Varghese Summersett

In Texas, it is not uncommon for judges to issue gag orders in high-profile criminal cases. But what exactly is a gag order and why are they necessary? In this article, we will discuss gag orders in Texas, their purpose, and the consequences of violating one.

What is a gag order?

A gag order is a court order that prohibits the parties in a criminal case from publicly discussing the details with the news media or the public. That means those associated with the case, including attorneys, witnesses, and the defendant, cannot make extrajudicial, out-of-court public statements about the case until the trial is over.

What’s the purpose of a gag order?

The purpose of a gag order is to prevent information about the case from becoming tainted or biased before it reaches the jury. If potential jurors are exposed to statements made by those involved in the case, it could impact their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict. In addition, gag orders help ensure that both the prosecution and defense have a level playing field during trial.

Who can request gag orders in Texas?

Gag orders in Texas can be requested by the prosecution or defense, but judges can also decide to issue one on their own. In most cases, the decision will be made based on how high-profile the case is and whether there is a risk that public statements could influence the jury.

How does a judge determine whether a gag order is appropriate?

To justify a gag order, the court must make specific judicial findings, consider less drastic alternatives, and narrowly tailor the order to address the identified harm. For example, in a recent high profile case in Tarrant County involving a police officer accused of fatally shooting a woman inside her home, the gag order contained the following findings:

“The court finds that out-of-court statements relating to the investigation and pretrial matters of this cause pose a serious and imminent threat to the Defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial, the ability of the Court to maintain a fair and impartial jury, and to the fair administration of justice. The court further finds that other less restrictive means will not adequately protect the Defendant’s right to a fair trial and the interest in the State and the Defendant in a fair and impartial jury.”

Who does a gag order in Texas prohibit from talking?

The gag order can apply to anyone who is participating in the case, including but not limited to:

  • the defendant
  • witnesses
  • attorneys (the prosecutors and defense attorneys)
  • law enforcement
  • court personnel
  • jurors

Let’s look at the same high-profile case in Tarrant County referenced above. A gag order was issued ahead of the trial of Aaron Dean, a former police officer accused of killing Atatiana Jefferson inside her home. The judge issued a gag order that prohibited “any attorney participating in, or any attorney associated with the trial of this cause, their office associates, assistants, staff members, investigators and employees under their supervision, as well as the defendant and any personnel of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office” from making an extrajudicial statement.

Click here to read the gag order in its entirety.

Does a gag order prohibit parties from speaking to the media at all? 

A gag order shouldn’t be overreaching and prohibit parties from speaking to the media entirely. An attorney or other person subject to the order would not be prohibited from reciting, without comment, the information contained in public records, such as the time or date of a hearing, or the general nature of the proceedings.

What are the consequences of violating gag orders in Texas?

If someone violates a gag order in Texas, they could be held in contempt of court. In Texas, contempt of court is punishable by up to six months in the county jail and a maximum $500 fine.

When is a gag order lifted?

The judge presiding over the high-profile case can lift the gag order at any time. However, once the trial has concluded, the parties will be free to discuss the case.

Questions about gag orders in Texas?

We hope you found this information about gag orders in Texas helpful. Our team has handled numerous high-profile cases over the years, first as prosecutors and now as highly-regarded defense attorneys. If you have questions or comments about gag orders in Texas, feel free to leave a reply below. If you or a loved one has been arrested or accused of a crime in North Texas, call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with an experienced attorney.

Varghese Summersett

Over the past several years, a crime trend called “bank jugging” or “jugging” has grown in popularity in Texas. Jugging occurs when a suspect watches a bank or high-end store and then follows a customer after they leave to steal their money or valuables. Law enforcement has been warning the public about the scheme, and some cities have created a task force to crack down on this crime. Here’s what you need to know about jugging in North Texas, including potential charges and penalties.  

What is bank jugging?

Bank jugging is a term used to describe suspects who sit in bank parking lots watching customers withdraw money from an ATM or go in and out of the financial institution. The suspects then follow the customer and look for an opportunity to take their cash. Similar schemes have also been committed outside of high-end stores that sell jewelry or other valuables.

How are jugging schemes carried out?

Jugging can be committed by one person, but it’s often carried out by two or more perpetrators. The suspects sit in a vehicle surveilling the comings and goings of the bank or business and then target a customer, who is often carrying a bank bag or envelope. The juggers then follow the customer to their next stop and take their money or valuables, either by breaking into their vehicles or by force.

Why is it called “jugging?”

The origin of the word isn’t entirely clear. Some reports that the name comes from the nickname of a bank bag. Urban Dictionary defines jugging as “making money” or “stealing.”

Is “jugging” an actual crime in Texas?

The term “bank jugging” or “jugging” isn’t defined by Texas law, but that doesn’t mean it’s not illegal. Individuals who engage in such conduct are committing a crime and can face serious charges, such as robbery or burglary. The specific charge depends on the conduct of the actor and whether or not force was used.

What offenses can stem from bank jugging in Texas?

