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Can social media be used as evidence in Texas criminal cases?

Most of us have heard the famous Miranda Rights line “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” from film and television.

That includes just about anything you’ve posted on social media.

Law enforcement and prosecutors can use your social media history as evidence against you in Texas criminal cases in multiple ways.
The comments, images, videos, likes, and shares on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can easily be searched by investigators, and the information can be used in court.

Furthermore, investigators can request access to certain restricted social media data using a judge-approved search warrant, subpoena, or other court order.

It’s not just the content of your social media accounts that could hurt your case. The embedded information connected to online apps can help prosecutors build an incriminating timeline against you.

The Varghese Summersett criminal defense team is adept at working with clients to minimize any potential social media issues. Our firm includes Board Certified criminal defense attorneys and former prosecutors who will proactively defend your rights.

In this post, we’ll examine how social media can be used as evidence, whether deleting posts and accounts is helpful, and how to handle your social media history during a criminal case in Texas.

How can social media posts harm my Texas criminal case?

Prosecutors can use any incriminating social media information in court. Examples of social media posts that could harm your case include:

  • Threatening messages
  • Comments or images that contradict an alibi
  • Anything that contradicts your previous testimony during an investigation
  • Information that identifies your location before, during, and after an alleged crime
  • Comments by family or friends that could be misinterpreted

prosecutors love searching social media

Are my private social media communications safe from investigators?

Not really. Even if you use the highest privacy settings on your social media accounts, prosecutors and investigators could obtain a search warrant to explore your electronic devices for incriminating data, including:

  • Records of deleted social media posts;
  • Private posts shared with friends, and
  • Private messages, including emails.

Should I delete social media accounts if I’m facing criminal charges?

If you’re facing criminal charges, you might think it’s a smart move to delete social media posts or entire accounts with potentially incriminating information.

Not necessarily. You should consult your criminal defense attorney before deleting anything. Prosecutors and investigators could view any deletions as an attempt to erase evidence. Even worse, it could open you to criminal liability for tampering with evidence. Either way, it could hurt your defense. A skilled defense attorney will have a strong understanding of how you should handle your online history.

It’s not just about the content on your social media feeds

The content of your social media feeds is not the only thing you need to be concerned about. Prosecutors and law enforcement can use information such as your location, time stamps, and other encrypted data to help make their case against you. It’s not just your social media history that could hurt you; investigators can search other feeds that include photos or information that place you somewhere at a specific time.

It’s essential to be open with your defense attorney about any potentially problematic social media data. Defense attorneys don’t want to be caught by surprise by the prosecutor with damaging social media evidence.

Can social media be used as evidence in Texas DWI cases?

Yes, social media history can be used as evidence against you in a driving while intoxicated case. Investigators and prosecutors will often search your social media timelines to see if there is anything relevant to your arrest. They can also search posts made by others to look for incriminating evidence against you. It could hurt your case if a friend posts an image showing you drinking a glass of wine 30 minutes before your arrest.

The posts don’t necessarily have to show you drinking to incriminate you. Posts on social media help provide a timeline of your whereabouts. If you checked in online from a bar earlier in the night, it could be detrimental to your defense. Deleting social media posts is unlikely to protect you.

Law enforcement could retrieve deleted posts, and they could view the deletion as an attempt to destroy evidence. That will not help your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will help you handle potentially harmful posts.

Does attorney-client privilege include social media and email?

Yes, written and verbal communication between you and your attorney about a case is protected under attorney-client privilege. This includes email exchanges and private messages through social media apps. Remember, do not discuss your case with family or friends because it could be used against you in court.

How should you handle social media during a criminal case?

If you’re facing criminal charges, it’s essential to ramp up your privacy regarding your social media accounts.

You should set your privacy settings to the strictest possible and decline all friend requests from strangers. It’s wise to avoid commenting on or tagging other social media posts while your case is unresolved. Ask friends and family to avoid posting comments about you or your pending case.

What is the ‘reasonable juror’ standard in Texas?

Texas uses the reasonable juror standard to determine the authenticity of social media evidence. This standard, via Tienda v. State in 2012, requires that the evidence provider illustrates that the “supplied facts are sufficient to support a reasonable jury determination that the evidence he has proffered is authentic.”

The Texas Rules of Evidence require that the evidence be relevant to the case, admissible for the purpose intended, and authenticable.

How is social media obtained as evidence in a Texas court?

There are three significant ways prosecutors and defense attorneys gather social media history for use as evidence in a Texas criminal case.

Direct access
The simplest and most direct way to gather social media evidence is by going directly to the source and using what is available in the public domain. Often, evidence gathered in the public domain can lead to more intrusive discovery requests later, including interrogatories and depositions. Public posts and communication on an internet forum or social media app don’t require a court order.

Traditional discovery procedure
When someone’s social media or online communication is unavailable to the general public, information is gathered in court through the traditional discovery process. Interrogatories are used to request screen names or online identities used on websites or social media applications.

Forensic examination
In rare cases, a judge could order a forensic examination of a computer to search for hidden or deleted information that could be used as evidence. In most cases, however, direct access to the opposing party’s computer isn’t allowed.
In a 2018 ruling, the Texas Supreme Court held that direct access to someone’s computer or electronic storage device requires, at a minimum, that the benefits of the search outweigh the burden imposed on the discovered party.

What are the Texas standards for social media evidence admissibility?

In Texas criminal cases, social media evidence is governed under the same standards as other forms of evidence. The evidence must be relevant to the case, authenticated, and can’t be hearsay.

Relevance: This means the evidence tends to make the existence of any material fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Also, the probative value must outweigh the prejudicial effect, which means the degree to which a piece of evidence proves an allegation must be more than the amount the evidence diminishes the court’s ability to determine the truth.

social media be used as evidence

Authentication: Texas Rules of Civil Procedure section 193.7 allows for information from social media sites to be authenticated:

“A party’s production of a document in response to written discovery authenticates the document for use against that party in any pretrial proceeding or at trial unless – within ten days or a longer or shorter time ordered by the court, after the producing party has actual notice that the document will be used – the party objects to the authenticity of the document, or any part of it, stating the specific basis for the objection.

An objection must be on the record or in writing and have a good faith factual and legal basis. An objection to the authenticity of only part of a document does not affect the authenticity of the remainder. If an objection is made, the party attempting to use the document should be given a reasonable opportunity to establish its authenticity.”
The rule creates a presumption of authenticity for documents produced during discovery.

Hearsay: Typically, any out-of-court statement offered in evidence to validate an assertion of fact is hearsay and not admissible. Exceptions to the hearsay rule could apply to any evidence, including social media data.

What social media data is discoverable in Texas courts?

The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure section 192.3 provide that discovery is permissible if it pertains to relevant evidence or may lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

The scope of discovery includes documents and tangible things under which social media information falls.

Is social media being used as evidence against you? Call us.

Having a criminal defense attorney proficient with technology and the quickly evolving presence of social media is vital. At Varghese Summersett, our criminal defense team knows how to defend against such evidence and how to use it to fight for our clients most effectively. For a free consultation on your case, call 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

What’s the difference between a protective order and a restraining order in Texas?

A protective order is an order that is most commonly used to prevent acts of family violence (including violence in a dating relationship) and sexual assaults. Temporary Restraining Orders are used in the civil context to avoid some sort of immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage. Temporary Restraining Orders in a family case can bind the other parent or spouse from certain conduct like transporting a child out-of-state, unenrolling them from school, withdrawing funds, taking out loans, or disposing of property.

Protective Orders and Restraining Orders in Texas

Protective Orders in Texas are sometimes confused with Restraining Orders in Texas. Because both terms have multiple meanings under Texas law, the terms are often confused. This article was written in hopes of explaining protective orders and restraining orders in Texas, the types of each order, and the differences between these orders.

Protective Order in Texas

protective orders in texas

Even lawyers struggle to understand protective orders in Texas – and perhaps for good reason. Most lawyers who deal with protective orders practice either criminal law or family law. Yet, protective orders are found both in the Family Code as well as in the Code of Criminal Procedure.

