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The Consequences of An Allegation of Embezzlement: Hire the Right Houston White Collar Crimes Attorney

Hire the Best Houston Embezzlement Attorney

Embezzlement or Misappropriation of Funds Can Be a Serious Crime in Texas Federal Courts. Embezzlement is considered a white collar crime in the state of Texas and is almost always charged as a felony. Punishment can be severe depending on what was done and how the funds were misappropriated. The criminal could face fines in the million of dollars and many months in prison. If you’re being charged with Embezzlement, you will need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Contact Houston Embezzlement Lawyer Charles Johnson to speak with an experienced legal professional about what you can do to protect your name and reputation. Attorney Johnson will travel to any state court in the State of Texas and to any Federal Court in the United States of America to fight for your freedom. Contact him directly around the clock, 7 days/week at (713) 222-7577.

Embezzlement Defined

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines embezzlement as the “misappropriation or misapplication of money or property entrusted to one’s care, custody, or control.” What distinguishes embezzlement from other types of theft is the violation of financial trust between the owner of the money or property and the offender.

Theft by employees is one of the most prevalent and costly problems faced by today’s business, either private or public. It includes, but is not limited to, “the removal of products, supplies, materials, funds, data, information, or intellectual property.” The estimated annual costs of all forms of embezzlement are up to $400 billion.

The ways that an employee can steal from an organization depend on a number of factors, including that type of money or properties that have been entrusted to the individual, and the access to company funds that the individual might be allowed because of their position. For example, a department store cashier might steal from a cash register, fail to ring up purchases, or take merchandise from storage rooms or receiving areas. Other employees with more access within the company might cheat on expense accounts, or misappropriate funds through billing, inventory, or payroll schemes.

While some research has found that theft by employees is typically a solitary event, the influence of co-workers on theft behavior has been shown to have an enormous impact on such deviant behavior. A strong argument is also made for the effects of informal sanctions; those that did not comply with the theft culture were often ostracized and pressured to leave the job.

The “typical” embezzlement scheme occurs at companies with fewer than 100 employees. The average amount stolen is $120,000 versus just $10,000 for Fortune 500 companies. Small businesses, defined as employers with less than three bookkeepers, are 100 times more likely to experience employee fraud than larger companies. The crime is often carried out over a number of years and has forced many small companies into bankruptcy.

Common Embezzlement Schemes

Bogus loan schemes include cases in which fraudulent loans are created or authorized by the perpetrator from which funds are taken for their own benefit.

Credit card/account fraud cases involve the fraudulent or unauthorized creation and/or use of company credit card or credit accounts.

Forged/unauthorized checks cases are those in which company checks are forged or issued without authorization for the benefit of the perpetrator.

Fraudulent reimbursement schemes include expense report fraud and other cases in which a bogus submission for reimbursement is made by the perpetrator.

Inventory/equipment theft schemes include employee theft of inventory and supplies, and the unauthorized use of equipment.

Payroll shenanigans cases include all forms of manipulation of the payroll systems in order for the perpetrator to draw additional income.

Theft from tax or benefit accounts include cases in which the perpetrator manipulates company accounts meant to pay corporate taxes or employee benefits to siphon these funds off for themselves.

Theft/conversion of cash receipts cases involve the simple taking of cash or checks meant for company receipts and pocketing or converting them for one’s own benefit.

Unauthorized electronic funds transfers cases apply to anyone who uses or attempts or conspires to use any counterfeit, fictitious, altered, forged, lost, stolen or fraudulently obtained debt instrument to obtain anything of value.

Vendor fraud schemes include those where either a bogus vendor is created by the perpetrator to misappropriate monies or a real vendor colludes with the perpetrator to siphon funds from the company.

Clearly the most common form of embezzlement, by nearly a two-to-one margin, is the forgery or unauthorized use of company checks for one’s own benefit. Almost 40 percent of all major embezzlement cases are principally the result of this type of scheme. The next three most common forms of embezzlement are theft/conversion of cash receipts (20.5%), unauthorized electronic transfers of funds (13.4%) and payroll shenanigans (8.7%).

Examples of Embezzlement Schemes

  • The bookkeeper pays him/herself – The bookkeeper simply takes a business check, makes it payable to him/herself and signs it.
  • Duplicate payments to phony accounts – The bookkeeper pays an invoice with multiple checks over time and creates a phony bank account to deposit the second check. By the way, it is very easy to open a phony account.
  • Check alteration – The bookkeeper either alters checks paid to you by customers, or creates a phony bank account to deposit checks.
  • Double billing – The bookkeeper re-bills customer twice for the same work and deposits check in a phony account. It is surprising how often businesses will pay twice for the same invoice.
  • Duplicate checks – The bookkeeper orders a duplicate set of checks mimicking your account and then proceeds to write duplicate checks to vendors – only the duplicate checks are deposited into the phony account. The business owner may be too busy to notice this deception.
  • Credit card transactions – An employee makes a credit card sale, then issues a credit for that item back on to their own credit card.
  • Petty cash expenditures – A business does not closely review the petty cash expenditures, unknowingly creating an opportunity for theft.

FBI – Financial Crimes

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates matters relating to fraud, theft, or embezzlement occurring within or against the national and international financial community. These crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust, and are not dependent upon the application or threat of physical force or violence. Such acts are committed by individuals and organizations to obtain personal or business advantage.

Theft, Embezzlement or Misapplication by Bank Officers or Employees

Title 18, Chapter 31 of the U.S. Code contains sections that deal with the various forms of embezzlement and their penalties. For example, Section 656 covers theft, embezzlement, or misapplication by a bank officer or employee.

Motivating Factors for Embezzlement

While a large number of crimes can be attributed to opportunity or the economic need of the offender, loss incurred through the actions of employees can also be a response to poor working conditions, dissatisfaction with management or compensation, or pressure from co-workers. The following are some of the primary motivating factors for Embezzlement:

  • Entitlement belief
  • Financial need
  • Lavish lifestyle
  • Gambling issue
  • Shopping addiction
  • Substance abuse
  • Support a personal business
  • Support significant other

In the overwhelming number of cases, excessive greed or the desire to live a relatively more lavish lifestyle appears to be the key motivating factor for major embezzlers – not to alleviate personal financial problems, as some might expect. Gambling continues to be a factor for many embezzlers. In some cases, the gambling problem was also part of an overall extravagant lifestyle.

The underlying question remains, however, why do these embezzlers steal so much over such a long period of time from employers who trusted them so implicitly? The classic fraud triangle theory holds that there generally must be three basic elements to exist for fraud to occur: opportunity, incentive/pressure and attitude/rationalization. For embezzlement, the opportunity factor is present in organizations in which business controls are weak and specific individuals, principally those with fiduciary duties, can exploit those weaknesses. For fraud in general, the incentive/pressure factor is often suggested to be financial woes. However, for embezzlers, other factors exist, such as a substance abuse problem, a gambling problem, a perceived need to support a loved one and, a desire to live an extravagant lifestyle or a desire to support a personal or family-owned business.

Rationalization is the most elusive segment of the fraud triangle. Researchers have suggested that one or more of the following attitudes or beliefs exist for embezzlers to engage in illicit activities:

  • They believe they are entitled to the money;
  • They believe they must save a family member or loved one who is perceived to be in dire circumstances;
  • They believe they are in a desperate financial situation and all could be lost;
  • They believe that no external or other help exists;
  • They believe they are only “borrowing” the money;
  • They do not understand the consequences of their actions; and,
  • They do not believe or understand that what they are doing is wrong.

Costs and Statistics

While many think of the workplace as insulated from the questionable behavior found elsewhere in society, the statistics can be quite alarming. It is estimated that losses due to employee theft can range from $20 to $90 billion annually to upwards of $240 billion a year when accounting for losses due to intellectual property theft. This makes theft by employees two to three times more costly than all of the nation’s Type I index crimes combined, and accounts for approximately 30 to 50 percent of all business failures. In addition, it is estimated that as many as three-quarters of all employees steal from their employers at least once and some employees may engage in theft behavior as a regular part of their lives on the job.

Employee theft does not occur in a vacuum, but is often found in conjunction with high rates of other workplace deviant behavior. The financial impacts of such behavior, when coupled with the indirect costs of higher levels of stress, increased absenteeism, higher turnover, raised insurance premiums, an increased number of lawsuits, and lower morale, make workplace deviance a problem for businesses of all sizes that can reach an annual price tag hovering in the billions of dollars.

How has the widespread infusion of technology into the workplace impacted issues of embezzlement and employee theft? One result has been the dramatic increase in costs associated with a given offense. Not only can technology facilitate larger transactions that are illegal in nature, but when coupled with poor controls it can be manipulated to make detection much more difficult. Furthermore, the types of theft in the workplace appear to be changing. In addition to cash, materials, and merchandise, employees are increasingly finding value in company-owned software and intellectual property. In 2004, it is estimated that Fortune 1,000 companies sustained losses of more than $59 billion from theft of proprietary information, with insiders to the organization being seen as a higher than average threat.18 Borrowing software from work for personal use accounts for some of the $33 billion lost to software piracy worldwide.

