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Tilting the Scales

Business Issues with a Legal Slant

Trespassers – Can You Shoot ‘Em?

Posted in *Way Out - Advice

While riding the perimeter of his South Texas ranch in preparation for the upcoming dove season, Gaul Derrnit spies trespassers crawling through a new hole in his fence.  Twice before other illegal immigrants damaged Gaul’s fences and gates, water lines and water storage tanks, vandalized his property, burglarized an isolated ranch home and left massive amounts of trash. Derrnit is fed up. Recalling the murder of an off duty Border Patrol officer, Gaul is armed and “about ready to shoot ‘dem S.O.B.’s.”  May Derrnit shoot these trespassers?

NO. Keep your powder dry, Derrnit. Despite an erroneous internet belief, there is no law in the State of Texas, and no case law, that permits Gaul to shoot these trespassers on his property.

Trespasser, Licensee or Invitee? Under the law, anyone who enters your property is an invitee, licensee or a trespasser.  You can summon an invitee, like a pizza delivery driver. An invitee generally enters the property for the parties’ mutual benefit – usually an economic benefit. Or you can welcome a licensee, such as a social guest. Typically a licensee is someone who enters your property for their own convenience – and not a mutual economic benefit – and with your permission. A trespasser enters your property without your permission.

Do Trespassers Have Rights? Yes, but not as many as a guest or invitee. Gaul Derrnit’s only responsibility to trespassers is to avoid injuring them “wilfully, wantonly, or through gross negligence.” The Texas Supreme Court upheld a property owner chasing trespassers on his ranch as not being grossly negligent. Gaul may be liable for gross negligence when two elements are present: (1) viewed objectively from Gaul’s standpoint, the act or omission complained of must involve an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; and (2) Gaul must have actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceed.

Could Derrnit Have Criminal Liability? Maybe. Texas protects property owners from criminal liability against trespassers in certain circumstances. The Texas Penal Code provides that Gail Derrnit is justified in using force to remove a trespasser if he believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the trespass. Derrnit is also justified in using deadly force if: (1) he reasonably believes that it is necessary to use force to prevent or terminate the trespass; and (2) he reasonably believes deadly force is necessary to prevent the trespasser from committing certain crimes, such as arson, burglary, or robbery.

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor

Call a law enforcement officer. Shooting someone and killing them is always a homicide. It may be justified, absolving Derrnit of criminal responsibility for the act if, and only if, there is a provable, defensible justification for use of deadly force. Generally, the exception requires a belief that deadly force is reasonably necessary to protect Derrnit’s life or the infliction of serious bodily injury to him or someone else. Gaul is also allowed to use deadly force to protect his property or the property of others in certain limited circumstances, for example, to prevent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, theft during night time or criminal mischief during the nighttime.

Weighing in – 1.2 Billion Usernames and Passwords. What, Me Worry About CyberSecurity?

Posted in *BTW - Noteworthy, *Weighing In - IMHO

Last month one of our lead articles was Cyber Security: Forewarned is Fair-Warned.

Last week the New York Times published an article reporting that at least 1.2 billion usernames and passwords were hacked by a Russian cybercrime group by the name of CyberVor from upwards of 420,000 distinct web sites.

A very interesting CNN article on cyber security acknowledges the breach, identifies Hold Security as the company that found the hack and suggests they may have a commercial interest in the hack report. To all of this the CNN author Chester Wisniewski says: Yeah, so?

Wisniewski suggests that Hold Security is provoking internet users to panic and rush to change all their passwords, or better yet to accept its offer to let you know if you’ve been hacked for a mere $120 apiece. He goes on to suggest that the cyber security criminals only have cryptic representations of the passwords, or partial passwords at that.

Weighing In. Either way, isn’t it about time you undertook a regular routine of changing your passwords? Particularly those that have access to information that you would just as soon not share with the world? At the very least, let’s all use different passwords depending upon the importance of the access… and get rid of “password123″!

“Affluenza” Follow-Up

Posted in *BTW - Noteworthy

For those of you who took an interest in our Affluenza article from June, you may be interested to know that there are developments in the real-life story. Frederick Couch, the father of “affluenza” defendant Ethan Couch, was arrested for impersonating a police officer in North Richland Hills, Texas.

Thanks to NBC5′s Scott Gordon for the tweet – https://twitter.com/ScottGordonNBC5/status/501824529178443778/photo/1

Cyber Security: Forewarned is Fair-Warned

Posted in *Weighing In - IMHO, Legal Risk Management

When Wei Wong, owner of Sushi Mushi, a popular Japanese food bistro in Texas, installed a phone add-on to take credit and debit card payments straight from his employees’ phones, his revenues skyrocketed. Yesterday the Feds told him that his customers’ credit and debit card numbers were posted for sale on an underground website. Malware planted in his employees’ point-of-sale telephone systems snared over 10,000 card numbers, encrypted PINs, and CVV codes. Every hacker in the Ukraine now wants their own missile launch system. Is Sushi Mushi to blame?

