Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 8: Double Jeopardy

November 29, 2020

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.texasdefensefirm.com

Today I’m covering an extremely technical legal aspect of sexual abuse cases which tends to be problematic for the courts – double jeopardy.  For the 40,000 foot view of all my blogs in the sexual abuse categories you can read here.

Why is Double Jeopardy Such a Headache in Sex Cases?

Double jeopardy has different applications.  It prevents folks from being put on trial twice for the same crime.  It also prevents defendants from being convicted and/or sentenced twice of the same crime.

There is a danger defendants are getting convicted and sentenced multiple times for the same singular criminal act simply because our legislature has written so many over-lapping criminal statutes.

For example (and I apologize in advance, as always, for the graphic nature of the subject matter), let’s say there is an act of molestation against a 13-year old which includes the actor causing genital to genital contact of the victim:

In that instance the following criminal offenses have been committed:

  • Indecency by exposure (2-10 years TDC)
  • Indecency by contact (2-20 years TDC)
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child (5-99 years or life).

But did the legislature intend for there to be three distinct punishments or just one?  If the answer is three punishments then a person could be sentenced to up to 129 years in prison.  We hear these type of sentences in other States, but not Texas.

This is a routine challenge for prosecutors to properly legally strategize as well as Courts and defense lawyers to make sure these things are properly legally handled.

Prosecutors obviously don’t want a defendant acquitted merely because they fail to prove the highest possible charges.  It’s a common tactic for prosecutors to “plead in the alternative” or to plead lesser charges as well as the higher charges for that very possibility.

But here’s the danger for the prosecutors – they risk having some of their good convictions vacated on appeal if those convictions punish someone twice for the same distinct criminal act.

Lesser Included Offenses

One of the challenges is because of what are known as “lesser included offenses” or “lesser included.”  A lesser included means a charge within a charge.  For example, if the prosecution alleges theft over $100 but less than $750 – but at trial it is shown the item stolen was only worth $98 – then defendant may be guilty of the “lesser included” charge of theft under $100.

It’s unfortunately not as clear-cut in sex crimes with regards to “lesser included” offenses.  This is because the statutory scheme by the legislature simply didn’t draft the offenses the same way theft charges or assault charges are drafted.

The test for whether a charge is a “lesser included” offense is if one charge contains an element (a required unit of proof) which the potentially greater charge does not.

Areas Where the Law Gets Extremely Messy

One of the distinct problems with sexual abuse cases is there tend to be often not only multiple allegations of different acts of abuse – but those acts are often alleged to have been committed on different dates and frequently at different places.  Because these cases deal with children who aren’t always the best at communicating the abuse they’ve suffered to the authorities, the courts and lawyers dealing with the cases have a hard time sorting out things too.

Often a prosecutor can charge the defendant with continuous sexual abuse of a child – which tends to “clean up” and legally simplify the charges and the jeopardy issues.  Then again, it’s hard to blame a prosecutor, too, for simply alleging every charge they can articulate in every different way so as to make sure the defendant is convicted.  But the prosecutor may be opening the door to double jeopardy issues down the road on appeal if they do so.

Why Double Jeopardy is an Important Issue

The way a case is charged by the prosecutor affects everything from plea negotiation, preparation of the defense and even frequently post-conviction if the defendant is seeking an appeal.  Sorting out and quantifying the legal impact of the prosecution “throwing the book” at your client is simply part of defending these types of abuse cases.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.



Texas Law on Murder and Homicide: 101

November 19, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

jeremy@texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

A person causing the death of another can be prosecuted in a number of different ways with vastly different punishment ranges in Texas – though they are all felonies in one form or another.

Murder and homicide are legally very similar to assault the main difference where the result of defendant’s actions are death instead of injury.

First Year Law School on Murder

In first year law school criminal law they teach to follow the “mens rea” which is latin for mental state when it comes to murder or homicide.  Premeditation (or lack of pre-meditation) is the single biggest factor in how murder is prosecuted.

The general provision for Texas Criminal Homicide is simple enough though the deeper you get into Texas murder law the more complex it becomes.

Tex.Pen.C. 19.01 TYPES OF CRIMINAL HOMICIDE

(a) A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.

(b) Criminal homicide is murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide.

Murder

Murder is committed where someone knowingly or intentionally causes the death of an individual under Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(b).

Sounds legally simple enough but remember to follow the “mens rea.”  If there is “sudden passion” which resulted in the homicide then it carries a lesser punishment.  Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(c).

Also there is a concept called “felony murder” which means if you are committing a felony (like robbing a bank or engaging in a car chase) and someone dies – it’s murder as well.  Tex.Pen.C. 19.02(b)(3).

Capital Murder

Capital murder is murder plus an aggravating factor.  See Tex.Pen.C 19.03 for a full list but it generally includes:

  • The murder of a public servant such as peace officer or firefighter;
  • Murder as a part of another felony act such as kidnapping, burglary or sexual assault;
  • Murder for hire/ solicitation;
  • Murder of a child.

Capital Murder can either be punished by death in certain instances or by automatic life without parole.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is committed where the person recklessly causes the death of another.  It can often be vehicular in nature.  It can also often involve intoxication.  Manslaughter is a 2nd degree felony punishable by 2-20 years of prison.

