10 Principles of Defending People: #6 Investigate

June 5, 2018

By Collin County Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Here are the previous articles I’ve written about principles of defending people in this series:

Investigation is critically important in criminal defense and in many ways it is one of the central reasons we’ve been hired.  The chief sustained complaint for ineffective assistance of counsel claims is failure to investigate.

In sum, I’ll use a quote again I just used the other day… “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”  This is squarely the truth in investigating a case.

 

What Constitutes a Thorough Investigation?

It obviously depends on the case.  Not every case is capital murder.  The list of what needs to be done to investigate in some cases can be endless.  Examples of research needing to be done includes (but certainly isn’t limited to):

  • Thorough interviews of witnesses (including your own client);
  • Reviewing the background of witnesses (including your own client) such as criminal history, lack of criminal history, mental health issues, or even school records;
  • visiting the scene of the accusation;
  • inspecting physical evidence in possession of the police;
  • independent lab analysis or confidential re-testing of certain evidence;
  • Hiring an expert witness to assist with complex issues;
  • Reviewing public documents such as previous court records;
  • Investigating cellular data and social media such as text messages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, etc.;

Pursuing a Theory

A major difference between a Defense investigation and a police investigation is the theories we pursue.  A Defense investigation shouldn’t be scatter-shot.  It needs to be focused towards a particular theory or theories in a particular case.  Police investigations tend to have theories too… but their theory is almost always that Defendant is guilty.

Why Don’t Some Lawyers Investigate?

There are multiple reasons.  First, is lawyers didn’t go to investigation school, they went to law school.  An investigation is something most lawyers learn by doing which might suck for you if you’ve hired one that’s still learning.

Second, many lawyers are afraid of what they’ll find.  They buy in to their client’s guilt and are worried if they dig up bad facts for their client then they’ll end up making the situation worse for their client.

Final reasons might include their lawyer is too busy, not resourceful enough, or tragically are indifferent.

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

 


10 Principles of Defending People: #9 Be Organized

May 31, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

I’m writing a series of blogs describing what I think it takes to be an effective criminal defense lawyer.  Yesterday, I wrote about not being judgmental – a cornerstone of the mindset of a defense lawyer.

Today, I’m writing about another concept:

#9 Be Organized

I have two favorite quotes which go hand in hand about how I like to think I approach my work.

The first quote is, “the harder I work, the luckier I get” from Samual Goldwyn, a producer who founded MGM.  The second is from Jim Turner, a player on the Denver Broncos after they lost the Super Bowl in 1977 to the Dallas Cowboys… he said, “We were thinking about being the Super Bowl Champs and they were thinking about football.”

Many lawyers “think about being Super Bowl Champs” but they don’t mind the details or put in the sweat-equity it takes to win.  They confuse thinking about winning with the work it actually takes to win.

Every case is its own snowflake and some can be extremely complex.  It can be easy to get lost.  The more I practice, the more I appreciate the reality lawyers need a compass to navigate each case which makes sure every detail is addressed.

A good defense lawyer in my view needs a systematic way of approaching each case.  Do you think they make things up as the go along in an operating room?  Do you think a pilot with 323 souls on their commercial jetliner just treats their flight like a drive to the 7-11?  Do you think when NASA is about to launch humans into space with a $1.3 billion dollar project they just wing it?

No way!  They have checklist after checklist.  They have redundant failsafe measures designed to minimize their margin of error.  Why would we be any different when we are charged with protecting our clients lives?

Television and movies teach us bad lessons.  They teach us there are some lawyers can just walk into a courtroom and leave the jury in tears when they just got the case two commercial breaks ago.  I know some pretty darn talented lawyers.  But I don’t know anyone quite that amazing.

The rest of us need to be organized!

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


Is it a Crime to Not Report a Crime?

May 23, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Failure to report a felony is rarely charged — but it is a crime.  What is more commonly charged is failure to report the abuse or neglect of a child.

When we do see these types of charges, it is often because law enforcement suspects far worse but simply can’t prove anything… or it is often a reduced charge the prosecutors and defense lawyers settle on for a plea negotiation.

Texas Law:

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 38.171 requires the felony to be one which (1) the person observed; (2) it is likely serious bodily injury or death may have occurred; (3) It’s reasonable to think no one else has reported it; and (4) the person can make the report themselves if it doesn’t place them in danger.

— and if this crazy offense does occur, it is a Class A misdemeanor.

