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1504 West Ave
Austin, TX 78701

512-917-4378

hris Perri Law is a criminal defense law firm located in Austin, Texas.

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Chris' Blog

The blog of Chris Perri Law, written by Chris Perri and Shannon Perri. Read the latest in exciting cases where justice is served.

Filtering by Category: Drugs

You may not go to jail for pot possession in Austin, but you can’t ignore the ticket

Chris Perri

It’s a beautiful December day in Austin, and Sue, a student at the University of Texas, wants to celebrate the end of the semester with friends at the Greenbelt. While relaxing in the 70-degree weather near a swimming hole, one of Sue’s friends lights up a joint. Sue doesn’t usually smoke pot, but she’s cutting loose today, so she closes her eyes as she takes a long drag off of the joint, the stresses of the semester exhaling out of her with the sweet smoke of her friend’s kindbud. She then opens her eyes, and her momentary relaxation gives way to full-fledged panic as she spots a uniformed police officer on a bicycle stopped on a nearby trail. The officer calls out for her to bring him the joint. Sue’s mind and heart race, as she remembers what happened to her older brother in their small town where he was arrested for marijuana possession and spent the night in jail.

The cop sternly warns Sue about the illegality of smoking marijuana: “This isn’t Colorado, young lady.” However, to her delight, he bikes off after handing her a citation that looks almost exactly like a speeding ticket. Sue can’t believe her luck in not getting arrested! Maybe she won’t even have to tell her parents. There’s a date listed on the ticket to report to “Justice of the Peace – Precinct 5” on December 22. Sue’s going to be back home for the holidays by then, so she later tosses the ticket on a stack of old books in her apartment, figuring that she can just deal with it when she returns to school in January for the spring semester.

 

Given that the ticket doesn’t look a whole different than a traffic citation, it’s understandable that Sue might think it’s no big deal. In reality, Sue’s offense is a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 180 days in the county jail and a $2,000 fine. Unlike most counties in Texas, where you’ll be cuffed and carted off to jail for anything worse than a class C misdemeanor traffic offense, Travis County is different. Here, the police are authorized to issue tickets for misdemeanor marijuana possession (four ounces or less), along with a few other class B misdemeanors (driving with license invalid, theft, graffiti, criminal mischief). These tickets are called “field-release citations” because the police release the defendants without booking them into jail. The rationale behind this policy is that arresting people takes several hours, resulting in fewer police officers patrolling the streets.

However, just because Sue received a citation doesn’t mean that she’s avoiding an arrest record. Instead, the arrest occurs during what is called a “jail walkthrough” when Sue reports to the Justice of the Peace at the time designated on her ticket. Below, I’ve outlined the steps of the process:

1.     Report to Justice of the Peace – Precinct 5 (located at 1000 Guadalupe Street in downtown Austin) to receive paperwork and instructions about the walkthrough process.

2.     Report to Pretrial Services in order to apply for a personal bond.

3.     Return to the Justice of the Peace, who will magistrate the defendant, meaning that the defendant is informed about constitutional rights and the penalty range of the offense.

4.     Obtain approval of the personal bond from the Justice of the Peace.

5.     Report to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office at their bonding desk in the courthouse.

Upon reporting to the sheriff, Sue is officially arrested. The sheriff’s deputy would take her fingerprints and a mugshot. Sue would then be released from custody without ever being handcuffed. She would also receive a copy of her personal bond with a court date.

Following this “arrest,” Sue’s case would be assigned to one of the county courts-at-law, and her lawyer could then begin resolving your case by requesting discovery materials (offense reports, video/audio of the incident, etc.) and negotiating with the prosecutor.

Like many people issued similar citations, Sue doesn’t immediately realize the importance of reporting to the Justice of the Peace on the date and time designated on the ticket. This is a very bad idea because failure to appear results in an arrest warrant. There is no “jail walkthrough” for Sue if she is later arrested on a warrant, and the process of getting booked in and out of jail would take 12-24 hours. Her initial fear of spending a night in jail would become a reality.

Here’s what Sue should do immediately upon receiving the citation: contact an experienced attorney, such as Chris Perri Law, to assist her with the jail walkthrough process. An attorney can waive the third step of the process (magistration by the judge) in order to ensure that Sue is one of the first people to report to the sheriff’s office for the booking procedures. Often, Chris Perri Law can get somebody through the entire process in less than an hour. Without an attorney, the process can take up to four hours because there’s often a long line of people with similar tickets, and the sheriff’s office only has two deputies (at most) working on the walkthrough process at any given time.

Chris Perri Law also would assist Sue in resolving her case in a manner that leads to an eventual expunction of her arrest record. Even though Sue might feel like she was never arrested because the jail booking procedure was so quick, information about the offense is automatically forwarded to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), who enters it into their crime records database. Background checks will reveal the incident unless Sue successfully expunges the records of the arrest. Given that she’ll be graduating from UT and on the job market in a few years, it’s very important that Sue hires an experienced attorney who knows how to ensure that her arrest record from this incident is ultimately wiped clean.


