Category Archives: Criminal Attorney

Texas Assault Charges: When Does an Assault Become a Hate Crime?

People get into fights. It happens every day. Most of the time those involved walk away from it and that’s the end. Sometimes one or both parties are charged with assault (misdemeanor or felony) or aggravated assault. 

Much less often, but much more serious, an assault charge can be accompanied by a charge of committing a hate crime. How does an assault become a hate crime? And what does that mean in terms of prosecution and punishment?

Texas Assault Law

The Texas Penal Code defines the crime of assault as:

  1. Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another, including the person’s spouse,
  2. Intentionally or knowingly threatening another with imminent bodily injury, including the person’s spouse, or
  3. Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard that contact as offensive or provocative.

A charge of aggravated assault may be brought if serious injuries resulted from an assault or if a weapon was used. (Many things can be defined as a weapon.) 

Texas Hate Crime Law

The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act defines a hate crime as any crime motivated by “prejudice, hatred or advocacy of violence.” Hate crime charges can be added to criminal charges of arson, criminal mischief, graffiti, or (more often) crimes against a person. 

Hate crime charges may be brought if the crime was committed against the victim because of their:

  • Race, color, national origin 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Gender identity 
  • Work as a judge or law enforcement officer

In high-profile cases, the FBI may investigate and federal criminal charges may be filed. 

Prosecuting a Crime as a Hate Crime

In order to be convicted of a hate crime, the prosecutor must convince a jury that the underlying crime occurred, and that it was motivated by prejudice or hate. 

“Hate speech” is not a crime, but statements of hate can be used as evidence of the motivation of the accused person. Often the prosecutor will present something the accused said to the victim. That speech was used as evidence in the 2019 case of a Dallas man who shot a transgender woman while shouting slurs at her. He was convicted of a hate crime. 

But a homophobic slur spoken before an assault on two gay men in Austin was not enough to support a hate crime charge. In that case, a plea deal resulted in misdemeanor assault charges.

What else might prosecutors use as evidence of motive for a hate crime?

  • Things the accused has written on social media, online, as graffiti, or tattoos they are wearing
  • The location of the incident (for example, a synagogue or mosque for a religiously motivated crime, or in the case of an Atlanta killer, at Asian-owned nail salons)
  • Possession of literature or membership in a group that espouses hatred toward a certain group of people 

Punishment for Hate Crimes

A conviction for a hate crime enhances the punishment applied to the original offense. It “bumps it up” one level. So, if a person was found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor, they would face punishments for a Class B misdemeanor. A Class A misdemeanor will not be sentenced as a felony but the amount of jail time could be increased to 180 days. 

The same applies to felony charges. The punishment is increased, except for a conviction of a 1st degree felony, which already has the potential for life in prison. 

If you could be facing criminal charges for a Texas hate crime, call the Fort Worth criminal defense lawyers at Lee and Wood. We have extensive experience defending people against misdemeanor and felony assault charges. Call our law office at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Arrested? How to Find the Best Criminal Defense Lawyer for Your Case Near Fort Worth

If you (or a loved one) have been arrested for the first time, how do you find the right criminal defense lawyer for your specific case? If you’ve never looked for a lawyer before, how do you pick one from the many lawyers available? 

This article looks at how to find the right lawyer for your kind of case, and how to find the right lawyer for you.

Where to Look for a Lawyer

Often people start their search for a lawyer by asking for a lawyer referral from friends and family. With a criminal case, that can feel awkward unless you’ve been arrested for something relatively common, like drunk driving. Even then, you may prefer the privacy of finding a lawyer online. 

How to Find a Lawyer Online

There are hundreds of lawyers in your area. To narrow your search, use several words in your online search query.  

Include the name of the town or the county where you have been arrested or where you will be going to court. It is usually helpful to work with a lawyer who has experience with local judges, prosecutors, and court personnel. They may have a better understanding of how a judge operates, how the prosecutor negotiates, and alternative sentencing options available in that jurisdiction.