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Open-Carriers Pose a Threat to Restaurants with Liquor Licenses

Posted in *Weighing In - IMHO, Constitutional Rights & Issues

Regardless of their personal stance on any hot-button social issue, most business owners do not want their place of business to be the focus of demonstrations on that issue – wisely so, because rarely does being the focus of a political demonstration go hand-in-hand with making money.  

However, recently some gun enthusiasts in Dallas put Chipotle in the spotlight by openly carrying loaded semi-automatic rifles – commonly known as “assault rifles” – into a downtown Dallas area Chipotle’s restaurant. Chipotle released a statement asking customers not to bring firearms into their restaurants, reading in part:  

Recently participants from an “open carry” demonstration in Texas brought guns (including military-style assault rifles) into one of our restaurants, causing many of our customers anxiety and discomfort. Because of this, we are respectfully asking that customers not bring guns into our restaurants, unless they are authorized law enforcement personnel.  Continue Reading

Happy Fourth of July Weekend!

Posted in *BTW - Noteworthy, Around the Holidays

Sure, fireworks are fun, but be cautious and careful.

Below are Texas’ Top 10 fireworks laws (but remember, laws may vary county to county) reposted from our July 2008 blog.

For a great Independence Day Parade, check out the Rotary Club of Park Cities 4th of July Parade for parade route and time.

Happy Independence Day to America, this July 4, 2014!

THE TOP TEN TEXAS FIREWORKS LAWS, HOW TO AVOID GETTING POPPED

  1. Ever notice how we don’t shoot fireworks off for Easter? Fireworks can only be sold from June 24th through July 4th and December 20th through January 1st.
  2. It is illegal to sell or shoot fireworks within 100 feet of a place where flammable liquids, flammable compressed gasses or fireworks are sold or stored. Makes sense to me!
  3. Despite what you may have seen in the movies, it is illegal to shoot fireworks from or towards a motor vehicle, including boats.
  4. It is illegal to shoot fireworks from a public roadway, public property, park, lake or U.S. Corps of Engineer Property. Would hate to set a lake on fire.
  5. The minimum age to buy or sell fireworks was recently changed from 12 to 16. Should probably be 26. Continue Reading

WARNING to Liquor License Holders – “Open Carriers” Can Cost you your Liquor License

Posted in *Way Out - Advice, Constitutional Rights & Issues

“Open Carry” advocates recently made the news by openly carrying rifles and shotguns into Texas businesses. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) issued a REMINDER to all those who hold a Liquor License that businesses licensed to sell or serve alcoholic beverages are prohibited by state law from allowing rifles or shotguns in the building.

Specifically, Section 11.61(e) of the Alcoholic Beverage Code says that TABC shall, after the opportunity for a hearing, cancel a permit if the permittee knowingly allowed a person to possess a firearm in a building on the licensed premises. Some exceptions include licensed concealed handguns and peace officers.

Tilting the Scales in Your Favor

If an individual carries a rifle or shotgun into a TABC-licensed business and the business owner knowingly fails to remove them, the business owner’s TABC license is at risk. The business owner should ask the patron to leave the premises. If the patron refuses, the permittee may contact the police and file criminal trespassing charges under Texas Penal Code Section 30.05.

If this is of interest to you, stay tuned for more next month.

Affluenza – Is It Contagious?

Posted in *BTW - Noteworthy, Family Issues, Legal Risk Management, Money

Taking advantage of his car dealership owning parents being on vacation in the Bahamas, Cache Bar, a minor, invites his high school buddies over to liberate his parents’ locked libation cabinet. Well lubricated, Cache builds quite the bonfire in the backyard knowing that no one in their hometown of Daughtry, Texas, can water their lawns because of the severe drought.  The bonfire consumes Cache’s backyard grass, and then spreads and destroys three million-dollar mansions on Cache’s street. When Cache is charged with intentionally starting a fire that recklessly damaged his neighbors’ homes, his parents scramble for a defense to help him avoid arson charges – a state jail felony. Cache’s parents read a news article about another Texas teenager who avoided jail by asserting an “affluenza” defense – that the teenager was the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for their son.  Will “affluenza” keep Cache out of jail? If so, does that affect his parents?

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Last-Minute Wills….What Counts?

Posted in *Way Out - Advice, Family Issues, Legal Risk Management

Monitoring his emails and gazing at the sights on Elafonisi beach in Crete, attorney Al B. Wise receives a desperate 4:30 a.m. (Texas time) email from his best client Betty Makit Williams – “Going under Slim Cutter’s knife in four hours for emergency surgery. No will. Can you get me one in case I don’t make it?” Sadly, Betty Makit did not make it. Did her will on a Post It?

Yes, at least in Texas. Knowing that a formal will was out of the question, Al B. Wise advised Betty Makit to write a holographic will – her last will and testament, completely in her own handwriting and signed by her. In addition to a will on a Post It note, Texas heirs have successfully probated wills written on a bedroom wall and on the fender of a vehicle. Even a Canadian will of a man trapped underneath was successful by probating the tractor’s fender as the will. About half of the states permit holographic wills.

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