The Response/Current Efforts

Traditionally, organizations did not want the public stigma of being known as an “easy target” or a company that harbored embezzlers and other types of dishonest employees. Most matters were handled internally, if they were handled at all. Some organizations viewed theft as a cost of doing business. In recent years, companies have stepped forward and begun to address the reality that they have dishonest employees who are causing significant economic losses. Studies have shown that there has been an increase in the use of deterrence and apprehension strategies and an increase in the severity of sanctions brought against someone accused of theft. In 1997, retail companies alone spent over $5 billion to combat inventory losses, with theft by employees seen as accounting for the largest share of those losses. These expenditures in formal social control can be seen in both investments in security technology and loss prevention personnel. Additionally, over 40 percent of employees caught stealing is referred for prosecution and 20 percent is required to make some form of restitution.28 So while the problem of employee theft still exists within organizations, some employers have taken important steps towards acknowledging and combating the problem.

Penalties for Embezzlement

Under Texas law, Embezzlement falls under the law criminalizing theft. Embezzlement is essentially financial theft by an employee. It can be considered white collar crime in some instances but it does not have to be only a white collar offense. It occurs when the defendant is entrusted with his or her employer’s money or goods and then steals those money or goods.

In a criminal case involving employee embezzlement, the state must show beyond reasonable doubt that the employee had possession of the assets by “virtue of his/her employment”. If their position did not provide them with control of the missing assets, they would not be able to be charged with this type of crime. There are many situations where it can be a difficult task to determine if the offense can be classified as embezzlement or larceny.

Texas offers a wide variety of penalties for the crime of Embezzlement. The factor that determines the severity of the punishment if convicted on a charge of Embezzlement is the amount or value of the goods, services or cash stolen. For the smallest amounts ($50 and under), the charge will be a “Class C” misdemeanor carrying a penalty of a simple fine of up $500. The most serious charge will be for stealing $200,000 or more in goods, services or cash. This is considered a first degree felony and can be punishable by five to ninety-nine years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

White collar crimes may be charged as misdemeanors or as felonies. The charges depend on the type of crime, the severity of the crime, and the amount of money that is involved in the crime, among other things In general, the more severe a crime the more harsh the potential punishment if convicted. While white collar crimes don’t involve physical violence, they can still be serious. Houston White Collar Crimes Attorney Charles Johnson will help guide you through the legal process and will advocate for your rights every step of the way. If you are in jail, Attorney Johnson will assist in getting your bail reduced if possible so you can be released on bond until your trial date.

Defenses to Embezzlement Charges

When you are responsible for handling corporate finances and assets, errors may occur. A bookkeeping mistake or oversight could lead to an investigation. The minute you are notified of any potential allegations of embezzlement is the time to retain experienced legal counsel.

Embezzlement is a crime, so all the defenses available for other crimes can be used. Common defenses include:

Insufficient evidence – A criminal charge or case can be dismissed if there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. This defense will not work as long as a jury can find you guilty without a reasonable doubt. However, 40% of federal embezzlement cases are dropped because of insufficient evidence, so it can be worth pursuing.

Duress – Duress occurs when a person is situated where he/she truly believes they will be in some danger or harm if they do not participate in the crime. Common duress defenses in embezzlement cases that generally do not work include embezzling money to satisfy an addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) or to prevent family hardship. A duress defense will more likely work in cases where you would lose your job unless you participated in an embezzlement scheme.

Entrapment – Entrapment occurs when the government compels an innocent person to commit a crime they would have otherwise not committed. Stings are generally exempt. However, setting up “bait” to get you to commit embezzlement can be entrapment. When bringing an entrapment defense, the prosecution will usually contend you were inclined to commit the offense anyway.

Absence of intent to commit a crime – Most crimes require an intention to commit the crime. Embezzlement requires that you intended to take money or property from others. Without the required intent, the embezzlement charge may be dismissed. For example, maybe you thought you were the true owner of the money or property that you are accused of embezzling.

Insanity – Insanity is always a possible defense, but it is a “tough sell”in any court for any crime. This defense allows you to claim you were either insane at the time of the offense or during trial. The success rate of an insanity defense is low and it would most likely be ineffective in embezzlement cases.

Incapacity – This is different from insanity. In embezzlement cases, this defense may work only if you can show you were somehow mentally incapacitated at the time of committing the embezzlement. An example would be if you were under heavy medication and didn’t realize you deposited company money into your own account.

Intoxication – Voluntary intoxication is almost never a defense to a crime. If you drink voluntarily, you should realize the risks of doing so. This defense rarely comes up in embezzlement case.

Embezzlement charges can be quite complex. In many cases there may be many items that must be reviewed in order to determine the best defense. Some crimes may be a result of miscommunication or deception. It is important to get your story out. There are many ways that a defense attorney will be able to help you protect your rights. The goal of your attorney is to not only help you defend against the charges but to also help you guard your professional reputation. A conviction on these types of charges can be detrimental to your career so it is important to defend the charges as vigorously as possible. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will review all aspects of your case in depth to provide a complete defense of the charges.

If you have been charged with Embezzlement, you are probably facing stress at your home and workplace. Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson can help relieve that stress by ensuring that you are protected by the best Texas embezzlement lawyer available. If you want the best in knowledgeable legal representation & a criminal law firm that will treat your case with consideration and concern, please contact us 24/7 at (713) 222-7577 for a FREE confidential consultation. Your initial consultation can be done over the phone, and will be free and completely confidential. During this consultation you will be informed about the law, your rights and your legal options, with a reliable idea of how much an effective embezzlement defense may cost. Rest assured that The Charles Johnson Law Firm will zealously defend you against any type of White Collar Crime accusation.

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Arrested for Assault Family Violence? The Right Houston Criminal Lawyer Can Make A Difference In Your Case

Hire the Best Houston Assault Family Violence AttorneyAn arrest for Houston Assault Family Violence (or Domestic Violence) can be a devastating experience to anyone. Whether the incident was a harmless situation that spun out of control, a gross misunderstanding, or a typical way of communicating between two people. The time after the arrest can be terrifying, as the criminal justice system is very complicated. Houston Assault Family Violence Lawyer Charles Johnson can make sure that your legal rights are protected. Attorney Johnson can determine whether police followed the proper legal procedures when arresting you and, when feasible, prove that the charges are unwarranted.

Being charged with any form of domestic violence is a very serious matter. Not only may you face jail time or probation, many domestic violence cases involve restraining orders, meaning you may have to leave your house and your family immediately – even if you own the house or pay the rent. In addition, a conviction or probated sentence that includes a finding of family violence will affect your right to possess any firearms or to obtain a hunting license.

You are entitled to the best legal defense possible. Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson can deliver that defense for you. You can contact Houston Domestic Violence Lawyer Charles Johnson day or night, 24 hours/day 7 days/week and speak with him directly at (713) 222-7577. His Law Office is headquartered in Houston, with offices conveniently located in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.

Definitions of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence includes physical violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, intimidation, economic deprivation, and threats of violence.  The relationships that most state domestic violence laws define as necessary for a charge of domestic assault or abuse include spouse or former spouse, persons who currently live together or who have lived together within the previous year, or persons who share a common child.

Definitions of criminal violence include physical assault (hitting, pushing, shoving, etc.), sexual abuse (unwanted or forced sexual activity), and stalking. Although emotional, psychological and financial abuse are not criminal behaviors, they are forms of abuse and can lead to criminal violence.

Violence by a man against his wife or intimate partner is often a way for a man to control “his woman.”  Although domestic violence can occur between gay and lesbian couples, and by women against their male partners, by far the most common form is male violence against women.

Types of violence include:

  • Common couple violence (CCV) which is not connected to general control behavior, but arises in a single argument where one or both partners physically lash out at the other.
  • Intimate terrorism (IT) which can also involve emotional and psychological abuse. It is one element in a general pattern of control by one partner over the other. It is more common than common couple violence, more likely to escalate over time, not as likely to be mutual, and more likely to involve serious injury.
  • Violent resistance (VR), which is sometimes interpreted as “self-defense,” is usually violence perpetrated by women against their abusive partners.
  • Mutual violent control (MVC) which is a rare type of intimate partner violence that occurs when both partners use violence to battle for control.
  • Situational couple violencewhich arises out of conflicts that escalate to arguments and then to violence. It is not connected to a general pattern of control. Although it occurs less frequently in relationships, and is less serious than intimate terrorism, it can be frequent and quite serious, even life-threatening.

Although domestic violence is sometimes explained as the result of the abuser losing control, many batterers do exhibit control over the nature and extent of their physical violence.   They may direct their assaults to parts of their partners’ bodies that are covered by clothing so that any injuries will not be seen by others. Conversely, some batterers purposefully target their partners’ faces to compel isolation or to disfigure them so that “no one else will want them.” Batterers can often describe their personal limits for physical abuse.  They may explain that while they have slapped their partners with an open hand, they would never punch them with their fists. Others admit to hitting and punching but report that they would never use a weapon.

Domestic violence often gets worse over time.  One explanation for this is that increasing the intensity of the abuse is an effective way for batterers to maintain control over their partners and prevent them from leaving. The violence may also escalate because most batterers experience few, if any, negative consequences for their abusive behavior. Social tolerance of domestic violence thus not only contributes to its existence, but may also influence its progression and batterers’ definitions of the acceptable limits of their abuse.

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in the United States as the statistics below indicate:

  • Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually.
  • Intimate partner violence made up 20% of all nonfatal violent crimes against women in 2001.
  • In 2000, 1,247 women and 440 men were killed by an intimate partner. In recent years, intimate partners killed approximately 33% of female murder victims and 4% of male murder victims.
  • Access to firearms greatly increases the risk of intimate partner violence.  Research suggests that abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners.
  • Nearly half of all violent crimes committed against family members are crimes against spouses.
  • Research indicates that 84% of spouse abuse victims are females, and 86% of victims of dating partner abuse at are female.
  • Wives are more likely than husbands to be killed by their spouses; wives were about half of all spouses in the population in 2002, but made up 81% of all persons killed by their spouses.
  • Slightly more than half of female domestic violence victims live in households with children under age 12.  It is estimated that between 3.3 million and 10 million children witness domestic violence annually.
  • Fifty-six percent of women who experience any partner violence are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Twenty-nine percent of all women who attempt suicide are battered; 37% of battered women have symptoms of depression, 46% have symptoms of anxiety disorder, and 45% experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

Effects of domestic violence on women and children

Battered women suffer physical and mental effects from domestic violence. Battering causes more injuries to women than auto accidents, rapes, or muggings.  It also threatens their financial wellbeing.  They may miss work to appear in court or because of illnesses or injuries that result from the violence. They may have to move many times to avoid violence. Many battered women forgo financial security during divorce proceedings to avoid further abuse.

Battered women often lose social support.  Their abusers isolate them from family and friends. Women who are being abused may isolate themselves from support persons to avoid the embarrassment that would result from discovery.  Some battered women are abandoned by their churches when they separate from their abusers because some religious doctrines prohibit separation or divorce regardless of the severity of abuse.

When mothers are abused by their partners, the children are also affected.  Children who witness domestic violence may feel confusion, stress, fear, and shame.  They may think that they caused the problem or feel guilty for not protecting their mothers. They may themselves be abused or neglected while the mother attempts to deal with the trauma. Children in homes where domestic violence occurs are at risk for being physically abused or seriously neglected.

One-third of all children who see their mothers beaten develop emotional problems. They may cry excessively, be withdrawn or shy, have difficulty making friends or develop a fear of adults. Other consequences for children include excessive absences from school, depression, suicidal behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, running away, committing criminal acts as juveniles and adults, and using violence to solve problems at school and home.  The stress resulting from living with domestic violence can show up as difficulty in sleeping, bedwetting, over-achieving, behavior problems, withdrawing, stomach aches, headaches and/or diarrhea.

Domestic violence can carry over from one generation to the next.  Boys who witness their fathers abuse their mothers are more likely to inflict severe violence as adults. Girls who witness their mothers being abused are more likely to tolerate abuse as adults than who girls did not grow up under these circumstances.

Domestic violence and alcohol and other drugs

There is little evidence for the widely-held belief that abusing alcohol causes domestic violence. Although research indicates that men who drink heavily do commit more assaults that result in serious physical injury, the majority of abusive men are not heavy drinkers and the majority of men who are heavy drinkers do not abuse their partners.  Even for batterers who drink, there is little evidence to suggest that drinking causes abusive behavior.  In 76% of physically abusive incidents, there is no alcohol involved, and there is no evidence to suggest that alcohol use or dependence is linked to the other non-violent behaviors that are part of the pattern of domestic violence. It is true, however, that when cultural norms and expectations about male behavior after drinking include boisterous or aggressive behaviors, individual men are more likely to engage in such behaviors when under the influence of alcohol than when sober.

There is a pervasive belief that alcohol lowers inhibitions and a historical tradition of holding people who commit crimes while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs less accountable than those who commit crimes in a sober state.  Historically, society has not held batterers accountable for their abusive behavior.  They are held even less accountable for battering perpetrated when they are under the influence of alcohol. The alcohol provides a ready and socially acceptable excuse for their violence.

Evolving from the belief that abusing alcohol or other drugs causes domestic violence is the belief that treating the chemical dependency will stop the violence. However, research indicates that when batterers are in treatment, the abuse continues and often escalates during recovery, creating more danger to the victim than existed prior to treatment. In the cases in which battered women report that the level of physical abuse decreases, they often report a corresponding increase in threats, manipulation and isolation.

As noted earlier, domestic violence is often explained as a loss of control by the batterer.  However, even when alcohol or other drugs are involved, the experiences of battered women contradict this view. Battered women report that even when their partners appear uncontrollably drunk during a physical assault, they routinely exhibit the ability to sober up remarkably quickly if there is an outside interruption, such as police intervention.

  • Of the
    32.1 million nonfatal violent crimes that took place between 1998 and 2002, 30% of victims said the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • An additional 29.2% indicated the offender was sober at the time, and 40.8% said they did not know.
  • A larger percentage of family violence victims (38.5%) reported the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the incident than did nonfamily violence victims (28.9%).
  • Offenders who abused their boyfriend or girlfriend were more likely than other types of nonfamily violence offenders to be drinking or using drugs. Four out of 10 (41.4%) offenders involved in violence with a boyfriend or girlfriend were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, compared to 26.3% of offend-ers involved in violence against a friend or acquaintance and 29.3% of stranger violence.
  • Excluding the 19.5% of family violence victims who did not know whether the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the incident, approximately 2.8 million victims of family violence were able to indicate whether the offender was or was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In nearly half the incidents, family violence victims reported the offender had been using drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense.

Interventions with substance-abusing batterers

If batterers use alcohol or other drugs, these problems should be addressed separately and concurrently. This is critical not only to maximize the victim’s safety, but also to prevent the battering from precipitating relapse or otherwise interfering with the recovery process. True recovery requires much more than abstinence. It includes adopting a lifestyle that enhances emotional and spiritual health, a goal that cannot be achieved if the battering continues.

Self-help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous promote and support emotional and spiritual health and have helped many alcoholics get sober. These programs, however, were not designed to address battering and are not sufficient, by themselves, to motivate batterers to stop their abuse. It is critical that any treatment plan for chemically dependent men who batter include attendance at programs designed specifically to address the attitudes and beliefs that encourage their abusive behavior.

When abusive men enter substance abuse treatment programs, their partners are often directed into self-help programs such as Al-Anon or co-dependency groups. However, these resources were not designed to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence and often inadvertently cause harm to battered women.  The goals of these groups typically include helping alcoholics’ family members to focus on their own needs, practice emotional detachment from the substance abusers, and identify and stop protecting their partners from the harmful consequences of addiction. Group members are encouraged to define their personal boundaries, set limits on their partners’ behaviors, and stop protecting their partners from the harmful consequences of addiction. While these strategies and goals may be very useful for women whose partners are not abusive, for battered women such changes will likely result in an escalation of abuse, including physical violence.

Battered women are often very sensitive to their partners’ moods as a way to assess their level of danger. They focus on their partners’ needs and cover up for them as part of their survival strategy.  These behaviors are not dysfunctional but are life-saving skills that protect them and their children from further harm. When battered women are encouraged to stop these behaviors through self-focusing and detachment, they are being asked to stop doing the things that may be keeping them and their children most safe.

Myths Regarding Domestic Violence

“Domestic Violence” can be defined in legal and clinical terms. For clinical purposes, domestic violence is “assaultive behavior.” Domestic violence generally represents a pattern of behavior rather then a single isolated event. The pattern of behavior can take on many different forms, all of them involving physical violence or threats of physical violence. The violence may be accomplished through the use of hand, feet, weapons, or other objects.

The National Institute of Justice estimates that a woman is battered every 18 seconds in the United States. Some studies have suggested that between 35 and 50 percent of the nation’s couples have experienced at least one violent incident in their relationship.

Historically, the problem of violence in the home has been surrounded by a number of myths and misconceptions, which has perpetuated spouse abuse in society and has hampered the effective response of law enforcement.

Some of the most common myths and misconceptions are briefly addressed below.

Domestic Violence is a Private “Family Matter”

Some feel that violence between people in intimate relationships is somehow “different” than violence between strangers. The privacy of the marital relationship and the family unit has been elevated above the prohibitions against violence contained in existing laws. Nevertheless, a spouse has no right under existing laws to physically abuse their spouse in any manner.

Domestic Violence is Usually Provoked by the Victim

This myth stems from a belief that men have the right to discipline their spouses for behavior that the man does not approve of. Most studies agree that mutual combat or provocation is not the cause of domestic violence. Indeed, verbal “provocation,” no matter how severe, should never be a justification for violence. The failure of a batterer to take responsibility for his violent behavior and the victim’s tendency for self-blame should not lead society to the same erroneous conclusions. In the overwhelming majority of cases, it is women who are being routinely and severely victimized by men. To be sure, abused men do exist and must be protected, but the incidents of husband and boyfriend battering are rare.

