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Grant M. Scheiner - Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer

What Getting an Underage DUI in Houston Means

What Defines Underage DUI in Texas?

If you are driving in the state of Texas and are under the age of 21, an officer who pulls you over and even so much as smells alcohol on your breath can charge you with underage DUI. Because it is against the law to drink under the age of 21, the state of Texas has zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving. Texas laws state that any minor who has “any detectable amount of alcohol in his/her system” while driving a motor vehicle can be charged with DUI.

If this happens to you, it is important that you take it seriously, as this charge can have long-lasting and serious effects on your life.

The Zero Tolerance Law in Texas Isn’t Set at ZeroWhat Getting an Underage DUI in Houston Means

The National Highway Systems Designation Act of 1995 mandated that all states set the limit at 0.02% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels for drivers under the age of 21 in order to receive Federal Aid Highway Funds. Some states decided to go even further and set the limit at 0.00%. However, Texas kept the 0.02% limit, which means that if you were charged in Texas with an underage DUI based on a 0.00% standard rather than 0.02%, it was not in line with state laws. If this is the case, you will need a good DUI attorney in Houston to fight these false charges for you.

Penalties for Underage DUI

Underage DUI in Texas is considered a Class C misdemeanor. While the arrest of a minor for DUI is similar to that of an adult, sentencing for a minor charged with DUI can be much different than for an adult. It’s important to understand these differences and realize how crucial it is to hire an effective DUI attorney in Houston that has a great track record in DUI cases.

The penalties for an Underage DUI in Texas are slightly different than those for an adult DUI. A driver under 21 years of age is legally considered a “minor,” which means you will not receive jail time and the penalties will not be as severe as those for an adult. However, the consequences are still severe and long-lasting. If convicted, the offense will remain on your record permanently, affecting your life for years to come, including the ability to acquire higher education, gainful employment, and professional licensing.

Penalties for underage DUI in Texas can include the following:
•    A fine of up to $500
•    Probation
•    Community service
•    Alcohol awareness classes
•    Suspended driver’s license for 30 days for a first offense
•    Suspended driver’s license for 60 days for a second offense
•    Suspended driver’s license for 180 days for a third offense
•    Permanent criminal offense on record

Keep in mind that other possible contributing factors, such as high BAC levels or injuries due to your actions, may affect what penalties you receive.

In addition to these penalties, you will be responsible to pay any fines, court costs, probation fees, and legal fees that are associated with your hearings and consequences.

What To Do if Charged with Underage DUI in Texas

Unfortunately, officers do make mistakes and sometimes file false charges. Sometimes the instruments that measure BAC fail and false readings are submitted. You certainly don’t want to get a charge on your permanent record that you don’t deserve. We at Scheiner Law Group can review your case and fight to keep your record clean, as well as restore your life to normal after a false underage DUI charge has been made against you.

If your charges are not the result of a false accusation or nonworking equipment, we still believe that you deserve a second chance. In some cases, young people who are otherwise upstanding citizens use bad judgment and get behind the wheel of a vehicle after a sip or two of an alcoholic beverage. Regardless of your situation, we will fight for you. Because a DUI can become a permanent part of your record and can have long-term negative effects on your life, the attorneys at Scheiner Law would like the opportunity to defend you against all underage DUI charges and help you avoid the many negative consequences that may affect your otherwise bright future.

No matter the situation, you will want to have a competent Houston DUI lawyer going to bat for you. Give us a call today so we can begin our job of defending you and your future!

How to Deal with an Out of State DWI in Houston

Have You Been Charged with a DWI While Traveling in another State?

Taking a vacation and traveling out of state can be a wonderful adventure. But if something unexpected and difficult happens, like being arrested and charged with a DWI, you need all the help you can get from experienced DWI lawyers in your home state of Texas. Here at Scheiner Law Group, we can usually find you a lawyer outside of Texas to assist you in a DWI, DUI, OWI or OUI case. We are a team of experienced Houston attorneys who have helped many individuals get DWI charges dropped and get their driving record clean. It’s best if you contact us immediately so we can get to work on your case as soon as possible to help you avoid any negative short-term or long-term consequences.

How to Deal with an Out of State DWI in Houston

Out-of-State DWI Charges

DWI charges exist in every state and apply to all drivers, both in-state residents and out-of-state visitors. Due to Congressional highway funds, the legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels is the same in every state. However, the charges for exceeding that limit differ from state to state. Some drivers assume that a DWI arrest in one state will have no impact on a previous of future DWI arrest in another state, but this is not the case. You are not off the hook in your own state if you get a DWI in another.

