Austin Hands-Free Laws

In response to heightened safety risk and increased public concern about the dangers of driving while dialing or texting, many cities have imposed ‘hands-free’ laws. These laws make it illegal to drive while using your hands for a phone or other device. Instead, people are encouraged to use bluetooth and other hands-free technologies that allow them to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. What exactly do these laws mean for Austin? Will they have a statewide impact?

Details of Austin Hands-Free Laws

Austin recently passed several laws to reduce distracted driving, which is responsible for 421,000 injuries a year. While all forms of driving while distracted cannot be banned, the recent sharp increasing in motor vehicle accidents is believed to be due to an increase in handheld devices. Making it illegal to use a device while operating a moving vehicle will create safer roads.

As of January 1, 2015, Austin drivers are no longer allowed to use a handheld electronic device while driving a vehicle or bicycle. In this law, Ordinance No. 20140828-041, a handheld device is defined to include:

  • cell phones
  • laptop computers
  • GPS/navigation systems
  • reading devices such as the Kindle
  • PDAs (personal digital assistants such as Blackberry)
  • MP3s/handheld music devices
  • pagers
  • personal communication devices that use broadband
  • any electronic computing or gaming devices

In addition, the city of Austin also has made laws specifically regarding text messaging while driving, Ordinances No. 20091022-028 and 20091217-090. These forbid reading, composing, and viewing text messages while driving a moving vehicle. These are also called the “texting while driving” laws.

There are a few exceptions to these laws. First, all of the hands-free laws allow operating devices while at a stop, including while stopped at a light or pulled over to the side of the road. In addition, all allow calling 911 or 311 to report accidents, crimes, and emergency situations while driving, although it is recommended that people pull over to make these calls if this is safe and possible. Last, drivers can still use hands-free systems such as voice operated GPS, Bluetooth, and other systems. In addition, drivers are allowed to use headphones to operate these devices when needed.

The New Consequences of Distracted Driving

Using a device while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle is now a Class C misdemeanor. Drivers who are ticketed for this offense face up to $500 in fines in addition to the fines for any other offenses committed.

Possible Statewide Impact of the Hands-Free Law

Texas is one of only six states that does not have a statewide law against texting and other forms of distracted driving. However, Austin is among 22 cities in the state of Texas that have passed municipal laws in this area. As distracted driving is reduced in the state, city by city, motor vehicle accidents and injuries are likely to fall. In addition, traffic congestion in large cities such as Austin will probably be reduced because of fewer accidents. Austin may also have additional funds due to increased ticketing and fines.

Distracted driving impacts all citizens, so reducing this hazard will create safer and more efficient roadways. It will be difficult for many people in Austin to adjust to the new restrictions, but the effort will be worth it.

Legalized Marijuana and Crime and Incarceration Rates

When the public learned that the state of Colorado was legalizing marijuana, there was a mixed reaction. On the one hand, there were individuals who strongly believed that legalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in crime and to an increase in marijuana use among minors. On the other side of the argument, there were individuals who believed that in the same way the legalization of alcohol curtailed prohibition related crimes, so the legalization of marijuana would erase crimes associated with legal marijuana sales. Now, more than one year into Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, what do the statistics show? Has the legalization of marijuana affected crime rates in the state?

The Statistics Two Months In

Just two months after Colorado legalized marijuana, the Colorado Department of Public Safety released data showing that crime had fallen in a number of demographics. When compared to the same time in 2013, the first few weeks of 2014 were met by a decrease in property crime by 14 percent in the city of Denver. Additionally, homicide rates fell by more than 66.7 percent. Robberies decreased by 7 percent. At the same time, other violent crimes remained at their 2013 levels, or increased slightly.

Law enforcement officials understood that a two-month sampling was too small to be conclusive. There were many factors that could have contributed to the decrease in crimes during the months of January and February in 2014. However, the early results stood in stark contrast to the warnings that were being given to Colorado residents in the weeks leading up to the legalization of marijuana. Both police and community leaders gave dire warnings to the community stating that marijuana’s legalization would lead to a state in chaos.

