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Legal Blog

What to do if you are stopped by Law Enforcement Officers

by Paul Looney, attorney at Looney & Conrad, P.C

What to do if you are stopped by Law Enforcement Officers - Part 1

Law enforcement has the job of keeping us safe and treating us fairly, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin or religion. This is written with Texas laws to help you understand your rights if you or a loved one have an interaction with officers. Separate rules apply at checkpoints and when entering the U.S., including airports.


 

The biggest misconception is that talking to law enforcement is the right action to take.  However, talking to law enforcement officers cannot help. Ever.  When officers are talking to you it’s because they suspect you have committed a crime.  If they detain you, it’s because they already have enough evidence to arrest you and want to see if you’ll admit to the crime, giving them a stronger case.  REMEMBER:  If officers have evidence to arrest you for a crime, they will.  If they don’t, they won’t.


 

If stopped by law enforcement, know your rights:  

  1. Be polite, yet firm.

  2. You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that, say so.

  3. You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car or your home.  

  4. You have the right to leave if you’re not arrested. Ask,“Am I free to leave?”

  5. You have the right to an attorney. If you are arrested, ask for one immediately and DO NOT talk to the police without your attorney present.  Whatever you say can and will be used against you.

  6. You have United States Constitutional rights regardless of your immigration or citizenship status.


 

You have the following responsibilities:

  1. Stay calm and be polite.

  2. Do not interfere with or obstruct the investigation.

  3. Do not lie or give false documents; politely tell law enforcement you are not making any statements without your attorney present.

  4. Prepare yourself in case you are arrested - have a bondsman & attorney.

  5. Document every detail of the encounter including the officers' badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and all other details. Get contact information for witnesses. If you are injured, take photographs of your injuries (seek medical attention first).


 

 

What to do if you are stopped by Law Enforcement Officers - Part 2

If you are stopped by law enforcement for questioning, follow this protocol:

  1. Stay calm. Don't run, argue, resist or obstruct the investigation, even if you are innocent or officers are violating your rights.

  2. Keep your hands in sight where officers can see them.

  3. Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have the right to know why.

  4. You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer. In some states, you must give your name if asked to identify yourself.

  5. Do NOT consent to a search of yourself, your belongings, your vehicle or your home.  Law enforcement may "pat down" your clothing if they suspect a weapon and although you should not physically resist, you have the right to refuse consent for further search. If you do consent, it can affect you in court.


 

If you are stopped in your vehicle remember:

  1. Stop in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off your vehicle, turn on your internal light, open your window part way and place your hands on the steering wheel.

  2. Upon request, show your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance.

  3. If law enforcement asks to look inside your vehicle, refuse to consent to the search.  If officers believe your vehicle contains evidence of a crime, it can be searched without your consent.

  4. You and your passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are the passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, sit silently or leave. If the officer says no, you have the right to remain silent.


 

If you are questioned about your immigration status:

  1. You have the right to remain silent and do not have to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with police, immigration agents or anyone else. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country.  Separate rules apply at international borders, airports, and for individuals on certain non-immigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.

  2. If you are not a citizen of the United States and an agent requests your immigration papers, you must show them if you have them with you. If you are over 18, always carry immigration documents with you. If you don’t have immigration papers, tell law enforcement you want to remain silent.

  3. Do not lie about your citizenship status or provide false documents.


 

What to do if you are stopped by Law Enforcement Officers - Part 3

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is an American federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security responsible for identifying, investigating, and dismantling vulnerabilities regarding the nation's border, economic, transportation, and infrastructure security.


 

If law enforcement or immigration agents come to your home:

  1. Do not let them in your home unless they have certain kinds of warrants.

  2. Ask the officer to slip the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can inspect it. A search warrant allows officers to enter the address listed on the warrant, but they can only search the areas and for the items listed. An arrest warrant allows law enforcement to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside. A warrant of removal/deportation (ICE warrant) does not allow officers to enter your home without your consent.


 

  1. You have the right to remain silent even if there is a warrant. If you choose to speak to the officers, step outside and close the door.  Remember, it is never a good idea to talk to police without an attorney.


 

If you are contacted by the FBI:

  1. Do not answer questions. Tell the agent you want to speak to your attorney first.

  2. You have the right to say you do not want to be interviewed If you are asked to meet with FBI agents for an interview, have your attorney present. You do not have to answer questions you feel uncomfortable answering, and you can say you will only answer questions on a specific topic.


 

If you are arrested:

  1. Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair.

  2. Tell officers you wish to remain silent and ask for your attorney immediately. Don't give any explanations or excuses. If you can't pay for an attorney, you have the right to a free one. Don't say anything, sign anything or make any decisions without an attorney.

  3. You have the right to a phone call.  Law enforcement cannot listen if you call an attorney.  This should be your first phone call and the number should be memorized (my cell phone is available 24 hours a day; 7 days a week (713) 828-7494).