Battered Women are Masochistic

Some believe that if battered women were really abused, they would leave. Others believe that if victims of abuse wished to end the abuse, they could simply seek outside help and leave the relationship. These views reflect an ignorance regarding the dynamics of abusive relationships. Battered women have often been in the relationships for a significant period of time and have strong mental and emotional ties. Often children are involved and the battered spouse must resolve how to provide for her children if she were to leave the abusive relationship and take her children with her. Battered women face enormous pressures to remain in an abusive relationship, including economic dependency, lack of support from relatives and friends, and threats of increased violence if any action is taken against their abuse. For a victim, low self-esteem further compounds the problem of removing herself from an abusive relationship.

Batterers are Always Drug or Alcohol Abusers

Many believe that men who batter women are predominantly working class substance abusers. Experts, however, have determined that domestic violence spans every socioeconomic group and is not caused by substance abuse. Recent studies suggest that alcohol and drugs may increase the level of violence but do not precipitate the violence. The decision to use violence is often made before the batterer ingests the substance, which he will ultimately blame for his violence outburst. The drugs or alcohol, thereafter, becomes a convenient excuse for engaging in deviant behavior.

Understanding the Cycle of Domestic Violence

Relationships, which involve any level of physical violence generally, evidence a recurring cycle of behavior. The “cycle of violence” in a violent relationship consists of three stages:

(1) the tension building phase

(2) the acute battering episode and

(3) the aftermath: loving respite.

Tension Building Phase

The first phase is a tension-building stage. The woman senses the man becoming edgy and more prone to react negatively to any trivial frustration. Many women learn to recognize incipient violence and try to control it by becoming nurturing and compliant or by staying out of the way.

A woman often views the building rage in her partner as being directed toward her and internalizes the job of keeping the situation from exploding. If she does her job well, he will become calm; if she fails, it is her fault. A woman who has been battered over time knows that the tension building stage will aggravate, but denies this knowledge to help herself cope with her partner’s behavior. As the tension builds, he becomes more fearful that she will leave him; she may reinforce this fear by withdrawing from him to avoid inadvertently setting off the impending violence.

Acute Battering Episode

The second phase in the pattern of violence is the explosion. Many men report that they do not start out wanting to hurt the woman but want only to teach her a lesson. This is the stage where police, the victim, or the batterer may be killed. The violence may involve pushing, shoving, shaking, or pulling hair. It may involve hitting with an open hand or a closed fist.

The violence may be over in a moment or last for minutes or hours. There may be visible injuries, but often an experienced batterer will leave no marks. The violence attack rarely takes a single consistent form. Most women are extremely grateful when the battering ends. They consider themselves lucky that it was not worse, no matter how bad their injuries are. They often deny the seriousness of their injuries and refuse to seek immediate medical attention.

Aftermath: Loving Respite

The third phase is a period of calm, loving, contrite behavior. The man is genuinely sorry for what he has done. His worst fear is that his partner will leave him so he tries as hard as he can to make up for his brutal behavior. He really believes he can control himself and will never again hurt the woman he loves. The battered woman wants to believe she will no longer have to suffer abuse. His reasonableness and his loving behavior during this period support her wish that he can really change. He lets her know that he would fall apart without her. So, she feels responsible for her own conduct that led to the beating and also responsible for his well being.

Victims will most frequently enter the criminal justice system after an acute battering episode; the “loving respite” phase usually follows immediately. Both parties may be horrified by what has happened. Both feel guilty about the event and both resolve to never let it happen again. The batterer very typically will treat the victim with apparent respect, love, and affection. This is a great relief to the victim and is precisely what the victim has wanted out of their relationship all along.

This “loving respite” phase makes criminal prosecution difficult. As long as the batterer continues to behave affectionately, the victim may become increasingly reluctant to jeopardize such good behavior by cooperating with the prosecution. A victim-witness advocate who understands the dynamics of the battering cycle can effectively intervene by reminding the victim of similar remorseful periods in the past, predicting a return to the tension building phase, and explaining the likelihood of more frequent and severe injuries.

Domestic Violence Penalties

A family violence conviction can lead to numerous life-altering and long-term penalties, including up to one (1) year in jail, fines up to $4000.00, anger management or family violence classes, probation, and a finding of family violence that may affect the custody of your children. If you have a prior family violence conviction, you could be facing up to ten (10) years in prison, as well as a fine up to $10,000.00. The penalties also increase if the violence is aggravated in any way with a weapon or if you cause an injury to a child. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be prohibited from contacting the complainant for an extended period of time, thereby preventing you from spending time with your loved one.

Unlike most criminal offenses in Texas, you can never seal your criminal record if you are convicted of a family violence crime or accepted deferred adjudication with a finding of family violence. To avoid these significant penalties, it is critical that you contact the Charles Johnson Law Firm. He is skilled and experienced in these very sensitive cases.

Defined in Domestic Violence Civil LawsFam. Code §§ 71.004; 71.0021

‘Family violence’ means:

  • An act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself
  • Abuse, as that term is defined by § 261.001, by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household

Dating violence

‘Dating violence’ means an act by an individual that is against another individual with whom that person has or has had a dating relationship and that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the individual in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.

Defined in Criminal Laws

Penal Code § 25.07

A person commits an offense if, in violation of a condition of bond set in a family violence case and related to the safety of the victim or the safety of the community, an order issued under article 17.292, Code of Criminal Procedure, an order issued under § 6.504, Family Code, chapter 83, Family Code, if the temporary ex parte order has been served on the person, or chapter 85, Family Code, or an order issued by another jurisdiction, the person knowingly or intentionally:

  • Commits family violence or an act in furtherance of an offense under §§ 22.011, 22.021, or 42.072
  • Communicates:
    • Directly with a protected individual or a member of the family or household in a threatening or harassing manner
    • A threat through any person to a protected individual or a member of the family or household
    • In any manner with the protected individual or a member of the family or household except through the person’s attorney or a person appointed by the court, if the violation is of an order described by this subsection, and the order prohibits any communication with a protected individual or a member of the family or household
  • Goes to or near any of the following places as specifically described in the order or condition of bond:
    • The residence or place of employment or business of a protected individual or a member of the family or household
    • Any child care facility, residence, or school where a child protected by the order or condition of bond normally resides or attends
  • Possesses a firearm

‘Family violence,’ ‘family,’ ‘household,’ and ‘member of a household’ have the meanings assigned by chapter 71, Family Code.

Persons Included in the Definitions

Fam. Code §§ 71.0021; 71.003; 71.005; 71.006

‘Dating relationship’ means a relationship between individuals who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. The existence of such a relationship shall be determined based on consideration of:

  • The length of the relationship
  • The nature of the relationship
  • The frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship

A casual acquaintanceship or ordinary fraternization in a business or social context does not constitute a ‘dating relationship.’

‘Family’ includes individuals related by consanguinity or affinity, as determined under §§ 573.022 and 573.024, Government Code; individuals who are former spouses of each other; individuals who are the parents of the same child, without regard to marriage; and a foster child and foster parent, without regard to whether those individuals reside together.

‘Household’ means a unit composed of persons living together in the same dwelling, without regard to whether they are related to each other. ‘Member of a household’ includes a person who previously lived in a household.

Building a Strong Defense

Many domestic violence or spousal abuse charges occur during the divorce process or in child custody disputes. Unfortunately, in these situations one spouse may try to obtain an advantage over the other by making false or exaggerated accusations.

Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson will work hard to build a strong defense against the domestic violence charges you face. We will carefully listen to you and investigate the events leading up to the charges. What is the context of the domestic abuse accusation? Did the alleged victim start the fight? Is there a custody issue at stake? Understanding the context of the event can help us prepare an effective defense strategy on your behalf. Our goal is to obtain a dismissal of the charges, a negotiated plea agreement that minimizes the penalties you face, or a not guilty verdict after trial.

In the recent past, several factors have caused Domestic Violence to emerge as a distinction within the assault category. If a defendant and the alleged victim are spouses or former spouses, related by blood or marriage, reside or have resided in the same household or have a child or children in common; then any assaults would be categorized as “Domestic”. This distinction requires that certain federal statutes are triggered and the defendant shall no longer be allowed to own or possess a firearm.

Hire the Best Houston Assault Family Violence AttorneyIt is often mistakenly assumed by defendants, as well as victims, that the decision to prosecute lies with the victim. Many presume that if the two have reconciled then they may avoid prosecution by merely allowing the victim to inform the court or prosecuting attorney that they do not wish to prosecute or by simply not appearing in court in violation of the subpoena requiring their appearance. This naive assumption has led to many defendants failing to prepare a defense to the charges that may have otherwise been successfully defended. The prosecutor may insist that the victim testify and proceed without their consent. The victim’s cooperation with the defense is of course valuable in preparing for court and often in avoiding prosecution on a criminal offense. This must be utilized in conjunction with a strategy tailored around the specific facts and circumstances of the offense at hand, as well as parties involved. In order for this to occur it is essential that the defendant obtain legal representation and closely follow the advice of his or her counsel.