The Statistics Six Months In

June 1, 2014 was the six-month anniversary of Colorado’s amendment 64. A statement that was released by The Drug Policy Alliance commented on how Colorado’s legalization of marijuana was going better than most had expected it to. Included in the report were statistics that showed a 10.1 percent decrease in overall crime and a 5.2 percent decrease in violent crime. Additionally, in the six-month period between the legalization of marijuana and the release of this document, burglary and robbery rates at marijuana dispensaries dropped drastically. The report touted the economic benefits and the increased tax revenue for the state of California. According to the report entitled Marijuana Regulation Colorado after Six Months of Retail Sales in 18 Months of Decriminalization, taxes from legalized marijuana were estimated to bring in $1 billion during the 2014 fiscal year.

The Statistics One Year In

January 5, 2015, one year and four days after the legalization of marijuana, and its effect on crime seems consistent in Colorado. According to the Denver Police Department, the city of Denver has experienced a 14.6 percent drop in crime since January 1, 2014. Property crime has a dropped by more than 14 percent. Violent crime has seen a 2.4 percent decrease. As a result of what has been seen in Colorado, many other states are looking to put a legal marijuana infrastructure in place.

Law enforcement officials have noted a drop in incarceration rates as drug offenses that were once punishable by arrest are now either no longer illegal or are being punished with citations.

Understanding Your Miranda Rights

Miranda Rights, also known as the Miranda warning, is provided when a suspect is arrested by police officials or law enforcement after they are assumed to have committed an illegal crime. It is used to remind the individual of their 5th amendment right to remain silent and prevent incriminating themselves if they wish. The rights are provided when an individual is arrested and are used as a warning.

The Miranda Rights are always used when a suspect will undergo an interrogation, requiring the individual to provide a clear response to the rights. The arrest can not occur without the Miranda Rights stated. Although most people are familiar with Miranda Rights, nearly one million U.S. criminal cases are still compromised due to suspects who do not fully understand how the rights can protect them after an arrest.

What the Miranda Rights States

The Miranda Rights state that the suspect has the right to remain silent and that anything they say will be used in the court of law. It continues by stating that the suspect has the right to an attorney before speaking to the police and that the attorney can be present when the questioning begins. An attorney will be provided beforehand if the suspect can not afford an attorney, only if they desire. The individual has the option to answer any questions without an attorney present and can also choose to stop speaking at any time. The suspect is then asked if they are willing to answer any questions without an attorney present after their rights have been stated. The suspect must give a clear answer and cannot remain silent when asked if they agree to be questioned.

Using the Miranda Rights Wisely

If you’ve been placed under arrest, it’s important to remember that you are considered a suspect and anything that you say will be used as evidence to incriminate you from the prosecutor. Although you do not have to remain completely silent in front of the officers, it’s important to keep what you say to a minimum to prevent saying something that can cause you to appear guilty. Although you are not required to answer any questions about the crime that you’re accused of committing before speaking to an attorney, you still have to provide your name, address, and any information that will help identify who you are to law enforcement.

It’s best to avoid saying anything until speaking to an attorney because there is little that you will be able to say that will benefit you. If you decide to speak to the police without having an attorney present, you can always state that you want to plead the fifth to avoid answering specific questions or providing details.

If the police fail to provide the Miranda Rights to a suspect after an arrest, anything that is said will not be able to be used against you in the court of law as evidence due to a failure to have the warning provided beforehand.

Common Misconceptions About Bail Agents

What is the difference between a bail agent and a bounty hunter?

A bail agent, also known as a bail bondsman or bail bond agent, posts bail for the release of a defendant from jail, in exchange for a fee. Upon authorization of a bail bond by a co-signer, family member, or the defendant, the defendant is released and the bond is accepted by the court in lieu of the entire bail amount. The bail agent guarantees to pay over to the court the entire amount of the bond if the defendant fails to appear for his required court date. However, the bail agent does not typically go out searching for a defendant if he fails to show up for a court appearance.

A bounty hunter, on the other hand, generally works on behalf of a bail agent to locate and re-arrest clients who have defaulted on their contract with the bail agent, usually when they fail to appear in court as required, and after a judge has signed a warrant for his arrest. Once the person is located and re-arrested, the bail agent is usually released from his obligation for the person’s bond. Police departments often do not have the resources to track down every person who skips bail, so a bail agent will hire a bounty hunter and pay him a percentage of the bond as a fee if he is able to bring the person in.