What types of Protective Orders are there in Texas?

A protective order is a court order issued to prevent continuing acts of family violence, human trafficking, or stalking. There are three types of protective orders in Texas:

  1. Emergency Protective Orders
  2. Temporary Ex Parte Protective Orders
  3. Permanent (or Final) Protective Orders

What types of Restraining Orders are there in Texas?

People also often think about Temporary Restraining Orders when they think about protective orders, so we will cover TROs in this article as well even though they are distinct from Protective Orders. Temporary Restraining Orders themselves take two forms:

  1. Temporary Restraining Orders (Civil)
  2. Temporary Restraining Orders (Family)

Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection (EPO)

The Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection is also referred to as an Emergency Protective Order and is the most common type of protective order in Texas. A magistrate’s order of emergency protection is authorized under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17.292.

Emergency Protective Orders are Tied to an Arrest

A Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection can only be issued after an arrest. You cannot get a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protective without an arrest. Additionally, it only applies to the following offenses:

  1. A family violence offense (this includes dating relationships)
  2. Trafficking and Continuous Trafficking
  3. Sexual Assault
  4. Indecent Assault
  5. Aggravated Sexual Assault and
  6. Stalking

A Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection does not have to be requested by the alleged victim. It can be ordered at the request of:

  1. The judge;
  2. The alleged victim;
  3. The guardian of the alleged victim;
  4. A peace officer; or
  5. The prosecutor.

Discretionary vs. Mandatory Emergency Protective Orders in Texas

The Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection is discretionary except in two instances.

The Emergency Protective Order is mandatory:
1. If a person is arrested for a family violence offense and there is either serious bodily injury.
2. If a person is arrested for a family violence offense and a deadly weapon is used or exhibited.

Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection Powers

A Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection can be used to:

  • Prevent further assault, family violence, trafficking, and stalking;
  • communicating with a protected person in a threatening or harassing manner;
  • threatening any protected person;
  • going to or near the residence, place of employment, or business of a protected person or family member;
  • the residence, child care facility, or school of a protected child; and
  • possessing firearms.

Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Restrictions Require “Good Cause”

All of the powers above can be exercised by the judge without a hearing. However, the judge needs a finding of “good cause” before the judge can subject a person to the following: If good cause is shown, a judge can prohibit any communication with the alleged victim, regardless of whether it is threatening or harassing.

EPO Effect on Protected Person

It is important to remember that the victim is not prohibited from anything. This means that the alleged victim can contact the person who is under the EPO or invite them back to the house. If the accused person responds, this can be a violation of the EPO, and a criminal charge could be brought against them.

What if there is an Emergency Protective Order against me?

It is important to read the EPO to understand what is prohibited and for how long. For instance, does the EPO prohibit all communication or only threatening/harassing communication? Where are you prohibited from going? It is imperative to contact an attorney to understand your rights regarding the EPO. At Varghese Summersett, we have handled thousands of cases involving protective orders both as prosecutors and as defense attorneys. We understand the legal minefield that is created by a protective order and can defend you against further damage.

Unique Features of Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection

  • A hearing is not required for a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection.
  • Doesn’t require a specific relationship between the person that the order applies to and the person being protected.
  • Emergency Protective Orders can only be obtained after an arrest.
  • The Emergency Protective order only applies to the person who was arrested.

How long does an Emergency Protective Order last in Texas?

These generally are in effect for 31 to 61 days. However, an Emergency Protective Order may be extended to 91 days if the abuser was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

What happens if a person violates an Emergency Protective Order?

Violating a protective order can be easier than you think and can often be unintentional. If you are accused of violating a protective order, you can be arrested and charged with an additional criminal offense.

What is the penalty for violating an Emergency Protective Order?

If you are found to have violated a term of the protective order, you could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and face up to a year in jail and up to a $4000 fine.

Class A misdemeanor

You could be charged with a third-degree felony if you have previously been convicted two or more times of violating a protective order. If you have violated the protective order by committing assault or by stalking, you could also be charged with a third-degree felony. This increases the range of punishment to up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

If you are found to have violated the protective order 2 or more times within a 12-month period, you could face up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Additionally, you can be denied bail if you violate a PO. If you are on bond for a family violence offense and violate a bond condition, you can be held without bond until trial. If you violate a protective order by going to or near a protected place, you can also be held without bond pursuant to Code of Criminal Procedure Sec. 17.152.

Can an EPO be lifted?

Judges are very hesitant to lift a protective order even at the request of the victim, however they might agree to modify an Emergency Protective Order. There are a number of challenges when it comes to modifying an emergency protective order.

First, the magistrate who set the EPO is unlikely to change it. So you’re generally waiting for the case to be filed into a county or district court. That may take weeks. Then if the prosecution is unwilling to agree to the modification, it is likely the judge will set the matter for a hearing.

Depending on how busy the court’s docket is, you might be at the end of your EPO before you get the hearing. So from a practical standpoint, it is very difficult to change an Emergency Protective Order, even if the alleged victim is on your side.

Protective Orders vs. Bond Conditions

It is also important to remember that a protective order is separate and distinct from bond conditions. So where a protective order only prohibits threatening or harassing contact, a condition of bond could still prohibit any and all contact with the alleged victim. If you are facing a PO or have been accused of violating a PO, give us a call today to help you navigate these treacherous waters. We have the experience and skills you need to help you find solid ground.

Temporary Ex Parte Protective Orders

Temporary ex parte protective orders can be granted to protect a family or household member when there is a clear and present danger of family violence. See Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001(a). To grant the order, the judge must find there is a clear and present danger of family violence to the applicant or a family member. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.002.

Another basis for the granting of a temporary ex parte protective order is when there is a threat of immediate danger of abuse or neglect to the child. Tex. Fam. Code § 261.503.

What can a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order do?

A temporary ex parte protective order can be used to make the respondent do – or not do – certain things. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001(b).

A temporary ex parte protective order can exclude a person from returning to a residence under certain circumstances. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.006.

What is the length of an ex parte protective order in Texas?

These are usually in effect for up to 20 days and may be extended for another 20 days upon request. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.002.

What is the result of a violation of a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order in Texas?

A violation of a temporary ex parte protective order in Texas can result in contempt of court, unlike a violation of an Emergency Protective Order which is a separate criminal offense.

Permanent (Final) Protective Orders

Permanent Protective Orders, more appropriately called Final Protective Orders in most cases, generally last for up to two years, but the judge may issue an order for longer than two years if:

  • The abuser caused serious bodily injury to the applicant or their family or household; or
  • The same applicant has had two or more protective orders issued against the same abuser in the past and in both cases the judge found the abuser committed family violence and was likely to commit family violence in the future.

In other words, if there is no time period stated on the final protective order, it expires on the second anniversary of the date it was issued. Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a-1).

Motion to Discontinue a Final Protective Order

After one year, a person subject to a Final Protective Order can petition the court to have the order discontinued. For orders lasting more than two years, a person subject to a Final Protective Order can petition the court to have the order discontinued a second time, after the passing of another year. The court will have a hearing to determine whether there is a “continuing need for the order.” The judge can either continue the order or decide not to. Merely showing a lack of violations is not sufficient to have the order discontinued. There are also rules that address an automatic extension of the order if a person is in jail or prison.

1 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a)
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a-1)
3 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(b), (b-1), (b-2)
4 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(c)

Restraining Orders in Texas

restraining orders in texas

A restraining order in Texas is an order from a civil court or family court that either prevents certain actions or avoids immediate and irreparable harm.

Types of Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) in Texas

There are two types of Temporary Restraining Orders: TROs in the civil context and TROs related to family cases.

Temporary Restraining Order (Civil)

A civil TRO can be obtained when an immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will occur if the ex parte relief is not granted. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 680, 682. It is often used to prevent individuals from not making contact with one another.

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 68 provides that a TRO shall not exceed 14 days unless there is good cause shown or the person against who the order applies agrees to a longer period. (A civil temporary TRO can be followed by a temporary injunction and then a permanent injection.)

