Archive for June, 2014

Why Every Driver Should Play the Strong Silent Type During a Texas Traffic Stop

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

A traffic stop usually begins innocently enough, with a polite request for your license and registration. As you hand over the required items, though, you are likely to wonder what other questions you will be asked during this particular stop. You should also be thinking about whether or not you will answer any additional questions, and which questions you will answer.

Law enforcement officers of all types, from the local sheriffs to state troopers, and even Border Patrol have a habit of asking drivers more questions than drivers are required by law to answer. This problem is particularly pronounced in areas near the Mexican border, where excessive questioning is often paired with an aggressive attitude. As you can imagine, this is rather unsettling for drivers, and it can get you into trouble if you do not understand your rights, or if you are afraid to assert them.

In Texas, drivers are required to present three things to a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop. These things are their driver’s license, insurance card, and vehicle registration. Even less is required of passengers, who are not required to provide anything, unless they are being detained for a traffic violation.

Unfortunately, there are no rules regarding what kinds of questions law enforcement officers can ask you. Fortunately, you are not legally obligated to answer every question that you are asked. In fact, you do not have to answer any questions, aside from providing the three items which you are legally required to provide. Border Patrol checkpoints are a little different, because officers have a right to determine immigration status. However, this does not mean that you have to answer any questions in order for them to be able to do that.

Of course, knowing what you are legally required to do and what you have a right to choose to decline to do in response to an officer’s questioning is one thing. Asserting your right to refuse to answer additional questions in a calm and confident manner is another thing entirely. Law enforcement officers are aware that many drivers do not know that they are only legally required to provide three things during a traffic stop. They also know that many drivers and passengers are easily intimidated by authority figures, such as themselves. Therefore, they ask whatever questions they please and expect that drivers and passengers will answer them without so much as a second thought.

Since drivers cannot count on law enforcement to stick to the basics during traffic stops, it is up to drivers to educate themselves about the “rules of the road” regarding questioning during traffic stops, and to plan ahead what they might say in response to an officer’s questions. It’s best to keep it simple, and to speak as calmly and confidently as you can. One of the best phrases to use is “Am I free to go now?” which you can say after your license, registration, and insurance cards have been returned to you.

Traffic stops can be unnerving, because you never know what the officer’s attitude will be like or what questions they will ask you. Knowing your rights and standing up for them could help you to avoid disclosing information that could be used against you later on. If you have been accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, you need the assistance of a knowledgeable Texas DUI Defense Attorney.  To learn more, call attorney Alex Tyra today, and schedule a free consultation. We can be reached at (903) 753-7499, or submit a convenient online contact form.

 

 

What is the Michael Morton Act?

Friday, June 13th, 2014

The case of Michael Morton brings to mind something which no criminal defendant wants to think of – the fact that innocent people are sometimes put behind bars for years, crimes that they did not commit. In Morton’s case, when the prosecutor failed to present all potentially exculpatory evidence at Michael’s trial for the brutal murder of his wife, the jury concluded that he, the lone suspect, was the person who had killed her.

In 2011, a group of attorneys who were reviewing Morton’s case on a pro-bono basis discovered that not all of the available evidence had been presented at his trial. Eyewitness descriptions of the killer, the killer’s vehicle, and the attack, as well as a blood-stained bandanna found near the murder scene had somehow failed to make it into the courtroom. The bandanna was submitted for DNA testing, and it was found to contain the blood of the victim, as well as the blood of the person who killed her. Mark Norwood, a convicted felon, was identified as the murderer based upon DNA evidence, and Michael Morton was released from prison after having served twenty five years.

Earlier this year, the Michael Morton Act was signed into law in Texas. The Act requires prosecutors to turn over evidence to defense attorneys in criminal cases upon the attorneys’ requests, without requiring the defense attorneys to first obtain a court order. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have stated that the passage of the Act has raised awareness of the importance of having access to evidence. Prosecutors have expressed concerns that the Michael Morton Act is increasing the cost of prosecuting criminal cases. It costs money to prepare evidence, and the more evidence there is which must be provided to other parties, the more money the state will need to spend in order to meet its obligation to do so. The increased cost of preparing and exchanging evidence is real, but it does not overcome the interest of the criminally accused in having access to all evidence which could support their defense.