Your Driver’s License and Possible Suspension

There are two reasons a state may suspend your driver’s license before your case goes to court: if your BAC was over the legal limit or you refused a test. If this happens, you have a limited time to appeal the suspension of your license, with the amount of time varying from state to state. In Texas, you generally have 15 days to ask for an administrative hearing to retain your driver’s license. If you fail to get a hearing, the suspension of your license could be final and may then be reported to other states.

The First Step to Take

The first and most important step is to hire a qualified DWI lawyer in Texas. At the point of your arrest or shortly after, crucial deadlines will be put into place, so time is of the essence. A competent DWI attorney can walk you through this process, which can be overwhelming from the start.

Why Scheiner Law Group is Your Best Chance

Scheiner Law Group has many years of experience as a Houston DWI law firm. We fight to keep your record clean and to restore your life to normal after a DWI charge, whether it takes place in Texas or another state. Because a DWI can become a permanent part of your record, it can have long-term negative effects on your life, including being accepted into some colleges or universities and being hired for certain jobs. We would like the opportunity to defend you against all DWI charges and help you avoid the many negative consequences that can occur both now and in the future.

Texas DWI Cheat Sheet

Texas DWI Cheat Sheet

Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States. There’s a near-limitless list of things to do in the metro area – and that includes bars, clubs and other drinking establishments. If you’re enjoying a night out on the town, it’s helpful to know the answer to the question: “How much is too much?”

Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a designated driver on hand. But sometimes you’re the driver, and you’ve already had a drink. Is it safe to drive home? Could you actually have another drink without significantly impairing your ability to operate a vehicle? These are valid questions, with potentially serious consequences. With that in mind, Scheiner Law Group, Houston’s premier criminal defense and DWI attorneys, offers this handy guide to set the record straight.

If you need help with a possible DWI case, ask for a lawyer. The Scheiner Law Group specializes in Houston DWIs and DUIs. We’ve successfully dismissed many would-be cases in Houston and the surrounding areas.

For more information, please visit the Scheiner Law Group’s web articles about your right of refusal and other tips & tricks.

Get Help Now:

Call (713) 807-9700 or visit scheinerlaw.com.

For emergencies and non-business hours, call or text DWI Attorney Grant Scheiner at (713) 581-4540.

Español: (713) 226-9393.

 

Can you film the police? Know your rights!

Let’s say you and your friends are out one night and things take a turn for the bad. A police officer starts hassling you or someone in your group. Or maybe you just see an angry cop about to get violent with a person in the street. Are you allowed to just pull out your phone and start video recording? Can the officer force you to stop recording as happened last week in Harris County?

In most cases you do have a right to video record the police.

Although the Supreme Court has never addressed whether people can legally video record police in public places, courts that have ruled on the issue have generally sided with people who make the video recordings. The courts have generally held that video and audio recording police in public is protected conduct under the First Amendment (At least some police departments have gotten the message. For example, last August the New York Police Department sent a memo to it’s officers that citizens do have the right to record them).

But there are several exceptions to your right to video record the police. First, you can’t make a recording if doing so would interfere with a police investigation or make a situation unsafe. (In Texas, you could be arrested and charged with the Class “B” misdemeanor crime of “Interfering with Public Duties.”) So be sure to stand at a safe distance and do not get in the way of police activity or risk getting someone hurt or killed. Also, never under any circumstances make physical contact with police while they’re doing their jobs.

Second, if you live in a state where all parties to a conversation must give their consent to being recorded (a so-called “two-party consent” state), then you may be breaking the law by making a recording. Fortunately Texas is a “one-party consent” state, which means that only one party to an activity or conversation needs to consent.

So when you reach for your cell phone and start making the next viral police video, use common sense and good judgment. Be polite and don’t interfere. And always stand at least several feet away from the action, so that you don’t create a risk of someone getting hurt, killed or unnecessarily arrested.

Roll ’em!

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How to Avoid Getting a DWI During the Holidays in Houston

How to Avoid Getting a DWI During the Holidays in Houston

The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate with our family and friends, but all of the festivities can come to a screeching halt when it comes to drinking and driving. With so many people travelling on the roads to and from holiday parties, the risk of drunk driving accidents dramatically increases. More than 17,000 people die and roughly a half million are injured every year as a result of alcohol-related accidents, and unfortunately, almost every year Texas leads the nation in the most drunk driving accidents.