  4. Make emergency plans if you have children or take medication.

 

What to do if you are stopped by Law Enforcement Officers - Part 4

If you are not a citizen of the United States:

  1. Ask your attorney about the effect of a criminal conviction or plea on your immigration status.

  2. Only discuss your immigration status with your attorney.

  3. While in jail, an immigration agent may visit you. Do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to your attorney.

  4. Read all papers fully. If you do not understand or cannot read the papers, tell the officer you need an interpreter.


 

If you are taken into ICE Custody:

  1. You have the right to an attorney, but the government does not have to provide one for you. If you cannot afford an attorney, ask for a list of free or low-cost legal services.

  2. Contact your consulate or have an officer inform the consulate of your arrest.

  3. Tell the ICE agent you wish to remain silent. Do not discuss your immigration status with anyone except your attorney.

  4. Do not sign anything, such as a voluntary departure or stipulated removal, without talking to your attorney. If you sign, you may be giving up your opportunity to stay in the United States.

  5. Remember your immigration number ("A" number) and give it to your family. It will help family members locate you.

  6. Keep a copy of your immigration documents with someone you trust.


 

Remember: law enforcement misconduct cannot be challenged on the street. If you feel your rights have been violated, don't physically resist officers or threaten to file a complaint.  Handling misconduct is my job.  Let me take care of this for you.


How To Appeal Your Case

How to Appeal Your Case

By Clay S. Conrad, Looney & Conrad, P.C.

 

Going to court is a risky business.  Once your case begins, there are three possibilities for outcomes:  you win, you lose, or you and the other party compromise.  While most cases end in compromise, many are decided by a judge or a jury.  Here’s what to do if you lose:  First, file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days after the judgment is signed unless you are in a Municipal, J.P. or Small Claims Court.  The time for Notice of Appeal may be as short as five days and appeals from these courts are treated differently than the appeals discussed here.  A Notice of Appeal transfers the case from the trial court to one of 14 Texas Courts of Appeals.  Waller County appeals are heard by either the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals in Houston.


 

An appeal is a request that the case be sent back to the trial court because of errors that affected the outcome.  Appeals are decided by panels of three judges without a jury, and only look at legal errors.  A majority of the panel gets to decide the case.  The Appellate Court will either “affirm” (finding no error occurred), or “reverse” and issue an opinion telling the trial court what went wrong and how to proceed.


 

Once a Notice of Appeal is filed, the party filing it (the “Appellant”) has to order and pay for the “record” which consists of the documents and exhibits filed in the case (prepared by the Clerk of the Court), and the transcript of everything said at trial, (prepared by the Court Reporter).  The record will cost between a few hundred dollars to many thousands, depending on how long it is.  


 

When the record is filed, your lawyer will study it and look for mistakes at trial.  Each mistake is a potential issue on appeal.  Depending on what the trial lawyer objected to and how the judge ruled, there may be several good issues or no good issues at all.  Generally, to justify a reversal, there has to be a mistake the trial lawyer objected to and that likely affected the outcome of the case.  A mistake that didn’t affect the outcome is called “harmless” and most mistakes weren’t objected to will either be “waived” or “forfeited”.  These errors will not often result in reversal.


 

The appellate lawyer will then prepare a brief, presenting the facts, issues and law, trying to show that errors justifying reversal occurred at trial.  These briefs must conform to a strict format set out in the court rules, and take significant time and effort to prepare.  The other side’s lawyer will file a response brief, giving their position about why either no error occurred, or why the errors do not justify a new trial.  The Appellant’s lawyer may then file another brief in reply.


 

After studying the briefs, the Court of Appeals may then schedule oral argument.  At oral argument, both sides appear and argue their position and judges get to ask questions, exploring the weaknesses of each side’s case.  While both sides only get a short time to argue, the lawyers involved may spend days preparing, memorizing the law, cases, and facts the issues depend on because they don’t know what questions the judges may ask.  Sometime later the Court of Appeals will decide the case and issue a written opinion explaining which side won and why.  


 

Losing at appeal is not the end of the road.  The side that loses can proceed to the Texas Supreme Court in civil cases or the Texas court of Criminal Appeals in criminal cases.  Appeals can be very technical and often depend on fine points of law.  The skills an appellate lawyer need are different from those of a trial lawyer and few people excel at both.  If you’ve lost your case, it is critical to make sure you employ a lawyer who knows how to navigate the appellate rules and courts and who has been there and won.


 


Should Everyone Have A Will?

Should Everyone Have A Will?

By Richard Senassac, Attorney, Looney & Conrad, P.C.

