How COVID Broke the Courts Blog 3 -(Negotiation)

August 19, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

COVID has altered the way we negotiate cases.

Communication isn’t the same.  At times, the new modes of connection are difficult to overcome.  Rapport, trust, sincerity and the degree of how emphatic a particular plea is just harder to convey if it’s anything other than in-person.

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Prosecutors are funny creatures.  I believe they are driven by decency, a quest for justice and a sense of duty.  I know because I was one and I really enjoyed it and found it fulfilling.

But understanding them and what makes them tick is far more complicated.  Many are younger and being a lawyer for the State is their first job in our profession.  Some of the more experienced ones have still never ventured outside the DA’s office.  Their world is like none-other.  I found it to be eerily similar to an echo chamber at times filled with adulation of citizens and the all-to-often somewhat self-assured notion that we had a monopoly on the truth.  The result is prosecutors often take the guilt of the accused (or proving the guilt of the accused) for granted.

I include this to say their view of cases — and often their firmness in sticking to their point — is often far different than mine.  When I’m negotiating with them for a better plea offer convincing them to simply walk-away and dismiss a case – it takes persuasion.

Knowing what motivates prosecutors is absolutely crucial in criminal defense.  And whether I’m trying to convince a prosecutor a certain case requires cooperation or collaboration — or I’m simply trying to convince them their poker hand is an offsuit 2-7 split — it is far more difficult to do it with short, choppy emails or text messages than it is just to sit and visit with them for a few minutes.

What tends to happen with phone calls or emails is the prosecutor tends to hear the message — perhaps miss some of the intonations I’m trying to convey — and then retreat back into their echo chamber to consider it further.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise it’s a far more difficult sale.

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

 

 

 


Zoom Jury Trials — “It’s Good Enough” Lowers the Standard in Our Courtrooms

May 19, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Collin County is kicking around the idea of jury trials via Zoom or some other similar platform.  They just tried a virtual jury trial – sort of.  It was a “summary jury trial” which is a practice run typically for wealthier litigants.  The fake jury comes back and tells the parties what they think the outcome should be — and the parties then consider settling.

***What did you say?  Sorry.  Go ahead.***

And not to pick on Zoom.  There are other similar platforms too, but I’ll just collectively refer to them here as Zoom.  Sorry.

Judges organizing and developing the idea get A’s for ingenuity, effort, and passion for their jobs.

But it’s still a terrible idea.  Remember, a jury trial is often the most important day in one or more person’s entire life.  Here are some of the biggest reasons I can think of:

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  1.  Over Simplification of Human Communication

Human communication is complex, intricate and amazingly subtle.

I’ve interviewed thousands of potential jurors  — and I have cross examined hundreds of witnesses.  Many, many jurors cannot give my client a fair trial but would still swear they could.  Many, many witnesses want to make sure I lose and evade questions until they are pinned into answering.  A critical part of my job in the courtroom is to hone in on the most minor of cues from a juror or witness.   An eye dart.  A smirk.  Posture.  Hand position.  Voice tone or inflection… and on and on an on.

***Sorry.  Lost you for a second.***

Zoom and other similar platforms are — at least for now — tone deaf.  These subtleties are either flattened, lost, or are drowned out in 20-people being crammed onto an 18-inch monitor.

And there is something to be said about accountability of the jurors too.  Jurors deliberate knowing they will have to go back into the courtroom and look me, my client, the prosecutor and in many cases a victim in the eye.  Jurors who share less of an emotional stake in the outcome will give the parties less of their focus and attention.

2.  Too Much is At Stake

For criminal defendants decades may hang in the balance not to mention the tidal wave which hits their families and loved ones which can be practical, financial and certainly emotional.  For victims it is their opportunity to be heard and have the jury see how real and fresh their pain truly is.

Zoom is probably fine for quick interactions and brief hearings.  It’s a great tool to visit with clients both incarcerated and free on bond.  It’s probably fine for motions practice with a Judge, lawyers, and possibly other witnesses during routine hearings too.