There are a number of charges that can stem from jugging in Texas, including aggravated robbery, robbery, burglary of a motor vehicle, burglary of a habitation. Here’s an overview of each offense and how it could apply to jugging: 

  • Robbery: Under Texas Penal Code Section 29.02, a person commits robbery if, while committing a theft, he or she intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another or intentionally or knowingly threatens or places another in fear of imminent bodily injury or death.
    Example: If a jugger pushes down a bank patron and grabs their envelope full of cash, the jugger would face a charge of robbery.
  • Aggravated Robbery: Texas Penal Code §29.03 defines aggravated robbery as a robbery that inflicts serious bodily harm, involves the use of a deadly weapon, or causes bodily injury or fear of bodily harm or death to a disabled or elderly person.
    Example: If a jugger pulls out a gun and demands that a bank customer hand over the cash, the jugger would face an aggravated robbery charge because a weapon was displayed.
  • Burglary of a Motor Vehicle: Texas Penal Code §30.04 defines burglary of a motor vehicle as breaking into or entering a vehicle with the intent to commit a felony or a theft without the owner’s consent.
    Example: If a jugger follows a bank patron’s vehicle to their next stop and then breaks into their vehicle and steals the money after the customer runs another errand, the jugger would face burglary of a motor vehicle.
  • Burglary of a Habitation:  Under Texas Penal Code Section 30.02, a person commits burglary of a habitation if he or she enters or remains concealed within a habitation with the intent to commit a felony, theft or assault, or once inside, they actually commit or attempt to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
    Example: If a jugger follows a bank patron’s vehicle to their home and later breaks into their residence when they leave to steal money, the jugger would face a charge of burglary of a habitation.

What are the potential punishments for bank jugging?

The punishment for jugging depends on the crime for which the jugger is charged, but likely will carry the potential for jail or prison time. Here’s the punishment for common crimes that stem from jugging.

* Aggravated robbery is a first degree felony punishable by 5 years to life in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
* Robbery is a second degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,00 fine.
* Burglary of a habitation is a second degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
* Burglary of a motor vehicle is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,00 fine. If the defendant has two or more previous convictions for BMV, he or she faces a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in state jail and a maximum $10,000 fine.

What are some real examples of jugging in Texas?

In Frisco, surveillance video showed a man parking his pick-up truck after withdrawing a large amount of cash at a bank. He left his bank bag in his truck when he went inside an establishment to get a bite to eat. Two men in an SUV approached his truck and one got out and broke the truck window. The suspect grabbed the bank bag and they sped off.

In New Caney, two men were arrested after a task force spotted them following potential targets from a bank. The suspects lost their potential targets on two separate occasions. However, on the third attempt, they followed a vehicle to a nearby Walmart. When the bank patron left the vehicle, the suspects approached it and attempted to break the window.

In Richardson, a woman withdrew money from a bank and then headed to the post office. After she exited the post office, a man approached her, asked if she had been to the bank, told her he had a gun and grabbed her purse. She struggled with him but he got away with her purse.

Accused of Bank Jugging in North Texas? 

If you or a loved one are facing charges in North Texas, it’s crucial that you contact an experienced defense attorney immediately. Our team has decades of experience and a proven track record of success handling robbery and burglary cases, both as defense attorneys and former prosecutors. These are serious allegations that could jeopardize your future and your freedom. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can get to work on your case. Call 817-203-2220 now for a free consultation

Varghese Summersett

You may have heard about someone getting “doxed” or someone “doxing” a person. But what does that mean, and most importantly, is it illegal in Texas? Doxing, also spelled “doxxing,” is a form of cyberbullying that is surging in popularity across the state and country. In this blog post, we are going to explain what it is, what crimes are related to the practice of doxing, and what to do if you are accused of doxing in Texas.

What is Doxing?

Doxing, short for “dropping dox,” is a term that originates from the abbreviated form of documents or “dox.”  It refers to the act of spreading or posting private information about individuals or organizations to the public, mostly through the Internet. Doxing is committed without the victim’s knowledge or consent, and it is often done to harass or get revenge. The practice of doxing has gained popularity and notoriety over the years, and while the practice of doxing is not explicitly illegal in Texas (yet), there are various crimes that can stem from the act of doxing.

What are some Examples of Doxxing?

While doxing ranges in severity, it basically entails releasing private or personal information to the public in an attempt to harass, extort, or shame. Examples include:

  • Releasing personal photos of an individual
  • Posting an individual’s phone number or address on the Internet
  • Releasing information about an individual’s family, work or other private information
  • Encouraging others to use released information to harass an individual

doxing in texasYou may remember many years ago when creepy distorted videos of individuals wearing Guy Fawkes masks were being circulated on social media. These individuals are a part of the hactivist group, “Anonymous,” which is a collective group of online hackers who release private information or “dox” individuals or groups for political purposes, such as KKK members and law enforcement members.

More recently, the group reemerged to target the Minneapolis police department’s website in protest for the death of George Floyd. While this is an extreme example of doxing, other forms can be as simple as when news anchor Lou Dobbs tweeted the address and phone number of Jessica Leeds, a 74-year-old woman who told the New York Times Donald Trump groped her three decades ago.

Is Doxing Illegal in Texas?

Because doxing is a relatively new phenomenon that is constantly evolving, there is currently no specific law that makes doxing in Texas illegal. However, various charges can stem from doxing including harassment, cyberbullying, stalking, and swatting.

What Charges Can Stem from Doxing in Texas?

Although there is not a specific charge for doxing in Texas, there are a multitude of charges that can be filed against someone engaged in doxing. Some include:

  • Harassment: Harassment is a common charge that results from doxing. In the state of Texas, harassment is described in Penal Code Section 42.07 as an intent to “harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass” another person. If the intent of the alleged perpetrator includes any of the above when doxing, they could be charged with harassment.  Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines. However it can be elevated to a Class A if the defendant has a previous conviction for harassment.
  • Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying takes place when someone is bullied, harassed, or threatened over the Internet or on social media. This crime typically applies to teenagers and young adults. Cyberbullying can stem from doxing if any personal information of the alleged victim is shared without consent in order to harass them or bully them. Although punishments typically are handled by schools, if the harassment is severe enough, criminal charges can be filed under the harassment statute.
  • Stalking: Stalking is a crime defined by Section 42.072 of the Texas Penal code. It occurs when a  person on more than one occasion, engages in actions which are directed at one specific person or a person’s family or property, which is done with the intent to cause fear of death or serious bodily injury in the person being threatened. Essentially, the defendant must make repeated actions that cause fear of harm toward a specific person or their family – this can be done in person and online. Stalking in the state of Texas is considered a third-degree felony which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. People with a previous criminal record could have their charge elevated to a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
  • Swatting: Swatting involves calling 911 and reporting a fake emergency in order for police to respond to a specific address, usually to prank or harass an individual. A person is guilty of swatting under Texas Penal Code Section 42.061 if they call 911 when there is not an emergency. Swatting is classified as a Class B misdemeanor and can involve up to 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines.
  • Targeting a Police Officer: After the tragic killing of five police officers in Dallas in 2016, Texas passed a law making threats and violence towards law enforcement officers hate crimes – in person or online. Under HB 2908, the punishment for threatening a police officer was elevated from a misdemeanor to a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail. Punishments can be increased even more if prosecutors can prove the offender specifically targeted a police officer because of their occupation.