Federal Law:

The Federal Law is called Misprision of a Felony.  It is much broader in that there only be “knowledge” of the felony.  A major difference is under Federal law, the accused must take an affirmative step in assisting concealment of the felony… in essence making them an accessory.

Keep a few things in mind about failure to report crimes and they start making sense for why we see them so rarely:

Police Want the Real Offender

They want the perpetrator of the crime someone knows about more than anything else.  If police had to round up and prosecute people who knew they think knew about certain crimes but didn’t report — it would make their work load go crazy.

“Failure to Report” cases are really hard to prove.

How do you go about proving someone “knew” about something…?  You’d almost think they’d have to witness it themselves?

Also consider that someone might have some information a crime was committed — but not enough information to truly assist police.

The statutes take these things into consideration which is why they are so narrow.  The gist of these laws is police want and need help in serious situations… not to round everyone up who knows something.

Law Enforcement Usually Understand’s You’re in a Tough Spot Too

Police are people too and they might understand the witness or person is in a tough spot to do something.  Many crimes take planning and a series of bad decisions.  Witnesses to crimes normally don’t choose to be witnesses and they often have to make decisions on the spot.

I can see police threatening people with this charge to get them to talk about solving the underlying crime… but again, remember the cops want the REAL bad guy more than anything.

Failure to Report Abuse or Neglect of a Child or failure to report Aggravated Sexual Assault of a child is a bit of a different story.  I’ll write about that in another blog.

*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 should be considered legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 

 


Top 5 Most Common Police Attitudes – #3

May 13, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Today I’m continuing my series on the top 5 police officer attitudes I’ll see when defending cases.  These are police attitudes I see from police officers while on duty.

#3 — CYA

That’s right. Cover your a$$.

One of the psychological pressures on officers is maintaining their livelihood.  They don’t want to lose their job or their pension over any single case.

I see this one mostly in cases where there is an alleged victim involved such as domestic assault, sexual assault or complicated theft schemes to name a few.  A police officer knows an upset accuser (or the accusers parents) can cause them all sorts of headaches with his or her superiors at the station.

For assault/ family violence cases police are worried if they leave a couple warring in their home after a 911 call — one of them could be killed later in the evening.

On sexual abuse cases whether involving adults or children, a police officer is going to have to have a really good explanation to their superiors as to why they told an angry person claiming to be a victim, “no, we don’t believe you.”

Police will often file cases as “grand jury referrals” which is their way of filing a case with the District Attorney’s office while expressing an underlying doubt about the case.  It is a case where they don’t make an arrest prior to grand jury.  It can be seen as unwritten permission to dump a case.  Grand juries may still indict, though.

It sucks to be on the receiving end of a case where you suspect it was filed because the officer was doing CYA work.  It has to be dealt with like anything else.

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


The 5 Most Common Police Attitudes – #4

May 12, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Today, I’m continuing my series on the 5 most common police attitudes which I see case in and case out in the many, many cases I handle as a criminal defense lawyer.  As noted before, these opinions are due to my amateur police psychology.

#4 — Undecided

Police get complaints all day every day about wrongdoing.  They also see things while they are on duty which arouse their suspicion or curiosity.

It goes without saying often times when they approach a particular problem they are undecided about the outcome going into their work.  Normally, the longer a police officer is undecided in their investigation the more objective they will be.

Being undecided about an outcome is an extremely healthy attitude for someone making big decisions about another person’s life.  It causes the officer to investigate in detail and in doing so — to test alternate hypotheses, to review both favorable and unfavorable evidence in a balanced approach, and to understand the weight of their decision.  Obviously at some point an officer is likely to move off the undecided bubble one way or the other with the more information they assess and gather.  What is important is when they are undecided — they are better able to view the evidence neutrally.

I often see police who are extremely conscientious and do their very best to make the important decisions they are charged with making.  An officer should be undecided entering into every investigation undertaken.

But the equation breaks down a bit from here.  Police would have you believe they are undecided when approaching or investigating a case 100% of the time.  My experience is it is more like 20% of the time.

In fairness to police — I usually won’t see cases they don’t file unless I’m brought into the case very early.  The 20% could easily be much higher because I don’t know how many cases are put right in their trash-cans.

What I can say is by my best guestimation of the cases I do see — probably about 80% of the time the officer has a particular preferred outcome going into their investigation of cases they do ultimately file.  This can apply to DWI arrests, sexual assaults, or even white-collar embezzlement schemes.

Police are human too.

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