While Texas law currently prohibits sobriety checkpoints, also known as DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or DUI (Driving Under the Influence) checkpoints, law enforcement are still on particularly high alert for potential drunk drivers during the holidays. There are also substantial lobbying efforts underway to change the law to allow for DWI checkpoints, so it’s important to know what to expect should they be instituted. Driving under the influence not only puts the safety of you and others at risk, but if you are pulled over when your blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the state legal limit (.08), you could face license suspension, major fines and even jail time.

So, with the holidays quickly approaching, it’s important to keep in mind some common sense tips to avoid a DWI during the holidays in and around Houston and Harris County:

  1. Don’t Drink Alcohol and Then Drive – This one may seem fairly obvious, but one sure fire way to avoid a DWI is to skip alcohol all together when you’re driving. Even if you think you’re fine to drive after a few drinks, the officer that pulls you over may disagree. Portable breath testing devices, laboratory blood tests, and even law enforcement judgment are all prone to potential error when determining someone’s level of sobriety. It’s best to avoid the situation entirely and volunteer to be a designated driver for your friends or save the drinking for times when you have a designated driver or can take a taxi.
  2. If You Must Drink, Be Smart – Keep the number of drinks you consume to a minimum, and be sure to eat enough food to have a full stomach. The food will help to delay the absorption of alcohol and will help to avoid a spike in alcohol intoxication. Eating plenty of food shouldn’t be much trouble during the holidays!
  3. Don’t Rely On the One Drink Per Hour Rule – While it can typically take one hour for the body to absorb and eliminate alcohol from the bloodstream, this old adage doesn’t always stand up. How your body metabolizes alcohol can depend on a variety of factors–including gender, body weight, body hydration and food consumption–and the speed of absorption can vary greatly from person to person.
  4. Being Close to Home Won’t Protect You – Many people assume that if they’re close to home they can avoid getting caught for drunk driving. But the reality is many traffic stops and accidents often occur within less than a mile of the driver’s home. Texas law enforcement aren’t likely to cut you any breaks simply because you live “just down the street.”

Following these tips and using a bit of common sense can help you avoid a DWI during the holiday season. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that once a person starts drinking, their judgment becomes impaired and they may not make the smartest choices. That’s why it’s important to think through the evening ahead and make plans to avoid getting a DWI. If you have any questions about DWIs or any other legal concerns contact us today at Scheiner Law Group P.C.

New Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Case Upholds Cell Phone Tracking

It’s often said that we live in an era of unprecedented technological advances. In no area is this more apparent than in the field of telecommunications. What a person can now do with say, an iPhone was simply unimaginable even just a few years ago.

The latest buzz is that Apple may soon introduce a feature in its iPhone that will allow users to unlock their phones and conduct transactions with just a fingerprint. If properly developed, this technology could yield huge advantages. But given the recent scandals with the NSA’s mining of data, these advances also have a potential of further undermining our sense of privacy.

To many, a new decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is further proof that our civil liberties are erroding as the government’s power to monitor us is growing stronger. That decision held that law enforcement can obtain historical location data  – useful to law enforcement to collect data about a person’s daily movements and habits – from cell phone carriers without obtaining a search warrant.

In overturning US District Judge Lynn Hughes, the Court reasoned that “[a] cell subscriber like a telephone user, understands that his cellphone must send a signal to a nearby tower in order to wirelessly connect his call.” Because – according to the Court – a cell phone user understands the way phones transmits messages, and because he uses a phone voluntarily, he has a lower expectation of privacy, which works to exempt the government from the warrant requirement.

We disagree with this decision and are distressed to see this erosion of the Fourth Amendment’s power. Undoubtedly, this decision is contrary to what we a society would consider a “reasonable intrusion.” As Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor commented in a case involving GPS tracking, “I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on.”

We hope to see statutes enacted to address this problem, a remedy the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals anticipated: “We understand the cell phone users may reasonably want their location information to remain private… But the recourse for these desires is in the market or the political process: in demanding that service providers do away with such records… or in lobbying elected representatives to enact statutory protections. The Fourth Amendment, safeguarded by the courts, protects only reasonable expectations of privacy.”

