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.

Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 18: Empowering the Jury to Stop an Injustice

December 9, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Injustice is possible in sexual abuse claims.  It can come in the form of a wrongful conviction or a horrifically cruel prison sentence.  I ask potential jurors if there is anything worse at all someone can be accused of or convicted of than child sexual abuse – and they almost always agree this is the worst.

Even worse – in defending these charges its not uncommon for mothers, fathers, spouses (and etc.) of the accused to plead with me to explain why does it seem like they’ve taken all of their loved one’s rights away… why have the police and prosecutors treated this as guilty until proven innocent?

“Because”, I explain, “they think he’s a child molester.”

Getting the jury to care enough to render a Not Guilty verdict or in some instances to give a fair punishment is my last installment on my series of sexual abuse blogs.

Getting the Jury to Take Accountability for their Verdict

The Milgram Experiment

There is a famous and notorious experiment which I think can be all too similar to a jury trial called the Milgram experiment.

The actual test subject who volunteers is told to read questions to a person over the radio who is in another room and can’t be seen.  When the person answers incorrectly, the volunteer is told to administer a shock in increasing doses to that person.

A “doctor” sits with the volunteer and repeatedly assures them the other person is just fine, also volunteered, was evaluated for being able to withstand the shocks, and further they consented to the full experiment.  The shocks increase to the point where the unseen person relays they are in excruciating pain and eventually tells the volunteer to stop.

The Milgram experiment’s goal is to see whether the volunteer actually does stop or if they administer the cruel shock even when the other person begs them to stop.  The experiment is now considered unethical as it’s too mean to put someone in the volunteers situation.

Dr. Stanley Milgram was a professor at Yale.  He concocted this experiment in the wake of the Nuremberg trials where Nazi after Nazi used the defense that they were just following orders.

In the Milgram experiment the volunteers would repeatedly want to stop administering the shock but would look back at the Doctor, the “authority figure,” who would tell the volunteer it was okay to ignore the other person’s plea for mercy.  The volunteer felt okay administering the shock because they divested themselves of accountability – if the other person was being hurt it was the doctors fault and not their own, right?

How Can a Jury Be Like the Volunteers in the Milgram Experiment?

There are plenty of opportunities for a juror to blame anyone and everyone else in the process for a bad result.

A juror is a volunteer or a stranger to the legal proceedings.  They are there for one week of their lives and have absolutely no connection to the parties and can go about their lives when they are done.  They do not have to live with the consequences of their verdict except for perhaps their conscience.

There are 12 jurors on a panel and no single one is responsible for the actions of the other 11.

And the biggest similarity — the courtroom is jam packed with authority figures who are telling the jurors they have thoroughly vetted the case and they wouldn’t be pushing charges with such harsh consequences unless they were true.

Fast-forward fifteen years to when the juror is reading the morning paper and sees they wrongly convicted the defendant.  The juror can blame everyone else for defendant’s plight.  This was the fault of the police, of the prosecutor, the Judge – but not mine.  Everyone else should have stopped this injustice first.  I was just doing what everyone else told me was the right thing to do.


The Single Hardest Thing For Me to Accomplish

Through a trial, I can point out challenges which make jurors question the state’s case.  I might even be able to persuade them my client is innocent or even that if my client is guilty – the prosecution’s punishment is far too cruel and stiff.

But my real job is to undo the Milgram effect.  To get the jurors to know, accept, and understand THEY and THEY ALONE are responsible for their verdict.  They are the volunteers sitting in the chair and THEY must have courage to tell the doctor sitting behind them they will not intentionally cause another person pain and walk away without human accountability.

Empowering the jury to fight an injustice means getting them not only to care about our client’s fight for justice – but to care beyond their one week in our legal system.  If we can convince jurors they are not only just a stake-holder in the outcome of the case but the final and most important stake-holder, then we have a real chance.

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

Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 17: Preparing for Punishment and Mitigation

December 8, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Criminal trials are bifurcated.  This means there are two phases.  The first phase is guilt/ innocence and in the event of a guilty verdict then the second phase is a punishment phase.  The punishment phase can be either before a judge or a jury.  The defense is legally and ethically required to prepare for both.  Preparing for punishment is today’s topic on my continuing series of blogs about sexual abuse charges.

Losing or Pleading Guilty on a Sexual Abuse Charge

Many defense lawyers talk like pro wrestlers.  We talk about how tough we are and how we rip the opponent from limb to limb.  But the fact is we come in second place in our profession more than we’d like and plea bargaining is a critical aspect of defense work.

