The Top 6 Things You Should Know Before Pleading Guilty

September 7, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Pleading guilty may be the best option in a case – but it should never be the first option.  The decision to plead guilty is often not much different than the decision to get a permanent tattoo everyone can see.  You should fully know and understand the consequences and alternatives before making this choice.

1.  What does it mean if I Plead Not Guilty?

It means you are exercising your right to a trial by judge or jury.  Every person has the right to a trial and every person has the right to plead “Not Guilty” to a criminal charge regardless of whether they committed the crime alleged.  There is nothing dishonest or immoral about pleading “Not Guilty” because your claim is essentially the state or government is unable to prove your case beyond all reasonable doubt.  Some backwards countries require you to prove your innocence — but the U.S. isn’t one of them.  By asking the State to bring it’s proof against you — you are keeping your government accountable to the people.

2.  What Rights am I Giving Up?

The framer’s of our constitution really knew what they were doing.  They gave us several extremely powerful rights — which in and of themselves could actually prevent you from being convicted regardless if you are “guilty as sin” or are completely innocent.  My list is only partial, but here are some of the rights you’ll waive in a guilty plea:

  • The right to a jury trial, the value of which speaks for itself;
  • The right to testify in your own defense and be heard — or the opposite — to remain silent so you don’t have to be exposed to harassing or abusive questions (known in the legal profession as “do you still beat your wife” questions) from the prosecutor.
  • You’re waiving arguably your most important right — the right to cross examine a witness.  Cross examination is a powerful way to break down the State’s case and show the jury or judge the full truth of an accuser’s account.
  • You’d typically (but not always) waive your right to appeal which means barring some remarkable unknown circumstances — the case will be final once the judge accepts the plea.

3.  What Are the Consequences of My Guilty Plea?

Know what you’re signing up for.  Understand the differences between deferred adjudication and a conviction and ask your lawyer about how it impacts your ability to expunge (clear) or hide (non-disclose) your record.  Understand the requirements you’re agreeing to if you’re accepting probation — and the punishments if you fall short.  Ask about other collateral consequences particular to the type of charge you’re pleading guilty to… will it affect your right to vote?  To own a firearm?  Could it cost you your job, a professional license or the ability to get a professional license?  If you’re agreeing to go to jail or prison, know the parole guidelines first.

4.  Can I Actually be Acquitted at Trial?

I tell juries all the time the truth that, “people are acquitted in courthouses all around America every single day.”  Your lawyer should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each case with you.  Again, the prosecution bears the burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt which never shifts back to you.  Not only that, but you are presumed innocent.   Just because some facts may look bad in your case doesn’t mean you’ll lose.  Before you make the decision to plead guilty, you should know what may or may not happen at trial.

5.  Will the Punishment be Worse if I Take the Case to Trial?

People often assume the prosecutor’s plea offer is a better shake than the judge or jury will give in the event you’re convicted after a trial.  Often prosecutors, in making plea offers, simply don’t have their fingers on the pulse of the community.  Merely because the individual prosecutor may be judgmental doesn’t mean a judge or jury will agree with them.  A prosecutor asking to jail a 42 year homemaker with 3 kids for a DWI after a night of drinks with girlfriends may find the jury is angry with him for what could be seen as a mean suggestion.

6.  Won’t Fighting the Case Make the Prosecutor or Judge Mad?

Maybe.  But so what?

If you’re charged with a crime, you have to be far more concerned with how the case will impact you 10, 20, or 30 years down the road… long after both the judge or prosecutor have forgotten your name.  Besides, the vast majority of judges I’ve been around actually appreciate strong advocacy from defense lawyers and few judges (or juries) give in to a frustrated prosecutor upset about having to prove a case.

*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 is intended to be legal advice and for legal advice about any situation you should consult with an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship an communications sent through this forum are not privileged nor confidential.


New Photo-Lineup Bill May Become Texas Law

March 25, 2011

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

The Texas legislature is considering measures to give force all law enforcement agencies conducting photo-lineups to have uniform standards and uniform procedures.

This article summarizes the problem and the situation.  Texas has had an atrocious record of wrongful convictions, and the statute is designed at eliminating one of the root causes — photo lineups that are not done correctly.  Experts agree that often the person administering the photo lineup can consciously or subconsciously influence the witness.

The measure will not entirely invalidate photo-lineups that don’t comply, however.  As long as the lineup “substantially complies” with state law, it will still be legal.  This clause takes a lot of bite out of the law, but it’s a step in the right direction none-the-less.

