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 and is licensed by the State Bar of Texas.

 


What is a Felony?

May 29, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

A felony is any crime which carries with it over one year of possible punishment.

This is the law in every state including Texas.  This is because it is the federal law definition and the federal law is supreme.

Below is a list of common felonies.  Don’t hit the panic button just because a charge is categorized as a felony.  Many of these charges carry possible probation even in the event of conviction.

Examples of common felonies in Texas include:

Drug Charges:

  • Possession of Controlled Substances such as cocaine, heroine, or methamphetamine;
  • Possession of prescription pills by non-prescription holder such as Adderall, or over 28 grams of hydrocodone, oxycontin, or Ambien;
  • Possession of Marijuana over 4 oz.;

Driving While Intoxicated Charges:

  • DWI 3rd or greater;
  • DWI with a Child;
  • Intoxicated Assault;
  • Intoxicated Manslaughter;

Theft Related Charges:

  • Any Theft Over $2,500;
  • Money Laundering;
  • Robbery;
  • Aggravated Robbery;

Assault Charges:

  • Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon;
  • Aggravated Assault;
  • Assault by Impeding Airway;
  • Injury to Child;
  • Injury to Elderly;
  • Kidnapping;
  • Manslaughter;
  • Murder;

Property Crimes

  • Burglary of a Building;
  • Burglary of a Habitation;

Sexual Charges:

  • Sexual Assault
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault
  • Indecency With a Child (by contact or exposure)
  • Sexual Assault of a Child (Statutory Rape)
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child under 14
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child under 6
  • Continuous Sexual Assault of Child or Young Children

Obviously this is not an exclusive list but it hopefully give you an idea.

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

 


Is it a Crime to Threaten Someone?

May 22, 2018

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

A threat is a crime in Texas under certain circumstances.  I’ll discuss the two most common.

Terroristic Threat

The first offense is labeled by the Penal Code as a “Terroristic Threat“.  It might be a touch aggressively named, but is committed when there is a threat of violence seeking a particular reaction listed under Texas Penal Code 22.07(a)(1).  Examples include trying to put another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, trying to interrupt public transportation, or trying to cause a reaction of an Emergency Organization.

Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon

The second is aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon can be committed several different ways — but for our discussion, it is committed where a person “uses or exhibits” a “deadly weapon” during an assault by threat.

A deadly weapon is legally defined by Texas Penal Code 1.07(a)(17) as a firearm or anything which has a use or intended use that is to inflict serious bodily injury or death.  Prosecutors can get pretty liberal with what is and isn’t a deadly weapon.  In general if someone is threatened with an object like a knife, bat, pipe or something like that — it will be an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

What About Freedom of Speech?

Any legal scholar will tell you there is a limitation to every right under the bill of rights.  You cannot run into a theater and yell, “fire!”  In fact, Terroristic Threat is the very crime you’d be committing by doing so.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the State Bar of Texas.  Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 

 


The Law On Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide in Texas

October 16, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Manslaughter

Manslaughter in Texas is codified under Texas Penal Code Chapter 19.04(a) and is committed when someone “recklessly causes the death of an individual.”  Manslaughter is a 2nd Degree Felony (2 to 20 years in the Texas Department of Corrections).

The legal definition for reckless is defined by Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(c).  That provision states, ” A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”

This legal standard is clearly and obviously subjective. Therefore, no bright line test as to any fact scenario can be indicative of whether a death could be charged as manslaughter as compared to any other form of homicide under Chapter 19.  The best way to show what may be “reckless” is by giving some examples of cases where convictions for manslaughter were upheld on appeal.

Examples of Manslaughter Cases Upheld on Appeal

In Threet v. State, 2003 Tex. App. LEXIS 4136 (Tex.App. — Austin, 2003), Defendant was convicted of manslaughter where he and the victim, another college age student, got into an argument at a house-party and went outside to “trade licks.”  The victim punched Defendant first in the chest, and the Defendant then punched victim in the face.  When the victim fell to the ground, Defendant continued to punch him several times then kick him in the head with a hiking boot.  The victim died later that evening.  Defendant was indicted for murder, but was convicted of manslaughter, a lesser-included offense.

In Willis v. State, 761 S.W.2d 434 (Tex.App. — Houston [14th Dist]), Defendant was similarly convicted of manslaughter where he struck a man with a pistol-butt on the head on the steps leadning into a pool hall.  The victim fell backwards and struck his head on the board.  The victim broke his neck and died the next day.  Similar to Threet, Defendant was originally charged with murder but the jury found the lesser-included offense of manslaughter to be appropriate.

Manslaughter is similar, but should not be confused with intoxicated manslaughter which you can read about here.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Criminally negligent homicide is defined by Texas Penal Code Chapter 19.05(a) and is committed when someone causes the death of an individual by criminal negligence.  Criminally negligent homicide is a State Jail Felony (between 180 days and 2 years in a State Jail institution).