With the punishments for sexual abuse being as stiff as they are – we always have to keep in mind the possible second phase of the trial.  We have to work just as hard preparing for the possible punishment phase as we do the guilt/innocence phase.

In sexual abuse cases – particularly with child victims – plea bargaining is often not a major component.  This is because the plea offers can be so high that there is either no reason to seriously consider them or if the prosecution wants such a high prison sentence then on our side we may as well go down fighting.  But it never hurts to research, learn and develop mitigating facts either for punishment or on the off-chance we can plea bargain to lower charges.

What is Mitigation?

Mitigation means learning and proving facts which lessen punishment.

Mitigation is a difficult task in a sexual abuse case for a number of reasons.  There is a victim who has suffered horrific abuse which has the potential to emotionally and psychologically scar them for life.  Sex is still — and will always be — a taboo subject for many folks too.  Thus, many folks don’t understand criminal sexual dysfunction and aren’t interested in understanding it.  Another hidden factor is many jurors want to prove to other jurors how tough and intolerant they are of sexual abuse too.

The best mitigating evidence is what I call “three pronged.”  That is it accomplishes the following:

  • It acknowledges the abuse and thus helps the victim heal;
  • It explains underlying causes of the abuse;
  • It provides reason and hope the defendant can conform their behavior in the future.

Examples of Mitigating Facts in a Sexual Abuse Case

A saying I like is “hurt people hurt people.”  Many of the mitigating factors we look for are along those lines.  Examples could include:

  • The defendant was sexually abused themselves;
  • the defendant suffers from some mental deficiency;
  • the defendant suffers from some type of developmental deficiency;
  • the defendant suffers from some type of psychological deficiency;

Another key component of mitigation in sexual abuse cases are evaluations from licensed sex offender professionals which use empirical data to assess the degree of risk and the underlying causes of the dysfunction.  The evaluation can include a prognosis and discuss if any type of treatment will help the accused.

Examples of Mitigation the Prosecution Tears Through

Mitigation and preparation for punishment has to run deep.  There are some cases where the defense parades all of their friends and family to testify what a great person they are and hope it helps to lessen punishment.  I’m not against giving the jury a full picture of the accused’s life but doing a witness parade without something deeper allows the prosecutor to prove-up their narrative the defendant simply has everyone fooled.

Another poorly conceived punishment strategy is to tell the jury they got it wrong in the guilt/ innocence phase.  Don’t get me wrong… there is nothing worse to me than fighting like hell on a case I strongly believe in only to have a jury reject us.  But we only make matters worse by blaming them in a punishment phase.

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

Sexual Abuse Charges – Blog 16: The Focus of the Defense

December 7, 2020

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Proving innocence in any capacity is hard if not impossible regardless of the case.  To prove this point during jury selection, I’ll often invite a juror to prove they are innocent of not running a stop sign on the way to court.  I shoot down argument after argument (you didn’t get everyone’s license plate at that intersection did you?  You didn’t happen to have a passenger did you?  If you did bring a passenger – of course they’re your family and will lie for you).  Eventually they see it is their word against someone else’s word.  Proving you are innocent of sexual abuse charges really isn’t any easier.

So if the defense can’t prove our client’s innocence – then were should the defense focus?  This is today’s topic on my continuing series on sexual abuse charges.

Playing Offense –  Theories of the Case

The major challenge of any sexual abuse case is why the child’s allegations are not so.    No blog or article dedicated to this topic would fairly do it justice.  But the complexity and difficulty of the topic underscore just how thorough the defense needs to be in evaluating not only the child but the child’s circumstances as well as the circumstances of the adults around the child.

Child and teenage psychology is such a vast ocean you could earn a Ph.D. on the topic and dedicate your entire life to studying, researching, and improving it.  The defense needs to explore different theories of the case based on every bit of evidence they can muster.  An effective defensive theory is more than just conjecture and should be supported by academics.

A misconception about a defense which suggests what a child is saying is untrue is that it is done with malice by either a child or adult hatching a plot to ruin someone’s life.  This binary misconception tends to thrust or flip the burden of proof onto an accused to not only prove they are innocent, but to also show a jury some evil intent by an accuser.

Many defensive theories focus not only on children who make the allegations but on the adults who surround them have a profound effect on what and how their children communicate to them.

