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.

Email pic

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.

 

 

 


How COVID Broke the Criminal Courts – Blog 1 (No Jury Trials)

August 5, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Whether we like it or not the Coronavirus pandemic has been a transformational event – and its impact on the Courts and criminal law practice is no exception.  Some of it will be temporary and some of the transformation will be here to stay.

broken-bulb

Big Picture View of the Criminal Court System

Think of our court system as a pipeline with water going through it.  Cases go in on one end, and are channelled in certain directions to be resolved either by plea, dismissal or trial.  One of the Courts’ central roles is to simply move the cases through the system.

Certainly, the Courts have vital roles in the outcome – but as I explain to clients frequently – the Courtroom has two tables, one Judge and one witness stand.  They can’t weigh in on all 2,500 cases they’re assigned at one time.

The Role of the Jury Trial in the Process

Trial would be like the end of the water line which would typically spit the unused water out and be done with it.  It is the mechanism which closes cases the parties can’t resolve on their own.

But another crucial aspect of a Jury trial is this — parties typically also want to avoid them.  They’re uncertain.  They can be expensive for someone charged with a crime.  They can inflict real pain on a person standing trial or a witness in the trial.  Prosecutors won’t admit this – but they get paid the same whether they’re sitting at their desk or trying a case and many of them don’t want to put in the effort of a trial.  So trials also serve the critical function of pressuring criminal defendant and the prosecutor to come to some sort of agreement short of a trial.

Also there are some cases which simply have to be tried in the criminal world.  Take a Continuous Sexual Abuse of a child case where the Defendant serves 25-years to life with no parole if convicted.  If the Defendant is over 50 years old – there is simply very little reason for them to plead guilty in any event.

Pandemics and Jury Trials Don’t Mix

We can’t have typical jury trials in a pandemic.  It’s not safe and there is really no substitute.  Jury trials via zoom or other platform almost certainly violate rights to face your accusers in open court.  The jury system was also predicated on an assumption the jury can get to the truth by watching witnesses in person.

The System is Temporarily Out of Service

Not only is the mechanism we use to resolve cases not working during the pandemic — more importantly parties aren’t feeling pressured to resolve cases.

Prosecutors are currently making plea offers based on what they think a fair outcome would be for a case based on what they’ve seen as fair results in the past.  But they ignore the Defense has very little incentive — in many circumstances — in pleading guilty.

A Defendant on bond (and the vast majority are) doesn’t have to worry about upsetting a probation officer and going back to jail on a misdemeanor case.  On a felony case where the State thinks 8 years of prison is a fair offer — a defendant on bond is rarely going to sign up for that where the alternative is living a relatively normal life for another year.

Prosecutors and criminal defendants aren’t on the same wavelength with regards to resolving cases and the reason is the pressure-mechanism isn’t working.

Why Don’t Judges Just Try to do Jury Trials Anyway?

Judges could try to force the issue – but they fear making the matter worse by utilizing resources to try a case via Zoom only to have the Court of Appeals making them re-do the trial when the pandemic is over.

The Fix

The system will get back to normal once cases begin going back to jury trials.  When that will be is another issues.  But when jury trials do begin to crank up again — just like a water-pipeline with built-up pressure — you can expect excess pressure there too.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Criminal Law.  He is Currently Recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer 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:

Screen Shot 2020-05-19 at 9.14.28 AM

  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.

 

 

 

 

 


What is a Magistrate’s Order for Emergency Protection?

November 18, 2019

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rbcriminallaw.com

texasdomesticviolencearrest

These are known as Emergency Protective Orders or EPOs.  They can be extremely disruptive, costly, and exacerbate emotional distress of the entire family on top of the havoc a domestic violence arrest already inflicts.

Texas law allows a police officer making an arrest to ask a magistrate judge for an EPO.  The officer does not need the consent of anyone else including the complaining witness to seek the Order.

Violation of the Order can be a serious misdemeanor as well.  Each Emergency Protective Order is different from the next.  Don’t assume an EPO prohibits or doesn’t prohibit certain activities.

Most of these orders require the accused to stay a certain distance away from the alleged victim and other family members.  They also often prohibit either direct or indirect communication.

Direct communication is typically construed as phone calls, text messages or communications on social media.  Indirect communication is typically where the Defendant has a friend — often a mutual friend – make contact with the complaining witness.  Both are normally violations.

The length of the EPO can vary but for most assault cases in Collin County they may last either 91 or 61 days.

An EPO Can Be Destructive

Following an Emergency Protective Orders can require a person live in a hotel or other temporary accommodations because they are prohibited from going to their residence.  Two months in a hotel means two months of paying double for housing.  Further, where a couple has children, one parent — usually the complaining witness — is saddled with 100% of the childcare for that time as well.  While the goal is to allow a couple time away to that emotions and physical conflict cool it can have the effect of throwing a family further in chaos.

How do I Get My Stuff?

EPOs create immediate logistical headaches.  If you can’t call your spouse or can’t communicate with them through a friend — then how are you supposed to get your clothes, work laptop, or medications?

Most Protective Orders provide for some type of safe harbor within the first 24 hours to get these things arranged.  Read the fine print carefully.  You may be allowed to have a friend or representative get whatever you need quickly.

What to Be Careful about with Emergency Protective Orders

Always make sure you read the details carefully — and if you have any questions at all about the specific provisions of your EPO be sure to ask a lawyer.

Communicating with the protected person while under an EPO can lead to lots of problems.  Frequently it is the victim reaching out to the Defendant — but no matter — the Defendant still commits an offense by engaging in that communication.

What Can A Lawyer Do?

A Lawyer Can Communicate Directly with the Alleged Victim

I’ve yet to see a protective order without language exempting the lawyer from the communication prohibition.  This is because lawyers have legal and ethical duties to investigate their case.  Don’t expect your lawyer to be an on-going courier or go-between, however, your lawyer can assist in coordinating necessary issues in addition to planning towards long-term goals of your case.

A Lawyer Can Help Get the Order Modified

Most judges will modify a protective order so long as everyone is in agreement — usually both spouses or both persons involved in the altercation.  The magistrate may drag their feet or do it slowly so as to allow the parties a colling down period but most magistrates don’t wish to impose the additional hardship an EPO can cause.

 

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law and is licensed to practice in the State of Texas.

 


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.