That doesn’t mean the lawyer has to be officed in your exact town. Some people prefer to work with a criminal defense lawyer who doesn’t live in their town. Most criminal lawyers take cases in several nearby jurisdictions. They regularly work in several courts. 

Include the kind of lawyer you want. For most state-level criminal charges, you can just include the words criminal defense lawyer. If you are facing federal charges, search for a federal criminal defense attorney. If the accused is aged 17 or under, search for a juvenile defense lawyer. Fewer lawyers focus on juvenile crimes or federal crimes so this will narrow your search results. 

Include the type of criminal charge you need defense against. If you know the specific charge against you, type that in, but it’s usually sufficient to type in a general crime, like drug charges rather than possession of THC oil

Sometimes you do want to be very specific about the crime.

Find The Best Defense Attorney for You

Once you’ve found a few lawyers with experience in your kind of criminal case, now it’s time to determine if they are a good fit for you. You can do this in two ways:

On their website, review the About Us page to learn more about the law firm, and click on the specific attorney profiles. Their biography may tell you what courts they operate in. It will include additional certifications they have received, and honors and awards. You may find they are involved in the community in ways that connect with you. 

Some websites have testimonials, either on a page or other places on the website. Do you see anything about how they work with clients? 

Now you are ready to call and talk to one or more lawyers who seem like the best fit. You want to see if you feel comfortable with this person. You want a sense of how they handle a case like yours. 

REMEMBER, you haven’t hired this person yet so don’t share specifics of your case. 

You can ask questions like: 

  • Have you taken cases to trial in this county or city court?
  • Have you handled similar cases to mine? 
  • What do you consider a successful outcome?
  • What has been your success rate? 
  • How do you work with clients? 
  • Would you handle my case personally? 
  • What are your fees?

Call an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

At Lee and Wood, LP, we understand the fears and uncertainty of being arrested for the first time. We explain the criminal justice process, what you can expect, and how we can help. We represent clients in Weatherford, Fort Worth, Burleson, and Cleburne. Call our Fort Worth law office at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Felony Vehicular Manslaughter Charges After Tesla Autopilot Car Crash

People make mistakes. And sometimes machines do, too.

Prosecutors in California have filed criminal charges of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla Model S. In this first-of-its-kind criminal case, the driver was using the autopilot feature of the car when it ran a red light and collided with another vehicle. Both people in the other vehicle died in the crash. 

While the criminal complaint does not mention the autopilot feature specifically, it’s known that it was in use at the time of the crash. Whether prosecutors will claim criminal negligence as a result of autopilot use remains to be seen. The driver’s first hearing in criminal court is scheduled for Feb. 23.

In the U.S., 765,000 Tesla cars are equipped with driver-assist features. This 2019 crash wasn’t the first collision to involve the use of autopilot. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has investigated at least 26 Tesla autopilot crashes in the last five years. Almost a dozen people have died as a result. 

Proving Negligence or Recklessness

Is it the fault of the driver? Or the fault of the technology?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has created a term for what they consider to be human misuse of technology. They call it automation complacency. The NTSB says people rely too much on technology and become inattentive and disengaged. 

The laws in every state hold the human driver responsible in case of a crash. Drivers may not know this. And they may not understand when and how to use this old technology in a new way. After all, autopilot technology has been in use in planes for a long time. 

Tesla has said that the autopilot feature and its “full self-driving” system cannot drive themselves, despite their name. Human drivers need to be ready to react. But is Tesla immune from responsibility for the use of its technology? 

Have they created a dangerous technology that could leave drivers’ criminally liable?

The families of the crash victims are suing the driver for negligence and Tesla for selling a defective vehicle. They say the vehicle could accelerate suddenly and that it lacked an effective automatic braking system. These civil cases go to trial next year. 

The family also says the driver was an unsafe driver, with moving violations on his driving record. Evidence of past driving violations could be damaging. 

