Mar 30, 2016

Law Enforcement: Profiling and Vehicle Searches

One of the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement is the so-called ''automobile'' exception. If a vehicle is stopped by police, a warrantless search of the vehicle is usually allowable under this exception if the police have probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of a crime. This is based on the principle of exigency, or the need for immediate action arising out of the likely disappearance of the vehicle and the possibility of destruction of the evidence.

Generally, a speeding or traffic violation by itself does not justify the search of a vehicle, but this rule is not without exceptions. If the officer has a reasonable belief that they might be assaulted by the driver, or if the driver fails to produce a valid license or produces a forged one, a search will normally be valid. 

In most instances, a valid search of a vehicle can include any containers within the car, such as packages or luggage. While there must be a connection between a crime and the search, there is no  rule that the search be limited only to items relating to that crime; i.e., the police can search the driver and the car if they have a reasonable belief, or probable cause to believe, that there is a gun in the driver's possession or in the car.
When there is probable cause to search a vehicle, it is not necessary that the search take place immediately. A valid search can occur long after the initial stop and even after the car has been moved to the police station or impound lot. 

When a car is impounded, the police can search it for the purposes of taking an inventory of its contents. It is not necessary that the search be conducted for the purpose of seeking evidence of a crime. While the police can search the entire car and catalog its contents, they are limited in what they can do with the contents; for an inventory search to be valid, it must be made pursuant to standardized police procedures.

If a driver gives a police officer permission to search their car, the warrant requirement is, of course, not necessary. Consent can be either ''express'' or ''implied.''
Implied consent usually becomes a factor when a driver is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol (''DUI'' or ''DWI''); many states now have statutes that specify that when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired, the driver's use of the public streets is considered implied consent to search of the driver's person and vehicle.
 Express consent arises when a police officer asks for and receives permission to search the driver's car. When such consent is given, the officer usually is permitted to open a closed container in the car if it might reasonably hold the object of the search.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution defines the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If you have been subjected to an unreasonable search by law enforcement, contact Parnham & McWilliams today at (713) 224-3967 or visit for a free consultation. We are dedicated to protecting your Constitutional Rights.

Mar 25, 2016

Traffic Stops: Required Identification- Houston Lawyer

To stop a vehicle, a police officer only needs a reasonable suspicion that the driver is committing, or has committed, a traffic infraction. Usually that suspicion arises from the officer's own observation of the driver and vehicle; however, police also have the authority to stop a vehicle based upon information from an another anonymous driver or pedestrian.
On its own, a simple traffic violation will not justify the search of a vehicle; a driver's excessive speed or other minor traffic infraction does not usually indicate that the driver is violent, and it does not give the police officer any reason to think that he is in danger of being assaulted.
However, if the officer has a reasonable belief that he or she might be assaulted by the driver, or if the motorist fails to produce a driver's license or produces a forged one, a search by the officer may be valid.
The officer's suspicion might be reasonable even if the officer makes a mistake of fact, for instance if their computer mistakenly reports that the driver's license is under suspension. However, if the officer does stop a driver based on a mistake of law, the officer's suspicion is not reasonable and the stop will usually be invalidated.

A pretextual traffic stop occurs when an officer uses the suspicion of a traffic violation as an excuse to stop a vehicle for another reason. Pretext stops may still be valid even if a reasonable officer would not have made the stop. Thus, the officer's ulterior motive for making the stop may not be relevant in determining the validity of the stop. Still, many state courts will not blindly accept the officer's pretextual traffic violation justification. For example, weaving and improper lane changes may not be sufficient to show the pretext of a traffic violation unless it is also shown that the motorist's driving posed a safety issue to another vehicle.

Roadblocks or sobriety checkpoints are permitted under the Fourth Amendment so long as they are conducted in a neutral or non-arbitrary manner, their intrusion on motorists is limited, and they further an important governmental or public purpose. There is no requirement that an officer have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify a stop at a roadblock.

Independent of traffic violations, if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that a motorist is either committing or preparing to commit a crime, the officer is justified in stopping the vehicle.

Once police officers have lawfully stopped a vehicle, either because of probable cause for a traffic infraction or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they can:
  • Order the occupants out of the vehicle
  • Ask to see the driver's license, registration, and other relevant information, such as proof of insurance.
  • Conduct a limited search to gain access to the vehicle identification number.
  • Conduct a dog sniff (''canine sniff''), so long as the sniff does not extend the length of the stop.
  • Take actions reasonably related to the original reason for stopping the vehicle, or related to suspicions that develop during the stop.
  • Frisk for weapons if they have or develop a reasonable suspicion that the occupants may be armed or dangerous, and
  • Search the vehicle if the stop provides probable cause for the officers to believe it contains illegal or stolen goods or evidence of a crime.
 When it comes to criminal law cases, an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between a prison sentence and reduced or dismissed charges. The lawyers of Parnham & Associates are dedicated to defending the rights of the accused and our criminal defense attorneys are committed to the presumption of innocence. Even in less serious cases, a good criminal defense attorney can make a serious impact on the outcome of the case by ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected throughout the legal process. For these and other reasons, it is vital that those accused of a crime select the most competent, experienced and effective attorney available.

