifle laying on the hood of your vehicle when you get home. You do not have a "legitimate expectation of privacy" with regard to items you leave on the hood of your automobile, and the authorities may take the weapon. No search has happened.
- Police may use first-hand info, or tips from an informant to justify the need to search your property. If an informant’s info is utilized, police officers need to establish that the information is reliable under the circumstances.
- Once a warrant is obtained, police officers may enter onto the specified area of the property and search for the items listed on the warrant.
- Police could very well extend the search beyond the specified area of the property or include some other items in the search beyond those specified or listed in the warrant if it is required to:
- Ensure their safety or the safety of others;
- Prevent the destruction of evidence;
- Discover more about possible evidence or stolen items that are in plain view; or
- Hunt for evidence or stolen items which, primarily based upon their preliminary search of the specified area, they believe may be in a different location on the property.
Example: Law enforcement have a warrant to search your basement for evidence of a drug manufacturing operation. On their way through your property to go down to the basement, they see a cache of weapons sitting on your kitchen table. Some may take the guns to guarantee their safety while searching your basement.
- Police may search your property without the need of a warrant in the event you consent to the search. Consent needs to be freely and voluntarily given, and you can never be coerced or tricked into giving it.
- Police may search your person and the immediate surroundings without any a warrant when they are placing you under criminal arrest.
- If a person is arrested in a residence, police may make a "protective sweep" of the residence in order to make a "cursory visual inspection" of places where an accomplice may be hiding. In order to accomplish this, the police must have a reasonable belief that an accomplice may be around.
Example: Law enforcement arrest you in your living room on criminal charges of murder. They can open the door of your coat closet to make certain that no one else is hiding there, but may not open your medicine cabinet because an accomplice couldn’t hide there.
- When you are being taken to jail, police may perform an "inventory search" of items you have with you without the need of a warrant. This search may include your vehicle if it is being held by the authorities in order to make a list of all items inside.
- Police may search without the need of a warrant if they reasonably fear for their safety or for the public’s safety.
Example: If the authorities drive past your home on a regular patrol of the neighborhood and see you, in your open garage, with ten cases of dynamite and a blowtorch, they can search your garage without a warrant.
- If it’s required to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence, police officers may search without any a warrant.
Example: If the authorities see you trying to burn a stack of cash that you stole from a bank, they can perform a search without a warrant to stop you from further destroying the money.
- Perform a search, without the need of a warrant, when they are in "hot pursuit" of a suspect who enters a private dwelling or area following fleeing the scene of a crime.
Example: If law enforcement are chasing you from the scene of a murder, and you run into your apartment in an effort to get away from them, they could follow you into the apartment and search the area without the need of a warrant.
- Police may perform a pat-down of your outer clothing, in what is designated a "stop and frisk" situation, as long as they reasonably believe that you may be concealing a firearm and they fear for their safety.
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What police officers May NOT Do:
- The law enforcement officials may not perform a warrantless search anywhere you have a reasonable expectation of privacy, unless one of the warrant exceptions applies.
- If evidence was attained via an unreasonable or illegal search, the police may not use it against you in a trial. This is designated the "exclusionary rule."
- The law enforcement officials may not use evidence resulting from an illegal search to obtain some other evidence.
- The police may not submit an affidavit in support of obtaining a search warrant if they didn’t have a reasonable belief in the truth of the statements in the affidavit.
- Unless there is a reasonable suspicion that it contains evidence, unlawful items, or stolen goods, law enforcement may not search your vehicle. If your vehicle has been seized by the police, however, they can search it.
- Unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a criminal activity, the police may not "stop and frisk" you. Should they have a reasonable suspicion, they may pat down your outer clothing if they have concerns that you might be concealing a weapon.
Courts often need to determine case-by-case whether or not the circumstances in which law enforcement searched without a warrant had been legal. Thus, any time a search has already occurred and you aren’t sure of its legality, speak to the Top Houston Criminal Defense Attorney as soon as possible. And if the search has not yet been conducted, make sure that you understand your rights in advance.
Charles Johnson |
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