What Federal Charges Could Stem from Doxing?

  • Stalking: The federal government also has an anti-stalking law, which is found under 18 USC 2261A. While similar to Texas’ stalking law, the main difference is that the alleged offender would violate federal law if they traveled across state lines while stalking, or if the offender used a telephone, the Internet, or the US Postal Service to stalk.So, if an individual only stalked by showing up to a house multiple times in Texas, they would not violate the federal stalking law. However, if any form of communication to the alleged victim took place over the phone, internet, or mail, or if the victim lived in a different state, the alleged offender could be guilty under federal law. A person convicted of stalking under federal law could face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
  • Protecting Individuals Performing Certain Official Duties: 18 USC 119 is perhaps the most explicit in making doxing illegal, however, it only applies to “covered” persons. Under this law, it is illegal to knowingly make restricted personal information about a covered person or their family available with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or incite violence toward that individual.A covered person is any officer or employee of the United States government, including soldiers. It also applies to those working with such employees in the performance of their duties, any member of the US Court System, or any informant or witness in a federal criminal investigation. The punishment for violating this law is up to 5 years in prison and potential fines.
  • Interstate Communications Statute: The Interstate Communications Statue, found under 18 U.S. Code 875, contains laws preventing the extortion of individuals through electronic communication forms. While it contains four sections, the one most relevant to doxing is found in section D, which states the illegality of making any threat to injure the property or reputation of another individual over some electronic communication medium, with the intent to extort a certain individual.In simpler terms, this statute makes it illegal to attempt to extort someone by threatening to release information about them that could damage their reputation. The punishment for violating the Interstate Communications Statute is up to two years in prison and fines.

What are Some Examples of Individuals Who have been Arrested for Doxing?

  • Two men in New York were arrested in September of 2019 for releasing the home addresses and social security numbers of more than 36 law enforcement officers. They were charged with related crimes such as harassment and stalking.
  • A U.S. House of Representatives intern was arrested in October of 2018 for releasing the home addresses and phone numbers of several Republican lawmakers in an attempt to intimidate them during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
  • A man from New York was arrested for doxing and swatting in July of 2016 for releasing the information of more than 50 individuals and making false bomb threats to a university in Arizona. He was charged federally and was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison.

Has Legislation Been Proposed to Make Doxing in Texas a Specific Crime?

Yes, in recent years, bills have been proposed that would make doxing in Texas a crime and carry specific punishments. Although they gained traction, none have been passed by the Texas legislature.

Accused of a Doxing-Related Crime in Texas? Contact Us.

If you or a loved one is facing charges related to doxing, such as harassment or stalking, it is crucial that you get legal representation immediately. Our team of defense attorneys at Varghese Summersett have decades of experience and a proven record of exceptional results  Call 817-203-2220 today for a free consultation with a doxing lawyer.

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Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse in Texas

In Texas, anyone who suspects a child has been abused or neglected has a legal obligation to report it. Educators are held to an even higher standard and can face harsher punishment for trying to conceal abuse. Here’s an overview of Texas mandatory reporting laws and the crime and consequences of failure to report child abuse or neglect.

Who is required to report child abuse and neglect in Texas?

In Texas, if you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, the law requires that you report it to the appropriate agency – this is true for everyday citizens and for professionals who work with children. 

Where are people supposed to report suspected child abuse?

An appropriate agency to report child abuse would be the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services or local law enforcement.  

Are educators held to a higher standard when it comes to reporting child abuse?

Yes, teachers, administrators and other school personnel are classified as mandatory “professional reporters” by the state of Texas. This designation requires that they report suspected mental or physical abuse within 48 hours. By law, they may not delegate their duty to report to another person to make the report. 

Who is considered a mandatory professional reporter of child abuse and neglect in Texas?

According to Texas Family Code Section 261.101, a mandatory professional reporter is anyone who is licensed or certified by the state or who works for a facility licensed, certified or operated by the state and has contact with children in the normal course of their duties. People who fall into this category are required to report suspected mental or physical abuse within 48 hours and must not delegate that duty to anyone else, such as a co-worker and family member.

child abuse report texas


Professional reporters include but are not limited to:

  • Teachers
  • Nurses
  • Doctors
  • Day-care workers
  • Juvenile probation officers

What about people whose communications are considered privileged? Are they also required to report child abuse and neglect?

Yes, the reporting requirements apply without exception to individuals whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a clergy member, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, an employee or member of a board that licenses or certifies a professional, and an employee of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.

What constitutes failure to report child abuse or neglect in Texas?

Under Texas law, a person commits this offense if he or she has reasonable cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect and knowingly fails to make a report.

What is the punishment for failure to report child abuse or neglect in Texas?

The offense is generally a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $4000 fine.

Class A misdemeanor

Class A Misdemeanors in Texas

However, the offense becomes a state jail felony, punishable by six months to two years in a state jail facility and a maximum $10,000 fine if the following apply:

  • The offense becomes a state jail felony if the child had an intellectual disability, resided in a state-supported living center, and the defendant knew the child suffered serious bodily injury as a result of the abuse or neglect. 