Generally, a civil Temporary Restraining Order cannot be granted unless notice was provided to the other party. However, a court can grant a civil TRO if immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result before notice can be served.

Temporary Restraining Order (Family)

Temporary restraining orders in family court are filed for the protection of a spouse, a child, or the preservation of property in the context of a divorce or custody case. See Family Code 6.501(a); 105.001(a). These can be granted “ex parte” meaning they can be filed without notice to the other side. Ex parte temporary restraining orders are good for 14 days unless they are extended or withdrawn.

Unlike civil TROs, a family TRO can be issued without a showing that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result before notice can be served and a hearing can be held. See Family Code Section Secs. 6.503, 105.001.

It is critically important to understand that a temporary restraining order is not effective until the person the order restrains receives actual notice of the restraining order. When it comes to temporary restraining orders in divorce cases (Texas Family Code Sec. 6.501), the petition only needs to allege that the order is “necessary for the protection of the parties and for the preservation of their property.” This section also provides a non-exhaustive list of twenty-six different types of conduct a court can prohibit parties from engaging in. However, a court’s ability to restrict a spouse from entering an occupied residence is very restricted. See Texas Section 6.501(b).

Varghese Summersett

What’s the difference between a protective order and a restraining order in Texas?

A protective order is an order that is most commonly used to prevent acts of family violence (including violence in a dating relationship) and sexual assaults. Temporary Restraining Orders are used in the civil context to avoid some sort of immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage. Temporary Restraining Orders in a family case can bind the other parent or spouse from certain conduct like transporting a child out-of-state, unenrolling them from school, withdrawing funds, taking out loans, or disposing of property.

Protective Orders and Restraining Orders in Texas

Protective Orders in Texas are sometimes confused with Restraining Orders in Texas. Because both terms have multiple meanings under Texas law, the terms are often confused. This article was written in hopes of explaining protective orders and restraining orders in Texas, the types of each order, and the differences between these orders.

Protective Order in Texas

protective orders in texas

Even lawyers struggle to understand protective orders in Texas – and perhaps for good reason. Most lawyers who deal with protective orders practice either criminal law or family law. Yet, protective orders are found both in the Family Code as well as in the Code of Criminal Procedure.

What types of Protective Orders are there in Texas?

A protective order is a court order issued to prevent continuing acts of family violence, human trafficking, or stalking. There are three types of protective orders in Texas:

  1. Emergency Protective Orders
  2. Temporary Ex Parte Protective Orders
  3. Permanent (or Final) Protective Orders

What types of Restraining Orders are there in Texas?

People also often think about Temporary Restraining Orders when they think about protective orders, so we will cover TROs in this article as well even though they are distinct from Protective Orders. Temporary Restraining Orders themselves take two forms:

  1. Temporary Restraining Orders (Civil)
  2. Temporary Restraining Orders (Family)

Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection (EPO)

The Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection is also referred to as an Emergency Protective Order and is the most common type of protective order in Texas. A magistrate’s order of emergency protection is authorized under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 17.292.

Emergency Protective Orders are Tied to an Arrest

A Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection can only be issued after an arrest. You cannot get a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protective without an arrest. Additionally, it only applies to the following offenses:

  1. A family violence offense (this includes dating relationships)
  2. Trafficking and Continuous Trafficking
  3. Sexual Assault
  4. Indecent Assault
  5. Aggravated Sexual Assault and
  6. Stalking

A Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection does not have to be requested by the alleged victim. It can be ordered at the request of:

  1. The judge;
  2. The alleged victim;
  3. The guardian of the alleged victim;
  4. A peace officer; or
  5. The prosecutor.

Discretionary vs. Mandatory Emergency Protective Orders in Texas

The Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection is discretionary except in two instances.

The Emergency Protective Order is mandatory:
1. If a person is arrested for a family violence offense and there is either serious bodily injury.
2. If a person is arrested for a family violence offense and a deadly weapon is used or exhibited.

Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection Powers

A Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection can be used to:

  • Prevent further assault, family violence, trafficking, and stalking;
  • communicating with a protected person in a threatening or harassing manner;
  • threatening any protected person;
  • going to or near the residence, place of employment, or business of a protected person or family member;
  • the residence, child care facility, or school of a protected child; and
  • possessing firearms.

Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Restrictions Require “Good Cause”

All of the powers above can be exercised by the judge without a hearing. However, the judge needs a finding of “good cause” before the judge can subject a person to the following: If good cause is shown, a judge can prohibit any communication with the alleged victim, regardless of whether it is threatening or harassing.

EPO Effect on Protected Person

It is important to remember that the victim is not prohibited from anything. This means that the alleged victim can contact the person who is under the EPO or invite them back to the house. If the accused person responds, this can be a violation of the EPO, and a criminal charge could be brought against them.

What if there is an Emergency Protective Order against me?

It is important to read the EPO to understand what is prohibited and for how long. For instance, does the EPO prohibit all communication or only threatening/harassing communication? Where are you prohibited from going? It is imperative to contact an attorney to understand your rights regarding the EPO. At Varghese Summersett, we have handled thousands of cases involving protective orders both as prosecutors and as defense attorneys. We understand the legal minefield that is created by a protective order and can defend you against further damage.

Unique Features of Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection

  • A hearing is not required for a Magistrate’s Order of Emergency Protection.
  • Doesn’t require a specific relationship between the person that the order applies to and the person being protected.
  • Emergency Protective Orders can only be obtained after an arrest.
  • The Emergency Protective order only applies to the person who was arrested.

How long does an Emergency Protective Order last in Texas?

These generally are in effect for 31 to 61 days. However, an Emergency Protective Order may be extended to 91 days if the abuser was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

What happens if a person violates an Emergency Protective Order?

Violating a protective order can be easier than you think and can often be unintentional. If you are accused of violating a protective order, you can be arrested and charged with an additional criminal offense.

What is the penalty for violating an Emergency Protective Order?

If you are found to have violated a term of the protective order, you could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and face up to a year in jail and up to a $4000 fine.

Class A misdemeanor

You could be charged with a third-degree felony if you have previously been convicted two or more times of violating a protective order. If you have violated the protective order by committing assault or by stalking, you could also be charged with a third-degree felony. This increases the range of punishment to up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

If you are found to have violated the protective order 2 or more times within a 12-month period, you could face up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Additionally, you can be denied bail if you violate a PO. If you are on bond for a family violence offense and violate a bond condition, you can be held without bond until trial. If you violate a protective order by going to or near a protected place, you can also be held without bond pursuant to Code of Criminal Procedure Sec. 17.152.

Can an EPO be lifted?

Judges are very hesitant to lift a protective order even at the request of the victim, however they might agree to modify an Emergency Protective Order. There are a number of challenges when it comes to modifying an emergency protective order.

First, the magistrate who set the EPO is unlikely to change it. So you’re generally waiting for the case to be filed into a county or district court. That may take weeks. Then if the prosecution is unwilling to agree to the modification, it is likely the judge will set the matter for a hearing.

Depending on how busy the court’s docket is, you might be at the end of your EPO before you get the hearing. So from a practical standpoint, it is very difficult to change an Emergency Protective Order, even if the alleged victim is on your side.

Protective Orders vs. Bond Conditions

It is also important to remember that a protective order is separate and distinct from bond conditions. So where a protective order only prohibits threatening or harassing contact, a condition of bond could still prohibit any and all contact with the alleged victim. If you are facing a PO or have been accused of violating a PO, give us a call today to help you navigate these treacherous waters. We have the experience and skills you need to help you find solid ground.

Temporary Ex Parte Protective Orders

Temporary ex parte protective orders can be granted to protect a family or household member when there is a clear and present danger of family violence. See Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001(a). To grant the order, the judge must find there is a clear and present danger of family violence to the applicant or a family member. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.002.

Another basis for the granting of a temporary ex parte protective order is when there is a threat of immediate danger of abuse or neglect to the child. Tex. Fam. Code § 261.503.

What can a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order do?

A temporary ex parte protective order can be used to make the respondent do – or not do – certain things. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.001(b).