Reckless is where a person “…is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.”  Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(c).

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Where criminal negligence causes a persons death – this statute can be applicable.  This is known as a “state jail felony” punishable between 180 days and 2 years of prison.

Criminal negligence is basically when a person “…ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur.”  Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(d).  It can often be vehicular in nature too.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

 

 


What is Entrapment?

November 18, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Entrapment is a tricky concept. It occurs when law enforcement convinces someone to commit a crime.  It gets confusing because the entrapment must go beyond merely affording someone the opportunity to commit a crime.

The law further says the enticement must be enough to persuade a normal, law abiding citizen with an ordinary resistance to committing a crime.  A good rule of thumb when thinking of entrapment is to see where the original intent of the crime originated – with police or the accused?

Entrapment is a defense to prosecution and Texas Penal Code 8.06 says:

(a) It is a defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the conduct charged because he was induced to do so by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense. Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.

(b) In this section “law enforcement agent” includes personnel of the state and local law enforcement agencies as well as of the United States and any person acting in accordance with instructions from such agents.

Example of Situations Which are Entrapment:

  • A recovering addict is getting addiction treatment.  An undercover police officer meets the addict in the lobby of the counselor.  The undercover asks the addict to provide illegal drugs.  The addict refuses citing his attempt at recovery.  After repeated attempts to convince the addict, the addict gives in and attains and delivers drugs to the undercover officer.  See Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369 (1958).
  • Undercover officer makes repeated attempts at having defendant provide access to drug dealers and drugs after defendant was reluctant after 12-year relationship. See Torres v. State, 980 S.W.2d 873 (Tex.App. — San Antonio, 1998).

Example of Common Situations Which Are Not Typically Entrapment

  • Person sells drugs to undercover police officer;
  • Persons who seek out and hire a hitman to kill someone;
  • Public servant who is offered a bribe and accept it.

Other Thoughts on Entrapment

Candidly – there is a strong bias against the entrapment defense by judges and juries.  Entrapment is more of an academic argument for that reason – and typically the most a court can do in a case of entrapment is give the jury an instruction they can acquit an accused on that basis.  So even if the person meets the legal pre-requisites of entrapment a jury still might not buy it.  Most people think the government conduct would have to be so outrageous as to strongly over-shadow the crime committed.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

 

 

 


What is the Difference Between a Flat Fee and a Retainer When Hiring a Lawyer?

October 10, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

jeremy@texasdefenselawyer.com

(972) 369-0577

This is a common question.

Remember a lawyer is selling their time.  Both a flat fee and retainer are different ways the lawyer sells that time.  These are actually topics of much debate in the legal community and are a bit more complex than meets the eye.

Abraham Lincoln said the legal fee is important because “It lets the client know he’s got a lawyer and the lawyer know he’s got a client.”

Important Reasons Which Go Into a Fee Amount 

A lawyer’s time is not an unlimited resource and some lawyers are justified in charging more for their time than others based on complexity of the matter and that lawyer’s experience.

Also, when a lawyer accepts your case – the lawyer is also limiting themselves because the lawyer now can’t sell time to (1) a different paying client because there are only so many hours in a day or (2) other potential clients he or she cannot legally represent because they would be conflicted from representing by virtue of their representation of you.

Flat Fees

A flat fee sounds a bit more self-explanatory than a retainer but there are still restrictions and issues with lawyers charging flat fees.

The advantage of the flat fee is it is clear-cut and caps the client’s potential financial output.  The disadvantage is the client could over-pay if the case is more resolved more quickly than anticipated.

Flat fees must still be justifiable at the end of the day.  Common sense still applies.  Where a client pays a lawyer gobs of money on day one and the client terminates representation on day two – the lawyer simply cannot justify keeping anything other than the amount he’s actually earned, if any.

Retainers

A retainer is money paid to the lawyer which the lawyer sets aside in a trust account.  The money legally remains the client’s property unless or until the lawyer earns it.  Once they earn it, they can then draw it from the account.

If the lawyer does not earn all of the money you deposited in trust then the client is entitled to a refund of the unused retainer.

The upside of a retainer is obvious.  The downside of a retainer is once the retainer has been expended, it typically needs to be refilled.

I compare a retainer to a tank of gas.  Sometimes it takes a half a tank to get to the destination but sometimes it could take 3 tanks.

Is A Flat Fee Better or is a Retainer Better?

It depends on the case in my mind.  You don’t want your lawyer to be paid too much and believe it or not — you really don’t want them to be paid to little either.

In a criminal defense practice there are many cases we handle very routinely where our time is predictable and as the lawyer, we’re willing to take the risk on a flat fee because we know from experience the amount of time we’ll be spending on a certain case falls in within an acceptable range.  Those tend to be misdemeanors like DWI, domestic assault, or theft cases to name a few.

Retainers are a flexible way to handle cases where our time output will be a bit more difficult to predict.  Those would typically be cases like sexual assault, felony drug possession, or white collar charges such as embezzlement or money laundering.  A retainer also assists when we need to pay other client expenses such as investigators or expert witnesses which we’ll need to involve from time to time depending on the case.

The retainer, then, is a good way of making sure the fee is just right on more complex cases where a flat fee may just be far too high or far too low.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is Designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.