  • The offense also becomes a state jail felony if
    State Jail Felony

    State Jail Felony Punishment in Texas

    the defendant is a mandatory/professional reporter and intended to conceal the abuse or neglect.

The educators in a recent Midland case are each facing a state jail felony, as it is alleged they attempted to conceal the assault.

Accused of failing to report child abuse and neglect? Contact us.

If you are a loved one is accused of failing to report child abuse or neglect in North Texas, it’s essential that you contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. We can help. Our team can intervene between you, the police and Child Protective Services. It’s important to get in front of it as soon as possible and launch the most aggressive defense strategy as possible.  Call 817-203-2220 today for a free consultation with an attorney who is experienced defending child abuse and neglect cases. 

Varghese Summersett

On March 11, 2020, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas handed down Holder v. State, an opinion stemming from a capital murder case that could have far-reaching consequences regarding the way investigators obtain cell site location information in the future. Specifically, the high court held that obtaining 23 days of cellphone location tracking dates without a warrant violated the Article I, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution and that the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his cell site location.

What is Cell Site Location Information?

Cellphones are the most commonly used electronic device by individuals in the United States, providing an intimate window into a person’s life. An estimated 96 percent of Americans own cell phones, allowing friends, family, and others to track an individual’s location through Find my Friends, Snapchat, A-GPS Tracker, and other free phone applications. Yet, people fail to realize that their cellphone providers have access, and regularly store, their cell site location information.

Cell site location information refers to the time-stamped information cell phones transmit to nearby cell towers every time a phone call is made, a text message is sent, or a web browser is opened. Police officers, during ongoing criminal investigations, may request an individual’s cell site location information. This allows authorities to triangulate the general location of a suspect.

What’s the Background in Holder v State?

On November 11, 2012, police found the body of Billy Tanner in his east Plano home. Tanner had been beaten and stabbed. It also appeared that the killer had also attempted to burn down Tanner’s house.

Investigators quickly honed in on Christopher James Holder as the suspect. Holder had been romantically involved with Tanner’s step-daughter, Casey James, and the couple and her young children had lived together in Tanner’s house. In late October 2012, Tanner asked Holder to move out at the request of his stepdaughter because they were having relationship problems.

The following month, James told Holder saying she believed Tanner had inappropriately touched one of her daughters. CPS and police investigated but found no evidence that inappropriate activity had occurred between Tanner and his step-granddaughter.

The next time James spoke to Holder she told him she was going out of town for the weekend. When she returned home two days later on Nov. 11, James knew something was wrong. Tanner’s truck was missing, the garage door-opener didn’t work, and there was a horrible smell in the house. Police responded to the scene and found Tanner dead, a victim of a blunt force trauma to the head and 20 stab wounds. It also appeared that

On Nov. 12,  the police interviewed Holder,  who claimed he had been out of town the last few days — an alibi that would later be disproved by Holder’s cell site location information. That same day, police got a court order requiring Holder’s cellphone provider, ATT, to disclose Holder’s call log and cell site location information records between Oct. 20, 2012 and Nov. 12, 2012. It was a total of 23 days’ worth of data.

Holder’s cell site location information showed that on November 10 between 3:28 p.m. and 4:16 p.m., he was near Tanner’s home. The death investigation revealed that Tanner’s death mostly likely occurred during that time period. The cell site location information further revealed that Holder was near Tanner’s home, again, on November 11 at 12:41 a.m. and that he was suspiciously near where Tanner’s truck was located at roughly 2:11 a.m.

Confronted with the information, Holder changed his story, saying that he remembered being near Tanner’s house but it was only to buy drugs.

Holder was subsequently arrested and later charged with capital murder in connection with Holder’s death.

Several months later, a jail inmate told detectives that that on Nov. 10, 2012, Holder called him asking for drugs and needed help with something. They ended up at a house where a man was dead to clean up the crime scene. The inmate told police that the dead man had “molested a little girl.”

During his trial in the summer of 2015, Holder went on trial for capital murder in connection with Tanner’s death. Tanner filed a motion to suppress the cell data, claiming he had a protected privacy interest in his cell site location information. The trial court denied the motion and Holder was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Holder appealed. In Holder v State, the question for the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas was whether the cell site location information should have been suppressed?

What About Privacy Rights?

 As citizens of the United States we have a reasonable expectation of privacy so long as society considers that expectation of privacy objectively reasonable. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people, “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV.

Furthermore, the Texas Constitution guarantees the right of the people to be, “secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from all unreasonable seizures or searches.” TEX. CONST. art. I, § 9. Privacy rights are neither absolute nor explicitly listed. Caselaw clarified scenarios in which individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Ultimately, the court in Holder focused on the privacy rights provided in the Texas Constitution, Article 1, S 9, when discussing how to resolve this case.

How did the Court in Holder Handle Privacy Right’s?

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that Holder had a right to privacy when it came to his cell site location information. Accordingly, the data which was used to refute Holder’s alibi should have been suppressed. Arrival at this holding required an extensive review of past cases with similar issues and a thorough discussion of the nature of cell site location information records.

