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Questions over the Death of a Student by Police Officers in Balch Springs

By Peek & Toland on October 2, 2017

Fatal police shootings have made headlines in recent years. The shooting death of a teen by a police officer in Balch Springs caused an outcry in the Texas community.

In May, a police officer shot into a car in Balch Springs, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. The officer, Roy Oliver was later fired. Police said he violated departmental policies, CNN reported.

Edwards, an African American, was a stand-out athlete and honors student.

Balch Springs police chief Jonathan Haber made the decision to fire the officer after reviewing the findings of an internal police investigation. He was given 10 days to appeal the decision.

The officer was later charged with murder, Slate reported.

The death of a student in Balch Springs  caused anger

The death of a student by a police officer caused an outcry

The 37-year-old former officer turned himself in. He was released after he posted bail on a $300,000 bond. Oliver took the life of the teen when he fired a rifle into a car filled with teenagers who were leaving a party. A bullet struck Edwards in the head.

Haber originally said the car was backing up toward his officer. However, body-cam footage later showed the car was heading away from where the police officer was standing.

Haber said he took responsibility for the error. He said the officer’s behavior did not meet the force’s core values.

The Washington Post reported Jordan was the youngest of 339 people shot and killed by police so far in 2017.

Two years ago, The Guardian reported on how deaths of black people at the hands of police in America were soaring. In 2016, Black males between the ages of 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers.

The report noted racial disparities lingered in 2016 even though the total number of deaths caused by police officers fell slightly. In total, 1,091 deaths were recorded for 2016, compared with 1,146 in 2015.

Plans to streamline and improve government records related to police deaths were thrown into doubt by the election of Trump, who campaigned on a “law and order” platform.

Last year, we noted how police departments will be forced to list police-related shootings. Now that system may be on the backburner. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, says it’s important to have greater accountability. He said:

“This data is so important. We have to capture the whole range of use of force by police, and we have to have a way to identify how we are doing.”

Our Austin criminal defense lawyers have concerns about how police officers arrest people and the use of too much force. If you have been arrested for a crime, please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Status Hearing is Held over the Death of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser

By Peek & Toland on September 4, 2017

The death of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser in 2016 shocked the University of Texas and the city of Austin.

Preparations for the trial of the man accused of the student’s killing were underway this year.

Weiser was an 18-year-old student from Oregon. She was found dead in April 2016 with signs of trauma to her body and evidence of sexual assault, according to police. The body was found in Waller Creek near the campus’ Alumni Center.

They arrested Meechaiel Criner, a 17-year-old homeless man and charged him with murder.

A recent report in the Statesman noted how lawyers on both sides of Criner’s murder case were trying to agree on which questions would be asked of potential jurors prior to the Oct. 2 trial.

death of University of Texas student

Hearing is held over death of University of Texas student

Jury selection is an important part of the criminal justice process that is often overlooked. Criner’s lawyers pointed out the process started out with a sample questionnaire including about 25 questions.

These questions typically change as the process is held.

Criner did not make an appearance at a status hearing in July. Attorneys spoke quietly with Judge David Wahlberg about the questions.

The court was reported to be sending out 160 to 170 jury summons, about twice the amount sent out during a normal murder trial. Jury selection was slated to take place after the responses were received and would cover two days as opposed to one.

The jury selection process is set out on the Texas courts’ website.

The mere fact you receive a summons for jury duty does not mean that you will end up serving on a jury.

However, if a potential juror is qualified to serve and does not ask to be excused or exempted, he or she will be able to participate in the jury selection process which may take only a day or a part of a day to complete.

The process involves groups of about 50 or 60 prospective jurors being assembled in a courtroom with the judge, the attorneys, and typically the parties of a particular case.

Lawyers conduct a process called voir dire, which means to speak the truth. Under this process, the attorneys and the judge have the opportunity to ask each prospective juror a set of questions.

While the lawyers are aware of your answers to the questionnaire filled in earlier by potential jurors, the attorneys, and the judge may still cover the same ground in questions or ask additional questions to ensure the jurors are qualified to serve in a fair and impartial manner.

Following the questioning, the prospective jurors, the attorneys and the parties they represent are given an opportunity to challenge individual prospective jurors. After the challenges are heard, a jury with one to four alternates is installed to hear the evidence in the case.

If you have been charged with a crime in Austin, Round Rock, Laredo or elsewhere in Texas, it’s important to hire a meticulous criminal defense attorney who will look after your interests in every stage of the judicial process. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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The Distinction between Murder and Manslaughter in Texas

By Peek & Toland on May 5, 2017

Homicides occur with an alarming regularity in Texas’ cities and locations such as Austin and San Antonio have seen a recent spike. However, not all homicides are treated the same. If you are convicted of a killing you may be sentenced to murder or the lesser offense of manslaughter.

The key difference between murder and manslaughter in Texas is the issue of intent.

A crime is charged as a murder when a life is taken with malice. However, a manslaughter charge can be brought if a victim is killed in the absence of malice or through recklessness.

The distinction between murder and manslaughter

Killings may be murders or manslaughters

Manslaughter Laws in Texas

The State of Texas defines manslaughter as “a person recklessly [causing] the death of an individual.” When a prosecutor brings a manslaughter charge he or she must have enough evidence to prove the offender committed manslaughter beyond all reasonable doubt.

There is no requirement to prove maliciousness or premeditation as in the case of murder. The only requirement is to prove recklessness or carelessness.

Many states have a distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. However, Texas lacks this distinction. It recognizes a series of different types of manslaughter, namely:

  1. Intoxication manslaughter: The killing of another person while drunk. These offenses usually involve driving.
  2. Vehicular manslaughter: The killing of another while the offender is driving a vehicle.
  3. Criminally negligent homicide: This charge is slightly different because it can be brought if the offender was negligent rather than reckless although there is often a gray area.

In a well-known Texas case, a defendant was convicted of criminally negligent homicide when he heard a commotion outside his house, shot at what he thought was a dog and killed a person.

Manslaughter charges in Texas are second-degree felonies. On conviction, you can face a two to 20 years in a prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Murder in Texas

Not all murders are equal. The crime is divided into first and second-degree murder in many states, In Texas, there is a distinction between “capital murder” and “murder.”

There are certain defined criteria for capital murder which carries the death penalty in Texas. You can read more here.

You can be charged with capital murder for.

1 The killing of a police officer or a firefighter

2 A killing for hire

3 Murdering someone while being in prison

4 Killing multiple people.

You can receive the death penalty for capital murder but you may also be charged with life in prison with no possibility of parole.

A murder charge without capital implications is a first-degree felony. If convicted, you can receive from 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Although intent is the factor that distinguishes between murder and manslaughter, you don’t necessarily need to have intended to kill a victim to be charged with murder.

If the defendant intended to cause serious bodily harm or to commit a felony other than manslaughter that resulted in death, he or she can be charged with murder.  A common example is an armed robbery that goes wrong and the victim is shot dead. Even though the robber may not have intended to kill the victim when he robbed a store or another premises, the fact he was committing a felony will result in a murder charge.

Murder and manslaughter are extremely serious charges. If you have been charged with one of these offenses, it’s vital to hire an experienced Austin criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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