Criminal negligence is defined by Tex.Pen.C. 6.03(d) and is occurs when someone is “criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”

Again, this standard is extremely subjective, so here is a case where appeals courts have sustained convictions for criminally negligent homicide:  Chambless v. State, 368 S.W.3d 785 (Tex.App.– Austin, 2012), Defendant woke up in the middle of the night due to noises in his front yard.  Assuming it was a neighbors dog, Defendant fired a semi-automatic rifle three to five times into the yard.  Unbeknownst to Defendant, the victim, a neighbor was in his yard and had been hit by the bullets.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any situation, you should consult an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-clien relationship.  Communications sent through this forum are not confidential nor privileged.


Texas Criminal Punishment Levels

June 25, 2010

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Offense Levels in Texas (updated as of January, 2018):

Class C Misdemeanors:  Punishable by a fine not to exceed $500:

  • Traffic offenses
  • Assault by contact
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Disorderly conduct (other than firearm related)
  • Theft under $100 (unless theft committed by check)
  • Insufficient funds
  • Minor in possession (MIP)
  • Minor in Consumption

Class B Misdemeanors: Fine not to exceed $2,000 and not more than 180 days confinement in county jail:

  • DWI (72 hours minimum jail; 6 days minimum with open container)
  • Possession of Marijuana (less than 2 oz.)
  • Theft over $100 but less than $750
  • Theft by check (over $20 but less than $500)
  • Criminal mischief over $100 but less than $750 (vandalism)
  • Violation of a protective order
  • Indecent exposure
  • Racing on a public road
  • Prostitution
  • Disorderly Conduct with Firearms (display or discharge)

Class A Misdemeanors:  Fine not to exceed $4,000 and not more than 180 days confinement in county jail:

  • DWI (2nd offense) (minimum 72-hours jail)
  • DWI over 0.15 BAC
  • Possession of marijuana (between 2 oz. and 4 oz.)
  • Possession of dangerous drugs (usually the possession of legal drugs without a valid prescription)
  • Assault causing bodily injury
  • Theft between $750 and $2,500 (whether by check or otherwise)
  • Criminal mischief over $750 but less than $2,500
  • Evading on foot

State Jail Felonies:  Fine not to exceed $10,000 and confinement in state jail institution for no less than 180 days and no more than 2 years.

  • Possession of controlled substance less than 1 gram (typically methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin)
  • Credit card abuse (using another person’s credit card without authorization)
  • Third theft conviction of any amount
  • Theft between $2,500 and $30,000
  • Forgery
  • DWI with a minor under the age of 15 in the vehicle
  • Evading with a vehicle
  • Car Theft (Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle)

Third Degree Felonies:  Fine not to exceed $10,000 and confinement in Texas Department of Corrections for no less than 2 years and no more than 10 years.

  • Possession of controlled substance between 1 and 4 grams;
  • Aggravated assault
  • Assault causing bodily injury (enhanced from prior finding of family violence)
  • Burglary of a building
  • Theft between $30,000 and $150,000
  • DWI (3rd offense)
  • Indecency with a child (by exposure)
  • Solicitation of a minor

Second Degree Felonies: Fine not to exceed $10,000 and confinement in Texas Department of Corrections for no less than 2 years and no more than 20 years:

  • Possession of a controlled substance over 4 grams but less than 200 grams
  • Burglary of a habitation
  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • Theft between $150,000 and $300,000
  • Indecency with a child (by contact)
  • Injury to a child
  • Sexual Assault of a Child (Under 17 but not 14)
  • Sexual Assault
  • Attempted murder
  • Intoxicated manslaughter

First Degree Felony:  Fine not to exceed $10,000 and confinement in Texas Department of Corrections for no less than 5 years and no more than 99 years.

  • Murder
  • Possession of a controlled substance over 200 grams
  • Possession of a controlled substance between 4 and 200 grams with intent to distribute
  • Arson
  • Theft over $300,000
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child under 6 (25 – Life w/o Parole)
  • Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child or Young Children (25 – Life w/o Parole)

It should be understood that though many of these offenses carry mandatory minimum jail sentences, virtually every offense other than Murder has provisions whereby sentence may be probated or suspended for community supervision (probation).

Other points:

There are some offenses referred to as “hybrid” offenses which mean they can straddle boundaries of punishment — but for the most part the levels remain fairly consistent.  Some offenses like Driving While Intoxicated raise the minimum punishment level but are still considered to be in that general category.

Also many offenses are subject to what are known as enhancements.  Enhancements are other surrounding factors that can enhance — or increase the base punishment level for certain offenses.  The enhancement can be for something surrounding the transaction (like possession of drugs in a drug free zone), or as is often the case because of prior criminal history.

*Jeremy F. Rosenthal is Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization andan licensed to practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any specific issue you should consult an attorney directly.