Articles Posted in Post Conviction

Proving actual innocence in Texas by means of an 11.07 Writ of Habeas Corpus is extremely difficult. Judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals like to refer to the effort as a “Herculean Task” because the Applicant has to essentially refute the State’s original case with new evidence.

Families trying to decide on whether to hire habeas counsel and what amount of resources to spend need to understand the nature of the applicant’s burden and whether other potential grounds for relief should also be raised.

The Applicant’s burden

In Texas, a person convicted of a felony has a statutory right to file a subsequent application for writ of habeas corpus under Article 11.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, but only under very narrow circumstances.

Section 4 of article 11.07 controls subsequent writs. It reads:

(a) If a subsequent application for writ of habeas corpus is filed after final disposition of an initial application challenging the same conviction, a court may not consider the merits of or grant relief based on the subsequent application unless the application contains sufficient specific facts establishing that:

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.

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.

I get calls on a regular basis from families asking questions about their loved one’s “short way” release date. The family doesn’t really know what the guy is talking about, and so they ring me up. Here’s a breakdown of what the inmate means, and the legal realities all inmates face as they work to get out of prison as quickly as possible.

“Short way” used to be slang for “mandatory supervision.” Prior to 1996, the Government Code authorized the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole to release certain categories of inmates automatically when their calendar time and good conduct time equalled the full term of the prison sentence. Inmates and their families could rely on the “short way” release date and plan accordingly.

But the law changed after 1996 as the Texas Legislature became uncomfortable with automatic release. For inmates incarcerated after the new law went into effect, release was no longer “mandatory” when their good time and calendar time equalled their sentence. Instead, the parole board could deny release if:

After a conviction is final, the only effective way to hold the prosecution accountable for failing to disclose exculpatory evidence is through filing an 11.07 writ application in accordance with the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

But public disclosure laws make the investigation of prosecutorial misconduct difficult. Specifically, the Texas public disclosure statute allows District Attorney Offices to withhold prosecutor “work product” from defense attorneys who make written request to review the State’s file.

The State relies on this “work product exception” to remove all prosecutor notes, internal memoranda, emails from law enforcement, trial preparation documents, and court notes (to name just a few commonly-withheld items) from a defense attorney’s review. The result is that defense attorneys can’t see the very documents most likely to contain “Brady” material (i.e. potentially exculpatory evidence), or documents that at least reveal misbehavior on the part of law enforcement.

Nearly all of my clients ask me at some point if we can use an Article 11.07 writ to get a reduced sentence.

The short answer is no. The writ is used to collaterally attack a prison sentence. It is an “all or nothing” fight where I try to find a cognizable ground for relief that was so prejudicial to my client that the only remedy is a new trial. There’s no procedural way to ask for less time on the sentence my client has already received. Judgments are final unless reversed, full stop.

But that’s not the whole story.

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.

As many of you know, the Texas Legislature recently passed a law legalizing hemp. You may not be aware that the new hemp law has led to the dismissal of hundreds of weed cases, and that your recent conviction may be legally suspect.

If you have been convicted of or entered a plea to a possession of marijuana case since June 10, 2019, you may have a legal basis to get your conviction or disposition overturned. You should consult a post-conviction attorney for more information.

The New Law

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