But any one of us would feel cheated and angry if we or our loved ones were sitting in jail after a trial where we couldn’t even see the jurors or our accusers in person.  Any victim whose defendant is acquitted will feel the same way too.

***Wait, who is talking?  Sorry!***

This is a jury trial — not a teamwork meeting or happy hour.  Can you imagine deciding something as critical and complex as a sexual assault shaping the lives of countless people without some sort of personal interaction?

3.  If Anyone Cares — It Violates a Bunch of Rights

This is a blog — not an amicus brief or a law review article.  So I apologize if I keep this quick and direct.

***Look at that guy’s cat!  He will knock down that picture on the wall***

Let’s start with the right to confront witnesses under the Sixth Amendment.  Then we’ll go to Due Process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment.  Then let’s talk about the umpteen-million opinions you’ll see about the jurors ability to judge witnesses based on x, y, and z.  Or maybe we just throw those all out because we need to get our docket moving?!?

Make no mistake — Judges are asking the specific question, “Can I get away with this without getting reversed?”  My message to them — be my guest but don’t complain about trying the case when it comes back on appeal.

Bottom Line

Is Zoom “good enough?”  Perhaps in some ways and for some things.  People can talk, listen and see videos and exhibits.  But until the platform is as good as the Jedi Counsel meeting where Yoda can sit in his chair remotely from Kashyyyk and interact – it won’t be the same.

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

 

 

 

 

 


Why Does My Lawyer Keep Continuing My Case?

November 12, 2019

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

It could be taking extra time to prepare.  It could be strategy.  It could be a red flag.

Taking Extra Time to Prepare

Your Lawyer should always obey “the carpenter’s rule.”  Measure twice, cut once.

Some cases are just harder and more complex than others.

A sexual assault at a party with 8 witnesses (each with different accounts) takes some time to prepare.  The prosecutor may be extremely dug in and there could be some complex legal issues as well.

A white-collar securities scheme with 3,400 documents to pour through can be tough too.  Federal drug conspiracies where the lawyer gets a few hundred hours of wire-tap phone calls obviously take a while too.

These are all really valid reasons for delay.

Delay for Strategy

I’ve delayed cases for strategical reasons.  It could be because my client has other pending legal matters which I’d like to get resolved first.  It might be because I’m trying to expunge records in one county and I have to do so before my client’s case goes to trial in another county.  A lawyer could even have a case delayed so their client can stay in the local jail with air conditioning during the summer knowing when the case was over they still had to go back to their prison unit without AC (I’m not saying I’ve done this and I’m not saying I haven’t, either!)

Sometimes it’s the Prosecution’s Fault

Sometimes the State isn’t ready.  They need to do more investigation and/or preparation for their case to go to trial as well and the Judge allows them leeway the same way they allow us leeway.  Lab testing blood in DWI cases and drugs can take months and months.  It’s the speed of government.

When are Repeated Continuances a Red Flag?

Every case is it’s own snowflake.  That said, if you have a relatively common  case such as a DWI, assault, or drug charge and your lawyer is delaying, delaying, and delaying and the reasons don’t make sense — it could be something to become concerned about.

DWI, assault, drug and theft charges are extremely common and we handle lots of them.  We know what we’re looking for to defend the cases and we’re quick to find and ferret-out the important issues.  There are very few legal issues in Driving While Intoxicated cases, for instance, we haven’t seen before or know exactly where to look for the answer.

Many lawyers are simply over-worked.  They use time poorly and “borrow from peter to pay paul” with their time.  They are used to putting out the hottest fire every day — and when that case isn’t your case — you get to wait.  Also many lawyers can get “paralysis by analysis.”  That is they just can’t make a decision and they use delay because they can’t figure things out.