***Sue is not a real person.

Suppression Victories Preserve Our Constitutional Rights

Chris Perri

Chris Perri Law is proud to share that we’ve won three suppression hearings so far this year.

For those who may not know, a suppression hearing is held when a defendant believes that evidence was obtained in violation of a constitutional right. If the court agrees with the defendant, then the evidence is “suppressed,” which bars the prosecution from using this evidence at trial.

For example, in our recent blog post, we discussed a Supreme Court case where officers seized drugs from a vehicle following a positive canine alert during a traffic stop. This issue was litigated at a suppression hearing, where the defendant won the argument that the police officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

In many cases, winning a suppression hearing directly leads to the prosecutor dismissing the case due to insufficient evidence. As a result, the public often misunderstands suppression as a legal loophole that allows criminals to avoid accountability for their actions. Chris Perri doesn’t see it that simply.

 “Suppression hearings are my favorite part of practicing law,” Perri says. “The fact that my clients were caught with incriminating evidence isn’t the whole issue. Instead, we’re focusing on whether the police followed the rules. And these aren’t just any rules – these are the foundational principles that glue our country together. If judges allowed evidence to be introduced at trials despite being illegally obtained, then what’s the point of the Constitution? It’s the real possibility of suppression that keeps the police in line when they investigate illegal activity. It’s a part of our system’s checks and balances of power.“

Chris Perri Law Suppression Win #1

Earlier this year a client faced felony cocaine distribution charges after a police officer entered his house without a warrant. According to the cop, who was at the defendant’s front door in order to investigate an anonymous tip, he witnessed our client flushing the cocaine down the toilet, and he entered in order to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence (an exception to the general requirement that a warrant be obtained prior to entering someone’s home). However, the blinds covering the windows were drawn, and the cop had to awkwardly peer up through a crack in them in order to observe the inside of the home. Chris Perri Law successfully argued that while Supreme Court precedent recognizes an implicit license for anyone to come to the front door to knock and briefly wait for an answer (example: Girl Scouts selling cookies), no one—not even a police officer—is invited to violate the homeowner’s right to privacy by bending down to peep through a crack in drawn blinds. In fact, if you saw someone on their knees under someone’s window, trying to peer in through the blinds, you’d probably call the cops. The reasonable Travis County district judge ordered that the evidence be suppressed.

Chris Perri Law Suppression Win #2

At our next suppression hearing, a client faced a DWI charge and sought to suppress the blood evidence that was obtained with a search warrant following his arrest. Because the blood analyst reported a BAC of nearly twice the legal limit, combating this evidence was critical to our case. Our goal was to demonstrate that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest our client (a Fourth Amendment violation), so any evidence derived from an unlawful arrest is subject to suppression. By cross-examining the officer with the video of the stop and presenting evidence that undermined the officer’s credibility, Chris Perri Law convinced the court to suppress the blood results. Subsequently, the prosecution dismissed the charge due to insufficient evidence.

Chris Perri Law Suppression Win #3

Finally, in a pending felony case, Chris Perri Law suppressed key evidence a police officer obtained before reading the client his Miranda rights. Details will have to wait for a future blog post so that we do not compromise the resolution of this case.

Chris Perri Law is proud to practice criminal defense in Travis County, where constitutional principles reign supreme. If you or someone you know has a potential suppression issue, along with any other criminal defense matter, contact us today at (512)917-4378.

Recent Supreme Court Decision Protects 4th Amendment Rights During Traffic Stops

Chris Perri

Last week, in Rodriguez v. United States, the Supreme Court clarified that police officers may not prolong a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff on a vehicle, unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the occupants are engaged in criminal activity.

In this case, the defendant was pulled over in Nebraska for illegally driving on the shoulder of the highway. About 20 minutes later, the police officer issued a warning ticket for the traffic infraction. However, the defendant was not yet “free to leave.” The police officer instructed the defendant to exit his vehicle and stand in front of the patrol car while they waited for another police unit to arrive. About seven more minutes elapsed before the arrival of the backup unit. At this point, the officer led a drug-detecting dog around the defendant’s vehicle. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs, and a subsequent search of the defendant’s vehicle revealed a large quantity of methamphetamine. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to five years in federal prison.

On appeal, the Government argued that waiting a mere seven minutes for the drug dog to sniff the outside of defendant’s vehicle constituted a de minimus (minimal) intrusion on the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, meaning that the intrusion was so minor that it was constitutionally permissible. Fortunately, our Supreme Court rejected this argument. The Court noted that certain intrusions, such as asking a person to step outside the vehicle during a lawful traffic stop, are “negligibly burdensome precautions” that allow an officer to complete the traffic stop “mission” safely. “On-scene investigation into other crimes, however, detours from that mission,” wrote Justice Ginsburg, who authored the majority opinion.