If you have been charged with a vehicle-related crime – reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter – you need a strong defense. Call the Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Lee and Wood, LP: 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Knowledge of Drug Sales Gets Nightclub Owner Convicted of Drug Premises Conspiracy

In November 2021, Dallas nightclub owner, Alfredo Hinojosa, and two of his nightclub managers were found guilty of allowing cocaine sales at his nightclubs in Fort Worth and Dallas.

An investigation that began in 2012, ended with 30 people convicted of a variety of drug crimes

Knowledge of a Crime is Enough For Charges

According to a Dallas Morning News article, the owner and managers were not themselves selling drugs or accepting money from drug sales. Their defense attorney said they did not know who was selling drugs; federal authorities said they did and allowed the drug sales to continue because it attracted customers. 

Wiretaps, Bugs and Cameras

In 2015, the FBI received court approval to install bugs and a camera in the office of the nightclub owner. They also conducted wiretaps. This FBI evidence was key in getting the conviction. The owner was recorded saying that he really couldn’t clean up the drug sales “because we lose business.” 

Because that demonstrated knowledge of drug activities on the property, they were found guilty of managing a drug premises, conspiracy to manage drug premises, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.

Informants and Witnesses

Security guards testified against the owner and managers as well as drug traffickers themselves who sold out of the clubs. While it’s unknown what happened behind the scenes in this case, it’s not unusual for prosecutors to cut a plea deal with some parties in order to get evidence against other parties. The owner and the managers were the last people to go to trial. 

Two former Dallas police officers who worked at the clubs were also charged and convicted. One received three years’ probation; the other – the supervisor of nightclub security – faces a possible prison sentence. 

Indictment in 2017; Court Case in 2021

The nightclub owner was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2017. When he appeared before a judge, he initially pled guilty. He later changed his plea to not guilty. Hinajosa’s case was originally intended to go to trial in March of 2020 but was delayed until September 2021 due to COVID. COVID safety precautions have led to many long delays in the justice system.

He made statements to federal authorities after his arrest that were recorded and played to the jury at his trial. 

Talk to a Defense Lawyer If You Are Facing Drug Charges

Before you make any statement to law enforcement, talk to a lawyer. The drug crimes defense attorneys at Lee and Wood have extensive experience defending people against all types of drug crime charges.  Call our Fort Worth law office at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Arrested? How to Find the Best Fort Worth Criminal Defense Lawyer for Your Case

If you (or a loved one) have been arrested for the first time, how do you find the right criminal defense lawyer for your specific case? If you’ve never looked for a lawyer before, how do you pick one from the many lawyers available? 

This article looks at how to find the right lawyer for your kind of case, and how to find the right lawyer for you.

Where to Look for a Lawyer

Often people start their search for a lawyer by asking for a lawyer referral from friends and family. With a criminal case, that can feel awkward unless you’ve been arrested for something relatively common, like drunk driving. Even then, you may prefer the privacy of finding a lawyer online. 

How to Find a Lawyer Online

There are hundreds of lawyers in your area. To narrow your search, use several words in your online search query.  

Include the name of the town or the county where you have been arrested or where you will be going to court. It is usually helpful to work with a lawyer who has experience with local judges, prosecutors, and court personnel. They may have a better understanding of how a judge operates, how the prosecutor negotiates, and alternative sentencing options available in that jurisdiction.

That doesn’t mean the lawyer has to be officed in your exact town. Some people prefer to work with a criminal defense lawyer doesn’t live in their town. Most criminal lawyers take cases in several nearby jurisdictions. They regularly work in several courts. 

Include the kind of lawyer you want. For most state-level criminal charges, you can just include the words criminal defense lawyer. If you are facing federal charges, search for a federal criminal defense attorney. If the accused is aged 17 or under, search for a juvenile defense lawyer. Fewer lawyers focus on juvenile crimes or federal crimes so this will narrow your search results. 