A temporary ex parte protective order can exclude a person from returning to a residence under certain circumstances. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.006.

What is the length of an ex parte protective order in Texas?

These are usually in effect for up to 20 days and may be extended for another 20 days upon request. Tex. Fam. Code § 83.002.

What is the result of a violation of a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order in Texas?

A violation of a temporary ex parte protective order in Texas can result in contempt of court, unlike a violation of an Emergency Protective Order which is a separate criminal offense.

Permanent (Final) Protective Orders

Permanent Protective Orders, more appropriately called Final Protective Orders in most cases, generally last for up to two years, but the judge may issue an order for longer than two years if:

  • The abuser caused serious bodily injury to the applicant or their family or household; or
  • The same applicant has had two or more protective orders issued against the same abuser in the past and in both cases the judge found the abuser committed family violence and was likely to commit family violence in the future.

In other words, if there is no time period stated on the final protective order, it expires on the second anniversary of the date it was issued. Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a-1).

Motion to Discontinue a Final Protective Order

After one year, a person subject to a Final Protective Order can petition the court to have the order discontinued. For orders lasting more than two years, a person subject to a Final Protective Order can petition the court to have the order discontinued a second time, after the passing of another year. The court will have a hearing to determine whether there is a “continuing need for the order.” The judge can either continue the order or decide not to. Merely showing a lack of violations is not sufficient to have the order discontinued. There are also rules that address an automatic extension of the order if a person is in jail or prison.

1 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a)
2 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(a-1)
3 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(b), (b-1), (b-2)
4 Tex. Fam. Code § 85.025(c)

Restraining Orders in Texas

restraining orders in texas

A restraining order in Texas is an order from a civil court or family court that either prevents certain actions or avoids immediate and irreparable harm.

Types of Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) in Texas

There are two types of Temporary Restraining Orders: TROs in the civil context and TROs related to family cases.

Temporary Restraining Order (Civil)

A civil TRO can be obtained when an immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will occur if the ex parte relief is not granted. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 680, 682. It is often used to prevent individuals from not making contact with one another.

Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 68 provides that a TRO shall not exceed 14 days unless there is good cause shown or the person against who the order applies agrees to a longer period. (A civil temporary TRO can be followed by a temporary injunction and then a permanent injection.)

Generally, a civil Temporary Restraining Order cannot be granted unless notice was provided to the other party. However, a court can grant a civil TRO if immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result before notice can be served.

Temporary Restraining Order (Family)

Temporary restraining orders in family court are filed for the protection of a spouse, a child, or the preservation of property in the context of a divorce or custody case. See Family Code 6.501(a); 105.001(a). These can be granted “ex parte” meaning they can be filed without notice to the other side. Ex parte temporary restraining orders are good for 14 days unless they are extended or withdrawn.

Unlike civil TROs, a family TRO can be issued without a showing that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result before notice can be served and a hearing can be held. See Family Code Section Secs. 6.503, 105.001.

It is critically important to understand that a temporary restraining order is not effective until the person the order restrains receives actual notice of the restraining order. When it comes to temporary restraining orders in divorce cases (Texas Family Code Sec. 6.501), the petition only needs to allege that the order is “necessary for the protection of the parties and for the preservation of their property.” This section also provides a non-exhaustive list of twenty-six different types of conduct a court can prohibit parties from engaging in. However, a court’s ability to restrict a spouse from entering an occupied residence is very restricted. See Texas Section 6.501(b).

Varghese Summersett

What is super aggravated sexual assault of a child in Texas?

Super aggravated sexual assault of a child is one of the most serious criminal offenses in Texas – and the state tries to punish it as such.

The term “super” refers to the enhanced punishment that comes with a conviction. Super aggravated sexual assault of a child occurs when the victim is either under age six or if the offender has previously been convicted of a violent sexual assault of a victim under age 14. The “super” charge can also apply to cases of continuous child sexual abuse or if the offender has previous convictions for child abuse or aggravated sexual assault of a child. 

The enhanced penalty includes a minimum of 25 years in prison, lifetime sex offender registration, and no chance for parole. The aim is to protect younger children and to discourage first-time offenders from repeating the crime.

If you are facing super aggravated sexual assault charges in North Texas, your life and livelihood is on the line. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney who has experience fighting serious sex charges. The criminal defense team at Varghese Summersett has decades of combined experience handling cases of this magnitude.

In this post, we’ll explain what differentiates super aggravated sexual assault of a child, what prosecutors must prove, and the punishment range if convicted.

Why did Texas add enhanced punishment for aggravated sexual assault of a child?

In 2007, Texas lawmakers passed House Bill 8, which is known as the Jessica Lunsford Act, in tribute to a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

Jessica Lunsford Act

The enhanced “super” charge was codified in Texas’ existing aggravated sexual assault statute to create a new punishment scheme under §22.021(f) in cases where the victim is under the age of six at the time of the offense or if the victim was younger than 14 and there was an additional aggravating factor as described in §22.021(a)(2)(A).

The aggravating factors include:

  • Causes serious bodily injury or attempts to cause the death of the victim; 
  • By words or acts, or words or acts in the presence of the child, places the victim in fear that any person will become the victim of sex trafficking or that death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping will be imminently inflicted on any person;
  • Uses or exhibits a deadly weapon;
  • Acts in concert with another;
  • Or, with intent to facilitate the offense, administers any substance capable of impairing the victim’s ability to appraise the nature of the act or resist the act.

The change made the range of punishment the same as continuous sexual abuse of a child: 25 years to life with no parole and no deferred adjudication. Without the “super” enhancement, the range of prison time is 5 to 99 years.

What does super aggravated assault of a child mean in Texas?

Sexual assault of a child in Texas occurs anytime an adult engages in sexual activity with anyone under the age of consent (under 17 in Texas). The charge can be elevated to super aggravated sexual assault of a child if the child is younger than six at the time of the offense or under the age of 14 at the time of the offense and another aggravating factor was involved. For example, if a deadly weapon or date rape drug was used.

There is no probation, deferred adjudication, or parole for a super aggravated sexual assault conviction.

Specifically, the Texas Penal Code says aggravated sexual assault occurs when a person intentionally or knowingly “causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent;

(ii)  causes the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor without that person’s consent; or

(iii)  causes the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor,

or regardless of whether the person knows the age of the child at the time of the offense, the crime occurs if the person intentionally or knowingly:

(i)  causes the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of a child by any means;

(ii)  causes the penetration of the mouth of a child by the sexual organ of the actor;

(iii)  causes the sexual organ of a child to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor;

(iv)  causes the anus of a child to contact the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person, including the actor; or

(v)  causes the mouth of a child to contact the anus or sexual organ of another person, including the actor

What is the punishment for super aggravated sexual assault of a child in Texas?

 The state considers super-aggravated sexual assault one of the most serious crimes and seeks to punish it as such. It is punishable by 25 years to life in prison with no possibility for parole sentence and lifetime sex offender registration. 

Here are the punishment ranges in Texas for three closely-related sexual assault of a child offenses:

Crime Classification Punishment
Super aggravated sexual assault of a child 1st-degree aggravated felony Minimum of 25 years to life in prison, maximum fine of $10,000, lifetime sex offender registration, no parole
Aggravated sexual assault of a child or adult 1st-degree felony 5 to 99 years in prison, maximum fine of $10,000, lifetime sex offender registration
Sexual assault of a child or adult 2nd-degree felony 2 to 20 years in prison, maximum fine of $10,000, lifetime sex offender registration

What does the prosecution have to prove in a super aggravated sexual assault of a child case? 

Prosecutors must prove the victim was under six years of age at the time of the alleged offense or that the defendant caused serious bodily injury or attempted to cause death; placed the complainant in fear that death, serious bodily injury or kidnapping would be inflicted on any person; threatened in complainant’s presence to cause death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping of any person; used or exhibited a deadly weapon; acted in concert with another person, who also sexually assaulted the complainant; or, used a “date rape” in the commencement of the crime.

In cases involving older children, prosecutors must prove the complainant was under 14 years of age at the time of the alleged offense.