Supreme Court Rules Police Can Take Arrested Person’s DNA Without Warrant

Alert: Supreme Court Ruling May Affect Your Privacy Rights 

The United States Supreme Court ruled this week that police can take DNA from any person arrested for a “serious” crime — and they don’t need a warrant to do it! In a controversial 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Maryland v. King that taking an arrestee’s DNA was akin to taking fingerprints or booking photos. Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a scathing dissent, in which Justices Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined.   This opinion threatens privacy and could result in questionable arrests of innocent people. There are at least several problems with the majority opinion.

First, the opinion erroneously compares DNA with booking photos and fingerprints. However, unlike photos and fingerprints, DNA can tell us many intimate details about a person (and perhaps even more details as DNA science develops), including predispositions for disease, mental illness, miscarriage or alcohol and drug addiction. DNA may eventually tell us whether a person is gay or straight or whether a person is predisposed to certain types of behavior. We must carefully consider whether we want our government to have warrantless access to that kind of sensitive information, especially for people in the criminal justice system who are supposed to be presumed innocent. As Justice Scalia pointed out in dissent, routine DNA swabbing of arrestees will likely lead to a national DNA database. It’s hard to see how that would not be a greater privacy intrusion than mere fingerprinting or taking a booking photo.
A second problem with this ruling is it may encourage questionable arrests by police agencies eager to try and solve cold cases. (I.e., Police could simply arrest a person, take his DNA and see whether it matches DNA taken at crime scenes in unsolved cases.) For those who can’t see the potential harm, keep in mind that even when a wrongfully arrested person is found innocent and gets his records expunged, he must first spend time locked up in jail, then must usually post bail and usually must hire a lawyer. And, who knows whether an expungement of records would even successfully remove an innocent person’s DNA from a federal or state database.
A third problem is that while the Supreme Court held police may take DNA from any person arrested for a serious crime, the Court didn’t define “serious crime.” Of course, murder, sexual assault and indecency with a child might all be considered serious crimes. But what about a felony drug offense? Undoubtedly there are many trial court and appellate court judges who believe any felony drug crime is serious. However, many states (including Texas) treat possession of even a tiny amount of  cocaine (so-called “residue” cases) as a felony. This means that if police find a nearly immeasurable amount of cocaine on some device that someone left in your car, you could be arrested, jailed and have your DNA taken (and probably submitted into a federal database) without a warrant.
Requiring police to get a warrant in order to take an arrestee’s DNA is not a heavy burden. It’s only a matter of paperwork in a legitimate case. But the warrant requirement at least provides a small layer of protection against government abuse and invasion of privacy, because a neutral judge or magistrate must read the warrant and determine whether the police have probable cause. In this week’s ruling in Maryland v. King, the United States Supreme Court stripped its citizens of a small but very important protection: The requirement that police must have a warrant, supported by probable cause, if they want to take your DNA.

Is there a biological basis to crime?

Recent advances in science may change the way we look at criminals and the underlying reasons for their behavior. Specifically, advances in neurology and brain scanning have revealed that because of brain function and chemistry, some people are far more likely to engage in criminal behavior. While researchers agree that there is still a strong social and environmental cause for criminal behavior, they argue that biology cannot be overlooked.

Recently on NPR, a researcher named Adrinane Raine discussed his work conducting brain imaging scans of convicted murderers (listen to the program here). Raine found that in many murderers – particularly those that killed impulsively – there was far less activity in the brain’s frontal lobe. Raine says this is important because the frontal lobe is involved in planning, organizing and impulse control.

Raine also discussed other factors that can impact brain functioning and make a person more prone to crime. For example, he attributed the rise in violent crime in the 70s, 80s and 90s to lead in the environment when the criminals were young:

“In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, violence went up in America. What was causing that? Well, one hypothesis: It was the increase in environmental lead in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. You know, lead in gas, for example. So, in the 1950s, little toddlers were playing outside, putting their fingers in dirt, putting their fingers in their mouths and absorbing the lead. Twenty years later, they became the next generation of violent criminal offenders because violence peaks at about 19 or 20. Then what happens is in the 1990s violence begins to come down, as it’s been doing. What’s partly explaining that? The reduction in lead in the environment. In fact, if you map environmental lead levels over time like that and map it onto the change in violence over time, lead can explain 91 percent of those changes. And to me, it’s the only single cause that can both explain the precipitous rise in violence from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and also the drop that we’ve been experiencing.”

This field’s implications on the criminal justice system are still unknown. David Eagleman of Baylor College of Medicine has convincingly argued for “customized” sentencing and treatment based on a person’s brain chemistry and function (Eagleman’s fascinating article in the Atlantic Monthly can be found here).