  • Katz v. United States: Electronically listening to and recording an individual’s phone call, with electronic wiretaps, violates that individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy. This was a monumental Supreme Court decision because it was the first time the concept of “reasonable expectation of privacy” was thoroughly considered.  Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
  • United States v. Knotts: Attaching a surveillance device in order to reveal information regarding public movement, that could also be obtained through ordinary visual surveillance, is not an unreasonable search. A person travelling on public roads has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another. If, however, the beeper is used in a private place to track an individual’s location there could be an argument that privacy rights have been violated. United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 (1983).
  • United States v. Jones: The government’s installation of a GPS device on an individual’s vehicle and the use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, twenty-four hours a day for 28 days, violated his Fourth Amendment rights to privacy. Here, the Supreme Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment violation happened when officers attached the GPS device to the vehicle which was Jones’s private property. United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012).
  • Carpenter v. United States (2018): Warrants are required when gathering cell phone tracking information. Cell phones are a vital part of human autonomy which means tracking the location of a cellphone is almost perfect surveillance. The Court went as far as to compare a cellphone to an ankle monitor in terms of location surveillance capability. Additionally, the Court reasoned that the longer GPS monitoring takes place, the higher the probability an individuals’ privacy rights have been violated, “regardless of whether those movements were disclosed to the public at large.” Carpenter v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2206, 2215 (2018).

Holder v State differs from the cases above because it illustrates privacy concerns that arise from tracking someone through their cell site location information. Precedent calls for the application of the third-party doctrine to resolve the issue present in Holder. The third-party doctrine states that people who voluntarily give information to third parties –banks, phone companies, internet providers, and e-mail servers – have no reasonable expectation of privacy to that information. Accordingly, the government does not need a warrant to access these personal records. Following this reasoning, the data police officers collected in Holder should not have been suppressed – the trial court’s decision was correct. Ultimately, however, the Court chose not to apply the third-party doctrine. The Court instead adopted the ruling in Carpenter: the third-party doctrine will no longer be applicable to cell site location information under Article 1, § 9 of the Texas Constitution. Holder v. State, 595 S.W.3d 691, 701 (Tex. Crim. App. 2020). Accordingly, the cell site location information collected in Holder should have been suppressed because the defendant had a protected privacy interest in that data.

What the Effect of Holder v. State?

In the years to come, expect to see the law change as technology continues to advance. The Constitution of the United States of America and the Texas Constitution guarantee the people a right to privacy, but fail to explicitly state what privacy rights the people have. The Courts in Carpenter and Holder reasoned that as technology advances, it becomes more difficult to determine when privacy rights have been violated. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges where privacy rights may have been violated it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Varghese Summersett

What You Need to Know about Texas Deferred Adjudication and Gun Rights

Last year, more than 5600 people were placed on deferred adjudication probation in Tarrant County. More than half were charged with either felony drug possession or assault. Almost every day, we see folks contemplating signing up for this type of probation. And more times than not, they have one burning question: “Can I still have a gun?” 

The answer isn’t simple or clear-cut. Texas and federal law are contradictory in regard to this issue. In this article, we are going to discuss Texas deferred adjudication and gun rights to try to clear up confusion on the subject. 

What is deferred adjudication probation in Texas?

Deferred adjudication probation (DFAJ) is a form of probation that, if successfully completed, will not result in a conviction for purposes of state law. The defendant is required to plead guilty, however, the judge will “defer” (or postpone) a finding of guilt and place him or her on a period of supervision (probation) with specific conditions/rules to follow. If the defendant successfully completes his or her probation, there will be no finding of guilt, the case will be dismissed and there will not be a conviction on his or her record. However, the arrest will remain on the record.

A key takeaway about deferred adjudication is that it is not a conviction – for purposes of state law. That distinction is important when discussing deferred adjudication and gun rights in Texas.

Under Texas law, can I possess a firearm while on deferred adjudication? 

Under Texas law, deferred adjudication is not a conviction and does not directly result in the loss of your right to possess a firearm – under state law. So, technically under state law, you can possess a gun while on DFAJ – unless the judge specifically ordered you not to possess a firearm. That’s an important caveat. Many judges prohibit possessing a firearm as a condition of a defendant’s probation. In other words,  if the judge said you cannot possess a firearm while on deferred and it’s listed as a condition of your probation, then you absolutely cannot possess a firearm while on deferred. 

Possessing a firearm while on deferred is not permitted under federal law even if you are on deferred for certain state offenses, which we will discuss next.

firearm while on deferredWhat does federal law say about possessing a firearm while on deferred?

Federal law contradicts Texas law in some regards when it comes to possession of firearms. This is also a complicated answer, because in some aspects, whether something is a conviction or not depends on how the state addresses the issue and in others areas, any plea is considered a conviction even if it resulted in deferred adjudication. 

  1. If you are placed on deferred for a family violence offense – misdemeanor or felony – you can never possess a firearm. See 18 USC 922(g)(9).
  2. If you are on deferred adjudication for a felony offense (including state jail with a sentence over 1 year), you cannot possess a firearm. More specifically, 18 USC 922(d)(1) prohibits transferring a firearm to someone under indictment for a felony. While you are on deferred you are considered to still be under indictment.
  3. After you complete felony deferred, you may be eligible to possess a firearm if your case was not a family violence case. After the deferred period is complete, you then have to look at 27 CFR 478.11 to determine what a conviction is for purposes of this question. This, in turn, directs us to an inquiry into what is considered a conviction under state law. In Texas, a final felony conviction is considered a “conviction” for a felony under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20) but deferred adjudication is not.

Can I possess a firearm if I’m on deferred pro forma probation?

Many people who are placed on deferred adjudication probation are granted pro-forma status, which means they don’t have to report in person to a probation officer. Oftentimes, the only condition of deferred pro forma is to avoid picking up new charges. However, even if you are on deferred pro forma for a family violence offense or a felony offense, you cannot possess a firearm under federal law.

Can I possess a firearm if I received deferred adjudication for assault family violence?

If you received deferred adjudication for a family violence assault charge, you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. No exceptions.  Additionally, if you are placed on deferred adjudication and there is a finding of family violence, it cannot be nondisclosed after the successful completion of probation. This means it will stay on your record forever. A prosecutor can also use it later on to enhance a family violence assault to a 3rd or even 2nd degree felony.

What’s the difference between ownership and possession of a firearm?