Does Texas have a statute of limitations for super aggravated sexual assault of a child?

No, there are no statutes of limitations for aggravated sexual assault accusations under Texas Penal Code Sec. 22.021(a)(1)(B).

Recent Texas cases of super aggravated sexual assault of a child

  • In Sept. 2021, a 40-year-old Katy man was sentenced to 50 years in prison after originally being charged with multiple sex abuse crimes, including super aggravated sexual assault of a child.
  • In June 2022, a 27-year-old man was arrested in College Station and charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of super aggravated sexual assault of a child.
  • In Sept. 2022, a 36-year-old Travis County man was convicted of two counts of super aggravated sexual assault of a child.
  • In Nov. 2022, an 18-year-old San Antonio man was charged with super aggravated sexual assault of a child after Canadian border agents found obscene images of his two-year-old relative on his phone.

Facing super aggravated assault of a child in Texas? Call Varghese Summersett.

A conviction for super-aggravated sexual assault could mean life in prison without the possibility for parole. Even a lesser penalty could put you behind bars for decades and forever alter your life and your family. If you believe such accusations are coming your way, contact an experienced sex crimes attorney immediately. Don’t wait for the police to come knocking on your door.

Varghese Summersett handles high-stakes, high-profile cases professionally and with discretion. We’ve negotiated hundreds of sex offenses and always seek the best possible results with diligent preparation, thorough analysis of the state’s case, and careful negotiations. If necessary, we’re confident taking these cases to trial. Our reputation has been hard-earned, and the results speak for themselves. Call us for a free consultation at 817-203-2220.

Varghese Summersett

What is a juvenile detention hearing in Texas?

When juveniles are taken into custody for allegedly violating the law in Texas, they have certain rights that kick in very quickly. One of them is the right to have a juvenile detention hearing within two business days.

The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether the child should be released or remain in the juvenile detention center while their case is pending. In this article, we explain what happens during a juvenile detention hearing and how a judge decides whether a child should be detained or released. 

But first, please watch this video by Board Certified Juvenile Attorney Lisa Herrick.

What is juvenile detention?

When juveniles in Texas are accused of committing serious crimes – legally referred to as “engaging in delinquent conduct” or “conduct indicating a need for supervision” – they are not hauled off to adult jail. Instead, the law requires that they be taken to a juvenile detention center specifically designed to house and safely secure and supervise youth ages 10 through 16.

Juvenile detention facilities are 24-hour, lock-down facilities intended for short-term confinement. Juveniles may be held until their case is adjudicated or released to a parent, guardian, or another suitable adult under certain conditions. The decision to keep or release a child is up to the judge after a juvenile detention hearing. There is no such thing as bail in the juvenile system.

In Tarrant County, juveniles are held at the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Center, formally known as the Lynn W. Ross Juvenile Detention. In Dallas County, juveniles are held at the Dr. Jerome McNeil Jr. Detention Center.

When will a child have a juvenile detention hearing?

According to the Texas Family Code Section 54.01(a), a juvenile detention hearing must be held “promptly” – within two business days – of a child being taken into custody. If the child is detained on a Friday or Saturday, then the hearing will be held on the first business day after the child is taken into custody.

If a child is ordered detained, the law requires that they have a subsequent detention hearing within 10 days for as long as they are in custody. In other words, 10 days is the maximum time between detention hearings. The juvenile’s attorney can also request additional hearings at any time.

Who is present at a juvenile detention hearing?

The judge, juvenile, prosecutor, child’s attorney, and a probation officer will be present at a juvenile detention hearing. The juvenile’s parent or guardian should also be present. However, if the parent or guardian can’t be located or cannot attend, the court will appoint counsel or a guardian ad litem to act as the legal representative for the child and represent their interests during the juvenile detention hearing.

Will the child have a defense attorney at the initial juvenile detention hearing?

Ideally, yes. Before the initial detention hearing, the court must notify the child and his or her parents of the right to an attorney. If the family doesn’t have enough time or the financial means to hire an attorney on short notice, the court will appoint an attorney before the initial detention hearing. If the child is not represented at the initial detention hearing due to exigent circumstances and is ordered detained, the judge must immediately appoint the juvenile an attorney or order the family to hire one.

What happens at the juvenile detention hearing?

Juvenile detention hearings are informal proceedings. At the start of the juvenile detention hearing, the judge will explain to the juvenile his to her rights. After that, the judge will usually turn his or her attention to the juvenile probation officer, who will summarize the allegation, provide information about the juvenile’s home situation, and whether the juvenile has any prior juvenile history.

Next, the judge will give the juvenile, parents, prosecutor, and anyone involved in the case an opportunity to speak and argue for – or against – the child’s release. The judge may also have questions for the participants. It’s important to note that Under Texas Family Code Section 54.01(g), nothing the juvenile says during the detention hearing can be used at a subsequent hearing. However, the child’s attorney will advise them about what, if anything, they should say during the detention hearing.

The court will also consider any written reports from professionals at this time.

How does a judge decide if the juvenile should remain detained or be released?

As mentioned, the sole purpose of the juvenile detention hearing is to decide whether the child should be released to a parent or guardian or stay in juvenile detention. The legal presumption is that the child should be released. If the judge orders the child detained, they must find one or more of the following grounds:

  • The juvenile is likely to abscond or be removed from the jurisdiction of the court;
  • The juvenile does not anyone who can provide suitable supervision, care, or protection;
  • The juvenile does not have anyone who can guarantee his or her return to court when required;
  • The juvenile may be a danger to themself or a threat to public safety;
  • The juvenile has previously been found to be delinquent or has previously been convicted of an offense punishable by jail or prison and is likely to commit an offense if released;
  • The juvenile is alleged to have engaged in delinquent conduct and to have used, possessed or exhibited a firearm in the commission of the offense

How long do juvenile detention hearings take?

Juvenile detention hearings are usually very short, lasting 10 to 20 minutes. Usually, the judge has a number of juvenile detention hearings scheduled and hears them back-to-back. 

How common are juvenile detention hearings?

Juvenile hearing are very common, especially in large counties. In Tarrant County, for example, 3218 juvenile detention hearings were held in 2021, according to 2021 Tarrant County Juvenile Services Annual Report.

What happens if my child is released after a juvenile detention hearing?

If your child is fortunate enough to be released, he or she should be able return home that day. However, the judge will order conditions of release, basically rules that the youth must also follow. They can include conditions such as attend school, take drug tests, and refrain from social media, for example.

What happens if my child is not released after a juvenile detention hearing?

If a child is ordered detained, he or she will have another hearing within 10 business days. During this hearing, the judge will hear about the juvenile’s behavior and progress and reevaluate whether releasing the child is in the best interest of the child and the safety of the public. If the child is ordered detained, he or she will continue to have detention hearings every 10 days until the case is resolved – unless the juvenile attorney waives the hearings.

Is Your Child in Custody? Contact a Board Certified Juvenile Attorney Today.

If you’re looking for a juvenile defense attorney in Fort Worth or Dallas, you are at the right place. Lisa Herrick is Board Certified in Juvenile Law – one of only three attorneys in Tarrant County who holds this distinction. This means she is considered an expert in juvenile law. You will be hard-pressed to find another juvenile lawyer in North Texas with her expertise and legal acumen.

Lisa has successfully handled every type of juvenile case, ranging from theft to capital murder. She has handled countless juvenile detention hearings – first as a prosecutor and now as a highly-skilled juvenile defense lawyer. She has vast knowledge of the juvenile court system, the process, and how to best help and protect your child. Contact Lisa today for a free consultation at 817-203-2220. If you child is in custody, tiime is of the essence.

Varghese Summersett

Types of Homicide in Texas

Homicide is the unlawful killing of a person. In Texas, there are four basic types of homicides: capital murder, murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. This article discusses the difference between murder manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Texas, which differs primarily in the mental state required to establish each offense. They are also distinguished in their punishment ranges.

Types of Homicide in Texas
The difference between murder manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Texas

What is Capital Murder in Texas?