Bottom Line

I should add many clients are okay with a slow pace in which case we accommodate this.  It makes me think of when I was waiting for my bar results.  I had a great time not knowing one way or another for 3 months.  I just don’t like going to court and not accomplishing anything.  I do see lawyers who just pass, and pass, and pass their cases over and over and I don’t get it.  The courts do push lawyers to get cases through… but rarely should it get to that point.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He was designated as a Super Lawyer in 2019 by Thomson Reuters.

 

 

 


10 Principles of Defending People (#8 Be Optimistic & #7 Inoculation)

June 1, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Today I’ve got two principles to share and they can be summed up the cliche, “Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.”

I’m summing up what I feel are the 10 most important principles a criminal defense lawyer should follow in their practice in this series.  You can read about my previous posts so far on the topic here:

#8 Be Optimistic

You won’t find much doom and gloom on my blog.  I’m sure there’s plenty of anger, grand-standing and self-ritcheosness… but hopefully not much fear-mongering.

People often shake as they’re walking into my office.  A big part of it is because they’ve been on the internet or gotten legal advice from their best friend growing up.  They think I’m going to confirm their fears about having body and appendages severed by the prosecution.

I have yet to come across a case in the zillions I’ve evaluated where there isn’t some hope, some ray of sunshine, or something to be optimistic about.  Granted, these things are relative and  if there weren’t legitimate reasons for concern — no one would come and see me at all.

But people crave optimism from professionals they deal with.  There is nothing wrong with being optimistic and letting folks know where the sunlight is.

#7  Inoculate People For Bad News

Again, today’s topic is a ying and yang concept.  While there is nothing wrong with being optimistic — people also don’t come to a lawyer to be lied to.

Bad news is unfortunately part of the job.  It’s important to discuss unpleasant possibilities for many reasons.  What is also important is putting them into context and letting someone know how realistic certain outcomes may or may-not be.

I find it is important to discuss possible bad news before it happens.  This way the lawyer and client can come up with a plan for avoiding the possible bad result and time to come up with another plan should the bad result come to fruition.  This gives the client and/or their family a sense of some control and allows time for them to wrap their mind around things.

I call the concept inoculation.  It is like eating vegetables.  It’s no fun to eat veggies at the table but it’s very healthy in the long run.  Discussing possible bad outcomes in a constructive way yields long term dividends.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas.


Our Victory at the Texas Supreme Court Changes Expunction Law

May 16, 2018

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Time to crow a bit.

I won a trial roughly two or three years ago where my client was charged with the felony offense of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

After we won, we filed (what we thought) would be a routine petition for expunction clearing my client’s record of the arrest for which my client had been acquitted.  The DA’s Office and The Texas Department of Public Safety opposed our petition because my client had also been arrested for outstanding warrants on an unrelated case which occurred prior to her arrest for the aggravated assault.

The prosecution’s theory was the arrest could not be expunged because the arrest for the underlying warrants made the arrest good under the expunction statute… so she’d have to live with the arrest for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on her record forever even though she won her trial.  (This is highly nerdy lawyer stuff — so I’m paraphrasing a touch.)

The prosecution’s idea of the expunction statute before our case had governed their policies and practice statewide — that if you don’t qualify for any small part of this long statute then you’re out of luck.  They argued the record keeping of criminal records for DPS would be too difficult and too sloppy.

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After I convinced the trial judge in the case to order the records expunged over the State’s objection (no small task), the State appealed to the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas and then to the Texas Supreme Court.  Special thanks to Thad Spalding and Morgan McPheeters from the firm of Kelly, Durham & Pittard in Dallas who handled the case after it left the trial court and briefed and argued it from the 5th Court in Dallas to the Texas Supreme Court.

Last week the Texas Supreme Court affirmed our case yet again, making it the law of the land.  Now when someone applies for expunction the test is whether they qualify under the specific provision of the expunction statute and not the statute as a whole.

It punches a hole in the decades-old practice of prosecutors and DPS that the expunction statute was “arrest based.”

You can read the opinion here.

Yeah, it’s nerd stuff.  I know.  But it can be fun to be a nerd sometimes!

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas.