By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Greg Willis is the new Collin County District Attorney as of January 1, 2011 and he replaces the embattled John R. Roach, Sr. in that capacity.
I get asked a lot by clients what exactly that may mean for their particular case and in most circumstances the answer is probably nothing major. That’s not to suggest that Mr. Willis’ administration will merely be a continuation of Mr. Roach’s regime… because it most certainly will not be. But the truth remains that Mr. Willis inherits an office with probably 80% of the same prosecutors who take the same systematic approach to everyday cases such as DWI, drug possession, and theft.
The changes I predict we’ll see are broad policy changes impacting how the prosecutors manage their cases. For instance, under Mr. Roach’s administration, the State would not allow the defense lawyer full access to the file unless the defense lawyer waived valuable rights. Now, Collin County joins Dallas and Tarrant Counties that have an ‘open file policy’ and allow the defendant free access to the State’s file. While the former administration believed in hiding part of it’s case to gain a strategic advantage over people accused of crime — the new administration believes that the truth is the truth and isn’t afraid to show it’s hand.
Other examples of changes we may see is doing away with some of the minimum plea offers on certain charges. Under Mr. Roach’s administration, the prosecutor handling cases such as drug possession with intent to distribute were bound to offer a minimum of 15 years in prison. While this makes for good politics in being tough on crime in Collin County, it resulted in many needless trials of bad cases where the accused was youthful, tangentially involved, or were “dealers” that lived at home with their parents and had little or no affiliations with real drug dealers. While there’s been no announcement — it is believed prosecutors will have more discretion in disposing of these types of cases.
There will likely be changes as well made to the intake procedures, grand jury procedures and deferred prosecution programs. The impact of those changes will take time to gauge.
From the lawyers perspective, Mr. Willis changes are very welcome and long over-due. Perhaps the biggest changes will be that the personnel changes made should eliminate the ‘circular firing squad’ which has embroiled the DA’s office which was responsible for many fruitless grand jury investigations of public officials, the indictment of Judge Suzanne Wooten and employees of the district clerk’s office. Even the former first assistant Greg Davis was indicted in the after-math and wake of the legacy of outgoing DA’s Office.
Everyone in Collin County is ready for the dust to settle. That should start now.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For specific legal advice on any matter you should contact an attorney directly.