Mar 19, 2016

Psychiatric Treatment in Criminal System:Part III

Harris County, Texas is the most populous county in the state and the third-most populous county in the United States. Its county seat is Houston, the largest city in Texas and fourth-largest city in the United States.
Harris County also  has one of the most underfunded public mental health systems in a state that consistently ranks last, or almost last, in per capita mental health spending. Community-based mental health care is funded mostly by state government, and for years, the Texas Legislature starved its public system. In 2003 Texas lawmakers slashed funding, and thousands of people who relied on the system were suddenly ineligible.
Many went into crisis and were picked up by police or wound up in emergency rooms, where they stayed briefly, stabilized, and were released, still unable to get treatment in the community.

In Texas, a defendant found not competent to stand trial in a violent offense is supposed to be committed for treatment in North Texas' Vernon State Hospital in order to attempt to restore competency.
Texas’ mental health hospital system was designed and built a century ago, when Texas was very rural and good treatment options for mental illness weren’t available. Large campuses of 60 to 90 acres, often in rural areas of the state, were built to house 3,000 patients each. Most patients sent to these facilities weren’t expected to recover.

Although these hospitals still  play an essential role in the mental health delivery system, many of them are functionally obsolete. Many are abandoned, decaying and considered a safety hazard. Buildings used for clinical care are in reasonable condition but poorly designed for modern care, with convoluted hallways with poor visibility from nursing stations. Higher-acuity patients require more caregivers, further crowding already limited common spaces.

A recent Department of State Health Services study determined that five state hospitals- Rusk, Austin, San Antonio, Terrell and North Texas at Wichita Falls - were beyond repair and should be replaced. Furthermore, the buildings and facilities at the Big Spring, Kerrville and North Texas at Vernon state hospitals, as well as the Rio Grande State Center, El Paso Psychiatric Center and Waco Center for Youth, should be repaired and renovated, and the unused, decaying buildings on these campuses should be torn down, the report said.

Because of the lack of beds in Vernon Hospital particularly, the Harris County Jail has now become the largest mental health facility in Texas and the second largest in the USA. It has more beds dedicated to the mentally ill than all other hospitals in the state, combined. Inmates may wait months before being transferred to Vernon.

When it comes to criminal law cases, an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between a prison sentence and reduced or dismissed charges. The lawyers of Parnham & Associates are dedicated to defending the rights of the accused and our criminal defense attorneys are committed to the presumption of innocence.


Mar 9, 2016

Texas Insanity Defense: Houston Lawyer Part II

In the state of Texas, the insanity defense and the requirements to raise the defense is codified in the Texas Penal Code Section 8.01:

    (a) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong.

    (b) The term “mental disease or defect” does not include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.

An "affirmative defense" allows a defendant to avoid legal responsibility for the charged offense while still admitting guilt; essentially, it provides an excuse or justification for why the action transpired. An affirmative defense has the ability to mitigate the legal consequences of an unlawful action.

In Texas, the insanity defense is available only when there is proof that, because of severe mental disease or defect, the accused did not know his/her conduct was wrong. Very few defendants, even those who are seriously mentally ill and delusional, are incapable of knowing at some level their conduct is wrong or unlawful.

Some individuals with severe, untreated mental illness have symptoms of auditory or visual hallucinations that are quite real to them. While in a delusional state they may be unable to appreciate their acts are either legally or morally wrong.
Importantly, a defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity does not walk out of the courtroom a free person. Instead, that person will be committed for treatment in a maximum security facility and for a disposition within 30 days in cases where there was dangerous conduct. In cases where there was no dangerous conduct, the person will be will be detained for a civil commitment proceeding .

Unfortunately, Article 46C.154 provides that neither party nor the court shall inform the jury of the consequences to the defendant if a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is returned. In others words, the jury will not be informed that a person found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity will not be released – although this seems like it would be relevant and pertinent information for a juror to know when they are struggling with finding a person guilty or not guilty.

George Parnham's insistence that juries and legislators consider context and mental capacity will help move focus from verdict to treatment and catalyze a societal shift from outraged condemnation to awareness and primary prevention. He is totally committed to ensuring that his clients are heard and, to whatever extent possible, understood. In instances where misrepresentation or misstatement about the factual circumstances of an accusation have been leaked to the public, whether intentionally or not, it is imperative to "set the record straight" and do whatever can be done to level the playing field of public opinion.

Criminal defense strategies applied in these situations need to be created for the particular offense, evidence involved and based upon the defendant's needs. Contact Parnham & Associates today at (713) 224.3967 or use our convenient online submission form. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. .