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Most criminal defense attorneys operate a private practice that relies on government money to stay afloat. And that may lead to compromised representation.

So what exactly am I talking about? Let me explain.

Most of you looking for a lawyer for a criminal case think there are two kinds of defense attorneys: “appointed” attorneys that the government assigns to poor people that can’t afford a lawyer, and private attorneys who run a business representing criminal defendants. If you’re paying good money for an attorney, you’d just assume that your lawyer is a competent business person who will put real time into your case and limit the number of clients — a classic quality over quantity practice. But if you catch a case in many parts of Texas, including big suburban counties like Montgomery, your assumptions would be wrong.

This post is the first entry in our “Know Your Legal Rights” series of blog posts related to police vehicle stops, detentions, and arrests. These posts are case studies based on real-life situations faced by defendants in the State of Texas, and are provided as general-interest information.They are not intended to be, and are not, legal advice. Every case is unique. So if you get pulled over and arrested, please seek the advice of legal counsel.

Today’s Question: Can a driver consent to a police search of a passenger’s purse?

Imagine you catch a ride with a friend. A few miles into the drive, you see flashing red and blue lights in the rear view mirror. Moments later you are parked on the side of the road having a conversation with a police officer.

Life is hard enough for a registered sex offender in the State of Texas. Jobs are difficult to come by. Friends and family often abandon them. There is constant judgment, ridicule, and the threat of harm by strangers.

Now, there’s a cadre of conmen out there tying to shake registered sex offenders down for money.

The scheme works like this: you get a call on your cell phone, often showing a legitimate number on the caller ID, such as a court house or county administration building. The person on the other end of the line says he’s a United States Marshall and that he’s got a warrant out for your arrest. He then claims that he has recorded conversations of you soliciting an underage person for sex. Knowing you are already registered as a sex offender, the person states he can recall the warrant and avoid release of the embarrassing material if you pay a fee. In one instance I am aware of, the con artist said he needed $850 to recall the warrant.

As of June 2019, TDCJ inmate release upon granting of parole has slowed down significantly, according to conversations I have had with both clients and TDCJ parole personnel.

The slow down appears to be due primarily to TDCJ staff shortages. I’m hoping the bottleneck is not permanent, but my sources seem skeptical that the problem will be alleviated any time soon.

For now, I’m hearing the projected time tables are as follows:

The Texas legislature has given judges and juries broad discretion in assessing punishment, especially for 1st Degree felonies. If you’re convicted of a 1st-degree crime and have no criminal history or enhanceable aspects to the offense, you face anywhere from 5 to 99 years in prison.

This can lead to unfair discrepancies in sentencing for defendants that commit the same kinds of crimes. Sometimes the personality and history of the person on the bench ends up being more important than the facts of the case (e.g. is the judge a “hard nosed” ex-prosecutor, a former civil attorney with sympathies for those with substance abuse problems, or a women’s advocate who absolutely hates family violence cases). And, if you’re going to the jury for punishment, it’s basically a complete wildcard.

Texas repeat offender statutes complicate matters. If you’ve been consecutively convicted of two prior felonies, the prosecutor can indict you as a habitual offender. Upon conviction, your minimum prison sentence is 25 years.

As marijuana becomes legal in more States, the States where is it still illegal (Texas) are happily continuing to arrest and prosecute those that possess it. As you come back from Colorado with your legally purchased marijuana, you should know that not all marijuana is treated the same in Texas.

Possession of marijuana in its plant form will most likely be a misdemeanor – you have to work to get to a felony – we are talking over 4oz.  If you are interested you can look at the statute here: Health and Safety Code section 481.121. This visual guide found on Leafly.com gives you an idea of how much marijuana you can carry and still be in the misdemeanor range.

https://www.texascriminalappeals.law/files/2018/05/marijuana.chart_-173x300.png
<—That is one ounce.  You can have 4x that and still be in the misdemeanor range

If you are on a felony probation, deferred adjudication, or just on conditions of bond for a pending felony case in Montgomery County, your life has gotten a lot harder this year.

Starting in January, the Montgomery County Probation Office began implementing a new randomized drug testing procedure. The policy requires all persons accused of a felony or who have pled to some type of felony probation or deferred adjudication to call the office every day and see if they have to submit to a drug test.

Here’s how it works. First, the probation department issues you a PIN number. It is then your responsibility to call the office every morning, enter your PIN number, and learn from the automated system if you have to take a urinalysis that day. You then have until 5:00 p.m. to travel to the probation office had provide a sample for testing.

Facing felony criminal charges in Montgomery County has been increasingly difficult for defendants who have to deal with both the underlying charges and onerous conditions of bond.

But things have recently gotten worse.

The Montgomery County Adult Probation Office has decided to implement a new random drug and alcohol test policy. Under this new policy (it’s been around for a few months now), Defendants must call in to the probation department EVERY DAY and enter in a unique pin number. An automated system will then inform them whether or not they have to submit to a urine analysis that day.  Because the system is randomized, you could be tested once a week, twice a week, or have no tests for two months. There’s no way to predict the frequency of tests for any one client.

Many people come into my office wanting to know if they can “go on probation” to avoid jail or prison time.

The first thing I tell them is stop talking about pleading guilty – it’s always the State’s burden to prove you did the crime, and sometimes the best option is to try and beat the case, either through pretrial negotiations or jury trial.

But when a plea is in a client’s best interest, I always take the time to explain that there is more than one option to avoid jail or prison. In Texas a judge can defer a finding of “guilty” and place you on “deferred adjudication,” or you can be found guilty by a judge or jury and be placed on what is called “straight probation.” In this post I try to outline the major differences between these two types of dispositions. As always, your situation is fact-specific. Don’t mistake this general primer as legal advice, and make sure to talk with your attorney before making any decisions related to your case.

Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law which make significant changes to the way a grand jury is selected. The old “pick your pal” method of selecting grand jurors is now history, but the new law doesn’t address other problems with the grand jury process.

How the grand jury selection process used to work:

A grand jury is a group of 12 citizens selected in a particular jurisdiction to decide whether a person should be indicted for a felony offense. Unlike the familiar jury in the courtroom (the “petit jury”), which is empaneled to decide whether a person is guilty or innocent of a crime, the grand jury has to answer a “threshold” question — whether there is probable cause to accuse a person of a specific crime or crimes. So the grand jury acts as the justice system’s gatekeeper.

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