Include the type of criminal charge you need defense against. If you know the specific charge against you, type that in, but it’s usually sufficient to type in a general crime, like drug charges rather than possession of THC oil

Sometimes you do want to be very specific about the crime.

Find The Best Defense Attorney for You

Once you’ve found a few lawyers with experience in your kind of criminal case, now it’s time to determine if they are a good fit for you. You can do this in two ways:

On their website, review the About Us page to learn more about the law firm, and click on the specific attorney profiles. Their biography may tell you what courts they operate in. It will include additional certifications they have received, and honors and awards. You may find they are involved in the community in ways that connect with you. 

Some websites have testimonials, either on a page or other places on the website. Do you see anything about how they work with clients? 

Now you are ready to call and talk to one or more lawyers who seem like the best fit. You want to see if you feel comfortable with this person. You want a sense of how they handle a case like yours. 

REMEMBER, you haven’t hired this person yet so don’t share specifics of your case. 

You can ask questions like: 

  • Have you taken cases to trial in this county or city court?
  • Have you handled similar cases to mine? 
  • What do you consider a successful outcome?
  • What has been your success rate? 
  • How do you work with clients? 
  • Would you handle my case personally? 
  • What are your fees?

Call an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

At Lee and Wood, LP, we understand the fears and uncertainty of being arrested for the first time. We explain the criminal justice process, what you can expect, and how we can help. We represent clients in Weatherford, Fort Worth, Burleson, and Cleburne. Call our Fort Worth law office at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Bail Reform Bill Now in Effect, Limiting Who Can Be Released

Last year the Texas Senate and House decided to take a look at how bail works in Texas. The new bail reform law they passed may have some positive effects. It requires that the court look at a person’s criminal history before setting bail, and it requires more training for judges. 

But the new law also took away a judge’s discretion to decide on bail in some cases.

It prohibits a person charged with a violent crime from being released on their own recognizance. (This is when a person signs an agreement with the court and does not have to pay money in order to be released).  

What About the Presumption of Innocence?

In the USA, if you have been charged with a crime you are INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty. That’s one of the most important foundations of our legal system. And yet a Texas Observer article from 2018 found that ¾ of county jail inmates in Texas had not been convicted of a crime! They were incarcerated because they couldn’t pay bail (or a hold had been put on them). 

That’s a lot of people doing time who may be innocent. Unfortunately, the new bail reform law won’t improve that situation for some of those people. 

What Is a Violent Crime in Texas?

The most commonly charged violent crime in Texas is aggravated assault. That is:

  • An assault with a weapon (or anything that could be used as a weapon that could cause injury or death) or 
  • An assault that caused serious injury (disfigurement or impairment of function for a period of time or risk of death). 

Robbery is the next most common violent crime. Robbery is intentionally, knowingly or recklessly threatening someone or causing bodily injury during the commission of a theft. 

Rape and murder are also violent crimes.

The Importance of Negotiating Charges

It’s not uncommon for criminal charges to be adjusted downward. A prosecutor often starts with many criminal charges, or the highest charge they think they can get. Then, as the case is prepared for court or through the plea-bargaining process between the prosecutor and defense attorney, the charges are reduced or dropped altogether.

If you are facing serious criminal charges, don’t talk to the police or submit a plea until you’ve talked to a lawyer of your own. Someone who will protect your interests and provide a strong defense. Call the Fort Worth criminal defense lawyers at Lee and Wood, LP. at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Texas Businesses | Customers Surprised to Learn They’ve Been Selling and Buying Illegal THC

The Dallas Morning News carried a news story that may have come as a surprise to producers, resellers and users of some hemp/THC products. The Texas Department of State Health Services updated its website in October to clarify that delta-8 cannabis extract and delta-9 products over .3% THC were still Schedule 1 controlled substances. 

Meaning, you can still be arrested for possessing them. And according to the news story, at least six Texans were charged with felony possession of delta-8 THC products in the prior three months.

