Articles Posted in pleas

In a previous post I discussed Open Pleas to judges in Texas.

In this post I want to explore how inmates can attempt to challenge their open pleas as involuntary by using the article 11.07 writ of habeas corpus, and what hurdles they face.

This post is for general research and interest only and should not be considered legal advice. As always, the specific facts of your case matter more than anything else. Please consult with an experienced post conviction attorney if you or a loved one are considering legal action.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows for a defendant to plead “open” and get sentenced by the trial court. You can also have a jury sentencing hearing, but I’ll discuss that process in a separate post.

Defense attorneys often use the open sentencing procedure as a pressure release valve to resolve the tension between stubborn clients and/or stubborn prosecutors. Let me explain the process.

First, let’s define the phrase. An open plea means that the defendant pleads guilty, signs admonishments and stipulations that inform him of type of crime he is pleading guilty to, explain that he is waiving all rights related to trying the merits of the case to a jury, and specify the punishment range of the offense. But the defendant’s actual sentence is not yet fixed. It is up to the trial court to determine what the defendant’s sentence will be after holding an evidentiary hearing. At this hearing, both the prosecutor and the defense attorney have the opportunity to put on evidence for the court to consider before deciding what sentence the defendant should get.

This is the second post in a three-part series about the guilty plea process in Texas criminal Courts.

In the first post I covered how the State of Texas locks in your guilty plea through a series of signed admonishments and waivers.

Today’s post covers the plea bargain and judgment. Please remember, the primary point of describing this (mostly boring) process is to inform clients and their families of the procedural protections created by the Texas Legal System to Protect Judgments and Guilty Pleas. You should at least have a basic familiarity with how the process works before deciding whether it is worth it to later challenge your plea.

Defendants usually don’t realize their guilty plea was involuntary at the time they enter it. This is because involuntary pleas are almost always based on a misunderstanding, misrepresentation, or ineffective assistance on the part of plea counsel. It takes awhile for the defendant to realize what has happened.

Trying to undo a guilty plea is never easy. Defendants often fail to understand the legal significance of what they’ve signed. If you’re regretting entering a guilty plea and want to fight it, ring up a good criminal appeal attorney, because, as you’ll see below, the strategy you need to fight it depends on the procedural details of the case and at what point in the process you realized you’d been crossed, mislead, or misadvised.

In a three-part series, I’m going to describe how the guilty plea is protected by the Criminal Justice System, how a plea bargain is immortalized into a judgment, how a plea open to the court works (and how defendants sometimes get screwed with this procedural arrangement), and how to challenge guilty pleas as involuntary.

If you’re accused of possessing a controlled substance, you shouldn’t take a deal until the lab report comes back. That’s the advice dispensed recently in a concurring opinion in the Court of Criminal Appeals per curium case  Ex parte Saucedo, WR-87,190-02.

Easy for a high court judge to say. But sometimes reality forces your hand. You can’t stomach multiple court dates. You’re accused of possessing marijuana and no one will pay for a lab report. Or you know you’re guilty and just want to get the case over with. So you take a deal.

But what if the lab report eventually comes back and proves everyone wrong (including you)? If the report shows the stuff in your possession wasn’t a controlled substance, or even if the report just shows it was a different controlled substance that what the indictment or information alleged, you can probably get your plea overturned.

It’s a common scene: a defense attorney sitting with a pile of paperwork balanced on his lap, his client next to him. The attorney takes each page in turn and reviews it with the client: the judgment, the stipulation of evidence, the waiver of the client’s constitutional right to have a full trial.

This is the plea process, the way the majority of criminal cases end – with the defense attorney making sure his or her client truly understands what he is pleading to and understands what it all means.

Often the most time-consuming and complicated part of the plea paperwork is explaining the terms of a client’s probation. It seems simple enough at first glance – just a list of things you have to do, and a list of things you can’t do. Pay some fees. Go see your probation officer. Don’t use controlled substances. What’s the big deal?

For accused persons facing prosecution for certain low-level felony offenses, Texas Penal Code Section 12.44 is like the Holy Grail of plea deals. Clients continuously ask “what is a 12.44(a)” . . . “can I get a 12.44(a)” . . . and “how does 12.44(a) work?” They ask the same questions about Section 12.44(b).

So here’s the basics (and as always, if you have a particular legal question about YOUR CASE, talk to your lawyer . . . this post is for general info and should not be considered legal advice):

Section 12.44 of the Penal Code allows the trial court to either send you to your local county jail to serve time on a State Jail Felony Conviction (that’s Section 12.44(a)), or, with permission from the prosecutor, reduce your State Jail felony case to a misdemeanor conviction and have you serve your time in a county jail facility (that’s Section 12.44(b)).

Once upon a time in a not-so-distant past a prosecutor named Ken Anderson decided that he wanted to send a man named Michael Morton to prison for killing his (Mr. Morton’s) wife. The only problem was that Mr. Morton didn’t actually commit the murder.

But Mr. Anderson couldn’t be troubled with such stubborn facts, so he deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence during the trial. Mr. Morton was found guilty and served 25 years in prison. The withheld evidence included a blood-soaked bandana found at the crime scene that belonged to Mark Allan Norwood, the man ultimately convicted of the murder of Mr. Morton’s wife and another woman.

This awful series of events eventually led to the disbarment of Mr. Anderson (who had subsequently been elected to a district court bench), a finding of contempt (with a sentence of just ten days in jail, which seems a bit soft-handed in light of the 25 years served by Mr. Morton), and an agreed audit of every Williamson County case handled by Mr. Anderson (read about that little-know fact here).

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