Mandatory Blood Draws Limited in Texas Due to New Supreme Court of the United States Case

A new United States Supreme Court ruling has probably rendered some Texas DWI laws unconstitutional and will have a big impact on the way DWI investigations are conducted in many cases. That case, Missouri v. McNeely, involved a DWI suspect who refused to provide a blood test. Blood was obtained anyway, and the police did not obtain a warrant prior to doing so, relying on the “exigent circumstances” exception to the rule that a warrant is required.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that Missouri’s approach was contrary to the Constitution. While the case did not go so far as to say that the police must always get a warrant, the justices did say that there is no rule that allows the police to get blood in every DWI case without a warrant. Specifically, the majority opinion concluded that the fact that alcohol in the blood dissipates over time is not necessarily enough to create an “exigent circumstance.” The ruling will require that each case be judged on its own facts and from a law enforcement perspective, getting a warrant makes even more sense.

Several justices were understandably uncomfortable with the government having free-reign to subject citizens to the forced blood draws in every DWI case (Chief Justice Roberts referred to the “pretty scary image” of forced blood draws).

In Texas, several categories of DWIs or other intoxication offenses are subject to “mandatory” blood draws including cases where the Defendant has two prior convictions, or some cases where there is an accident involving injury. These provision of the Texas Transportation Code are now on shaky Constitutional ground, and the State will have to show exigency to justify these blood draws.

Interestingly, in Harris County and many other places, it is now easier than ever for the police to obtain search warrants to conduct mandatory blood draws. This is largely because of the expansion of the “no refusal” program has led to a very efficient infrastructure for obtaining warrants and has probably limited the situations where an “exigency” would actually require the taking of blood without a warrant.

-Jose Ceja

Miranda Warnings for Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect (And All of Us)

Not long after Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody, the federal government announced it would not give the suspect “Miranda Warnings” before interrogating him. Withholding Miranda Warnings from a criminal suspect is a clear mistake. The so-called “public safety exception” to Miranda is rare, and it doesn’t apply to the case of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber.

First a little history and perspective. In 1966, the United States Supreme Court held that a criminal suspect in police custody must be given certain rights or “warnings,” before police agents may interrogate the suspect. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). These rights include the right to remain silent, and that anything the suspect says may be used against him in court; the right to consult with an attorney prior to and during any questioning; and, if the suspect cannot afford an attorney, the right to a court-appointed lawyer free of charge. Since 1966, Miranda has been the law of the land in all 50 states, with some states (including Texas) codifying these rights and even expanding them slightly. Now, when a suspect is in custody but not “Mirandized” before police interrogation, the answers the suspect gives are generally not admissible in court.

In 1984, the United States Supreme Court carved out a “public safety” exception to Miranda in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649. The Court called it a “narrow exception to the Miranda rule” and predicted that police officers “can and will distinguish almost instinctively between questions necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public and questions designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect.” Id. at 658-59. Quarles involved a suspect who allegedly raped a woman at gunpoint. When a police officer located Quarles and took him into custody, the officer discovered the suspect was wearing an empty gun holster. The officer asked where the gun was and the suspect nodded toward some empty cartons and responded, “the gun is over there.”

The Supreme Court in Quarles recognized that an immediate threat to officer safety can at times outweigh a suspect’s right for Miranda Warnings before questioning. However, in the case of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber, (who was taken into custody and immediately hospitalized in serious condition), there was no immediate threat to officer safety or public safety. Law enforcement authorities publicly announced there were only two suspects — one killed in a police shootout and the other wounded and taken into custody. The police had no information to suspect additional bombs posed an immediate threat to anyone. In fact, the town of Watertown, Massachusetts had been on lockdown until the suspect was captured. Then law enforcement authorities and public officials told citizens it was safe to return to the streets and their daily lives. If the primary argument for withholding Miranda Warnings to the suspected Boston Marathon bomber is that he “might” have information about additional bombs or bomb plots, then the public safety exception could be arguably stretched to include a possible danger in every, single type of case involving explosives, guns, threats or violence. It would be a classic case of an exception swallowing up the entire rule.

Miranda Warnings and constitutional rights are not minor inconveniences to be circumvented when a suspect is particularly hated or when police agents really-really want a suspect to talk. Constitutional rights are cornerstones of American democracy. They are what make our country superior to nations that don’t have constitutional protections for their own citizens. We either believe in our constitutional rights, or we don’t. I believe in our Constitution and I cannot imagine I am alone in that belief.