Ownership and possession are not the same thing. Possession means the gun is in your care custody control. Ownership just means you own the gun. 

Can I go hunting if I’m deferred adjudication in Texas?

Again, state and federal law are contradictory. A person on DFAJ can possess a firearm and ammunition and go hunting while on deferred under Texas law, but to the extent outlined above it would be prohibited under federal law. 

Are you a gun advocate considering deferred adjudication? Talk to an experienced attorney

If you are a gun advocate charged with a crime, it’s important to understand the laws addressing Texas deferred adjudication and gun rights. Many people accept offers of DFAJ, only to find out after the fact that they are federally prohibited from possessing a firearm, which puts them at risk for a federal charge if they carry for self-protection or are avid hunters or sportsman. That’s why it’s important to retain an experienced attorney who understands the intricacies of state and federal gun law at the outset of your case and can properly advise you of your rights. Call 817-203-2220 for a consultation with a skilled lawyer who can help you navigate this process and find the right defense strategy for you.

Note: The law firm of Varghese Summersett does not handle restoration of gun rights. We represent individuals charged with or accused of a crime. We do not handle post-conviction gun right issues. 

Varghese Summersett

If your spouse has been accused of a crime in Texas, can you refuse to testify at their trial? In most cases, the answer is yes – but there are some exceptions. Here’s what you need to know about spousal immunity in Texas.

What is spousal immunity in Texas?

Spousal immunity is a long-standing rule that says an individual cannot be forced to testify against their spouse in a criminal case. The rule, which is defined in 504(b) of the Texas Rules of Evidence, was implemented to preserve the integrity and sanctity of marriage.

What does Texas law say about spouses testifying against each other?

In Texas, two rules protect couples from possibly incriminating each other: Confidential Communication Privilege and Privilege Not to Testify in a Criminal Case.

Together these rules are referred to as “Spousal Privileges” or “Husband-Wife Privileges” and are defined in Rule 504 of the Texas Rules of Evidence. We will break down each rule below.

Privilege of a Spouse Not to Testify for the State in a Criminal Case

Let’s say your husband or wife was accused of a serious crime and the prosecution wanted to call you to the stand and question you about his or her behavior or verify their whereabouts on the night in question. During questioning, you would be under oath, which means you would be required by law to tell the truth and could be charged with perjury if you did not.

Clearly, this scenario creates a unique conflict of interest, which is why spousal immunity exists in Texas. If you invoke your spousal immunity privilege not to testify –  which is sometimes referred to as testimonial privilege –  the state can’t force you to testify against your spouse in criminal proceedings.

A couple of things are worth noting. This only keeps the State from being able to call you against your will if you are the spouse of the accused. The defense could call you. Second, the privilege is yours, not the accused. The accused could not assert the privilege for your or keep you from testifying if you wanted to.

Can I voluntarily testify for the state in my spouse’s trial?

Yes, it’s important to understand that it is the defendant’s spouse who holds the spousal immunity privilege in Texas, meaning it is their decision whether or not to invoke it. If a spouse wants to voluntarily testify for the state, he or she can do so, even if the defendant objects.

What if my spouse (the defendant) wants me to testify for the defense?

Spousal immunity does not prohibit the defendant from calling his or her spouse as a witness. If the defendant wants to call their spouse to the stand, then they will be compelled to testify.

What are the exceptions to this privilege in Texas?

While spousal immunity in Texas is a broad rule, there are some exceptions to it. Spousal immunity doesn’t apply:

  • if the defendant’s spouse is also their victim. For example, if you are a victim of domestic violence at the hands of your husband, you will be required to testify. Spousal immunity does not apply.
  • if the couple wasn’t married yet. For example, if you are asked to testify about matters that occurred before the marriage, you can’t invoke spousal immunity. You will be required to testify.

Marital Confidential Communications Privilege

The marital communication privilege is a rule that protects private conversations between spouses from being used as evidence in a criminal trial. This rule is defined in Rule 504(a) of the Texas Rules of Evidence.

What is the marital confidential communications privilege in Texas?

The privilege applies to any conversation that took place between a husband and wife, as long as the couple was married when the conversation occurred and they were not legally separated at the time. The conversation must also have been meant to be confidential, meaning that the couple had an expectation of privacy.

Who holds the confidential communications privilege?

Either the spouse (witness or defendant) can assert this privilege. When a married couple has a private conversation, they can’t be asked about it on the stand if either spouse objects. In other words, either spouse may prevent the other from disclosing their communications.

What are the exceptions to marital confidential communication privilege?

There are some exceptions to the marital confidential communications privilege. You cannot refuse questioning if:

  • the communication aided in the commission of a crime. For example, if you and your husband discussed committing a crime, you can be compelled to testify.
  • the alleged conduct is a crime against the spouse, a minor child, or any member of the household or in a prosecution for bigamy.

Spouse Accused of a Crime? Speak to a Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney

If your spouse has been accused of a crime, it’s important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. A seasoned lawyer can help you understand your rights and options, and can ensure that your spouse’s rights are protected throughout the legal process.

At Varghese Summersett, our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys have decades of experience handling all types of criminal cases, including those involving spousal immunity and marital confidential communications. We understand the stress and anxiety you are feeling, and we will work tirelessly to help you get through this difficult time.

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What is a war crime?

War crimes are “grave breaches” of international laws designed to hold individuals criminally responsible for actions that take place during an armed conflict.

A set of treaties referred to as the Geneva Conventions stem from a series of conventions in Hague that began defining acts prohibited in wartime. The most important of these conventions took place in 1899, 1907, and again in 1949. While the Geneva Conventions contain much of what we consider war crimes today, there are a number of other international treaties and international customary laws that have been adopted by a substantial part of the international community over the years that broaden the definition of war crimes. The Geneva Convention of 1949 stands out among all these treaties, however, because it brought together treaties of past conventions and was ratified by all the member states of the United Nations.

