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Corpus Christi Criminal Defense Blog

2 Texas men accused of stealing and forging money orders

Detectives from the Abilene Fraud, Cyber Crimes and Special Victim's unit arrested two men after obtaining a search warrant for an apartment in north Abilene on Washington Street. The search warrant arose from an investigation into the theft of money orders that were allegedly forged and used to pay a local business. Officers reported that one of the men attempted to prevent their entry by barricading a door, but they eventually forced their way inside.

Authorities have accused the 27-year-old suspect of breaking into a lockbox at the management office for his apartment complex. He allegedly stole money orders from the box and used them for his own gain. Law enforcement reported that his alleged accomplice, a 26-year-old man, passed one of the forged money orders at a business in north Abilene.

Do you understand curtilage and your Fourth Amendment rights?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding your rights when you interact with law enforcement. Misinformation abounds in the media, and the more technical aspects often don't receive adequate attention.

Searches and seizures of your personal property are some of the most confusing and frustrating experiences. Many people understand that law enforcement typically cannot enter their home without a warrant except in extreme circumstances. What they may not understand is that there is also an area outside of their home, known as the curtilage, that receives similar protections under the Fourth Amendment.

Study finds chocolate interferes with marijuana testing

More than 30 states, including Texas, allow the use of some form of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. That means that more marijuana products, including cookies, gummies and brownies, are hitting the market every day. However, because the legalized pot industry is still in its infancy, much is still unknown about the potency of these products, which can be a problem for consumers who are prescribed a certain dose for pain or those who want to control their buzz.

For example, a new study finds that chocolate may interfere with marijuana potency testing. That means that a chocolate product that supposedly has 10 milligrams of THC, the chemical in marijuana that makes humans high, could actually contain much more. This could lead to someone suffering hallucinations or other uncomfortable symptoms associated with intense THC highs. According to the authors of the study, chocolate appears to interfere with THC test results, making a product appear less potent than it actually is. They theorize this is because the THC binds to the fat molecules in the chocolate, hiding it from detection. The research will be presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Diego in early September.

Non-citizens account for the majority of federal arrests

A sharp rise in drug smuggling in border states like Texas has led to a surge in federal apprehensions, and most of the people being taken into custody by federal agents are not United States citizens. A report released on Aug. 22 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that narcotics arrests now account for two-thirds of the federal apprehensions in the Southern District of Texas, the Western District of Texas, the Southern District of California, the District of New Mexico and the District of Arizona. That figure stood at 33% in 1998.

Non-U.S. citizens now account for 64% of federal arrests despite making up just 7% of the overall population. Many non-citizens taken into custody by federal agents are immigrants from Central America who entered the United States illegally. In 1998, 1,171 Central Americans were arrested by federal agents. By 2018, that figure had climbed to 35,590.

Former Texas detective sentenced on drug charges

A former Texas police officer was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison on Aug. 7 for possession and conspiracy to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. The 39-year-old man began his law enforcement career with the Starr County Sheriff's Office in 2002. At the time of his 2016 arrest, he was working as a detective with the Rio Grande City Police Department. The man would have faced a longer sentence if he had been convicted following a trial. However, he avoided that fate by entering into a plea agreement with U.S. attorneys in April 2017.

The investigation into the man's activities began when 600 pounds of marijuana was found in a horse trailer by Victoria County Sheriff's Office deputies in January 2013. Using information provided by informants, local, state and federal investigators discovered evidence linking the former detective with several Mexican drug cartels. He allegedly helped the criminal organizations transport drugs by escorting narcotics shipments through Starr County for distribution in Texas and Louisiana.

Coercive plea bargaining is common in criminal cases

A recent Pew Research Center study reveals that only 6% of state criminal prosecutions around the country go to trial. Plea bargains are even more common in the federal system with 97% of prosecutions being resolved in this way. Texas prosecutors like plea agreements because they are quick and straightforward and allow them to avoid the risks of arguing their cases before a jury, but civil rights advocates are disturbed by some of the tactics they use to obtain them.

Charge-stacking is one such tactic. This involves charging defendants with more serious crimes than their alleged conduct warrants and then offering to reduce charges in return for a plea deal. Prosecutors have also been known to threaten to indict friends and family members to prompt suspects to waive their right to a trial, but it is what is known as the trial penalty that usually provides the strongest motivation to plead guilty. Defendants are told in no uncertain terms that the penalties they will face after being convicted in court will be far more severe than what is on offer at the negotiating table.

For-profit prisons might impact sentences after convictions

A person involved in the criminal justice system usually has one huge concern hanging over their head – prison. Just about any conviction for a federal or state felony comes with the possibility of incarceration. While it is possible to avoid time behind bars, there is a lot of pressure for the courts to "punish" people convicted of crimes.

One thing that is coming into the spotlight more each day is how a private prison system is negatively impacting the criminal justice system. The for-profit companies are paid based on a per-inmate basis, so the more people they can have in a facility, the more money the company makes.

Civil rights groups want all prosecutors to keep Brady lists

Prosecutors in Texas and other states have received letters from progressive advocacy groups including Black Lives Matter and the American Civil Liberties Union. The letters were written after media outlets in Florida exposed violent and racist Facebook posts written by sheriff's deputies, and they ask prosecutors not to pursue criminal cases that rely on testimony from police officers with a history of misconduct, bias or racism. The letters also urge prosecutors to compile lists of officers with troubled pasts that may be shared with criminal defendants and their lawyers.

Prosecutors in many parts of the country already keep such lists. They are known as Brady lists because of a 1963 Supreme Court ruling that requires prosecutors to turn potentially exculpatory material over to defendants. The civil rights groups say that all prosecutors should keep a Brady list, and they want the names on the lists to be monitored by an independent body. Some of the groups have begun to compile lists of their own based on information posted on social media websites.

Nine detained in Texas on weapons, drug charges

Nine individuals in Texas were indicted in early July 2019 on alleged weapons and narcotics violations. The individuals were detained by police later in the same month. The indictments were the result of an investigation by the ATF Eastern District of Texas Violent Crime Task Force. The task force is a cooperation of the Paris Police Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and other law enforcement agencies.

Those detained were indicted on several charges, which included possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, domestic violence, possession of firearms, possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon, carrying a firearm with the furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and/or possession with the intention to distribute methamphetamine.

Former police chief sentenced to 20 years in drug case

Texas readers expect police officers to uphold the laws they are charged with enforcing. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. On July 18, a former South Texas police chief was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison after being convicted of multiple drug charges.

According to local media reports, the defendant, a 45-year-old resident of McAllen, was working as a police sergeant at the Progreso Police Department when federal agents took him into custody on drug charges in 2017. Apparently, he accepted a cash bribe to provide security for a drug cartel member who was transporting a shipment of cocaine. However, the person who paid him to protect the cartel member was actually a federal informant.

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