Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Texas Crime Lab Under Scrutiny

The September issue of D Magazine has a very interesting article worth reading.  It's called "Bad Blood at the Dallas County Crime Lab."  Spend a few minutes and take a read.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shameful Statistic

Did you know that the United States has over 2,500 youth offenders serving life in prison without the possibility of parole?  Sadly, a staggering percentage of these youths (over 1/4) are serving this sentence for felony murder, meaning that the child was not the actual "trigger puller." (think the get away driver in a bank robbery gone awry scenario where the child is the driver)  

Now, take a guess how many youthful offenders are serving life in prison without the possibility of parole in the rest of the entire world.  That's right - Zero.  Zero.  Think about that.  

That statistic alone is shocking.  But consider that it has only been within the last several years that it has been held cruel and unusual to execute children for criminal acts (2005 to be exact).  And it was only last year that the US Supreme Court held that children cannot be given life in prison without the possibility of parole in non-homicide cases.  

Americans boast at being forward thinking and progressive.  And we are in many respects.  But it is shameful when we are the only nation in the entire world to sentence children to life in prison without no possibility of parole.

This should enrage you.  Check out the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.  Pay attention.  Take a stand.  Get involved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Texas Likes Cheap Justice...But for Whom?

In a follow up to yesterday's post, today's post recounts one of the harsh realities of the court appointed system.

36+ hours of trial preparation, interviews, research, and pretrial settings; the hours spent in the courtroom arguing in front of the jury and the judge on Monday and Tuesday.  And these are the only hours I logged for reimbursement.  I didn't even request payment for some of this time.  Never mind the thinking and planning that goes on all hours of the day for the sole purpose of protecting my client.

I have been on this case since November 2010, so we are talking about 10 months of representation all culminating in a jury trial (that resulted in a 30 minute acquittal by the way).  So I turned in my reimbursement form this morning only to have my bill slashed by more than 50%.  It is a well-known fact that court appointed lawyers are underpaid.  I knew that when I agreed to take court appointments.  But this is outrageous.

The judge's act in slashing my bill is a slap in the face.  It is the unspoken statement to me that my work isn't worth that much.  The statement that you shouldn't have spent that much time on this case.  That is what is troubling, unsettling.

Had the case plead out or had the jury convicted, would my bill have been slashed?  I think not.  After all, in such a scenario the court always orders the defendant to repay the court appointed lawyer.  That money doesn't come out of the county's coffers.
The problem with all of this is that the bottom line impact is not on the court appointed lawyer but on poor people who are accused of crimes.  Why would a lawyer agree to take court appointments and do a good job, the same job as he would do for a paying client, knowing that the pay will be de minimus - that you will basically lose money by taking these cases or work for next to nothing?

The problem with this judge and/or an indigent defense plan that caps a lawyer's compensation at a minimum dollar amount is that it discourages good lawyers, diligent lawyers, smart lawyers from taking appointments.  It encourages lawyers to plea out court appointed cases.  Why spend the time and effort if you don't get paid and if it's easy to sign plea papers?

Am I mad and upset that I didn't get reimbursed even half of what I submitted?  Of course.  But it's even more frustrating that the result of this system is to discourage the good, smart, diligent, hard-working lawyers from taking appointments to the detriment of all of those people who are financially unable to afford a lawyer on their own.  Shame on you Denton County and any other county with an appointment system that contributes to this problem.

They can slash all they want.  I will continue to take appointments because I refuse to contribute to a system so eager to plea everyone out, and I believe even the poorest among us deserves a good, hard-working defense lawyer who isn't just concerned with the bottom line.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Fresh off a 30 minute Not Guilty on an assault family violence jury trial in County Criminal Court 1, Denton County - what wonderful words to hear!  What's even better is that it was a court appointed case.  This just reaffirms my reason for being on the court appointed list - everyone needs a good lawyer; one who's not just in it for the money.

The complainant (girl) had a busted lip, and pictures were admitted.  2 Carrollton police officers testified as well as a 911 caller who saw most of what happened.  I represented the male.  He followed my advice and chose not to testify.  I got a self-defense jury instruction from the judge.

I am very proud of my client for having the guts to go to trial.  The initial offer was significant jail time, and right before trial the prosecutors made him a probation offer.  However, after living with the anxiety of the case for over a year he turned it down.  Now he is entitled to have the record expunged and put this behind him once and for all.