What are war crimes, generally?

  • War crimes generally fall into one of the following categories:
  • Crimes against civilians in areas of armed conflict
  • Crimes against persons providing humanitarian aid or peacekeeping
  • Crimes against property rights (confiscation of private property)
  • Prohibited methods of warfare; (terror, causing superfluous and unnecessary injury)
  • Prohibited means of warfare (chemical and biological weapons, weapons that strike civilians and combatants indiscriminately)

Where are war crimes generally prosecuted?

The International Criminal Court in the Hague prosecutes war crimes. The ICC works closely with the United Nations but is not a part of the UN. War crimes can also be prosecuted through an international war crimes tribunal or a tribunal set up through a formal group of nations such as Nato.

What are examples of war crimes?

  • Murder, willful killing not justified by military necessity
  • Deliberately attacking civilians and non-military targets
  • Targeting hospitals or other areas where the sick and wounded have gathered
  • Torture
  • Inhumane treatment
  • Rape, forced prostitution
  • Biological experiments
  • Biological Weapons
  • Chemical Weapons
  • Willfully causing great suffering
  • Forcing someone to serve in another military
  • Taking hostages
  • Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population
  • Intentionally directing attacks against non-military objectives
  • Intentionally directing attacks against humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping mission
  • Poison, poisonous gasses, or poisoned weapons;
  • Killing combatants who have surrendered
  • Intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare
  • Aggression – An act of aggression means “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State” and can include invasion, occupation, and annexation by the use of force, as well as the blockade of ports.

Will there be a prosecution based on the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

The United Kingdom and 37 other countries have made a referral to the ICC for the attacks in Ukraine. This is the largest referral made in the history of the ICC. The referral – considered a “state party referral” allows the prosecution to move forward with an investigation without judicial approval.

The basis of the referral was the indiscriminate targetting of civilians in Ukraine. The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said the investigation would include any offenses that have occurred during Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine.

What is a war crime?While Ukraine is not an ICC member, it accepted ICC jurisdiction in 2013 after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC and cannot be expected to voluntarily hand someone over for prosecution. In order for a Russian to become subject to prosecution, the alleged war criminal would have to be apprehended and brought to an international court based on evidence directly linking the individual to specific war crimes.

The ICC does not have the ability to make arrests. The alleged war criminal has to be brought to the court by a member state.

What if the alleged war criminal was just following orders?

The Nuremberg defense is not a defense as to culpability. In other words, it is not a defense that a suspected war criminal was simply carrying out the orders of a more senior officer. This defense may be used as mitigation, however, and can be considered in reducing the punishment for the crime.

Can Vladmir Putin be prosecuted for a war crime?

The ICC prosecutes individuals. To prosecute a particular individual, there has to be evidence tying a particular crime to a particular person. Vladamir Putin could be prosecuted under a legal doctrine called “command responsibility.” Under this doctrine, a commander who orders a crime – knows of a crime or is in a position to know of a crime – and did nothing to prevent those crimes – can be held responsible.

Independent of the ICC, the United States and 44 other nations have begun an investigation into possible war crimes after the United Nations Human Rights Council resolved to establish a commission of inquiry.

Certain charges (such as aggression) can only be prosecuted after a referral from the United Nations Security Council.

Varghese Summersett

Two North Texas men are among those who have been charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with last year’s assault on the U.S. Capitol. Until recently, many people had never even heard of sedition charges. In this article, we will explain the offense and how the government is using this obscure law to prosecute a far-right militia group for their alleged involvement in the invasion of the U.S. Capitol.

What is seditious conspiracy?

Seditious conspiracy is a federal offense defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2384. It occurs when two or more people conspire to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force” the U.S. government, or to levy war against it, or to oppose by force and try to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law.

What is the punishment for seditious conspiracy?

Seditious conspiracy is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.

How many people have been charged with seditious conspiracy in the breach of the U.S. Capitol?

Eleven members of the so-called “Oath Keepers” have been charged with seditious conspiracy related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Two of the men are from North Texas, including the leader of the group who lives in Granbury. The rest of the defendants are from various parts of the country, including Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and Ohio. The Oath Keepers have been described by local Texas media as a “revolution-minded, conspiracy-bent militia group.

What are the allegations?

The federal indictment alleges that, following the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election, the Oath Keepers began conspiring how to overturn the election results and prepared for a siege by purchasing weapons and setting up battle plans.The FBI obtained encrypted communications among the Oath Keepers, including a message on Nov. 5 by the leader that read: “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.” He also allegedly wrote in one text “to scare the s—out of” Congress. 

On Jan. 6, the indictment alleges, they entered the Capitol building with the large crowds of rioters who stormed past police barriers, smashed windows and rammed doors, injuring dozens of officers and sending lawmakers scrambling.

The indictment against the leader alleges the Oath Keepers formed two teams, or “stacks,” that entered the Capitol. The first stack split up inside the building to go after the House and Senate. The second stack confronted officers inside the Capitol Rotunda, the indictment said. Outside Washington, the indictment alleges, the Oath Keepers had stationed two “quick reaction forces” that had guns “in support of their plot to stop the lawful transfer of power.” Interestingly, the leader did not enter the Capitol that day but is accused of putting the violent plan into motion.

How often is seditious conspiracy charged? 

Seditious conspiracy charges are rare and hard to prove. According to news reports, the last time prosecutors brought sedition charges was in 2010 against members of the “Hutaree” – a small far-right Christian militia group in Michigan. The group was allegedly plotting to incite an uprising against the government. However, a judge dismissed the charges after finding there was insufficient evidence of a conspiracy.

What happens next in the case?

