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.

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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 2 (Access to Courts)

August 11, 2020

 By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

One of the things I miss most with the pandemic is not seeing everyone at the Courthouse every day.

Being a defense lawyer is like being an athlete who shows up to the same clubhouse 3 or 4 times every week.  Over the years you have the opportunity to develop social, collegial, and professional relationships with everyone in the building.  You get to know other defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, court coordinators, bailiffs and even the security guards at the front door.

These relationships are more than just fun.  They are the “WD-40” of courthouse efficiency.  It goes without saying being face to face allows everyone in the building to do their jobs more efficiently.  Not only that, being physically in the courthouse allows me to solve 10 problems a morning instead of just 2 if I’m trying only to work the phone.

Put in its simplest terms — I have a much more challenging time being an active influence for my client when I’m not “in the room where it happens.”

The limited access to prosecutors and court personnel presents two main problems.

Courthouse pictureFirst, is the limited ability to communicate.  In grade school we learn about verbal and non-verbal communication.  The stuff happens to be true.  Advocating for a client in person where the prosecutor or Judge can see and sense the depth and passion of an argument — even an informal one — is far better in person.  Texting, phoning, and even zoom simply isn’t as effective.

The second is simple access to prosecutors and court personnel.  During normal times it is much easier for me to be able to — for example — grab a prosecutor and visit with a Judge quickly about troubleshooting a problem either on the bench or in chambers.  Hurdles to those conversations are far more easy to overcome.  What used to take minutes can now take weeks.

Life will get back to normal.  My hope is that when it does, the ability to communicate with everyone at the courthouse does too.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is currently designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

 

 


Can You Talk on Your Cell Phone While Driving in Texas?

May 5, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Yes, unless you are under 18 years old or are within 6 months of getting your driver’s license, or in a school zone.

Between 90 and 100 cities and municipalities have their own restrictions too which would tighten the law even more.

Here’s What Is Illegal

It’s illegal to “send or receive electronic messages” while driving — so that would include texting while driving, social media, or any way of transmitting a message to another person.

What Type of Crime is it to Text and Drive?

Normally it’s just a traffic offense.  But if the driving is bad enough, it could be charged as reckless driving.  If someone is hurt or injured, it could be prosecuted as an assaultive offense.  If it causes death, it could be prosecuted as criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter.

Our office doesn’t handle simple traffic offenses — but we do handle more severe distracted driving charges.  You can read here about those.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He was designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Martindale-Hubbell in 2019.

 


Vehicular Homicide – Defending Through Technology

April 23, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

Technology is our friend in defending a distracted driving death case.

Why is technology our friend?  Because more often than not, it provides us with a 360-degree view of what was going on in everyone’s mind and car at the time of the accident.  Law enforcement and prosecution, on the other hand, tend to see one nugget of technological information.  When they do, they jump to conclusions and blind themselves to anything else.

An Example of Using Technology to Tell the Full Story:

Let’s say Driver 1 and Driver 2 collide causing the death of Driver 2 — and Driver 1 is on trial for Vehicular Manslaughter.

Let’s assume police are able to lawfully get into Driver 1’s phone (a big assumption).  Driver 1 was shown to have sent 3 texts in the 5 minutes before the crash with one text received 15 seconds before the accident.

Police then jump up and down hollering this is conclusive Driver 1 was distracted and caused the death of Driver 2.

But we’re capable knowing a much fuller story than just this.

We can tell based on the car’s infotainment system virtually anything being communicated to Driver 1 from the car.  Was there a hands-free system being used at the time through bluetooth or through a USB cable? Did the car have lane-assist and if so, was the driver in his/her lane?  Did the driver brake and/or moderate their speed?

Many of these things are knowable from both cars in the accident.

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Car “Infotainment” systems can be key evidence in manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide cases.

Investigation and Privilege in Defending Vehicular Death Charges

A common fear is, “what if we dig into the technology and the truth actually hurts us?”

It’s a good question – but remember – your lawyer’s investigation is privileged.  If the investigation unearths bad or harmful information, then the information doesn’t boomerang and hurt the defense.  The public policy behind this is simple — Defense lawyers and defense investigators would never really dig into the truth if they were always afraid of what they might uncover.

Summation

The cornerstone to any good distracted driving homicide case whether it be criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter is being fluid with the technology surrounding the entire case.  The more information, typically the better.

*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.

 


Vehicular Homicide – Criminally Negligent Homicide

April 22, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.texasdefensefirm.com

(972) 369-0577

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Criminally Negligent Homicide is controlled by Texas Penal Code 19.05(a) which says, “A person commits an offense if he causes the death of an individual by criminal negligence.”  It is a State Jail Felony punishable between 180 days and 2 years in a State Jail facility and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

Criminal Negligence

“Criminal Negligence” under Texas Law is multifacited for the purposes of a distracted driving death case.  A typical jury is instructed:

A person causes the death of an individual by criminal negligence if—
1. there is a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct will cause
that death;
2. this risk is 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 person’s standpoint;
and
3. the person ought to be aware of that risk.

I highlighted the word “ought” because this is the distinction between Criminally Negligent Homicide and Manslaughter.  For Manslaughter, a person is actually aware of the danger yet consciously disregards the danger.

This is known as a “culpable mental state” and is a topic of first-year law school.  In Latin we call it “Mens Rea.”  Manslaughter requires a higher mental state and Criminally Negligent Homicide is a lower mental state.

Causation

As I discussed with Manslaughter, Causation is critical yet confusing.  The test in Texas is what is known as “but for” causation.  That is, “but for” the acts of the Defendant, would the person have died?  But consider a case where the deceased made mistakes which contributed to their own death?  This is known as concurrent causation.

The test for concurrent causation is whether the concurrent cause, on its own, was insufficient to cause the person’s death.

Here’s an example:

Driver 1 is texting and driving and fails to properly yield the right of way to another driver (Driver 2).  Driver 2 is also texting and was careless about seizing the right of way from Driver 1.  Driver 2 dies in the collision.  The Jury would have to resolve two questions for causation — first, is Driver 1’s distracted driving the “but for” cause of Driver 2’s death; and second, is Driver 2’s own carelessness insufficient on it’s own to cause his/her death?

It’s hard stuff – and unfortunately Jurors have a hard time tuning out emotion too — but that’s another topic.

Summation

Criminally negligent homicide for distracted driving or texting while driving in Texas is a lesser charge than Manslaughter.  The reason is because the culpable mental state also lower.  Other than the mental state there is little legal difference between Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide, however, the punishment ranges are clearly much less than for Manslaughter (2-20 years).  I hope this helps you understand the issues!

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