 

Most people don’t need a Will.  A Will is a document that tells the State of Texas who you want your property to go to on your death; it disposes of your stuff the way in which YOU want it disposed.  This is done by “probating” your will; filing it in probate court and having an Executor appointed by the court.  Nine out of ten people, when they pass on, will not leave an estate that needs to go through formal probate.  Many assets, including some bank accounts, insurance payments and brokerage accounts, pass “outside” of probate.  That means that they are transferred to the people the deceased person designated while he/she was alive due to arrangements made with the bank, insurance company, etc.  Even stocks can be transferred to heirs by filing out simple paperwork with the issuing company or with the broker.  Title to vehicles can often be transferred in similar ways.  In many cases, title to your homestead can also be transferred without resorting to formal probate.  If everyone agrees that you always intended your gun collection to be split between Billy and Ann, and they agree as to who gets what, that doesn’t go through formal probate.

 

Don’t just assume that this is all true for you.  This is the way people get into trouble.  Everybody SHOULD have a Will.  The one person in ten who needs a Will and doesn’t have one will pay more, and go through more trouble than the other nine all together would have spent on getting Wills.  If you have minor children or grandchildren you wish to leave things to, you might need a trust, which can be created in your Will.  If you have debts when you pass, and property or items will have to be sold to pay these debts, you need a Will.  If you have real property other than your homestead, you need a Will.  If you just want to say that Aunt Margret’s bone china goes to Sally, you need a Will.  Certainly, if you want to make SURE Maggie’s bone china ends up in Sally’s hands – instead of, say Cousin Edith’s - you need a Will.  If any of these things MIGHT even happen, you need a Will!

 

A properly written Will avoids a lot of trouble when you open a probate.  A properly written Will allows the court to be involved when the Will is admitted to probate (at the beginning), and the filing of an Inventory.  All the rest is just the Executor.  A properly written Will also allows you to choose who will be in charge of handling all this – the Executor.  It lets you choose someone you trust, and who will not be so distraught over your passing that they cannot take on the job.  A properly written Will lets you choose a replacement should the Executor be unable to act.  Talk to your proposed executors ahead of time and make sure they are willing to take on the job!


10 Things To Do After an Auto Accident

10 Things To Do After an Auto Accident

by Paul Looney, attorney at Looney & Conrad, P.C.

 

Nearly 3,287 people die every day in road accidents and another 20-50 million are injured or disabled. Here are 10 things you should do if you are involved in an automobile accident:

 

  1. STOP: Never drive away from the scene of an accident, even a minor one.

  2. PROTECT THE SCENE: Prevent further accidents by keeping your flashers on. If your lights were damaged and it is dark, use a flashlight to keep you safe while waiting in your disabled car.

  3. CALL THE POLICE: Even if there are no injuries, call the police.  A  police report is needed to file a claim with your insurance company, even if it is just to make a claim for damage to your vehicle. Vehicles should remain where they are unless they interfere with traffic.

  4. MAKE AN ACCURATE RECORD: When the police arrive, tell the officer what happened. If you do not know certain facts, tell the officer you do not know. Do not speculate, guess or misstate information.  If you are not sure if you are injured, tell the officer you are not sure, rather than “no”.  Pain and injuries from accidents often become apparent hours or days later. Listen to what other witnesses tell police to make sure their statements are accurate.

  5. TAKE PICTURES:  Use the camera on your cell phone to take photos of vehicles involved.  If you have visible injuries, take photos.  Don’t interfere with the police investigation.

  6. EXCHANGE INFORMATION: Usually the investigating police officer documents this information but if police do not respond to the accident, get the name, address and phone number of everyone involved (drivers, passengers and witnesses). Ask to see the insurance card for all vehicles involved in the accident. If there are witnesses, get contact information from them. If police respond to the accident, the officer usually provides drivers with a police report number to get the police report. 

  7. REPORT THE ACCIDENT: Contact your insurance company because policies require immediate reporting.  If you have medical benefits as part of your insurance coverage (you pay extra for accident-related medical bill coverage - known as "medpay"), use it and submit accident-related medical bills to your insurance company. When medpay benefits are exhausted, private health insurance will be your primary insurer. Medpay benefits are available to all occupants of the vehicle and your insurance rates should not increase due to submitting claims for medpay.

  8. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: Because people feel the most pain a day or two after an accident, go to an emergency room or your family physician for a medical evaluation. Even in accidents involving minor impact, serious and permanent injury can occur to your spinal cord. If you lost consciousness or were dazed for even a short period of time, you may have a concussion.

  9. KEEP A FILE: Keep all accident-related documents and information together including a claim number, claim adjusters information, names, contact information for witnesses and all involved parties, receipts for a rental car and all other expenses.

  10. PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS:  Contact an attorney who will help protect your rights and assure evidence is not destroyed.  Because insurance companies want immediate statements, get legal advice before talking to them. Your attorney will assure you are fully compensated for your vehicle as well as receive the medical treatments you need.


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