Focus Groups in Criminal Trials

Planning a viable defense in a criminal case can be a daunting task. A criminal defense attorney can plan his or her defense theories but can’t always be sure how receptive a jury will be to them. One way to find out how receptive a jury will be is by using a focus group.

Focus groups are used all the time by civil attorneys as they prepare for trial. They aren’t used as frequently in criminal cases primarily due to cost. They can be quite expensive. A focus group is almost always run by a professional jury consultant.

The jury consultant first determines where the focus group will be held. Usually it is in the jurisdiction where the trial is going to be held. If the jurisdiction is a small one then the a different jurisdiction will be chosen that has similar demographics. The consultant will use varies services to bring in jurors who will similar attitudes and beliefs as the jurors who will be called down to the courthouse to hear the case.

The defense attorneys prepare a case presentation for focus group. Both prosecution and defense cases are presented. The goal is not to win over the jurors as in a trial but to test different defensive theories to see how responsive the focus group is. In doing this the defense team learns what arguments and theories will have traction with a jury and which ones don’t. I was very skeptical the first time I participated in a focus group. I was made a believer when we followed the game plan developed at the focus group and our real jury returned three not guilty verdicts.

If you know a criminal case is going to go to trial and your client has the funds I would recommend a focus group. The information you can learn can make the difference between a guilty verdict and an acquittal.

Brass Knuckles Legal In Texas

As of September 1, 2019 the possession of brass knuckles will be legal in Texas. Under current law the possession of brass knuckles in class A misdemeanor punishable up to one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. The law was changed in regards to knuckles because under the legal definition popular keychains carried by young women for self defense purposes were considered knuckles.The legislature viewed knuckles as primarily a defensive tool and reasoned that it should not be illegal to posses that type of tool.

Knuckles by their design can inflict serious damage to a person. If an individual uses brass knuckles in an assault and the facts show they weren’t using the brass knuckles to defend themselves then they may face serious criminal charges. Brass knuckles are still considered a deadly weapon because of the design and ability to cause lots of physical damage. The use of brass knuckles in an assault could cause law enforcement to charge an individual with Aggravated Assault.

Indecent Assault Charge Can Be Used to Reduce Felony Sex Charges

Starting in September law enforcement agencies across Texas can begin filing Indecent Assault cases which is a class A misdemeanor. This new law may provide another tool criminal attorneys can use in the plea bargain process.

Sex Assault crimes carry very serious consequences in Texas. The harsh penalties and life time sex registration requirements that come with convictions and sentences of deferred probations often make it difficult for defense attorneys and prosecutors to dispose of a case through plea bargain. That is why there many defendants charged with sex offenses choose to go to trial rather than plead guilty.

The new misdemeanor offense of Indecent Assault, also known as groping, does not carry any type of sex registration requirements. I n addition since Indecent Assault is a misdemeanor offense the penalty range is from one day in jail up to one year and a defendant cane receive deferred probation.

When criminal attorneys and prosecutors have a Sex Offense case which has fact problems they may be able to plead the case to a misdemeanor Indecent Assault charge. They could do this by reducing the charge as a lessor included offense or by filing the Indecent Assault charge and dismissing the Felony charge when the defendant pleads to the misdemeanor Indecent Assault. If the defendant received deferred probation for the Indecent Assault charge then he could have that charge sealed upon successful completion of deferred probation.

A good criminal lawyer is always looking for options for the client to in order to obtain the best result when facing serious criminal charges.

Increased Penalties for Groping in Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill Friday that increases the penalty for Groping to jail time up to one year and a fine up to $4,000. The new crime is now called Indecent Assault and applies to any touching of the breast, buttocks, or genitals done with the intent to arouse or gratify the offender.

Prosecutions for this type of criminal offense are on the increase nation wide. Cuba Gooding Jr. Was recently charged with groping a woman in a Manhattan bar. The Texas bill passed without opposition and is further evidence the Me Too movement is having on the criminal justice system. After September police can arrest individuals if they believe there is probable cause that an Indecent Assault has occurred.

What type of evidence will we see to prove a groping offense? Primarily the complaining witness’s testimony and any other eye witnesses who may have seen the touching. There may also be video evidence available with the increase of security cameras in public places.

A class A misdemeanor carries serious consequences. Jail time up to one year or probation that can extend up to two years. A conviction for Indecent Assault can have serious consequences on a persons life. If you find yourself charged with a Groping offense seek the advice of an experienced criminal attorney right away.

Street Racing Penalties in Texas

As long as there have been cars there have been people who like to race each other in those cars. Often the races take place on the streets when young people are out cruising in their cars. In Texas these street car races are illegal. The degree of the crime that can be charged depends on the type of activity involved or whether anyone was injured during a race.

If the police simply arrest a citizen for street racing then he would be charged with a class B misdemeanor which carries a sentence up to 180 days in jail. The offense can be enhanced to a class A misdemeanor if the person charged has one previous conviction for racing, was intoxicated while racing or was in possession of an open container.

A citizen can be charged with a state jail felony if the have had two convictions for racing.

Things become more serious if there is a wreck involved in the race. If any person suffers bodily injury because of the offense of racing the defendant can be charged with a third degree felony. The injured person doesn’t have to be one of the persons involved in the race such a pedestrian walking down the street.

A citizen can be charged with a second degree felony if as a result of the race a person is killed or suffers serious bodily injury. A second degree felony has a penalty range of 2 to 20 years.