Capital Murder is the only offense for which the death penalty applies in Texas. Capital murder is murder which at least one special characteristic that makes a person eligible for the death penalty, such as the victim being a child, a police officer, or the killing occurred while committing certain other criminal offenses.

Learn more about capital murder in Texas.

What is Murder in Texas?

Murder in Texas is the unlawful intentional or knowing killing of another person. This is a first degree felony. The punishment is 5-99 years in prison or life. A jury cannot give a defendant found guilty of murder probation. A jury might find that a person who has been found guilty of murder was acting out of sudden passion. A sudden passion murder is still murder (so not probation-eligible) but the punishment range is reduced to 2-20 years.

Learn more about murder in Texas.

What is Felony Murder in Texas?

Murder also includes “felony murder.” This means that in the course of committing a felony if a person commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes a death, that is also considered murder.

Learn more about felony murder in Texas.

What is Manslaughter in Texas?

Manslaughter is the unlawful and reckless killing of a person. The main difference between manslaughter and murder is the mental state – that is, did the defendant act intentionally or was the defendant merely reckless? For example, if a person is driving recklessly and causes a car accident that results in the death of another person, they could be charged with manslaughter.

You could argue that we have involuntary intoxication and voluntary manslaughter in Texas – but the only real distinction we have is that intoxication manslaughter is a different offense than normal manslaughter in Texas.

What is Intoxication Manslaughter in Texas?

Intoxication manslaughter is a specific type of manslaughter offense that occurs when a person operates a vehicle, boat, or aircraft while intoxicated and causes the death of another person as a result. In Texas, a person can be charged with intoxication manslaughter if they were driving while intoxicated and their actions caused the death of another person.

For example, if a person gets behind the wheel of a car after drinking alcohol, was intoxicated, and causes a car accident that results in the death of another person, they could be charged with intoxication manslaughter.

The punishment for manslaughter in Texas is 2-20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Probation is a possibility for manslaughter in Texas.

Learn more about intoxication manslaughter in Texas.

What is the difference between murder and manslaughter in Texas?

In Texas, the difference between murder and manslaughter lies in the intent of the person committing the crime. Murder is the intentional or knowing killing of another person, while manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person. This means that, in the case of murder, the perpetrator had the intent to cause the death of the victim, while in the case of manslaughter, the perpetrator did not intend to kill the victim but their actions resulted in the victim’s death.

What is Criminally Negligent Homicide in Texas?

Criminally negligent homicide is a less serious offense than murder or manslaughter and is defined as an act of criminal negligence resulting in the death of another person. This means that the perpetrator failed to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation, and as a result, their actions caused the death of the victim.

An example of criminally negligent homicide in Texas could be if a person leaves a loaded firearm within reach of a child, and the child accidentally shoots and kills someone with the gun. In this scenario, the person who left the firearm within reach of the child could be charged with criminally negligent homicide because their failure to properly secure the weapon constituted criminal negligence and resulted in the death of another person.

Criminally negligent homicide is a state jail felony punishable by up to two years in State Jail. A person may be given probation for criminally negligent homicide.

Learn more about criminally negligent homicide.

What’s the difference between murder and criminally negligent homicide in Texas?

In Texas, the difference between murder and criminally negligent homicide lies in the level of intent and culpability involved in the killing of another person. Murder is the intentional or knowing killing of another person, while criminally negligent homicide is the criminal negligence resulting in the death of another person. This means that, in the case of murder, the perpetrator had the specific intent to cause the death of the victim, while in the case of criminally negligent homicide, the defendant did not have the specific intent to kildifference between murder manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Texasl the victim but their actions or negligence resulted in the victim’s death.

What’s the difference between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in Texas?

Manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person, while criminally negligent homicide is an act of criminal negligence resulting in the death of another person. This means that, in the case of manslaughter, the perpetrator did not have the specific intent to cause the death of the victim, but their actions or negligence resulted in the victim’s death. In the case of criminally negligent homicide, the perpetrator’s actions or negligence were not necessarily reckless or intentional, but they failed to exercise the level of care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation, and as a result, their actions caused the death of the victim.

Varghese Summersett

Did you know that an intoxication-related offense can make it very difficult for you to enter certain countries – even if you are not convicted? This article covers what countries you can’t go to with a DUI, a DWI, or other serious intoxication-related offense.

Driving under the influence (DUI) is another term used outside of Texas to refer to the same offense we call a DWI or Driving While Intoxicated. For this article, the term DUI and DWI is used interchangeably – although it is a different offense in Texas.

DUI is a serious offense that can have severe consequences, including jail time, fines, and the loss of a driver’s license. A DUI conviction can also result in being barred from entering certain countries.

Countries You Can’t Go to With a DUI

There are several countries that will not allow someone with a DUI on their record to enter their borders. These countries include Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Canada, for example, has strict entry requirements for individuals with criminal records, including those with a DUI conviction. In order to be allowed into Canada, individuals with a DUI must apply for a temporary resident permit, which can take several months to process. The permit is not guaranteed, and the applicant must demonstrate that they are not a risk to Canadian society and have a legitimate reason for entering the country.

Australia and New Zealand also have strict entry requirements for individuals with criminal records, including those with a DUI conviction. In order to be allowed into these countries, individuals with a DUI must apply for a visa and provide information about their criminal history. The visa application process can be lengthy, and the applicant must also demonstrate that they are not a risk to the community and have a legitimate reason for entering the country.

It is important to note that these entry requirements can vary depending on the individual’s specific circumstances, including the severity of their DUI offense and the length of time since the conviction. It is always best to check with the relevant embassy or consulate before entering any of these countries.

DWI vs. DUI and Getting into Canada

As noted above, we are using the term DUI and DWI interchangeably in this article because Texas is one of the few states that uses the term “DWI” to refer to operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. That offense is commonly referred to as a DUI in other states and even driving while ability impaired (DWAI).

In Texas, a first-time DWI offense is a Class B misdemeanor, which can result in up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Subsequent offenses can result in even harsher penalties, including longer jail sentences and higher fines. Any of these, even a first time offense, can jeopardize your ability to enter Canada.

Getting into Canada with a DWI Conviction

It is important to note that a DWI conviction in Texas can also result in the loss of a driver’s license, increased insurance rates, and other consequences. As mentioned previously, it can also result in being barred from entering certain countries, depending on their entry requirements.

In conclusion, a DWI is a specific type of DUI that refers to operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher in the state of Texas. It is a serious offense that can result in jail time, fines, and the loss of a driver’s license, as well as potential difficulties when traveling to other countries.

Why should someone hire a DWI attorney if they want to go to Canada?

A DWI attorney can help an individual avoid a plea on a DWI. They can also work closely with an immigration attorney who can help navigate the application process for a temporary resident permit and increase their chances of being granted entry into Canada.

In addition, a DWI attorney can help an individual understand the potential consequences of their DWI conviction and how it may affect their ability to travel to Canada.

Varghese Summersett

Check back regularly for updates on the murder trial of ex-Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean, who is accused of fatally shooting Atatiana Jefferson. On Oct. 12, 2019, Jefferson’s neighbor called a non-emergency number about 2:25 a.m. to report an open door at Jefferson’s home. Officer Dean and his partner arrived and went around the back of the house. Dean shot Jefferson through the window of the home after she raised a handgun and pointed it toward the backyard.

Dean was later arrested and charged with murder in Jefferson’s death. Jury selection in his trial wrapped up on Friday, December 2, in state District Judge George Gallagher’s Court in Fort Worth, Texas. Testimony is scheduled to begin Monday morning. Follow Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Benson Varghese at @tx-lawyer on TikTok for the latest developments in this high-profile trial.