An officer may not prolong a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff unless facts are developed during the traffic stop that support reasonable suspicion of drug activity. For example, if an officer smells drugs during the stop or notes a contradiction between the driver’s and passenger’s statements regarding their travel itinerary, the officer might have reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop in order to investigate drug activity. However, an officer can’t conduct a dog sniff on a car based on a mere hunch that’s not supported by actual observations of suspicious activity.

Even if the officer had conducted the dog sniff prior to issuing the warning ticket, the result would be the same: “The critical question, then, is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff ‘prolongs’ – i.e., adds time to – ‘the stop.’”

This recent case enhances Chris Perri Law’s arsenal for attacking unlawful searches at suppression hearings. We’ve begun 2015 with three victories on suppression issues, and we’ll continue to fight to protect our clients’ constitutional rights.

Chris Perri Law convinces State of Texas to dismiss case against man facing felony drug charge

Chris Perri

Chris Perri Law proves to be successful in the face of injustice yet again. Police searched Chris’ client’s home in North Texas and arrested the client for a state-jail -felony amount of marijuana (between four ounces and five pounds). The client faced up to two years in prison as well as the stigma of a felony conviction.  Within six weeks of hiring Chris Perri Law, Chris was able to convince the prosecutor to dismiss the entire case. The client will now be able to get the arrest expunged from his record next year.

Utilizing his exceptional skill in navigating case law, Chris pointed out to the prosecutor that the information the police used to obtain the search warrant was gathered illegally. Thieves burglarized the client’s home and stole the client’s marijuana. The police caught the burglars and asked them how they acquired so much marijuana. The burglars then became informants and pointed the finger on Chris’ client, a victim of burglary.

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However, case law states that information obtained through illegal activity cannot be used to obtain a warrant. Just like police must gather information through legal channels, so must anyone else if it will be upheld in court.

As a public citizen, I feel thankful that the courts dismissed the case because it shows our system values justice and sets a standard that illegally gathering information to hurt someone else is unacceptable.  It is shocking to think that without the help of Chris Perri Law, this man who was involved in no violent activity or crime of moral turpitude, could have been a convicted felon, never allowed to vote again.

No jail time, no convictions in marijuana transportation case

Chris Perri

Despite being caught transporting approximately 35 pounds of marijuana across the country, my clients won’t have to spend any time in prison after I worked out an excellent plea deal with the reasonable district attorney in Carson County, Texas. My clients were pulled over along I-40 in the Texas Panhandle, and we were prepared to contest the legitimacy of the stop unless we achieved a reasonable plea bargain. The driver was adamant that his passenger's case be dismissed due to the passenger’s lack of knowledge of the illegal contents of the trunk. Eventually, the prosecutor agreed, so the passenger’s case was dismissed, and he’ll be eligible to expunge all records of the arrest in about 2.5 years. Meanwhile, the driver won’t even have a felony conviction on his record because I worked out a deferred adjudication, meaning that as long as the defendant abides by the terms of his probation, a conviction won’t be entered in the case. The catch was that he had to pay over $6500 in various fines and court costs. Still, that’s a lot better than facing the penalty range of a third-degree felony (2-10 years in the state prison, which isn’t fun for first-timers).

Also, the outcome represents an implicit understanding that marijuana isn’t a terrible drug like methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin. In fact, most of the people who were supposed to receive my clients’ marijuana were cancer patients who use it as medicine to help cope with the side effects of chemotherapy. Even though the expensive fines may seem quite harsh, that money will go to good use in the Texas Panhandle, as it can be used towards public goods, such as education and environmental initiatives. In the end, that’s a true win-win!

Marijuana charge dismissed

Chris Perri

The progressive Travis County Attorney’s Office dismissed my client’s possession of marijuana (POM) charge today in exchange for him pleading guilty to a lesser charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, which is a class C misdemeanor (same category as traffic offenses). All my client had to do was pay $172 in fines and court costs. In POM cases like this one, which was a class B misdemeanor because it involved less than two ounces of marijuana, the Travis County Attorney usually gives first-time offenders a break. The prosecutors recognize that a POM conviction results in the burdensome automatic suspension of an offender’s driver’s license for six months, which can often lead to someone becoming a repeat offender if they drive with the suspended license. Our prosecutors want to put these defendants in the best possible position to overcome their criminal charge, so they’ll usually dismiss the charge in exchange for the defendant completing a 15-hour drug education class and community service.

Now that police officers are permitted to issue “sign and release” citations whereby POM defendants aren’t booked into jail when they possess less than two ounces, marijuana possession could almost be said to be “decriminalized” for first-time offenders in Travis County, as they’re likely to have the charge reduced to the same grade as a traffic offense, which carries no possibility of jail time.

On the other hand, if you go up the road to Williamson County, the situation is much different. Even if you get caught with just a joint, you’re likely to be sentenced to 18 months probation, and if you violate any conditions of that probation, it’s not uncommon for one of the no-nonsense judges to slap you with a 90-day jail sentence.