Domestic Violence is a serious problem in this country. Certainly, however, anyone can understand that relationships are hard and with added stress from financial problems, work related stress and of course drug or alcohol addiction people may do things for which they are not proud. When charged with such an offense it is essential that an individual begin immediately preparing a defense which may include mitigating measures. These may include a drug and alcohol assessment, counseling, anger management training or even alcoholics or narcotics anonymous meetings. It is for this reason that a consultation with an attorney experienced in defending these matters occurs prior to proceeding to court.

Contact Houston Domestic Violence Lawyer Charles Johnson

It’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as you’ve been arrested. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner work can be done to prevent your charges from escalating into a conviction.

Harris County Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Charles Johnson knows how frustrating and hopeless things may seem right now, but urges you not to give up hope. There are many viable defense strategies for fighting domestic violence charges, and many things that can be done to ensure your charges don’t spiral out of control. You can depend on Attorney Johnson to thoroughly investigate your charges, and trust that he’ll make it known to the judge if he finds anything that may indicate the accusations were fabricated. The Charles Johnson Law Firm is here for you, and will do whatever can be done to make sure this ordeal results in the best possible outcome!

If you have been accused of domestic violence, don’t try to fight your charges alone.

Contact Houston Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Charles Johnson for experienced and dependable representation. He can be reached directly around the clock, 7 days/week at (713) 222-7577.

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Arrested For Online Solicitation of a Minor? The Right Houston Criminal Lawyer Can Make a Difference

Top Houston Sex Crimes LawyersAs a result of the increased efforts of local and national law enforcement task forces to discover Online Solicitation of Minors or Importuning, Houston Sex Crimes Lawyer Charles Johnson has frequently represented individuals who have been accused of communicating with a minor using the computer. In fact, the law in most jurisdictions allows for an officer to pose as a minor while communicating with a suspect. Soliciting either an actual minor or a police officer posing as a minor may result in the filing of charges and subsequent prosecution. A common misconception is that no crime is committed unless there is an actual meeting. In actuality, the offense of On-line Solicitation or Importuning may be completed merely through the communication or “chat.” If there is an attempt to actually meet, additional charges may be warranted.

Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson is well-versed in the various defenses that must be explored in all cases of this kind. These defenses may include issues of entrapment, client knowledge, or jurisdictional questions.

Accusation of soliciting a minor online can often result from entrapment-type situations commonly depicted on televisions shows. However, soliciting a minor online can also be the result of a mistake or an accident. For example, an individual can be charged with soliciting a minor when they thought they were communicating with an adult on the computer, but may have actually been talking to an underage person. No matter the reason for the false claims against you, it is important to contact an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer who will make every effort to find defenses or other mitigating factors that will result in an acquittal of the charges against you.

An allegation of On-line Solicitation or Importuning calls for great effort and resources, as the stakes are high – one faces not only a potential prison term, but also the stigmatizing and debilitating effects of sex offender public registration, which makes it difficult if not impossible to obtain employment, and may even severely restrict one’s ability to reside in certain locations.

Jurors are often familiar with programs like “To Catch a Predator”, giving them preconceived notions which need to be addressed and diffused. Our lawyers know first-hand that with thoughtful and extensive examination of pertinent case law and pre-trial motions, a successful defense of On-line Solicitation and Importuning allegations can be achieved.

It is important to remember that if you have been accused of soliciting a minor online, the state prosecutor is required to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be a very difficult burden of proof to meet, and any doubt in the mind of the judge or jury can result in a dismissal or reduction of the charges against you. Therefore, it is essential to contact an experienced Child Sex Abuse lawyer to help you begin developing the best legal defense for your particular case. Contact Houston Criminal Lawyer Charles Johnson for a free consultation today at 713-222-7577 anytime, night or day if you have been falsely accused of soliciting a minor online.

Online Solicitation of a Minor Defined

Since the 1990′s, the internet has changed the way we communicate, do business, meet people, and almost all other aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, it has also led to new criminal charges, many of which carry steep penalties. The most severe online offenses are those related to the potential harm of an underage person, such as online solicitation of a minor.

Online solicitation of a minor is communication with a minor via the internet that aims to arouse, sexually gratify, harass, or arrange to meet a minor face-to-face in the real world. In Texas, a minor is any person who is 17 years of age or younger. Exchanging sexually oriented materials, conversations, or invitations with a minor is a serious legal offense in our state.

Sexual exploitation can result in numerous physical and psychological consequences for children that may be multiplied for victims of child pornography because they face a lifetime of possible revictimization through the continued distribution of videos, photographs, or computer images depicting their exploitation (Klain, 2001). The mass media continues to feed into the stereotype that all Internet offenders are “predators” or “pedophiles”. According to ABC World News Tonight in June 2006, there are approximately 563,000 registered sex offenders nationally. However, decades of research indicates that only ten percent (10%) of sex offenders are truly predatory in nature.

This is not to discount that Internet victimization is one of the most dangerous Internet threats, but society must be cautious in using such characteristics without empirical data to support such a homogenous label. In the National Juvenile Online Victimization (N-JOV) study, approximately seventy-eight percent (78%) of cases, the offender was one of the victim’s family members, second generation family member such as grandparents, uncle or aunt, or stepparents or parent’s intimate partner.

Children exploring the Internet for education and entertainment are at risk of encountering sexually explicit material, sexual exploitation, and Internet offenses while remaining undetected by parents. The Internet has become a conduit for sexually explicit material and offenses against children. Children are extremely vulnerable to victimization due to their curiosity, naiveté, and trusting nature. These crimes present law enforcement with many complex problems due to the fact that they transcend jurisdictional boundaries and often involve multiple victims in multiple states and countries. Internet crimes must be pursued vigorously by law enforcement.

The greatest obstacle facing law enforcement is that children and parents do not report the majority of Internet crimes. In situations where the abuse is a parent, a relative, or acquaintance, the abuse may be more likely to come to light inadvertently as a result of inquiries by social welfare and reports from neighbors, rather than as a result of police inquiries into online crime (Wolak, 2005, in press). Community involvement, parental supervision, and early intervention and prevention programs on Internet safety are essential in protecting children from online solicitation and exposure to pornography.

General Information

The computer age presents complex challenges for law enforcement, victim services, parents, legislators, and the community. The proliferation of computer technology obviously has enhanced our lives in many ways, such as enabling improved productivity and efficiency at work, school, and home (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Unfortunately, this technology is not without potential threats and harm for criminals to prey upon innocent victims. According to ABC World News Tonight in June 2006, there are approximately 563,000 registered sex offenders nationally. End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (EPCAT) International reports violence and harms against children and young people in cyberspace include: the production, distribution, and use of materials depicting child sexual abuse; online solicitation; exposure to materials that can cause psychological harm, lead to physical harm, or facilitate other detriments to a child; and harassment and intimidation.

Today the Internet has approximately two hundred (200) million users worldwide who can communicate with each other. Children of all ages are browsing the Internet. Forty-five (45%) of children in the United States, more than thirty (30) million of whom are younger than eighteen (18) use the Internet. By 2005, it was estimated that there are seventy-seven (77) million children online. Approximately one hundred three (103) million people use instant messaging (IM) programs such as AOL’s AIM, Microsoft’s MSN Messenger, and others. MySpace.com reports more than eighty-five (85) million members and the number of visitors to MySpace went from 4.9 million in 2005 to currently over sixty-seven (67) million. Like most new technological developments, this brings both positive and negative implications, especially for parents and their children.

Some children are especially at risk due to a range of vulnerability-enhancing factors common to all environments. They are in socially and economically difficult situations, have experienced sexual abuse and exploitation, are lonely, or feel alienated from their parents. Others have low self-esteem, feel awkward, are confused about their personal identity and sexuality, and lack confidence. Gender is also seen to be a risk factor, with seemingly more girls than boys appearing to be harmed through cyberspace interactions (although boys are increasingly featured in pornographic images circulating online).

Top Houston Sex Crimes Lawyers

Demographics of an Internet Offender

Sex offenders and child pornographers are a heterogeneous mixture. Before the advent of the Internet, between one-fifth and one-third of people arrested for possession of child pornography were also involved in actual abuse. The majority are male and come from all socio-economic and racial backgrounds. Many are skilled in technology. Not all fit the clinical classification of “pedophilia”. The mass media continues to feed into the stereotype that all Internet offenders are “predators” or “pedophiles”. This is not to discount that Internet victimization is one of the most dangerous Internet threats but society must be cautious in using such characteristics without empirical data to support such a homogenous label. We have to remember that in a previous generation, campaigns to prevent child molestation characterized the threat as “playground predator” or “stranger danger” so that for years the problem of youth, acquaintance, and intra-family perpetrators went unrecognized.

In an analysis of 600 cases of child sexual abuse in which the Internet played a role, either the offender- victim relationship was initiated or conducted online, the case involved the online sharing or distribution of child pornography, or the case involved child pornography stored on a computer or digital media. One hundred twenty six (126) cases involved a face-to-face relationship between the offender and the victim prior to any use of the Internet in committing abuse. N-JOV data indicated that the Internet was involved in eighteen percent (18%) of all sex crimes against minors and that nearly half of the eighteen percent (18%) were committed by acquaintances or family members, with a total of at least 460 arrests a year. This study found ninety-five percent (95%) were non-Hispanic Caucasians and forty-seven percent (47%) were twenty-six (26) or older. Thirty-five percent (35%) were married and over a third lived in small towns. Eighty percent (80%) were employed full time and fifty-one percent (51%) had incomes ranging from $20,000-$50,000 per year.

Identifying Internet Offenders

There is no one type of Internet child pornography user, and there is no easy way to recognize an offender. In the 2005 Wolak survey, solicitors did not match the stereotype of the older male “Internet predator”. Many were identified as other youth and some were female. Having a preconceived idea of a child sex offender can be unhelpful and prove a distraction for investigating police. Those convicted of sexually abusing children will not necessarily seek out or collect pornography, with one study putting the number of offenders who do so at around ten percent (10%).

This explosion of computer use, and the ease with which identities can be concealed on-line, has offered obvious opportunities to those who produce and consume pornography and those who seek to exploit vulnerable populations for sexual gratification. The Internet technology affords perpetrators a foundation for repeated, long-term victimization of a child. These crimes present law enforcement with many complex problems due to the fact that they transcend jurisdictional boundaries and often involve multiple victims in multiple states and countries.

N-JOV data reflected that the most common use of the Internet with family (70%) and acquaintance (65%) offenders was for seduction or grooming of victims either through online conversations or sharing of pornographic images. Forty-nine percent (49%) of family offenders and thirty-nine percent (39%) of acquaintance offenders produced pornographic images of their victims, which they stored or disseminated using the Internet. Forty-three percent (43%) used the Internet to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Relatively small numbers of offenders (2-4%) used the Internet as an inducement to enter the offender’s home and use it to advertise or sell victims online. Seventy-five percent (75%) of these cases involved some form of sexual contact and forty-five percent (45%) involved intercourse or other penetration. In a quarter of these cases, the sexual contact continued for over a year before being reported to the police.

How Sex Offenders Select Victims

A greater number of sex offenders are using the Internet searching for potential child victims through “kid only” or “kid friendly” chat rooms, online games, and instant messenger. The “set-up” for victimization requires long-term thought and planning. But a distinctive aspect of interaction in cyberspace that facilitates the grooming process is the rapid speed with which communication can become intimate. Chat rooms can be frequented by sex offenders that groom and manipulate their victims by playing on the emotional immaturity of children in virtual anonymity. The goal of the “set-up” is to gain control over the victim. The length of time spent during the “set-up” varies upon the vulnerability of the child. The longer an offender knows a child the better they are at “zeroing” in their grooming tactics and strategies.

Grooming is a term used to describe the process of desensitizing and manipulating the victim(s) and/or others for the purpose of gaining an opportunity to commit a sexually deviant act [Title 22, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 810.2(b)(15)]. Grooming inflicts psychological harm on the child. In teen chat rooms, the activities that precede the process of initiating direct contact with a child may simply involve the offender providing a description of themselves to all of the users of the public chat room so that the offender is masquerading as a particular kind of child, of a particular age, in the hope of attracting an equivalent age and the same or opposite sex child (i.e. 14/m/tx) (O’Connell, 2001). A sex offender may begin victim selection by observation in which an offender may “lurk” in chat rooms or massive multiplayer online games listening to conversations between children. An offender may search public profiles that include information such as name, age, location, hobbies, interests, and photographs. The offender will then wait for a child’s response and determine if they will initiate a conversation. After selecting a victim, the offender will introduce him or herself by instant message (IM) or by a private message to the child. Additionally, victim selection can involve viewing the child’s public profile. A victim’s information may be obtained through an Internet service provider request or a URL a child must provide in order to create their own website.

In the initial stages of grooming, the offender will suggest that the child move from a public domain to a private chat room or IM for an exclusive one-to-one conversation. The offender will engage in conversations related to school, home, hobbies, parental relationships, or interests of the child. The offender will gather information regarding the likelihood of activities being detected. The offender will manipulate the child to create an illusion of being the child’s best friend. The interactions take on the characteristics of a strong sense of mutuality (i.e. a mutual respect club comprised of two people that must ultimately remain a secret from all others). During these interactions, the child is praised, made to feel special, and very positive conversations are tailored to the age of the child. Gifts or money may be offered to the child. Sadly, sex offenders tend to target children who are neglected or come from dysfunctional homes. For these children, the sex offender offers an alternative relationship that makes the child feel special and loved.

The offender introduces the idea of trust, affection, and loyalty but it is based on deception and manipulation. This grooming tactic provides a forum to move into the next stage of victimization. The offender will begin to exploit social norms and test the child’s boundaries. The offender could ask the child “have you been kissed?”, “have you ever been skinny dipping?”, or “do you wear a bikini?” If the child does not respond negatively to the boundary violation, it is tantamount to accepting the behavior or language. During boundary violations, the offender has positioned the child into believing that they share a deep sense of mutual trust.

Offenders who intend to maintain a relationship with a child will progress carefully and methodically into sexually explicit language. The nature of the conversations will progress from mild conversations (i.e. “I love you” or “I want to kiss you”) to extremely explicit (i.e. masturbation or oral sex). The target child may be drawn into producing pornography by sending photos, using a web-cam or engaging in sexual discussions. To silence the child and ensure their continued compliance in sexual exploitation, the offender may use a variety of tactics including rewards, violence, threats, bribery, punishment, coercion, peer pressure, and fear (Klain, 2001). Research indicates that this pattern of conversations is characteristic of an online relationship that may progress to a request for a face-to-face meeting.

Child Pornography Under federal law, child pornography is defined as a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, photograph, film, video, or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where it

  • depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct and is obscene, or
  • depicts an image that is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in graphic bestiality, sadistic or masochistic abuse, or sexual intercourse, including genital-genital, oral-genital, anal-genital, or oral-anal, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, and such depiction lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value (18 U.S.C §1466A and 18 U.S.C. §2256)

Sexually explicit conduct includes various forms of sexual activity such as intercourse, bestiality, masturbation, sadistic or masochistic abuse, and lascivious exhibition of the genitals. It is illegal to possess, distribute, or manufacture these images.

Pornography and Child Pornography on the Internet

Both adult and child pornography has saturated the Internet due to the lack of censorship by the industry. The Internet provides the social, individual, and technological circumstances in which an interest in child pornography flourishes. Cyberspace is host to more than one (1) million images of tens of thousands of children subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. Of the estimated 24.7 million Internet users between the ages of ten (10) and seventeen (17), approximately 8.4 million youths received unwanted exposure to sexual material.

Child pornography is the second highest category, after indecent exposure, of sexual re-offense behavior. The vast majority of children who appear in child pornography have not been abducted or physically forced to participate. In most cases the child knows the producer and it may even be their father who manipulates the child into taking part by more subtle means. Most children feel a pressure to cooperate with the offender and not to disclose the offense, both out of loyalty to the offender and a sense of shame about their own behavior.

Physical contact between a child and a perpetrator does not need to occur for a child to become a victim or for a crime to be committed. Innocent pictures or images of children can be digitally transformed into pornographic material and distributed across the Internet without the victim’s knowledge (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). Digital graphic software (i.e. Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft PhotoEditor) allow offenders to edit “innocent” pictures. After a picture is scanned into a computer, these image-editing programs can be used to put several photos together or to distort pictures and create a believable image of a reality that never existed. This process is called “morphing”. In some countries, morphed images or pictures are not illegal. Offenders may claim in court that a picture is morphed, no matter how disturbing, is not a picture of a real child or a situation which actually took place, and thus is not illegal.

In April 2002, the United States Supreme Court found that provisions of the Child Pornography Act (CPPA), which prohibited the depiction of virtual and simulated child pornography, were invalid under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Court found that in the absence of a “real” child, the Court could see no “direct link” between such images and the sexual abuse of children. The Court’s majority could not see a substantial risk of producers of child pornography using virtual images of children. Additionally, children can be exposed to “virtual” pornography. Virtual pornography is legal the United States and in some other countries.

In the 2005 Wolak study, almost all of the arrested child pornography possessors (91%) used home computers to access child pornography and almost one (1) in five (5) arrested (18%) used a home computer in more than one (1) location to access child pornography. Additionally, Wolak found that in fourteen percent (14%) of child pornography investigations, the offenders not only had possessed pornography but had sexually victimized children and two percent (2%) possessed pornography and attempted to sexually victimize children. Eighty-four percent (84%) of the investigations involving child pornography did not detect concurrent child sexual victimization or attempts at victimization (Wolak, 2005). According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, forty percent (40%) of child pornographers investigated have sexually molested children. From January 1997 through March 2004, 1,807 child pornographers were arrested and 620 (34%) of these offenders were confirmed child molesters (Kim, 2004).

Although most Internet pornography is created offline, technology has evolved to create “real” life pornography that can be viewed in real time, using web-cameras, phone cameras, digital cameras, and streaming video. A user can be notified of the date and time to log on the computer to view a child being sexually abused. The advent of mini-cameras has allowed for pictures and videos to be created without the subject’s knowledge. The user may pay money or exchange images with the direct abuser (Palmer, 2004).
These illegal images can be presented in various forms including print media, videotape, film, compact disc, read-only memory (CD-ROM), or digital versatile technology (DVD) (Klain, 2001) and can be transmitted through computer bulletin-board systems (BBS), USENET Newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, web-based groups, peer-to-peer technology, and an array of constantly changing world wide web sites.

Using Child Pornography to Groom Children

Children can be exposed to pornography through spam or potential abusers. The accessibility of pornography online, the ease and perceived anonymity of transmission, and the environment of “virtuality” itself makes the use of pornography in online grooming easier for an abuser. Pornography is a tool for inducting and socializing a child into behaviors that reflect the content of the pornographic materials. Sex offenders frequently use pornography as a tool to assist them in the grooming process.

Children exploring the Internet for education and entertainment are at risk of encountering sexually explicit material, sexual exploitation, and offenses against children while remaining undetected by parents. Children are extremely vulnerable to victimization due to their curiosity, naiveté, and trusting nature. The Internet has become a conduit for sexually explicit material and offenses against children. In 2006, Wolak reported fifty-four percent (54%) of boys and forty-six percent (46%) of girls received unwanted exposure to sexual material. Ninety percent (90%) of all solicitations happened to teenagers (ages 13 to 17). Eighty-six percent (86%) received images of naked people and fifty-seven percent (57%) received pictures of people having sex and/or violent or deviant images. Lastly, eighty-three percent (83%) of unwanted exposures occurred when youth were surfing the web and eighty-nine percent (89%) of incidents the senders were unable to be identified.

Sex offenders use pornography to escalate the relationship with the child. According to the Klain study, the most common purposes for which offenders use child pornography are:

  • Pornography creates a permanent record for sexual arousal and gratification.
  • Pornography lowers the child’s inhibitions to engage in sexual behavior.
  • Pornography may be used to teach children how to behave, pose, or re-enact scenes.
  • Pornography may be used to blackmail child victims by threatening to show the photographs, videos, or other depictions to parents, friends, or teachers. The threat becomes more potent because the child may fear punishment by the criminal justice system.
  • Pornography created to sell for profit or trade between individuals. The Internet’s anonymity, enhanced by increasingly sophisticated encryption technology, facilitates the increasing demand for child pornography.

Repeated exposure to adult and child pornography is deliberately used to diminish the child’s inhibitions, break barriers to sexual arousal, desensitize the child that sex is normal, and arouse the victim. Children depicted in pictures are often smiling or have neutral expressions, a factor that appears to be designed to represent the children as willing participants in sexual or degrading acts. There is a recent trend for pictures to be taken in domestic settings such as a kitchen or bedroom, thus further “normalizing” the activity for children who view images.

It has been reported that children under ten (10) who have been exposed to sexually exploitative material have themselves become users of it. Eight percent (8%) of youths admitted to going voluntarily to X-rated sites. Children at most risk of being violated through pornography productions are within the home and family. The child knows their abuser as a parent, a relative, a guardian, or an acquaintance. In these situations, the abuse may be more likely to come to light inadvertently as a result of inquiries by social welfare and reports from neighbors, rather than as a result of police inquiries into online crime.

Reporting Internet Crimes

The impact of online child victimization (i.e. solicitation and harassment) is not completely understood. Family dynamics often play a significant role in children’s denial of a crime and their willingness to participate in the investigation and prosecution. A child’s ability to acknowledge and accept the crime can be linked to family values, peer pressure, and feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Only three percent (3%) of all incidents of predators harassing children on the Internet is reported. The Crimes against Children Research Center found less than ten percent (10%) of sexual solicitations and only three percent (3%) of unwanted exposure episodes were reported to authorities such as a law-enforcement agency, an Internet service provider, or a hotline. In 2005, only one (1) incident out of more than 500 incidents of sexually explicit material was ever reported to an Internet service provider.

Online Language

Ninety-five percent (95%) of parents could not identify common chat room lingo that teenagers use to warn people they are chatting with that their parents were watching (NCMEC, 2005). Ninety-two percent (92%) of parents did not know the meaning of A/S/L (Age/Sex/Location) (NCMEC, 2005). Parents should watch for the following questionable abbreviations:

  • 53x means “sex”
  • 121 means “one to one”
  • A/S/L means age, sex, location. Watch for personal information being exchanged (i.e. 14/m/tx). This is a 14 year old male from Texas.
  • CYBER used as a verb and means “cybersex”
  • CONNECT means “to talk privately”
  • DIKU means “do I know you”
  • ESAD means “eat sh*t and die”
  • F2F, FTF means “face to face” or “let’s meet F2F”
  • FOAD means “f*ck off and die”
  • GP means “go private”
  • H4U means “hot for you”
  • H&K means “hugs and kisses”
  • ILU means “I love you”
  • IWALU means “I will always love you”
  • KOC means “kiss on the cheek”
  • KOL means “kiss on the lips”
  • LTR means “long term relationship”
  • LMIRL means “lets meet in real life”
  • LUWAMH means “love you with all my heart”
  • LU means “love you”
  • MOSS means “member of the same sex”
  • MOTOS means “member of the opposite sex”
  • MUSM means “miss you so much”
  • NIFOC means “naked in front of the computer”
  • OLL means “online love”
  • P2P means “person to person”
  • P911 means “my parents are coming”
  • PA means “parent alert”
  • PAL means “parents are listening”
  • PANB means “parents are near by”
  • PM means “private message or one on one chat”
  • POS means “parent over shoulder”
  • pr0n is an alternate spelling for porn or pornography
  • PDA means “public display of affection”
  • RL, IRL means “in real life as in “wants to see you IRL”
  • SWAK means “sealed with a kiss”
  • TOY means “thinking of you”
  • WIBNI means “wouldn’t it be nice if”
  • WTGP means “want to go private”
  • WUF means “where are you from”
  • WTF means “what the f*ck”

Acronyms and words used in daily IM or discussion boards

  • AFAIK means “as far as I know”
  • BTW means “by the way”
  • CUL means “see you later”
  • HHOK means “ha ha only kidding”
  • IANAL means “I am not a lawyer”
  • IIRC means “if I remember correctly”
  • IMHO means “in my humble opinion”
  • KEWL means “cool”
  • OMG means “oh my god”
  • OTOH means “on the other hand”
  • WUT^2 “what up with you too”

Characteristics of Youth Who Form Close Online Relationships

  • Sixteen percent (16%) of girls and twelve (12%) of boys have close online relationships.
  • Girls aged fourteen (14) to seventeen (17) were twice as likely as girls ten (10) to thirteen (13) to form close online relationships.
  • High parent-child conflict and being highly troubled were associated with close online relationships. Girls with high levels of parent-child conflict report yelling, nagging, and privileges by parents at higher levels than other girls. The highly troubled girls had levels of depression, victimization, and troubling life events at higher levels than other girls.
  • Boys who had low communications with their parents, and who also reported that their parents were less likely to know where and who they were with were the most strongly associated with close online relationships.
  • Girls and boys who reported high levels of Internet use and home Internet access were more likely to report close online relationships.
  • Youths with problems were most likely to attend a face-to-face meeting with people they first met online.

Warning Signs that a Child may be at Risk

  • Excessive use of online services especially during the late night hours
  • Unsupervised time in unmonitored chat rooms
  • Mood swings and withdraws
  • Greater desire to spend time with people online than with “real life” people
  • Unexplained files downloaded (i.e. .jpd, .gif, .bmp, .tif, .pcx, .mov, .avi, .wmv, or .mpg)

Defenses to Online Solicitation of a Minor

People are often arrested and charged with online solicitation when they meet the minor in question in person. However, it is important to note that a person can still be charged with this offense even if the meeting never occurs. Despite this, a person may be found innocent of online solicitation if one or both of the following apply:

  • He or she is legally married to the minor in question
  • He or she is less than three years older than the minor

Solicitation of a minor laws have frequently been challenged by defendants on the basis that they violate a defendant’s right to free speech, but have survived such claims. Viable defenses remaining will depend on a particular state’s laws. Some earlier laws required a defendant to actually communicate with a child and defendants could raise the defense of impossibility where prosecution involved communication with an officer who was merely posing as a child but who was in actuality an adult. In response to the success of the impossibility defense, many state statutes changed their laws to permit a conviction based on a defendant’s belief that they were talking to a minor. Other states have also built in “Romeo and Juliet” defenses for a defendant who is involved in a dating relationship with a child who was not more than three years younger than the defendant.