If you find your self charged with this offense consult with an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible. This especially true if the offense charged involves a felony. When a person loses their life or suffers serious injuries the case often appears in the news which causes even more challenges for the criminal lawyer.

When can a Search Warrant be Sealed?

In most cases in Texas the Affidavit for a search warrant is public information. The affidavit in a search warrant is very valuable to a criminal attorney because it sets out the facts that law enforcement based it’s request to have a judge sign their search warrant. The affidavit can give the criminal attorney critical information early on in the case which can be essential in determining the first steps the attorney takes and how he advises the client. News reporters also have a keen interest in obtaining affidavits. Reporters use the facts in the affidavit to find out the critical facts to use in a news story about a crime. Law enforcement officials sometimes give copies of the affidavit to members of the press in order to generate more publicity for an arrest.

Under Article 18.011 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure the prosecutor can request to have the judge seal the search warrant affidavit for 31 days. To do so the prosecutor must establish a compelling state interest that can cover two areas.

One is public disclosure of the affidavit would jeopardize the safety of the victim, witness or confidential informant or cause the destruction of evidence.

The second is the affidavit contains information obtained from a wire tap which has not expired at the time the prosecutor makes the request to seal. affidavits are rarely sealed under this provision because the state authorities rarely use wire taps.

At the end of 31 days the order expire and the search warrant affidavit will be unsealed. If the prosecutor makes another request on a new compelling state interest the judge can seal the affidavit for another 30 days.

The sealing of the affidavit does not prevent the accused from getting a copy of the affidavit. The attorney for the accused can get a copy from the judges clerk. The public, which usually means the press, is prevented from getting a copy.

Dallas Dentist Murder Case

Brenda Delgado‘s capital murder trial is set to begin next week. Delgado was arrested in Mexico for the murder of Dallas Dentist Kendra Hatcher. Prosecutors allege that Delgado paid money to a man named Kristopher Love to kill the girlfriend of Delgado’s ex boyfriend. Love was convicted in a trial last year for capital murder.

The prosecution is expected to call another co-defendant, Crystal Cortez, to testify against Delgado. Cortez has already testified against Kristopher Love in his trial. Cortez has testified that she drove Love to the parking garage where Love shot Hatcher. Her testimony is key in connecting Delgado and Love.

The defense will have to attack the credibility of Cortez and try to raise reasonable doubt regarding the evidence that connects Delgado to the crime. The defense may try to show Delgado never reached an agreement with her co-defendants to have Hatcher murdered. The fact that Delgado fled to Mexico could weigh heavily against her.

When Can I Carry a Gun in Texas

The question of when a citizen can lawfully carry a firearm in Texas can be confusing. Many folks mistakenly think they have to have a license before they can carry a gun anywhere. In reality citizens can carry weapons lawfully under a number of circumstances in Texas. None of these exceptions apply to persons you are convicted felons.

  1. In you residence. The law allows a person to carry a firearm in their own home , whether it be a house, apartment, trailer or boat. As long is it’s a structure designed for them to live in.
  2. In your vehicle. The law allows you to posses a firearm inside your car and while you are in route to and from your vehicle. However if you are commiting a crime, other than a class C misdemeanor, while in the vehicle the privilege to lawfully carry a gun does not apply and the police can charge you with Unlawful Carrying of a Weapon. The most common example would be an arrest for DWI.
  3. In your business. You are allowed to posses a firearm at your business if the place you work is under your control. A store owner can legally have his gun at his work for example.

Can I be arrested for dwi/dui and not be driving?

Unfortunately, the short answer is, yes. There are a few ways in which this can happen. The state has only to prove that you were driving or operating a motor vehicle.

The police come upon you after an accident and you are standing outside of the car. Your admission to them that you were driving can be all the evidence they need. Good samaritans at the scene can also testify to put you behind the wheel. Nothing you can do about the eyewitnesses but you do not need to help.

You decide to pull over or stay in a parking lot and sleep it off. Do not leave the engine running to stay warm. Texas case law says that merely turning on the car is operating a motor vehicle.

A “friend” or family member calls the police and says to the that you were driving and intoxicated. You are now home in bed. There is no law that says you have to answer the continued knocking of the police unless they have a no-knock warrant, which the do not for a misdemeanor. Remember, you do not need to help them.

A good lawyer can help alot if you find yourself in one of these situations by using the weakness of the case as mitigation.

Do the Police Always Have to Read Me My 5th Amendment Rights Before They Ask Questions?

New clients often ask this question. ” Does a police officer always have to read the Miranda Rights to you before he can ask you questions.” The short answer is no. Most folks believe that they walk around protected by the 5th amendment at all times. In reality the 5th amendment and it’s protections apply only in certain situations.

For the 5th amendment to apply the defendant must be in custody. He must be detained by the police and not free to leave. Whether a person is legally detained can be a fact question determined by a judge in a motion to suppress.

If a police officer is merely asking questions of a citizen on the street then all of the answers given can come into evidence at a trial. Since the defendant wasn’t under arrest at the time of questioning there is no requirement for the officer to read the defendant his Miranda Rights. Smart detectives will often conduct “soft” interviews on the street. They may come back several times for more interviews. Often times they get contradictory answers from the suspect which can be very damaging for the defendant at trial. That’s why it is always a good idea to talk to a criminal lawyer before you ever interview with the police.