*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 is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice pertaining to any legal matter you should consult an attorney directly.


Collin County Deferred Prosecution Program — Update (1/31/11)

January 31, 2011

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

Many changes have and are taking effect under new Criminal District Attorney Greg Willis.

Amongst those changes are changes to Collin County’s Deferred Prosecution Program.  That program was originally instituted by former District Attorney John R. Roach, Sr. and allowed youthful “offenders” the opportunity to avoid having their cases be filed formally in exchange for a less-formal probation under the supervision of the Collin County Community Supervision department (probation).

There were many complaints about how Mr. Roach’s administration ran the program.  For example, there were formal guidelines set in place that were inflexible and could be somewhat arbitrary.  For example, people were refused entry into the program because they did not reply within the narrow time frame given to them regardless of the reason.

Also, the method in which people were contacted was suspect.  First, the person would receive direct notification of the program via an unsigned letter bearing the letter-head of the probation department.  The letter would invite the offender and his/her parents to come and confess to the crime — and that they would then be considered for admission into Deferred Prosecution Program (the letters did not come from the DA’s office).  Lawyers in Texas cannot directly contact persons they know to be represented by counsel in opposing matters.

The new Collin County DA’s policy towards the Deferred Prosecution Program takes a far more common-sense approach.  It appears as though they are evaluating the program on a case-by-case basis and they are willing to review cases submitted to them for review.  It’s guesswork at this point as to how exactly the old-guidelines will play into the new decision making, but the Defense lawyer community is hopeful that the program will be more fair and available to people deserving a second chance.

Obviously, the DA’s office has to draw the line somewhere with allowing people into the Deferred Prosecution Program — which means that not everyone will get what they want.  At least everyone will be heard.  And that’s a huge change.

Ask your lawyer about the Deferred Prosecution Program in Collin County if you think it’s an option for your case or your child’s case.

*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 is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice for any specific situation, you should directly consult with an attorney.


Theft of Service

January 23, 2011

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Theft of service is a criminal charge where the alleged victim accuses someone of stealing services instead of actual property.  An example may include where someone hires a contractor to build something that he never intends to pay for.  Also, it is a law used by rental companies to charge people with theft if they don’t return the rented property.  It is controlled by Texas Penal Code 31.04(a) and says in relevant part:

“A person commits theft of service if, with intent to avoid payment for service that he knows is provided only for compensation:

“(1)  he intentionally or knowingly secures performance of the service by deception, threat, or false token;

“(2)  having control over the disposition of services of another to which he is not entitled, he intentionally or knowingly diverts the other’s services to his own benefit or to the benefit of another not entitled to them;

“(3)  having control of personal property under a written rental agreement, he holds the property beyond the expiration of the rental period without the effective consent of the owner of the property, thereby depriving the owner of the property of its use in further rentals; or

“(4)  he intentionally or knowingly secures the performance of the service by agreeing to provide compensation and, after the service is rendered, fails to make payment after receiving notice demanding payment.

The punishment levels for theft of service are the same as for normal theft charges.  This is to say that the level of offense is governed by the dollar amount alleged to have been stolen.

Theft of service is generally much harder to prove than a normal theft charge.  This is because there often isn’t a clear distinction between a bad business deal and fraud.  The key is the “intent” element.  The state must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused planned to steal the services all along.  This can be extremely difficult because often the motive for someone not paying a bill lacks criminal culpability.

The second part of the statute in 31.04 creates presumptions that the court can use to instruct the jury that a person is presumed to have stolen in certain circumstances.  An example of this is where an accused fails to make payment within 10 days of receiving notice from the victim to make payment.  The presumption, though, is rebuttable and the jury does not have to accept it as true.

Theft of service — like theft — is a very serious charge.  Though to criminalize a deal gone bad may seem easy to deal with — you should get a lawyer regardless!

*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 is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice about any specific situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 


Two More Dallas County DNA Exonerations

January 4, 2011

By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

Dallas County is expected to exonerate the longest-serving prisoner shown to be innocent through DNA evidence this week.  Cornelius Dupree Jr., and Anthony Massingill were wrongly identified by a rape victim in 1979.  You can read about it here.

Yet again we see themes common to many of these cases.  Bad eye-witness testimony, failure to presume people innocent, and and decades of indifference.  Dallas has had the single most exonerations in America.

*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 is intended to be legal advice.  For specific legal advice on any matter you should contact an attorney directly.