@tx_lawyer #question from @tx_lawyer The jury has not returned a verdict on punishment. What would you do? #atatianajefferson #verdictwatch #verdict ? Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper

 

@tx_lawyer We are in day two of jury deliberations in the Aaron Dean #atatianajefferson case. Here’s one of the most compelling moments from closing. What do you think the jury is going to do? #verdictwatch #verdict #selfdefense #2ndadmendment #GenshinImpact33#fyp ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

 

@tx_lawyer The #jury in the #atatianajefferson case is about to get the case. What is your prediction for the #verdict? #verdictwatch #selfdefense #fyp #news #blm #backtheblue ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Defense expert on #useofforce testifies in Aaron Dean #atatianajefferson case. Here’s his conclusion. #2a ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Here’s why Aaron Dean took the stand. #atatianajefferson #criminaltrial #fortworth #prediction #tornado ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Unexpected witness called in the Aaron Dean #jurytrial. What’s your #prediction ? Guilty or #selfdefense Tag someone in #fortworth for their prediction. #2ndadmendment #GenshinImpact33#fyp ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

 

@tx_lawyer Aaron Dean testifies in #atatianajefferson trial. #jurytrial #news #tarrantcounty ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Aaron Dean is taking the stand in the #atatianajefferson case. Will he be found guilty or not guilty based on #selfdefense. #fortworth ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Will Aaron Dean take the stand in the #atatianajefferson case to establish #selfdefense ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Testimony continues in the jury trial of Aaron Dean after he fatally shot #atatianajefferson. What will the jury do?#news #criminaljustice #selfdefense #homedefense ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Was this #selfdefense? #jurytrial of #atatianajefferson is underway. This trial is being watched nationwide by people who #backtheblue, endorse #blm, watch #crimaljustice, and are calling for the community to #sayhername @tx_lawyer @tarrantcountyTX ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

 

@tx_lawyer The jury in the #atatianajefferson Aaron Dean trial has been selected. What do you think about the makeup of the #jury? @lawandcrime @Jenna Lynn @Kat?? @Feed The Funk @Angel @Dom @Uncle Paul @Angel ? original sound – Texas Lawyer

@tx_lawyer Why are prosecutors asking potential jurors about manslaughter in the #AtatianaJefferson Aaron Dean jury trial on murder? There were also lots of questions about #2A, #backtheblue, #blm #deadlyforce #selfdefense ? original sound – Benson

@tx_lawyer The magic question in #juryselection was asked yesterday in the #atatianajefferson Aaron Dean case. Here’s what happened. #news #fyp ? original sound – Benson

@tx_lawyer Here’s what’s happening in the #aarondean #atatianajefferson case as of Tuesday, November 29. This case has garnered nationwide media attention after a white Fort Worth police officer was charged with murder after the shooting death of a black woman in her home. #news #trial @tx_lawyer ? original sound – Benson

@tx_lawyer The #trial of a Fort Worth #police officer for #murder is set to begin in #court today. #News updates as they happen in the #atatianajefferson #aarondean case. #lawyersoftiktok #law #crime #selfdefense #2a ? original sound – Benson
Varghese Summersett

Fort Worth attorney Benson Varghese doesn’t call his law firm’s latest video a music video. He refers to it as a “lyrical poem video.” Not exactly sure what’s the difference, but who is going to argue with an attorney?

The music video, err lyrical poem, features Benson rapping about his firm, Varghese Summersett, a premier criminal defense and family law practice in North Texas. The video – “There’s No Substitution” – is another example of how Benson is changing the face of law by thinking outside the box.

“We pride ourselves on being different than other law firms,” Benson says. “We’re no strangers to video production. We have tons of YouTube and TikTok videos in which we talk about the law or answer legal questions, but I wanted to find a creative way to showcase the firm and our exceptional attorneys and staff.

“So, we came up with some lyrics and put it to background music. The only problem was I am musically challenged and literally cannot hear a beat. I really had to get out of my comfort zone. That’s not dissimilar from what we have to do as lawyers: It’s more than knowing the law, it’s also about being willing to take risks and try something different to stay ahead.”

Check out the video – and then keep reading to learn more from Benson about how and why this one-of-a-kind law firm music video came to be.

You refer to your video as a lyrical poem. How’s that different than a “music video?”

Well, as my wife will tell you, I have absolutely no musical abilities or even the ability to hear a beat. A lyrical poem is just a poem, a statement, that’s made over music. It’s not necessarily lyrics to music; it’s just that there’s music in the background of the spoken word. So, I guess that’s kind of a music video, but you know, the benefit for me is there was no requirement to have a pitch or tone or get the beat exactly right.

So would you describe it as a rap?

I will not do a disservice to actual artists who rap by calling what I did a rap. But did I binge-watch a lot of rap music videos to get some inspiration? Absolutely.

Who came up with the idea? 

Well, when we first started the firm, we were inspired by a company in town that did advertising, and they made a video for themselves that was a spoken poem – or whatever we are calling this, a lyrical video. I always loved it. Unfortunately, by the time I got to a point where I could afford to hire them, they had been acquired by a different company. So, that company no longer exists. It then fell on us to make our own brand video, or lyrical poem video.

The lyrics are great. Who wrote them?

It was a collaborative effort. My wife Anna, who is also a partner and lawyer here, wrote a lot of it. I wrote a lot of it. Then, we met as a firm and took votes on which versions of the poem people liked better.

Ultimately, and probably to Anna’s chagrin – and because I was the one actually speaking it – I got to make a lot of decisions about what went into the final version. Arguably, hers would have gone with the music better, but I had to go with what I was most comfortable with because I was the voice.

What’s your favorite line or lyric?

We bide our time
the perfect moments sought,
like Mike
setting up for that perfect shot.”

Everyone seems to like the “setting up a shot like Mike” line, I think because Jordan made things look so effortless even though it took years and years of work, which translates so well to what we do. You know, we had to be in trials and get all of that experience to go in and make it look easy.

What is the message that you’re hoping to convey in this video?

Well, the message that’s not necessarily obvious is that, as trial attorneys, we have to master whatever subject comes across our desk. I might get a case in which there is a very technical matter or very specific subject matter that I’ve never come across before. So, let’s imagine that we have a white-collar case with a very nuanced issue with the financial records and how the accounting was done. As a trial attorney, it’s not enough for me to just go hire an expert to testify; I also have to master that subject.

So, music and rap is something completely outside of my comfort zone. And so I said, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and while I may not have mastered it, I would say I could put it up against anything any other lawyer has done and feel good about it.

To your knowledge, has any other Texas lawyer done something like this?

The only attorneys that I can think of that have done something similar – and that I thought was really good – are a couple of attorneys in Texas who have a song, “Don’t Eat Your Weed.” The difference is those guys actually have a lot of musical talent. They’re very good storytellers, and they’re very good at conveying messages through their music. Our video is very different. I have no musical abilities, but I’m trying to get across what our firm is all about.

You have a reputation for thinking outside the box. Is this law firm music video another example of that?

Absolutely, we are always trying to push the envelope while still staying on brand. There was certainly a lot of discussion within the office during the development stage about whether this matched our brand. And ultimately, I think everyone was happy with what we produced.

It’s important for us not to pretend to be something we’re not. So, for example, if I had tried to be a rapper, that obviously wouldn’t have been true. But I think people can understand that we came up with this poetry, and it’s heartfelt, and it’s authentic. That is ultimately, what we were shooting for.

What kind of music do you normally listen to?

I have a very eclectic taste in music. I’ll listen to everything from 70s and 80s rock, to old-school rap, to what I consider Texas country or red dirt music. So it’s a wide gamut of music. I’m probably behind on most of pop music; I really rely on the office and my wife to keep me up to date on that kind of stuff.

Who produced the law firm music video?

We have been working for years with a company called Crisp. They make excellent legal videos. And even with Crisp, who does legal brand videos, we keep asking them to do things they’ve never done before.

So last year, we produced what I like to call our “heist video.” Every time we meet with that company, they comment on how no one’s ever done anything like that before. And the same is true of this law firm music video. This type of video is not what they do, but this is what we asked them to do – and they always come through for us.

Were you nervous about recording it?

I was worried about recording it because, even though it’s not lyrics to a musical beat, I did still have to hit some sort of a rhythm, which I am not naturally inclined to do. I was also worried about how many takes it would require. Fortunately, I think we got it done in three takes, and it didn’t take the entire day like I was concerned it might.

