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.

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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.

 

 


What is a Magistrate’s Emergency Protective Order – And How Do I End It?

May 12, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

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Short Answer:

An Emergency Protective Order (“EPO”) is an ex parte “keep away” order by a magistrate judge normally issued upon an arrest for family violence.  They vary in length and scope.  You are able to modify them but most judges want a “cooling off” period even if both parties want the order to be gone.

Let’s decode some of that legalese — “Ex Parte” means one party or one side is present in court and not the other;

A “Magistrate” is typically not a full-blown judge for the purposes of your case and often have the limited responsibility of setting a bond, signing a warrant, or in these cases — signing emergency protective orders.

In More Depth

An EPO is governed by Article 17.292 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.  The statute is long but fairly concise.  Typically the most daunting condition is the one requiring the accused to stay a certain distance from the accuser and often other immediate family members such as children.  A protective order doesn’t always prohibit communication or contact.  You have to read the fine-print carefully.  If you have any questions it is always best to ask a lawyer.

Violating a Protective Order

It is a criminal offense to violate a protective order.  The Order is legally required to have language explicitly stating this.  Ironically, winning an assault case is often easier than winning an accompanying violation of a protective order charge which might accompany it.

Unintended Hardships and Consequences – For Everyone

While it’s understandable strangers to a couple’s marriage or relationship would want to keep “warring” parties separate for a cooling off period, unintended consequences frequently do more to harm the relationship than good.  Having one person stay in a hotel can be financially draining and often it turns an otherwise efficient household into a single-parent situation with the “victim” bearing excessive challenges and responsibilities without their partner.

Further, not allowing communication also doesn’t allow for easy reconciliation either.

Amending an EPO

An Emergency Protective Order can be amended.  Understandably most magistrates are reluctant to undo or amend a protective order if both parties are not agreed.  The magistrate doesn’t know the parties and only typically knows if things go south and someone is physically hurt after the EPO is modified — they get blamed.  It’s not uncommon for a magistrate to either table or sit on a motion to modify — even if it’s agreed — to allow one or both parties to cool off.

Magistrate Emergency Protective Order FAQs

You can read more about EPOs here.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law and has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters in 2019.


When Police File a Case “At Large”

April 28, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

I’m writing this blog in the middle of the COVID-19 shutdown.  We’re seeing lots of cases handled “at large” these days.

What “At Large” Means in a Criminal Case

The Court has to have some way to make sure people come and face charges, win, lose or draw.  If criminal cases were voluntary, no one would come to court.  That way of securing attendance is the threat of jail.

An arrest is normally the very first legal action taken against a person.  A bond is set and if the bond is paid the person is released.  Formal charges come some time later – but prior to the running of the statute of limitations (2 years on a misdemeanor, 3 years on most felonies).

When a case is filed “at large” the arrest is skipped temporarily.  Once the formal charges are filed either in a misdemeanor or a felony an arrest warrant is triggered.

Why We’re Seeing So Many “At Large” Cases

Police and the Sheriff’s office want to keep the jail as unpopulated as possible during the COVID crisis.  It is law enforcement’s way of deferring an arrest and a jailing until later.

What Happens Next?

If someone has been told a case would be filed “at large,” then there is a good chance the police have or will forward a police report to the District Attorney’s Office.  The District Attorney’s office will review the report — and assuming they view the report as complete — they will typically file formal charges.  In a misdemeanor case it is called an “information” and in a felony the Grand Jury Meets and if they agree — the file what is called an indictment.  Both will trigger the arrest warrant.

If There is an Arrest Warrant Coming, What Do I Do?

It is always the better practice to be in control of the process by monitoring the active warrant filings and ultimately surrender yourself.  Prepare to post bond.  It’s also time to talk with a lawyer about your long term legal defense and how to best address the charges.

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


What Constitutes a Win?

February 20, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rbcriminallaw.com

(972) 369-0577

Winning

From time to time I’m asked what my win-loss record is.  It’s a fair question, I suppose, from someone whose not around defense lawyers all-day every-day.

The question assumes all cases are equal in complexity, difficulty – and all people facing the dilemma of a criminal cases have the same tolerances for risk or life pressures which affect their decisions.  So I like to joke “last year, I made the playoffs.”  It normally gets a chuckle – but the person typically gets the point.

A sexual assault allegation where consent is blurred by alcohol consumption is much different than a bank robbery caught on tape.  Also the pressures facing a pilot arrested for a DWI and the loss of a lucrative livelihood aren’t the same as a college student studying for an MBA who got arrested for marijuana.  My goal is to clear everyone’s record who comes into my office – but not all cases are equal.

It’s unethical for any lawyer to guarantee results.  This makes sense because we are in the profession of quantifying unpredictable variables.  I know what the law says should happen — but unless I’m actually both your lawyer and the judge in a case, I can’t guarantee it will happen.  I know how the prosecutor will likely approach your case — but until I’m both the prosecutor and your lawyer in a case, I can’t guarantee what will happen either.  And then there are juries.  Don’t even get me started with them.

So what constitutes a win is often relative.  Make no mistake — I hate losing and I’ll always do my best to completely clear my client’s record in every case.  Sometimes it can be a really tall mountain.  If it is a bad felony charge we can often get it reduced if winning is too unrealistic.  If we can’t win a case which might result in losing a job or even a career – then we can often get the charges reduced to something my client can live with.  I’m in a tough business.  There are cases which come in my door where a great outcome is simply less time in prison.

The one thing a lawyer can always guarantee is how they treat you and their effort.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas and is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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

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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.