Although not an outright “defense,” another defensive angle is to prove that the defendant did not know that the person on the other end was a minor. Most states have strict liability laws — which means the state is not required to prove that a defendant knew how old the child was, only that the child was underage. However, some juries have engaged in “jury nullification,” by finding a defendant not guilty if they believed that the defendant did not have a reason to believe the child was underage. Showing that the conversation was just an online fantasy or proving that they never intended to actually meet the minor are generally not good defenses. Before a defendant decides to pursue a defensive theory, they should discuss the practicality of the defense with a criminal attorney in their area.
Top Houston Sex Crimes Lawyers

Solicitation of a Minor: Misdemeanor or Felony?

Online solicitation of a minor is usually classified as a felony level offense. As with most felonies, the range of punishment can include a deferred or suspended sentence, up to several years in prison. A defendant in Texas can receive anywhere from two to twenty years in prison. Although a deferred sentence can allow a defendant to remain free, the restrictions of probation tend to be more intense for online solicitation charges because they are considered sexually related offenses. The court can order a defendant to submit to maintenance polygraphs, complete individual or group sex offender counseling, to submit to a sex offender evaluation, and to refrain from being around any children while on probation. The court can also require a defendant to pay for these programs which can run up to $500.00 or more per month.

The long-term consequences can be even more severe. Because online solicitation of a minor is considered a sexually related offense, a defendant can be required to register as a sex offender. If a defendant fails to register, they can be charged with a new felony offense of failure to register as a sex offender. Once a defendant has a sexually related offense on their record, some states will significantly increase the punishment for a second offense if a defendant is ever charged with another sexually related offense. Beyond the court system, online solicitation will also affect employment opportunities. With more open access to the court systems, more employers are performing background checks and will not hire certain candidates. Applicants with sexually related offenses are generally the first to get cut.

Contact Us

When you have been charged with a severe legal offense, it is very important to understand your rights and defense options. An experienced Houston Criminal Lawyer can help you decide what steps you need to take next. The attorneys of the Charles Johnson Law Firm are aggressive child sex crime defense lawyers who will make every effort to fight the allegations against you. Contact us for a free consultation today at 713-222-7577 anytime, night or day if you have been falsely accused of soliciting a minor online.

Arrested For Online Solicitation of a Minor? The Right Houston Criminal Lawyer Can Make a Difference
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Houston Lawyer: Charged With Cocaine Possession? Discover How You Can Beat It

Leading Houston Drug Crimes Attorney

Cocaine possession charges may harm your reputation. Don’t take chances. A Cocaine charge won’t merely disappear. It is very important to get a highly skilled Houston Lawyer who has an in-depth expertise in what the law states, dedication to you, as well as a familiarity with the policies of the county prosecutor. If you have been charged with a drug related criminal offense, contact The Charles Johnson Law Firm right now for aggressive, experienced help.

What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca bush. Both Cocaine and Crack Cocaine are powerful and particularly addictive illegal drugs. Cocaine is primarily grown in Columbia, Peru and Bolivia South America and is classified as a Schedule II drug, which means it has an incredibly high potential for misuse and addiction. There are two primary forms of Cocaine. The first is the powdery type. It’s used for snorting up the nose. Second is freebase, also known as Crack Cocaine, used for smoking. A smaller portion of Cocaine addiction is carried out intravenously. When Cocaine is snorted, the Cocaine powder gets inhaled into the nasal area where it’s immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. As soon as Cocaine reaches the brain, dopamine gets released, stirring pleasant feelings. Due to the fact that it is a stimulant, Cocaine has always been a major party drug. Cocaine is easily dealt on the streets because it’s sold in small packets.

What is Crack Cocaine?

Crack Cocaine, recognized as Crack, is a term for the smokable form of Cocaine. Crack is a street name given to the form of Cocaine that has been processed into a smokable substance. Smoking Crack Cocaine delivers significant quantities of the substance into the lungs, creating an immediate and intense euphoric feeling. The rush, or high, is ordinarily very intense, but doesn’t necessarily last very long. The rocks of Crack Cocaine are ignited in a Crack pipe and the ensuing vapors get deeply inhaled. Crack Cocaine has emerged as a major drug of misuse in the last twenty to twenty-five years. The term Crack refers to the popping sound heard when it’s heated.

Hire The Best Houston Drug Lawyer: Attorney Charles Johnson

What are the Effects of Cocaine Abuse?

Cocaine addiction or Crack Cocaine addiction is in most cases identified with a person who’s compulsively looking for and utilizing Cocaine or Crack Cocaine, despite the negative consequences. The physical signs of Cocaine misuse can differ, dependent upon the person. For one, Cocaine acts as an appetite suppressant so Cocaine abusers quite often are not hungry and wind up losing considerable amounts of weight. Cocaine addicts quite often go on binges, in some instances for several days. The road to Cocaine addiction can begin with occasional use only at parties. Over time, a person’s ability to choose not to take the drug gradually erodes. Cocaine or Crack Cocaine addiction becomes compulsive and addictive mainly because of the ensuing enjoyable feelings.

The effects of Cocaine use consist of heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, and seizures. Large amounts can cause bizarre and violent behavior. In rare instances, sudden death can occur on the initial use of Cocaine or unexpectedly thereafter. The short-term physiological consequences of Cocaine include constricted blood vessels; dilated pupils; and elevated temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Large amounts (several hundred milligrams or more) intensify the user’s high, but could possibly also result in bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior. These users may perhaps experience tremors, vertigo, muscle twitches, paranoia, or, with repeated doses, a toxic reaction closely similar to amphetamine poisoning. Several users of Cocaine report feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. Cocaine-related deaths are often a result of cardiac arrest or seizures followed by respiratory arrest. Use of Cocaine in a binge, during that the drug is taken repeatedly and at increasingly higher doses, results in a state of increasing irritability, restlessness, and paranoia. This may possibly result in a full-blown paranoid psychosis, in which the individual loses touch with reality and encounters auditory hallucinations.

Street Names

Cocaine goes by the street names of coke, snow, flake, blow and numerous others. Cocaine slang words are in no short supply, no matter where you go. Considering that police officers agencies work as hard as they do to stop the sale and distribution of Cocaine, users and dealers have incorporated tag words to identify the drug or the utilization of the drug without having to mention it by name.

Penalties

Being charged with Cocaine offenses are particularly serious in Texas and carry federal and state mandatory minimum sentences, in some instances. There has been a great deal of debate surrounding this law, that makes it far worse to be found guilty of criminal charges related to Crack Cocaine than standard Cocaine. The controversy lies within the reality that both drugs contain the exact same active ingredient and many say the sentencing disparity is unjust.

Twenty-five years ago Congress enacted serious mandatory minimum sentences, condemning thousands of mostly low-level, mostly nonviolent drug offenders to years, in some instances decades in prison. In part because of these and similar “sentencing guideline” penalties, the U.S. now is experiencing an incarceration rate unprecedented in the history of our own country or any other.

While Congress last year voted to substantially decrease — but not eliminate — the disparity in sentencing between Crack and powder Cocaine, Crack still earns substantially more time than powder. And this verdict clarifies that those stiffer penalties apply to freebase and coca paste, as well as Crack.

In many places, prosecutors don’t file criminal charges for a modest quantity of Cocaine, but not in Houston. Every narcotics possession, even a tiny quantity of Cocaine, can mean a charge and conviction – and that means a criminal background. Because it’s classified as a narcotic drug under Texas law, the charges filed by the prosecution in a Crack Cocaine or Cocaine base offense will likely consist of possession of a narcotic drug, sale of a narcotic drug, transportation of a narcotic drug and possession for sale of a narcotic drug.

Defense for a Cocaine Arrest

The sooner you contact The Top Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson, the more chances there will likely be to minimize the consequences. The consultation is no cost and the Leading Houston Lawyer will be available 24/7 to answer your questions.

Texas faces higher risks of Crack Cocaine along with other drug importation due to its close proximity to the southern international border. For this reason, law makers and officials impose significantly harsh laws and penalties on those charged and convicted throughout the state. Attorney Johnson offers legal counsel throughout Texas to clients facing Crack Cocaine criminal charges of possession, sales, trafficking, importation, manufacturing and transportation.

Attorney Charles Johnson will immediately start to look for the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case. In the majority of situations, when contacted at an early stage, they will likely be able to explain those problems to the authorities and the criminal charges will be dropped or never filed. Cocaine is regarded as an addictive drug, nevertheless one that is simpler to quit than others (notably meth). There could very well be a chance for diversion, a solution that opens the chance of no criminal charges.

Whatever Cocaine criminal charges you are defending, it’s of the utmost necessity for you to hire The Finest Houston Criminal Defense Attorney who will battle to prevent the severe penalties that are the result of a Cocaine conviction. Even if it’s your initial criminal offense, you could have to deal with a mandatory jail sentence, as well as sizeable fines and a felony against your record. In the event you or a loved one has been charged with a narcotic drug offense in Houston, you ought to obtain the guidance of the Top Houston Lawyer Charles Johnson as soon as possible.

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