On March 2, one of the 11 defendants pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, admitting he tried to keep President Biden from taking office and agreed to cooperate with the government. That means he will likely testify against his co-defendants, including the leader of the group who is expected to go on trial later this year. No doubt, the country will be watching.

Facing sedition charges? Contact us.

If you have been accused of sedition in North Texas or are facing charges stemming from the Capitol riot, it’s imperative that you contact an experienced federal defense attorney. Rest assured, the government is going to bring all of their resources to bear on this case. Our team has extensive experience defending federal criminal charges. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.

Varghese Summersett

Over the past couple of years, a once little-known cannabinoid called delta-8 THC has surged in popularity due to its similarities to marijuana — especially in states where marijuana (containing delta-9 THC over .3%) is illegal, like Texas. Walk into any smoke shop or CBD retailer in Texas and chances are you will find this product lining the shelves in forms such as gummies, vape cartridges, or tinctures. While many Texans are praising what some call “marijuana lite” or “diet weed,” the legality of delta-8 cannabinoids is in a gray area, and the production of it is largely unregulated. In this article, the attorneys at Varghese Summersett walk you through what exactly delta-8 is, the legality of delta-8 consumption, and the future of delta-8 in Texas.

What is Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid derived from hemp that gives similar effects to marijuana such as euphoria and relaxation. While delta-8 is not exactly the same as marijuana, the two cannabinoids are very similar in chemical structure. Marijuana is a THC compound named Delta-9 because of the double bond on the ninth carbon atom, as opposed to the eighth carbon atom in delta-8. The placement of this bond still gives users a “high,” however, it is much less potent than regular delta-9 weed. It is important to note that delta-8 THC is not a substitute for CBD, a non-intoxicating substance also derived from the marijuana plant, as delta-8 still has intoxicating effects.

Why is Delta-8 so Popular?

Delta-8 cannabinoids have become popular because it is viewed as a legal way to attain the high that marijuana gives. While the legality of delta-8 will be discussed later, a legal oversight has allowed delta-8 to be produced, sold, and used “legally” in dozens of states, including Texas. With the strict laws prohibiting the usage of cannabis in many states like Texas, delta-8 is viewed as a legal alternative to weed. Many stores in Texas are selling delta-8 THC without any legal or governmental regulation, allowing consumers to get high from edible gummies, vapor pens, and oil tinctures.

Is Delta-8 THC Legal in Texas?

The short answer to this question is yes, for now, although finish this article to find out how you can be arrested for and prosecuted for delta-8 THC in Texas. While there are no laws expressly prohibiting the usage of delta-8 cannabinoids, there are also no laws outright legalizing its usage. This leaves delta-8 in a legal grey area which is currently being duked out in court. In October 2021, The Texas Department of Health and Human Services updated its website to clarify for the public that delta-8 was a Schedule 1 substance and, therefore, illegal. CBD and hemp retailers challenged it in court, saying this contradicted what they thought was now legal under federal and state hemp laws. Lawsuits were filed attempting to block DSHS from criminalizing delta-8, and retailers got a temporary injunction on the state’s ban, which so far has been upheld by an appeals court. DSHS asked the Texas Supreme Court to step in and reinstate a ban on the products, but the high court refused the request to hear the case. A final hearing  is set for January 2022. But for now, delta-8 is legal in Texas.

How Did the 2018 Farm Bill Create this Confusion and Controversy?

Stores across Texas began selling delta-8 THC after the passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, as well as House Bill 1325 in 2019, which legalized the growing of hemp that contains less than .3 percent THC. Delta 8 falls into this category. The Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS), however, later announced, or clarified, that delta-8 was classified as a scheduled 1 controlled substance, a category reserved for drugs that have no accepted medical use, such as heroin. That’s why it’s in legal limbo at the moment.

Will Delta-8 Continue to be Legal in Texas?

That remains to be seen. As mentioned, it’s currently being debated in court and it was also a hot topic in the last legislative session. There were two bills in the Texas House  – HB 2593 and HB 3948, which would have criminalized delta-8. Both bills died. So, while Delta-8 may be in a legal purgatory now, it seems that some lawmakers will continue to try and push to treat Delta-8 as normal cannabis. To be sure, delta 8 consumers, retailers, and manufactures will push back.

Can you be Arrested for Possession of Delta-8 THC?

While not explicitly illegal, delta-8 cannabis is indistinguishable from regular delta-9 cannabis unless examined in a laboratory, so you could potentially still be arrested for delta-8 cannabis if officers suspect it is illegal delta-9 marijuana. However, there appears to be no push to prosecute anyone for selling it. In fact, according to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Department of Public Safety has yet to make an arrest.

Can you be prosecuted for Delta-8 THC consumption?

Under certain circumstances, you can be arrested and prosecuted for Delta-8 THC consumption. First, if you are on bond, the judge will likely have issued an order that says you cannot use or possess any cannabinoids. “Any” means exactly that. Courts routinely impose bond conditions that are more stringent than existing laws.

Second, if you are on probation, the court will likely impose a condition that says you cannot possess or consume any cannabinoids. In this case, too, you can be arrested, revoked, and sentenced for what would otherwise be a legal substance. The same can happen if you have a parole condition that prohibits you from using cannabinoids.

Will I Fail a Drug Test Using Delta-8?

Yes, you can fail a drug test if you have only used delta-8 cannabis, as drug tests are unable to distinguish the differences between delta-8 and 9 cannabinoids. As explained above, if you are on bond or probation (the two times you are most likely to be providing a drug test) it likely won’t matter which cannabinoid was in your system.

Arrested for Marijuana or Delta-8 Cannabis? Contact Us.

If you’ve been arrested for possession of marijuana in Tarrant County, it is crucial to contact an experienced marijuana lawyer for legal help as soon as possible. Our dedicated team of criminal defense attorneys has decades of experience and a track record of proven results. Contact us today at 817-203-2220 for a free consultation.