People accused of crimes often make many errors that result in terrible consequences. Avoid these 6 mistakes in your Houston criminal case.
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1. Volunteering Evidence
When you’ve been falsely accused of a crime, it’s natural to feel the desire to “clear your name.” Unfortunately, this feeling often causes people to make a number of mistakes that, instead of helping prove innocence, actually just give the police and prosecutors evidence against them.
When you’ve been accused of or charged with a crime, criminal defense attorneys strongly urge you to avoid the following:
- Allowing search or seizure of your property without a warrant.
- Making a statement to police without speaking to an attorney.
- Giving samples of body fluids, handwriting, fingerprints or clothing without a court order.
Both the Texas and the U.S. Constitutions protect all of us from unreasonable search and seizure. If the police do not have a warrant, they cannot search your home or car; they cannot take your property (including your cell phone); they cannot draw blood.
You are also not required to speak to police or answer questions without an attorney present. Houston criminal defense attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss strongly recommends being polite when dealing with police, but advises anyone who is being questioned to not answer and simply request to speak with your attorney.
2. Resisting Arrest
Do not attempt to resist or escape arrest — EVER. Trying to run away or fight the police can quickly lead to injury and additional charges.
If detained by the police, help yourself by politely complying and requesting a lawyer be present.
3. Witness Tampering
Another common mistake of people charged with a criminal offense is trying to clear up matters with the complaining witness. Unfortunately, no matter how good your intentions are, this is a bad idea. Speaking with the person who filed a complaint to try to get them to drop the charges can result in a charge of witness tampering.
In many cases, the decision on whether to continue with a criminal charge is also already out of the witness’ hands. Once the complaint is pending, it is the prosecutor who decides to move forward. Sometimes they will do so even if the crime “victim” decides they don’t want to proceed.
4. Not Getting An Attorney
Requesting an attorney right away is the best possible step you can take in a criminal case, and going to court without an experienced criminal defense lawyer is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. The Texas criminal justice system is complex and always changing. It’s important to have a professional represent your interests.
A criminal conviction can affect many areas of your life. You may face jail or prison time. You can suffer long-term financial consequences of fines and restitution payments. Finding a job and housing with a conviction on your record can be difficult. Saving some money by representing yourself can cost you far more than hiring an attorney will.
5. Hiding Information From Your Attorney
It is a criminal defense attorney’s job to fight vigorously for their clients’ rights. To do so, your attorney must have all the facts. Your attorney needs to know everything that you think is relevant and everything that you don’t think is relevant.
Tell the whole story, from the very first meeting with your lawyer. By doing so, your attorney will be able to represent your interests to the best of his or her ability.
6. Sharing On Social Media
It’s commonplace today for people to share many details of their lives on social media sites. Unfortunately, this is another mistake that can cost you big in a criminal case. The prosecution may use your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or other social media pages to gather details about your life and try to use your photos, posts and comments against you in a trial.
The best way to avoid these digital pitfalls is to not communicate with friends and family through Facebook, email, text message or any other digital or print medium. Don’t put anything related to your case on paper, don’t type it on a computer, phone or tablet. You just never know where that communication will go, who will see it, and how it will be interpreted.
Answers to Your Questions About Houston Criminal Cases
Will an Arrest in Texas Remain on Your Record for the Rest of Your Life?
Having an arrest on your record can cause headaches across your personal and professional life, and unlike your credit report, which lasts 7-10 years, a criminal record is with you your whole life. Under certain circumstances, you may be able to clear your name. Expungement and Orders of Non-Disclosure are the avenues you may be able to take. Expungement is having your arrest completely stricken from the record; you can legally say that the arrest never happened.
Orders of Non-Disclosure is a separate process, and though it doesn’t completely remove the charge from your record, it does seal it from public view.
Both of these processes are difficult, especially if you don’t have an attorney who has experience with them.
What is the Statute of Limitations for Criminal Charges?
The Statute of Limitations- or time limit a prosecutor has to charge you with a crime- depends on the severity of the crime you are charged with. The reason there is a time limit is that evidence can be lost or contaminated, and witnesses memories fade.
For most misdemeanors, the limit is two years. For felonies, the limit can vary from as little as three years for crimes such as assault, to up to 10 years for things like sexual assault and arson. For crimes like murder and human trafficking, there is no limit.
Can the Police Search You or Your Property Without a Warrant?
Generally, the US Constitution protects people from searches without probable cause. This means that officers must obtain a search warrant, issued by a court of law, before searching a person or property. But there are exceptions to the rule.
If you consent to being searched without being tricked or coerced, then a search without a warrant is legal.
If evidence of a crime or contraband is in plain view, the police are allowed to search you.
If there is an arrest in a home or other private property, then law enforcement may conduct a ‘protective sweep’ of the premises to search for weapons or accomplices. This is called search incident to arrest.
And in exigent circumstances, the police sense imminent danger to life or property, and they are allowed to act without a warrant.
Houston criminal lawyer Lisa Shapiro Strauss helps protect the legal rights of those charged with crimes in Harris County. Contact her today for a consultation and get help protecting your legal rights.