Access to exculpatory evidence is something which has been the rule in courts across America for a long time. Brady v. Maryland, a 1963 case decided by the United States Supreme Court, set the precedent that prosecutors must produce information that is exculpatory in nature. Exculpatory evidence is evidence which points to the innocence of a defendant. States have varied in how they interpreted Brady, and that is why the Michael Morton Act is so important. Prior to the passage of the Act, prosecutors were in charge of deciding which evidence was exculpatory and which was not. The result is that prosecutors in at least seventeen cases in which convictions have been overturned, prosecutors failed to turn exculpatory evidence over to defense attorneys.

If you have been accused of a crime, an East Texas Criminal Defense Attorney can help you to present your very best defense against the crime or crimes which you have been accused of committing. The consequences of a conviction could be far-reaching, and could affect many areas of your life for years to come, so it is important to have a strong advocate in your corner of the courtroom.  To learn more, call attorney Alex Tyra today, to schedule a free consultation. We can be reached at (903) 753-7499, or submit a convenient online contact form.

 

 

How to Maintain Financial Stability Throughout Your Texas Divorce

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

There are many things that change for a couple as they move from being married to being divorced. During the divorce process, they will navigate changes in residence and family time, and, of course, drastic changes in their financial situations. Many people do have trouble with their finances before, during, and after divorce. Fortunately, there are things that you can do, even if you begin your divorce on shaky financial footing, to maintain financial stability throughout the divorce process and set yourself up for post-divorce financial success.

Dealing with debts is an unpleasant but extremely important aspect of divorce. One way that you can reduce the likelihood that debt will continue to be a problem for you after your marriage ends is to avoid incurring any new debt, if at all possible. Also, if you can, pay off some of your debts. Although it may seem tempting to put a hold on paying off debts until you (or the court, if you do not reach an agreement) decide which of you will be responsible for each of your marital debts, those debts pose a threat to your financial stability until they are paid off. If your spouse accepts responsibility for a debt as part of your property settlement, or if the court decides that they should pay that debt as part of the property settlement and they fail to pay it, the creditor can still try to collect payment from you. Getting rid of as much debt as possible reduces the chance that this will happen.

Navigating a change in financial resources is challenging, to say the least. Add to that the expense of transitioning from one household into two, and it becomes even more daunting. As you set up your independent living arrangements, challenge yourself to find as many ways to save money as you can. For example, if you need to rent a place to live, don’t jump on the first place that you see. Make a list of the features that you need, as well as the size and location that you desire, and shop around. The same goes for services like cell phone, internet, and utilities. You are starting fresh, so be sure that you select only the products and services that fit your needs as you move forwards into your new life.

If your spouse proposes a property settlement to you, go over it carefully with your attorney before you decide whether or not to agree to it. Make sure that you fully understand both the present and future effects that accepting the settlement offer would have on your finances, including any tax savings or liabilities that would be associated with dividing the property as proposed. If a settlement will meet your needs, accepting it may be a good way to avoid the expense of costly divorce litigation that could result in you receiving a property settlement that does not meet your needs.

Set yourself up for post-divorce financial success by opening a separate bank account for yourself and establishing credit in your name. After your divorce has become final, carefully check each of your insurance policies to make sure that they list the proper beneficiaries. Get rid of any policies on cars, real estate, or other things that no longer belong to you. Also, make sure that all joint credit cards are cancelled and all joint bank accounts are closed, and the proceeds are distributed according to your property settlement.

While you take steps to ensure a solid financial future for yourself, your Texas Family Law Attorney can help you pursue a property distribution that will meet your current and future needs. If you have questions about the effect of divorce on your finances, or any other issues related to your divorce or family law case, please contact attorney Alex Tyra today, to schedule your free consultation. We can be reached at (903) 753-7499, or you may visit us online to submit a convenient online contact form.