Why would resellers and legal buyers be confused? 

The 2018 federal Farm Bill made delta-8, a cannabinoid, legal at the federal level. And in 2019, Gov. Abbott signed House Bill 1325 legalizing hemp products with less than 0.3% THC in them. These two actions caused CBD shop owners and customers to think delta-8 THC products were legal. They come in the form of edible candy, oil tinctures, and even vape cartridges. 

But Texas doesn’t have to agree with the federal government. 

And it didn’t. Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner for the Texas Department of State Health Services, objected to the federal drug schedule. Texas state law on hemp didn’t specifically discuss delta-8 so the agency’s interpretation is that it is not allowed for manufacture or sale. In May 2021, the Texas Health Department issued a clarification stating that delta-8 THC and “other THC isomers” remain on the list of Schedule 1 drugs. 

So, what was legal in the rest of the country became, or remained, illegal in Texas … until November. 

That’s when a Travis County judge blocked the state from adding delta-8 to the list of Schedule 1 drugs, according to a Texas Tribune article. THC retailers said they were not given adequate notice of the classification change. The judge agreed that the DSHS didn’t comply with the state’s rule-making requirements. 

It’s too soon to say what will happen with this ruling. In the meantime, enforcement of the state’s marijuana/THC possession laws are up to local and state law enforcement. Texas residents who face felony drug charges for possession of a Class I controlled substance (delta-8) could be sentenced to up to 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. 

If you are facing criminal charges for possession of marijuana, a THC extract, cannabis oil, or a vape pen with THC residue, you need a strong defense. Call the Weatherford drug crimes defense attorneys at Lee and Wood, LP. at 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Possession of “Drug Paraphernalia” is Also Illegal in Texas

Although Texas is becoming slightly more lenient with its prosecution of marijuana possession, if you’ve been arrested with marijuana, THC oil or dabs, you may also be facing charges for possession of drug paraphernalia. That is, the things commonly used to smoke or ingest cannabis, such as:

  • A dab rig,
  • E-rig, or
  • Vaporizer.

You could also face possible drug charges for possession of an e-cigarette (e-cig), or vape pens, if police think that you used it to ingest illegal drugs. Generally, people aren’t charged for possession of drug paraphernalia on its own. It’s a charge that gets added on when you are charged with possession of marijuana/cannabis, THC oil or dabs. 

Being found guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia can enhance other criminal charges, with penalties from fines to time in jail. 

  • The lowest level charge for possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500. 
  • Were you giving or selling a dab rig or vape pen that police think was intended for use with THC? Intent or attempting to deliver drug paraphernalia can be charged as a Class A misdemeanor. That could result in a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail. 
  • If the person receiving the e-rig or dab-rig is under 18 (and the provider is at least 3 years older), you could face felony charges, a fine up to $10,000, and prison time. 

What Is Considered Drug Paraphernalia?

The police and DA have a pretty loose definition of what is drug paraphernalia. A lot of everyday household items could fit that description: a scale, a blender, mixing bowls, plastic baggies, balloons, envelopes. 

Other not-so-typical things that you could be charged with using as drug paraphernalia include a grow tent (which you could also use for sprouting veggie seedlings or growing food hydroponically) and gardening supplies. It could be cigarette papers and a rolling machine, which people use to make their own loose-leaf tobacco cigarettes more cheaply. 

Chemistry lab equipment and testing equipment can be considered paraphernalia, as can empty capsules. 

If you are facing criminal charges for drug possession along with possession of a dab rig or vape pen with THC residue, the Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Lee and Wood, LP. Call 817-678-6771 or contact us online

Tarrant County Law Enforcement Changes the Way They Handle Some Marijuana Arrests

In June 2021, some Tarrant County police agencies announced a new policy. People detained for some misdemeanor crimes, including low-level marijuana arrests, will be ticketed instead of taken to jail. The new program is called Cite and Release.

