Some Options for Out of Towners Who Run into the Law While on Vacation
It’s probably not the best idea in the world to get in trouble when you are on vacation, or visiting another city. It makes it very hard on you both logistically and financially. I have run into this problem quite a bit as of late. On average I might get 1 or 2 cases a year from out of towner’s who either partied too hard, or made a dumb mistake while they were here. The problem ends of being that we lose a lot of potential options when you cannot commit yourself to living in Harris County.
Harris County Pre-Trial Diversion Program
Sometimes, especially for first offenders, there are programs available that can lead to dismissals. One of the programs, the pre-trial diversion program, requires individuals to complete all of their conditions in Harris County. A Pre-Trial diversion is a type of program that allows you to complete a probation-like program while your case is still open and pending, and allows you to earn a dismissal. Because the pre-trial diversion is a Harris County specific program, it cannot be transferred to another county (unlike some probations can be).
I had a client who lives 4 hours away, and while that isn’t too far, it’s just far enough to where it would make it tough to travel to Houston 2 or 3 times a month. Before, out of towner’s were not considered at all for the program, but I was told in this case that he is eligible for the program, but would have to commit to coming down for monthly meetings, random drug tests, community service, classes, etc in Harris County.
The Issues Around Living Far From Harris County
While this option is a no brainer for residents of Harris County and surrounding communities, it is a much tougher decision when you live out of town. To make it worse, you cannot transfer a probation that is 6 months (what he was being offered). So if he wanted to do a deferred adjudication to try to avoid a conviction, we actually would have had to ask to do MORE probation just to allow him to do his probation in his home town. My client has expressed interesting in just paying a fine because it is the easiest thing to do. That is the worst idea possible as it is a lifetime conviction, and something that will potentially keep an individual from getting jobs/apartments for the rest of their life.
It’s unfortunate that people feel stuck in these situations. It is never a good idea to get in trouble, but it’s a horrible idea to get into trouble far from home.
Positive Results on Hit and Run, DWI and Assault-Family Member Cases
Today was a fairly busy attorney day, and I was in a bunch of courts. My first stop was a hit and run case. This hit and run case was different than most cases since my client was accused of hitting a cement post in front of a business (not another vehicle as we typically see). A lot of people don’t realize that if you damage property you should either contact the owner, or leave a note. Luckily, we helped our client get an agreement to dismiss this hit and run case, since no one was injured. Everyone was only concerned that the business is made whole with regards to money.
Had a quick reset on an assault-family member case that is very defensible and is likely either going to get dismissed or end up in trial. We also did a reset on a DWI case where we are still waiting on evidence. We finally got the dash cam video, so I need to review that with my client so we can decide together how we are going to proceed.
Possession of Criminal Instruments Case
And the most interesting case I saw today is a charge that in my opinion is pretty silly. Its along the lines of possession of criminal instruments. You can be charged if an officer believes that you are using normal household items, and were planning on using them in a crime. For example: a person gets charged with breaking into a car in his past. If an officer pulls him over today and he has things in his car that look like they could be used to break into a car (crow bars, tire irons, bricks, pliers, etc), you can be charged with a crime. This is pretty silly in my opinion, unless there is darn good proof that something was imminent. If someone is just driving around with tools, I think it is ridiculous to charge them. It calls for way too many assumptions on the officer’s part.
Subjective Charges and its Impact
The problem in general with charges that are subjective, is even if the officers are wrong, the defendant is still affected even if his case is dismissed. They go to jail, they get their vehicle towed, they have to pay a bond to get out of jail, they have to spend big money on a lawyer, they have to miss work multiple times to go to court, etc. It’s not fair, but it’s one of the many problems with the legal system.
- DWI – Reset
- FSGI – Set for Dismissal
- Assault-FM – Reset
Statute of limitations is basically the time period that the state of Texas has to bring charges against someone. These time periods are different based on the type of case, the severity of the case, whether it was a violent crime, etc. If the time passes and the state has not brought charges, then they can never prosecute that case.
Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations
There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations, like if the accused is absent from the state, the period could be tolled. But every case is different. You will also notice that certain types of crimes can have a different statute of limitations based on the facts of the case and what section of the penal code the person was charged under. If you have a specific question, ask an attorney.
Statute of Limitations by Case
The list below shows certain types of cases in Texas and the statute of limitation associated with that type of case. You can find all of this information in the Code of Criminal Procedure chapter 12.
Felonies in the State of Texas
NO TIME LIMIT ON BRINGING CHARGES
- Sexual Assault and Aggravated Sexual Assault
- Fleeing the scene of an accident where someone dies
- Certain offenses against young children
- Human Trafficking
10 YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
- Theft by Fiduciary
- Theft by Public Servants (of government property)
- Sexual Assaults not covered above
- Trafficking not covered above
- Compelling Prostitution
7 YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
- Misapplication of fiduciary property or property of a financial institution
- Securing execution of document by deception;
- A felony violation under Chapter 162, Tax Code
- False statement to obtain property or credit under Sec. 32.32 of the Penal Code
- Money Laundering
- Credit Card Abuse
- Fraudulent use or possession of identifying information
- Medicaid fraud
5 YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
- Kidnapping or Burglary (except as shown below)
- Injury to Elderly or Disabled that is not a 1st degree felony
- Endangering or Abandoning a Child
- Insurance Fraud
20 YEARS FROM 18TH BIRTHDAY OF THE VICTIM
- Sexual Performance by Child
- Aggravated Kidnapping if defendant charged under 20.04(a)(4)
- Burglary under 30.02 of the Penal Code
10 YEARS FROM 18TH BIRTHDAY OF THE VICTIM
- Trafficking of persons under Section 20A.02(a)(5) or (6) of the Penal Code
- Injury to a child under Section 22.04 of the Penal Code
- Compelling prostitution under Section 43.05(a)(2) of the Penal Code
- Bigamy under Section 25.01 of the Penal Code
3 YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
- All other felonies
Misdemeanors in the State of Texas
- The statute of limitation is two years from the date the crime was committed.
There are changes coming for the Pre-Trial Diversion Programs by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. The most important change has to do with the ability of an individual to apply for an expunction on the case.
Changes to Pre-Trial Diversion Program Length
Before, when accepted into a pre-trial diversion (intervention) program they would have to sign a lengthy contract with the State of Texas. These programs used to be 1 year for misdemeanors and anywhere from 1-3 years for felonies. Now, all misdemeanors for pre-trial diversions (with the exception of the DWI program which is very different) are 6 months long.
Pre-Trial Diversion Community Service Requirements
Another change to the Pre-Trial Diversion Program is the amount of community service required. Before, the amount of community service on the contract was 80 hours, which amounted to 10 full days or 20 half days of volunteer work. This was very difficult for individuals who were full time students or those who were working full time. Now the new contracts only require 16 hours, which is only 2 days of community service. This is much more reasonable, and there is no excuse to complete the hours.
Pre-Trial Intervention and Expunction
But in my opinion, the most important change to the Pre-Trial Diversion Program in Harris County has to do with applying for an expunction. On the old contract, individuals were told that by entering the program, they are agreeing to not seek an expunction for at least 2 years from the date they the program is over and their case is dismissed. So on a normal misdemeanor shoplifting case, it would take 3 years (1 year pre trial diversion, 2 year waiting) plus any time in court that it took to actually get into the program, usually 60-90 days. Under the change certain cases, such as theft, will be immediately eligible for expunctions. This means the same person who was charged with theft could now seek an expunction after just 6 months instead of over 3 years.
However, certain cases will still have a 2 year waiting period. Some of those cases are:
- Assault-Family Member
- Terroristic Threat
- Deadly Conduct
- Resisting Arrest
Class A misdemeanors not listed above will have 1 year waiting periods instead of the old 2 year period. And any other class B misdemeanor will have no waiting period.
This is of course always subject to change as it is a policy of the District Attorney’s Office of Harris County. But as is, at the time of writing, this is a great change for those who might be unfortunate enough to be going through this process. If you have specific questions, contact our attorneys regarding your case.
Every day in the courthouse I see young adults with no criminal record taking plea deals on misdemeanor theft cases. The problem is, they are not protecting their future. In my opinion, theft is the absolute worst type of misdemeanor you can have on your record. No one is ever going to want to hire someone who they think is a thief. For some reason, many people do not understand this, or are not given good advice.
Typically on theft cases in Harris County you will have 4 options. Option number 1 is a jury trial. Everyone has the right to fight their case and have a jury trial. Unfortunately, many of these cases are not easy to defend as the typical situation involves someone shoplifting on camera from a major retailer, and getting caught with the merchandise outside of the store. So in this type of situation many times it is best to try to reach a plea deal.
The next option is the best option and that is a Pre-Trial Diversion. A Pre-Trial Diversion is a 6 month program in Harris County where your court date is reset for 6 months. During that time (while your case is still pending), you complete what is essentially conditions similar to a probation. Requirements usually include the completion of an anti-theft class, community service, random drug tests, a fine, monthly meetings. At the completion of the program, if the individual successfully completes it, the case is dismissed. This is a true dismissal that is eventually eligible for expunction, which is a destruction of the records.
If for some reason you are not accepted into the pre-trial diversion program, deferred adjudication is the next best option. This can be anywhere from 6-12 months depending on the court and prosecutor. The difference with deferred is you actually plead guilty, and the case ends. You then start probation, which has similar conditions as above. If you finish deferred adjudication successfully you will avoid a conviction on your record. The problem with deferred adjudication is that your arrest record is still visible. If someone pulls a background check on you, and they see you were on deferred adjudication they are going to know that you pled guilty. The only reason you avoided a conviction was because of probation. Jobs, apartments, schools, etc will still hold that against you. To remedy this you can partially seal your record through a petition for non-disclosure (which you can read about in my past blogs), but this only partially seals your record.
The worst option of the bunch is sitting it out in jail or simply paying a fine. Both of those require guilty pleas, and are lifetime convictions that you can NEVER take off of your record. So you will basically be having to explain this every single time you apply for a job for the rest of your life (if you even get an interview). Too many people take this option because it’s the easy way out. They are told, “pay $300 and it’s over with, no probation”. But it is horrible for you! Protect your future!