Can I Change Lawyers in a Criminal Case?

January 11, 2021

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

You can change lawyers in a criminal case but it’s subject to the Judge’s approval.

Most judges readily agree unless it will cause a significant and/or unnecessary delay in the proceedings.  I’ve never seen a judge stop or prevent a substitution early in the proceedings well before the case is set for trial – or even several months before a trial setting.

Judges get annoyed, though, when someone wants to substitute on the eve of trial or with just weeks before.  Judge also get irked when someone tries to substitute lawyers multiple times which the court often sees as a delay tactic.

A Client is Entitled to the Lawyer of Their Choice

The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees right to counsel.  In retained or hired cases, it is generally accepted and understood the person gets counsel of their own choosing.  There are limitations, though.  Counsel must be a member of the bar, counsel can refuse representation, and the court can step in if there are other extenuating circumstances (such as if the court detects a serious conflict of interest or the court feels the representation is inadequate).

Why Does the Judge Need to Approve of a Change?

A judge is responsible for managing their cases and their docket and the integrity of the adversary legal system.  When a lawyer files a pleading or a letter of representation – the lawyer is legally and ethically binding themselves to representation in that case through the completion of the case.

A lawyer representing a party in case before a judge is known as an “officer of the court.”   A judge, then, can depend on the lawyer and require the lawyer to be present to represent their client when the Judge says so.  A judge can require a lawyer to handle a case even against that lawyer’s wishes if circumstances demand.

What Are Good Reasons to Change Lawyers?

This is a person-by-person choice.  I get calls all the time who are either upset or worried about their lawyer.  When I do visit with folks in this setting – I always do my best to see the situation from their lawyer’s point-of-view.  They are almost always in a better position to evaluate the case because they’re knee deep in the case and I’m not (yet).

The most common reasons I hear when folks come to me wanting to change from their previous lawyer are lack of communication, concern about qualifications or strategy, and general lack of confidence.  While I really will try to see the case from the viewpoint of the previous lawyer – I always want to make sure I’m not just telling the client what they want to hear.  If their previous lawyer has been doing a great job then I let the client know.  Even if I don’t get hired, I’ve helped the client have more faith in their lawyer.

Ultimately it is about the client’s comfort and confidence in counsel.  It is a bedrock of the lawyer-client relationship.

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

Does a Jury Have to Be Unanimous?

December 31, 2020

By Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

A criminal jury must be unanimous to either acquit or convict someone.  A jury who cannot agree is known as a “hung” jury which requires the case to be retried.

A notable exception to a jury being required to return a unanimous verdict is in death penalty cases.  In those cases, the jury is allowed to return an 11-1 or 10-2 verdict which triggers an automatic life without parole sentence – so any one juror can spare someone’s life.

Judges Don’t Like Hung Juries

A “hung jury” can be very costly to the parties and it also means the court will have basically wasted it’s own time and the time of all the jurors and potential jurors who spent time on the case.  So Judges bend-over-backwards to avoid a jury hanging.

Most judges will allow a jury to deliberate for roughly the same amount of time the trial itself took.  So if a trial took two days – that’s about the amount of time a Judge will require a jury to deliberate if they can’t reach a verdict.

Often times a jury will write a note to the court saying they are deadlocked.  In most instances the Judge will still require the jury to deliberate and the judge can issue what is known in Texas as an “Allen Charge” or a “Dynamite Charge.”  The dynamite charge is a polite letter by the judge reminding everyone it’s important to stand by their beliefs and convictions – but also details some of the waste and damage a hung jury does too.

Juries frequently come back with unanimous verdicts after an Allen Charge which is why judges do them.

If after enough time has passed and the jury still keeps trying to communicate the deliberations are hopeless then the Judge will eventually declare a hung jury – technically called a mistrial.

Jury Unanimity Can Actually Be a Complex Topic

Believe it or not the requirement a jury be unanimous can be a legally tricky issue from time to time.  It becomes problematic that the jury agree what exactly constituted the crime.

Texas has, within the last 20 years, enacted offenses making it a specific crime for “continuous” behavior.  This could be sexual abuse of a child or domestic violence.  In those cases the prosecution lists out instance after instance of abuse.

The unanimity requirement can be difficult because the jury doesn’t necessarily have to agree unanimously as to which specific crimes occurred – only that two or more did.  This raises arguments that it run afoul of constitutional unanimity requirements.

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


Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 8: Double Jeopardy

November 29, 2020

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

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

(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.


(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 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 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.