How is a bail amount set?

Bail is generally set according to a bail schedule, but a judge can adjust the amount based on the circumstances of the case. A judge will usually consider factors such as the seriousness of the case, the defendant’s prior arrest record, whether the defendant is employed, and whether the defendant has family in the area or other ties to the local community.

Is the bail agent’s fee refunded if the defendant shows up for court?

A bail agent is in the business of making loans to people who need bail money. The bail agent’s fee for this service is generally 10 percent of the bail amount. This 10-percent fee is not refunded to the defendant when the case is over. Bail agents often ask for collateral in addition to the 10-percent fee. If a person is released on a $10,000 bond and the bail agent has accepted a $1,000 fee in exchange for putting up the money to cover the bond, he will lose $9,000 if a defendant fails to appear in court when scheduled. This is because the bail agent will be required by the court to pay the full amount of the $10,000 bond if the defendant is a no-show. For this reason, a bail agent may ask for collateral in the form of real estate, title to a vehicle, or stocks and bonds. When the defendant appears in court, the bond obligation is released, and the bail agent will, in turn, release his claim to the collateral. However, the 10-percent fee, or $1,000 in this example, is not refunded. That’s the bail agent’s charge for providing the bond to secure the defendant’s initial release.

Misdemeanor & Felony Traffic Offenses

There is a difference between being charged with misdemeanor traffic offenses and felony type offenses. Simple violations are called infractions where the accused is given a ticket to appear in court to pay the fine. Misdemeanor offenses are usually more serious, involving an appearance in court to answer for the charges.

The accused can be subject to paying a higher fine for the charge, sentenced to probation for 6 to 12 months and having points against them on their license. Some violations that are included in misdemeanor violations are:

  • Driving in a reckless manner
  • Driving without any insurance coverage
  • Driving without license on person
  • Failing to stop for an accident
  • Driving while intoxicated with alcohol or under the influence of drugs

Increased Penalties For Misdemeanor Violations

Those accused of repeat misdemeanor traffic charges usually see increased penalties for violations. They can include suspension of driving privileges for a year or more, increased fines with court cost, probation and probationary fees, community service and alcohol and drug counseling classes that they must pay for.

The judge in court has sole discretion on what he might place upon the accused as punishment for their violations. Some states have strict policies about punishing repeat offenders severely for returning to court on similar charges.

Felony Traffic Violations

These violations are the most serious ones that people can be accused of. They involve higher penalties across the board. Most people charged with felony traffic offenses must serve time for the offense. Some of the offenses that fall under felony traffic violation are:

  • Multiple driving under the influence convictions
  • Repeat offenses of driving under suspension of licenseVehicular manslaughter
  • Driving under the influence causing vehicular death of occupants or other drivers
  • Use of vehicle in commission of a serious crime
  • Hit and run accidents

Felony Traffic Violation Consequences

Everyone convicted of a felony traffic offense and misdemeanor traffic offenses should retain the services of a reputable attorney. Any charges filed will be on a criminal record under the violator’s name. Traffic felony charges are the most serious crimes committed behind the wheel of a vehicle. Fines can be high, usually into thousands of dollars with jail and prison time for the accused.

Misdemeanor traffic charges can be prosecuted as felonies with repeat violations. An attorney must be hired to represent the violator in any felony traffic violation case. Some of the repercussions of felony traffic charges are:

  • Losing the right to vote in elections
  • Losing the privilege to drive a motor vehicle
  • Difficulty in finding employment due to a criminal driving record
  • Loss of financial gains
  • Losing ownership of a vehicle
  • Permanent criminal driving record
  • Unable to own firearmsLong jail or prison sentence

Driving Records Affect Driving Privileges Everywhere

There is no such thing as having a bad driving record in one state and moving to another state to drive freely without penalty. Driving records follow bad drivers from state to state through the enactment of the Driver License Compact (DLC). Violations in one state are reported to the driver’s home state where they live. Moving to another state to acquire a license will show up on a national computer base that the person has past criminal driving activity in another state.

Most of the states will act upon finding this information on a driver to apply it in their state against the driver. Basically, if a driver is showing suspension of driving privileges in one state, the state they have relocating to will uphold the suspension and place them under that in their state also. Some states may reduce the severity of the punishment, but won’t issue a driver under restriction of driving privileges a license.

Going To Court

People accused of either felony or misdemeanor traffic violations better retain the services of a lawyer to represent them. The privilege to drive is at stake and possible financial livelihood. It makes little difference in how they act upon entering a courtroom. Most people accused of traffic violations are guilty of those charges. The best action for someone accused of serious traffic violations is allowing their attorney to handle the case in court while they remain silent. An attorney is the only option for getting a fair decision on the outcome of the case in a court of law.

What is a PR Bond?

When Can Courts Deny Bail?

What is Bail?

Bail is considered money or property which is traded with a court in exchange for the release of a suspect from jail until court appearances. Bail is first addressed during arraignment of the defendant.

The purpose of bail is to insure the defendant will appear in court for all scheduled appearances. The bail will be returned without regards to the verdict of innocent or guilty, as long as the defendant appears at all scheduled court dates. Bail can be refused to the defendant by the court. There are several reasons why this can happen.

There are circumstances in which bail can be denied. Some circumstances guarantee the refusal of bail, unless some rare and special circumstance is considered. If bail is refused, it is possible, in some cases, to appeal bail to a higher court. Bail can be set at a wide range of values, from a few thousand to a few million dollars.

Why can bail be denied?

  • If the defendant is charged with murder, treason or a similarly severe crime
  • If a violent felony is the accusation, and the alleged commission of the crime was committed while the defendant was on parole, probation or was released while awaiting trial for another violent felony
  • If the defendant has escaped or attempted to escape from prison with or without using force or violence
  • If the crime in which the defendant is accused is so offensive that the defendant may pose a threat to society
  • If there is a possibility that the defendant could be a threat to the victim
  • If there is a likelihood of the defendant being a flight risk
  • If there is an unacceptable risk factor
  • If within 15 years of the alleged violent felony the defendant has been convicted of two or more violent felonies
  • If the accused, within the last 10 years, has been found guilty of threatening the use of violence or stalking
  • The court is satisfied that on a separate occasion, the accused, even if not charged or found guilty, used or threatened violence against the complainant
  • Within 10 years preceding the current accusation, the defendant has been convicted of an offense that involved threatening to use or did use violence against any person
  • There is strong evidence against the defendant
  • The offense is a stalking offense
  • Any crime is basis for bail denial if the accused used a firearm, explosive or any offensive weapon
  • The crime involves commercial trafficking of drugs

There are circumstances in which bail can be denied to the accused. These may involve past actions by the defendant that point to signs they will not appear at their scheduled court appearance.

  • The defendant has the means to flee the country
  • The defendant has past history of not appearing in court, if only to answer to traffic violations
  • The defendant has made comments to a court representative or an arresting officer to the effect that they will not appear in court
  • The defendant has a belligerent attitude with regards to the court system
  • The accused has a mental impairment and is without family or a friend to ensure the accused will appearance in court
  • The defendant is a foreigner that could return to their native country

Immigration Bail

When an immigrant is detained by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), they are entitled to request bail. The amount needed for the detainee’s release is determined by an immigration judge or by the ICE themselves. Immigration bail is similar to regular bail in that it’s meant to ensure the individual will appear at all future court proceedings. Sometimes, the ICE may act on its authority to release the immigrant on recognizance, but in the majority of situations, knowledge of immigration bail bond proceedings is needed.

Qualifying for Immigration Bail

The ICE may automatically set a bond amount for the detainee, which is payable within a week of when they are first detained. If the ICE refuses to set an amount, or if the amount they set is unreasonably high, the case may move to a hearing. At an immigration bail hearing, the judge can override the ICE’s decision based on qualifying factors. If the immigrant is not a danger to the community and not deemed a flight risk, the bond will usually be approved. If the detainee has been granted relief from removal and will more than likely win their case, they have a high chance of qualifying for a low bond amount.

Types of Immigration Bonds

There are two different kinds of immigration bonds offered to detainees in the U.S. The most common is a delivery bond, which works similarly to a regular bond in a non-immigration case. The immigrant must have an arrest warrant from the ICE, and they must agree to appear at all future hearings. Leading up to their first hearing, they can consult with a lawyer who specializes in immigration cases. The second type of bond is a voluntary departure bond. If the individual is willing to leave the country on their own, they can avoid court proceedings and the consequences of deportation. This allows immigrants who are likely to be forcibly removed from the country the option to leave the U.S. and still be legally allowed to reenter.

Payment Options

A licensed federal immigration bail bonds agent can work with the detainee’s family or friends to get a surety bond, in order for the individual to be released. The agent charges up to 20 percent of the full amount of the bond, and they can often ensure a detainee’s release the same day. They can also lend expertise on immigration laws and the specifics of the case. Otherwise, the amount can be payed in full directly to the ICE with cash, money order, cashier’s check, or U.S. bonds. Delivery bonds are usually $1,500 minimum, with amounts increasing to $10,000 or more depending on flight risk, criminal history, and other factors. Departure bonds are far less – usually $500, which is refundable when the detainee leaves the country.

Immigration issues can seem scary or complicated, but immigration bail can be fairly straightforward when you know the basics. For information and assistance with a case, contact a licensed agent or ICE official.

All About Traffic Tickets

Nobody looks forward to getting a traffic ticket. The easiest way to avoid them is to know some of the reasons they are given. Listed below are the five most common types of traffic tickets issued. By knowing about these tickets, we can all ensure that we do our best to avoid getting issued them.

Speeding Tickets

This is the first type of ticket that comes to everyone’s mind when they think of a traffic ticket. Speeding tickets, by far, are the most commonly issued traffic violation ticket in the United States, as well as in several other countries. While most speeding tickets are given due to drivers exceeding the posted speed limit by at least seven miles per hour, there several tickets issued for driving too fast for conditions. This violation, which is still considered a speeding offense, occurs when a driver exceeds a speed considered safe on a road which is different from normal driving conditions, usually for weather conditions such as snow, rain, or ice. Speeding tickets have also been issued more in construction zones than ever before, with most states doubling the fine amounts for drivers doing so.

Running a Red Light

This traffic violation has been aided by the addition of thousands of cameras being installed all over the U.S. at traffic crossings. Most red light violators are unaware that they have been caught until about a week later when they get a ticket in the mail with a photo of them speeding through the intersection. Most of these cameras have been set up at busy intersections and those that have been identified as crash investigation zones. You don’t need a police car behind you to get in trouble for running a red light anymore.

Unsafe Lane Changes and Reckless Driving

This offense is sometimes very subjective, but many tickets are issued nonetheless. Reckless driving usually consists of swerving, not using a turn signal when changing lanes, accelerating or braking excessively, and many other offenses that may be considered unsafe on the roadway. These tickets can often cost a driver many points and excessive fines, and judges are not usually lenient on violators.

Cell Phone Usage and Inattentive Driving

Many states have combined their new cell phone charges with inattentive driving charges. Several studies have shown that, even if you are watching the road, your attention is stretched when you are talking on a cell phone, even a hands free device. Several states and cities have passed ordinances against the use of cell phones while driving, and police are cracking down. Using a cell phone includes talking on the phone by holding the device, texting while driving, and even, in some cases, using a hands free device with headphones. It is also illegal to drive with headphones on, no matter if you are listening to music or your phone, in almost every state.

Seat Belt Violations

Many states have started “Click it or Ticket” campaigns to get motorists to wear their seat belts. Many people believe this is just the government trying to control their lives, but the real issue is that every person who dies or is injured in an accident that could have been saved by wearing a seat belt costs the state, the county, and the taxpayers money. Many police give seat belt tickets after they have pulled drivers over for another offense and witness the driver unbelted. Just remember to click it or you will most likely get a ticket.

There are several other violations that motorists get traffic tickets for, but the ones mentioned above are by far the most common in almost every state. Knowing what these tickets are given for is the first step in avoiding them altogether.

What You Need to Know About DUI

DUI means driving under the influence. DWI means driving while intoxicated. Either way, it means you’re driving drunk, and if you’re driving drunk in the State of Texas, you can be in big trouble. Texas takes its drunk driving laws very seriously, and so should you. A DUI/DWI can put you in jail, lighten your wallet, and erase a perfect driving record.