What’s the feedback so far?

So far, folks have really loved it within the office, and everyone that seen it has really loved it. We’re excited to see if it resonates with the general public over the next year.

You held a competition on the day the video was launched in which you asked, “What does N95 have in common with our latest video?” What was that all about?

After we shot this video, unbeknownst to us, Kendrick Lamar also shot in the same place in his in N95 video. So we wanted to create some interest by asking that question. It just turned out that he shot in the Fort Worth Water Gardens, and we did as well. We thought that was a fun way to tie it in.

Is there another law firm music video in Varghese Summersett’s future?

I don’t know; it took a lot of work to make this one. I suppose that will just depend on the response we get.

Varghese Summersett

Violent juvenile crimes in Texas are on the rise, and in Tarrant County, that’s especially true with homicides. In fact, homicides increased 80 percent from 2020 to 2021, the most recent year statistics were available. This increase in violent juvenile offenses has led to a need for experienced, highly-skilled juvenile defense attorneys.

Fortunately, the law firm of Varghese Summersett has one of the best violent juvenile crimes attorneys in Texas. Lisa Herrick is Board Certified in Juvenile Law – a designation held by only 65 attorneys in the state and three in Tarrant County.  She is widely considered to be the area’s foremost expert in defending juveniles accused of violent crimes.

If your child is between the ages of 10 and 16 and has been accused of a violent offense in Fort Worth, Arlington, or the surrounding area, it is imperative to contact an attorney specializing in juvenile law. In this article, we will discuss Tarrant County’s increase in violent juvenile crime and why Lisa is the go-to attorney for serious juvenile felony cases, including murder and capital murder. Please be sure to watch all of Lisa’s informative videos on this webpage.

What violent juvenile crimes have increased in Tarrant County?

In Tarrant County, 473 juveniles were taken into custody last year for violent juvenile offenses, including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault, according to the 2021 Tarrant County Juvenile Services annual report. This is a 19.7 percent increase from the year before, when 395 juveniles were referred to the county’s juvenile services department for violent offenses.

  • Homicide: In 2021, 18 juveniles were accused of homicide in Tarrant County, compared to 10 juveniles the year before. That’s an 80 percent increase in one year and more than a 100 percent increase from five years prior. In 2017, five juveniles were accused of homicide in Tarrant County.
  • Sexual Assault: In 2021, 124 juveniles were accused of sexual assault in Tarrant County – a 93.8 percent increase from the year before when 64 juveniles were accused of sexual assault.
  • Robbery: In 2021, 91 juveniles were referred to juvenile authorities for robbery, slightly up from 86 the year before.
  • Aggravated Assault: In 2021, 236 juveniles were referred to Tarrant County’s juvenile services department for aggravated robbery, slightly up from 233 the year before.

What should you do if your child has been accused of a violent juvenile offense?

Lisa Herrick Juvenile Defense Lawyer

Lisa Herrick, Board Certified in Juvenile Law

If your child has been accused of a violent juvenile offense in Tarrant County, one of the first things you should do is contact an experienced juvenile defense attorney. The consequences of a violent juvenile crime can be life-altering, and it is imperative to have an attorney who specializes in this area of law, practices daily in juvenile court, and knows the process and the players. Things move fast in the juvenile system, and you need an attorney who will hit the ground running immediately. 

What happens to a minor who has been accused of a violent juvenile crime in Tarrant County?

If your child has been taken into custody for a violent juvenile offense in Tarrant County, he or she will be taken to the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Center in Fort Worth. The juvenile will have a detention hearing within two business days after admission. At this hearing, the judge will decide whether to continue detaining the youth or whether the youth can go home while the case is pending.

After the juvenile detention hearing, the next steps in the process depend on whether the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office is seeking to prosecute the child as a juvenile or as an adult. Below is a brief description of certain aspects of the process that may occur after a violent juvenile offense accusation. It’s important to understand that these are basic descriptions of steps in the procees if a minor has been accused of a violent offense.

For more information,  please contact Lisa Herrick, an experienced violent juvenile crimes attorney who has handled hundreds of juvenile cases and knows the system inside and out.

  • Juvenile Detention Hearing. Unlike the adult system, juveniles do not get “bonded out” of jail. Whether a juvenile is released from detention and under what conditions is decided by a judge after a detention hearing. Watch this video by Lisa to learn more about juvenile detention hearings:

     

  • Juvenile Certification. If a juvenile is accused of a violent offense, such as murder or sexual assault, prosecutors can seek to certify the juvenile to stand trial as an adult. If the judge agrees, the case will be transferred to the adult criminal justice system for prosecution. If that occurs, the minor will be subject to the adult criminal justice process and the penalties associated with that offense (except capital murder and sex offender registration). If prosecutors do not seek certification or the judge declines to grant certification, the case will remain in juvenile court. In 2021, 13 juveniles – out of 33 – were certified to stand trial as an adult in Tarrant County. Watch Lisa’s video to learn more about juvenile certification:

  • The Adjudication Hearing (Trial). If the juvenile remains in juvenile court, he or she will have an adjudication hearing – basically a trial – in which a judge or jury will determine whether they are “delinquent” or “not delinquent.” When a juvenile has been adjudicated “delinquent,” a judge or jury has found the criminal allegations true – this is equivalent to a conviction or “guilty” verdict in adult court. If the youth has been found “not delinquent” after a trial,  it means the allegations have been found not true by a jury or judge – this is the equivalent of an acquittal or “not guilty” in adult court. If the charges are found not true, the case will be dismissed.

  • Disposition Hearing (Sentencing). If a juvenile has been adjudicated “delinquent,” a disposition (or sentencing) hearing will occur, and the judge will decide the appropriate punishment. This could include probation, placement out of the home, or commitment to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD), which is juvenile prison.A commitment to TJJD can be for a determinate or indeterminate amount of time, depending on the severity of the case. Determinate sentences are reserved for more serious felonies and give the court the option of extending a punishment beyond a youth’s 18th birthday. If prosecutors seek a determinate sentence, it must first be approved by a grand jury.  Watch Lisa’s video to learn more about juvenile punishment and determinate and indeterminate sentences:

    We have touched briefly on various steps in the process if your child is accused of a violent juvenile offense in Tarrant County. But again, this is just a general overview – and we know it can be confusing.  That’s why it is imperative to seek the guidance of an experienced juvenile attorney who can thoroughly explain the process and give you specific advice on the best way to defend your child going forward.

    What is the most serious crime for which a juvenile can be charged?

    The most serious crime for which a juvenile can be changed in Texas is capital murder. However, the juvenile punishment for capital murder is not the same as in the adult system, where the punishment is life in prison without parole or the death penalty. Watch this video by Lisa to learn more about the difference between capital murder in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems:

    What kinds of violent juvenile crimes has Lisa handled?

    Lisa has handled just about every type of violent juvenile crime – first as a prosecutor and now as a highly-regarded juvenile defense attorney. Lisa was a prosecutor in Tarrant County’s juvenile division before going into private practice as a defense attorney. She knows how prosecutors think and what they look for when trying to build a case against a juvenile. This makes her an invaluable asset to have on your side if your child is accused of any violent juvenile crime, including.

    • Capital Murder
    • Murder
    • Attempted Murder
    • Manslaughter
    • Intoxication Manslaughter
    • Criminally Negligent Homicide
    • Aggravated Sexual Assault
    • Sexual Assault
    • Aggravated Assault
    • Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
    • Aggravated Robbery
    • Robbery
    • Aggravated Kidnapping
    • Gun and Weapons Possession
  • Child accused of violent juvenile crime in Tarrant County? Call Lisa.

    Lisa appears in Tarrant County juvenile court daily and has the experience and expertise to defend serious criminal allegations, from sexual assault to murder. She is highly skilled in juvenile certification and determinate sentencing hearings, which are common in violent juvenile crime cases.

    If your child is accused of a violent juvenile offense, life is about to change dramatically. You need an experienced violent juvenile crime attorney who will g guide you through this difficult process and fight to protect their future. Contact Lisa today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation. Time is of the essence.