Instead of an immediate arrest, the person will receive a citation. Later, they will receive notice to appear before a county magistrate. When the person appears in court, law enforcement can file a case with the DA’s office and the DA can decide whether to prosecute them. 

Not getting arrested and spending time in jail certainly sounds good, but this isn’t a big difference. Just because you weren’t immediately arrested, that doesn’t mean you won’t face criminal charges later. Call a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer to find out how the change in marijuana arrests and prosecution could affect your case. 

Eligible Criminal Charges

People can be cited and released – and charged later – if they would have been charged with:

  • Possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana
  • Possession of 2-4 ounces of marijuana
  • Possession of less than 2 ounces of synthetic cannabinoids (“spice” or K2, for example)
  • Possession of 2-4 ounces or less of synthetic cannabinoids
  • Criminal mischief that results in damages between $100-$750
  • Graffiti damage between $100-$2,500
  • Theft of property valued at between $100-$750

This change follows on a policy change in 2020 where the Tarrant County District Attorney said some people charged with possession of small amounts of certain drugs, including marijuana, can get those charges dismissed. Now that’s a much more meaningful change for people charged with low-level drug crimes like possession of marijuana. 

Who Would Get Cited Instead of Arrested?

Police get to decide who they Cite and Release. 

To even be eligible for Cite and Release, the “offender” must be an adult who lives in Tarrant County and committed the alleged offense in Tarrant County. They have to be able to prove their identity. And they can’t have any outstanding warrants for a Class B misdemeanor or higher. It can only be used for non-violent, low-level offenses. 

If you received a citation for a drug offense, theft, graffiti or criminal mischief, call the Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys at Lee and Wood, LP, before you appear before a court magistrate. Call 817-678-6771 or contact us online. You still face criminal charges. Know your rights. 

Assault by Threat

Not content to just avoid a COVID vaccine, a north Texas man is facing federal criminal charges for sending a message on his cell phone to a medical doctor in another state with whom he disagreed on vaccinations. The doctor said the message was threatening. She called the police.

Now Scott Eli Harris is heading to Baltimore after being indicted by a federal grand jury for sending threats across state lines. In his message to the doctor, whom Harris had never met, he said,” My 12 gauge promises I won’t… I can’t wait for the shooting to start.” 

It’s a federal criminal charge because the alleged threats crossed state lines. Harris could face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

Is a threat a crime in Texas?

What if Mr. Harris had sent a similar message to a doctor in the state of Texas. Would he be facing prison time?

He would not, but a threat of violence is a crime in Texas. The threat could be spoken, texted, emailed, left in a note, or even communicated by gesture. However, it’s communicated, it still counts as a threat.

If a person intentionally or knowingly threatens a person (or a person’s spouse) with imminent bodily injury they can be charged with assault by threat. In most cases, assault by threat is a Class C misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.

If someone threatens to commit violence to a person or property with the intent to place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, they can be charged with terroristic threat, a Class B misdemeanor. Criminal penalties can be a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 180 days in county jail.

Those penalties are nowhere near the prison time Mr. Harris could be facing. That’s because these are state charges, not federal charges.

A $500 fine may seem like a reasonable price to pay to get something off your chest, but remember, it’s not just a fine. It’s a criminal charge of assault on your record. And that will have long-term consequences every time you apply for a job or an apartment or need to undergo a criminal background check.

Every Criminal Charge Has a Defense

There are several words in the definition of the crime that holds the key to a defense … knowingly, intentionally, and imminent.

The prosecutor has to prove each of these elements:

  • That you intended a threat (not a joke, not an off-hand remark),
  • That you knew the person would perceive it as a genuine threat, and
  • That they would have a fear of imminent – soon – physical injury or pain

Talk to a Ft. Worth Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you take a plea for this crime and are later charged with another crime, you could face harsher penalties because you already have a criminal record. Fight the charges. Call the Ft. Worth criminal defense attorneys at Lee and Wood, LP: 817-678-6771 or contact us online.