Focusing on the adults around the children can reveal whether an outcry was in response to repeated questioning, suggestive questioning, or cross-examination of a child by a hysterical parent or adult.  Focusing on adults around the child, too, can reveal whether a child has been “congratulated for their bravery,” rewarded, or otherwise put on a pedestal with positive attention for saying what adults might want to hear about a ne’er-do-well relative or acquaintance.

These examples, of course, represent just the tip of the iceberg for situations where an outcry has gone awry.  You can read article, after article, after article about the terrible an unjust turns these types of cases can turn based on the hysteria and mismanagement of the adults who handle these cases.

So What Does the Defense Need to Focus On?


*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 15: What Advantages does Defense Have?

December 6, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

The short answer to what advantages the defense has over the prosecution in sexual abuse charge is this:  Not many.

Prosecutions for sexual abuse are like freight trains headed towards our clients.  But the Defense does have an advantage here and there.  It goes without saying we have to maximize those advantages is we want a chance.  What few advantages an accused has are the topic of today’s article in my continuing series of blogs on sexual abuse charges.

Unilateral Discovery

The biggest advantage the defense enjoys is unilateral — or one way – discovery.  This means we are entitled to virtually the entire prosecution’s file but the prosecution is not allowed to see ours nor are we required to disclose anything other than if we intend to call expert witnesses.  The Statute controlling discovery in a criminal case is Tex.Code.Crim.Proc. 39.14.

Unilateral discovery is critical for defense work.  I don’t know if my client is innocent or guilty when they walk in my door regardless of what they tell me happened.  I wasn’t with them at the time of the crime or accusation.

But let’s say I was worried anything I learn about my case was subject to me handing over to a prosecutor.  I wouldn’t interview witnesses for fear they’d say damaging things.  I wouldn’t ask for forensic tests to be done for fear it could show my client is guilty.  I wouldn’t have my client take a polygraph test or psychological evaluation for fear I’d have to disclose damaging evidence.

In short – if discovery was reciprocal Defense lawyers simply couldn’t do their job.  We would hide from learning facts instead of aggressively investigating a case.  Clients wouldn’t confide in us the truth and they would see coming to their own lawyer as just giving the prosecution more evidence.

So with unilateral discovery – if we do learn damaging facts then it stays in my file.  To do otherwise would essentially degrade not only the attorney-client relationship but my entire ability to fight for someone’s innocence.

We Have the Ability to Know the Full Story – They Know Half

Along the lines of unilateral discovery – another advantage we have on the defense side is we have the ability to get our side of the story plus theirs.  We already get the state’s file as I discussed above.

Once the accused has a lawyer involved – the prosecution and police’s ability to learn our side of the story is largely cut-off because they are not allowed to talk with the accused.

In cases where the police get a confession – they often have enough of an accused’s side of the story to make it extremely daunting.

Police know interviewing a suspect is a balancing act.  They don’t want to set off any alarm triggers with the accused which will cause them to get a lawyer involved – because that will effectively end their ability to learn information from them.  On the other hand they usually very much want a confession so most interviews are geared towards that goal alone.

We have the ability to sit with our client for hours at a time to learn about witnesses, facts and lines of defense  law enforcement doesn’t know because they were never able to interview the accused or they weren’t interested in asking because it wasn’t on their radar or it didn’t help them get a confession.  We also have the benefit of having friendly witnesses come to us too who don’t want to talk with the prosecution.

We Know Their Playbook – They Don’t Know Ours

Several blogs in this series have dealt with common prosecution tactics in sexual abuse cases.  We have the advantage of knowing how they often take a one-size fits all approach which includes their common arguments and even many of the same witnesses and their tendencies.

The prosecution might know certain experts we use and be prepared for them – but beyond this, they really might not have much of a clue how we intend to defend any particular allegation.

Ex Parte Funding

Defendant has the ability in many cases to ask the court for funds to secure either investigators or experts in Texas if the accused is legally indigent.  This is true whether or not counsel is retained or appointed.  Ex Parte means the defendant gets to approach the judge without the prosecution knowing.

Asking for funding for investigators or experts in fields such as psychology, computers, DNA or any other discipline isn’t so much an advantage as much as it allows defense to offset some of the prosecution’s massive advantage in these areas.

Work Ethic

It goes without saying the harder we work – the luckier we get.  The prosecution and law enforcement are working very hard but we can always out work them.  Make sure your lawyer is doing that.

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