DUI Tests

If you are stopped on suspicion of a DUI in Texas, as in all states and the District of Columbia, you will probably be asked to take a sobriety and a breathalyzer test. You may be “asked” to take these tests, but in reality you can’t refuse. If you do, your refusal will count against you if your case goes to court. The sobriety test usually involves some activity, such as trying to walk a straight line, which is surprisingly hard to do if you’re drunk. Then you may be “asked” to take the breathalyzer test. You can’t refuse that either. Texas has an implied consent law, which says a refusal can mean a fine and loss of license for a specified period. The breathalyzer test involves breathing into a machine to measure the amount of alcohol in your blood. A BAC (blood alcohol level) of .08 or higher can result in a charge of DUI.

Conviction Penalties

If you are convicted of a DUI in Texas, your fine may be up to $2,000, your license may be suspended for 12 months, and you may be in jail for up to 180 days. Those are penalties for your first DUI offense. If you’re found guilty on a second DUI within 10 years of the first, you might be behind bars for a year. You will probably lose your license for two years and your maximum fine will be $4,000. Penalties get much harsher for a third DUI. You’ll lose your license for another two years, but fines rise to $10,000 and you could be behind bars anywhere from two to 10 years. Even tougher might be the impact on your record, which will now permanently carry a conviction charge.

That means you might find it difficult getting a job. It also means you will have to pay a “license reinstatement” fee of $2,000 for the next three years, and you’ll be paying up to three times more each year for auto insurance. Texas makes it tough on DUI offenders.

The best advice for any driver in Texas or any state is “don’t drink and drive.” However, if you do and you are charged with a DUI offense, the second best advice is to call an experienced Texas DUI lawyer. You need the best defense possible to defend yourself against these charges. A Texas DUI lawyer can steer you through the complex laws that govern DUI offenses. You and your lawyer may decide to plead your case before a judge, called an arraignment. If you plead guilty, your lawyer may be able to have your fine or jail time reduced. Get the help you need for a DUI charge. Make that call now.

What If Someone Skips Bail?

Many defendants are given the opportunity to bail out of jail depending on the severity of their crimes. However, defendants who are given bail are expected to show up for court and adhere to any other conditions of their release during trial. What happens if someone skips bail or does not adhere to the conditions of their bail?

What Does it Mean to Skip Bail?

When someone does not show up for a court appearance, that person is said to have skipped bail. In some cases, a person could be skipping bail just by leaving town or doing anything else that he or she was not authorized to do. If a judge determines that a person has skipped bail, there are many consequences that a person could face. At worst, bail could be revoked or additional conditions could be placed on that person’s bail. Bail could be increased and the person who skips bail could be subject to wearing an ankle bracelet or home confinement.

Why Shouldn’t You Harbor Someone Who Has Skipped Bail?

It is critical that you do not harbor someone who has skipped out on their bail. This is because you could be charged with a crime by providing a criminal with safe haven. Even if you think that you are doing something good for a family member or friend, you are not helping that person. Instead, you could be creating a situation where the person you are harboring could face additional charges or lose his or her freedom. In addition, it will not help make a good impression on the judge as it relates to the character of the defendant or those who are trying to vouch for that person’s character.

Contact the Bail Bonds Company Immediately

If you know someone who has skipped out on their bail, it is important to contact your bail bond company as soon as possible. Working with the bail bond company could make it possible to smooth over the situation with relevant parties in the case. Bail bondsman who are kept in the loop may be able to work with the defendant to keep that person out of jail or could help convince a judge that it won’t happen again or that the defendant simply misunderstood the terms of the bail.

Mistakes Do Happen

It is certainly possible that a defendant makes a mistake interpreting the terms of his or her bail. For example, if a defendant is expected to be home at a certain time, that person could be late due to traffic, working late or other circumstances beyond that person’s control. Making sure to keep relevant parties informed as to where you are may make it less likely that a defendant will get in trouble.

It is never a good idea to skip out on your bail. If you know someone who has skipped out on his or her bail, it is critical that you contact the bail bond company immediately to work out a solution to the problem as quickly as possible.