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Texas Jury Convicts Man for Role in Multi-State Check Fraud Scheme

The two biggest mistakes that criminal defendants make is speaking to the police outside the presence of a qualified criminal defense attorney, and consenting to a search of their property. This is not only true for people charged with violent offenses, but also white collar crimes like fraud and counterfeiting.

5th Circuit: Defendant Consented to Search of Vehicle

A recent case before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has federal appellate jurisdiction over Texas, illustrates what can happen when a defendant is too cooperative with a suspicious police officer.

Three men, including the defendant in this case, were traveling in a rental car from Texas to Louisiana on I-10. A Louisiana sheriff’s deputy pulled the vehicle over on suspicion of a traffic violation–specifically, the car itself had a tinted cover over the license plate. While speaking with the defendant, the deputy said he noticed “a set of screwdrivers in the door of the vehicle.”

The trooper said the defendant and the passengers in the vehicle offered additional information about where they had been or where they were going, which the trooper said he found “implausible” and “inconsistent.” At this point, the trooper said he suspected the defendant and the passengers might have been involved in drug trafficking. This prompted the officer to call for backup.

The trooper then asked the defendant for permission to search the car. The defendant replied, “Yeah. You can search it.” While the search did not uncover evidence of drug trafficking, as the trooper suspected, police did find “over 100 blank ID cards, dozens of blank checks, holographic overlays, a printer, envelopes with names and social security numbers, computer equipment, and $95,000.”

Federal prosecutors eventually charged the defendant with acting as the leader of a “multi-state counterfeit check scheme.” At trial, jurors heard evidence that the defendant and other individuals were intentionally passing counterfeit checks at Wal-Mart stores in 20 states. The combined value of these bad checks exceeded $2 million.

A jury found the defendant guilty on charges of conspiracy, access device fraud, and identity theft. On appeal to the Fifth Circuit, the defendant argued the trooper’s original search of the rental car was unconstitutional. The appeals court disagreed and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

First, the defendant argued the trooper unreasonably prolonged the original traffic stop. The Fifth Circuit explained, however, that the trooper had formed a “reasonable suspicion of illegal activity” to justify extending the stop. This suspicion was based, among other reasons, by the fact that the defendant was “traveling in a rental vehicle on a known drug-trafficking corridor having a tinted cover over the license-plate with screwdrivers likely used to affix the cover.”

More to the point, the defendant “voluntarily consented to the search.” There was no evidence presented at trial that the trooper used “coercive police procedures” to obtain the defendant’s consent. Indeed, the appeals court said the defendant “was cooperative” and “appeared to be intelligent and well-educated.”

Keep Quiet and Call a League City or Galveston Criminal Defense Lawyer

It is difficult to argue the police illegally searched your vehicle when you openly give your consent. The lesson here should be obvious: Never consent. Instead, invoke your right to remain silent and contact a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney if you are detained on suspicion of committing a white collar crime. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate assistance at (281) 280-0100.