The Probable Cause Fairy: AKA An Officer’s “Training & Experience”

October 27, 2017

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

It was very early on in my experience with criminal law when I first learned the power of an officer’s “training and experience.”

Much of our legal system is built to prevent profiling of any kind.  Some of those safeguards include both statutes and case law which prevent officers from arresting or even just hassling people based on “hunches.”  Courts have long recognized where there is a hunch, there is a good chance there is profiling.

Courts insist probable cause must be based on what is called articulable fact and then making reasonable deductions from those facts which make it probable a crime is in progress or just occurred.

An example of articulable fact would be “Defendant swerved into the next lane of traffic without signaling.”  The statement is concrete and establishes an objective fact, i.e., the car moved from one lane to the next.  A reasonable deduction would be there is something wrong with the driver.  An officer can and should investigate more.

But the topic is still pretty mushy.

Here’s an example of something which probably isn’t articulable fact: “Defendant took several steps away from his car after I asked him to exit the vehicle.”  This doesn’t really tell us anything, does it?  Can we deduce this person has done something wrong or is trying to get away with something?  It’s hard, huh?

How Police and Prosecutors Convert Hunches into Articulable Facts

They do it through using the magical phrase referring to an officer’s “training and experience.”

So lets change the above example… “Defendant took several steps away from his car after he exited the vehicle.  In my training and experience, people in possession of drugs will often separate themselves from the contraband.”

Really?  Which class was that in the police academy?  How many times, officer, has a defendant taken several steps away from a car because they had drugs… and would you mind trying to remember those cases…. because this sounds like you just made it up?

See how it works?  By inserting “training and experience” into the sentence, SHAZAM — what was once just a hunch is now articulable fact.

In defense of police and prosecutors — I don’t think they really see what they are doing is trying to manipulate the standards.  They may honestly believe police get a ‘hound dog’ sense after being on the streets for their careers…. and maybe they do.  But the bottom line is blurs the line between “articulable fact” and a hunch.  Unfortunately, courts often go along with the fiction.

The Defense Lawyer’s Struggle

Our constant struggle is trying to root out exaggeration and, for lack of a better word, fudge from prosecutors and police which helps them attain probable cause or convince a jury to convict.

Any time I hear that phrase in the courtroom it sets off my spidey sense and it is time to fasten the seat-belts.  But that is just my training and experience!

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law in Texas.  Nothing in this article should be considered as legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation contact an attorney directly.

 

 

 


Do Police Lie in Police Reports?

October 17, 2017

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Yes, no and maybe so.

Each police report is its own snowflake.  No two are exactly the same (unless the officer does a bad job with a cut & paste).

When I have my clients look at police reports I typically caution them they will not like what they’re about to see.  This is because many offense reports can be heavily spun to support the officer’s conclusion and read like scathing propaganda when they are the subject of the story.  Police include facts which support their decision to arrest and facts and theories which don’t support their own see the editing room floor.

Police don’t write reports to be malicious but they probably feel that way to us when we read them.  They are simply justifying their decision to arrest.

We also have to understand rarely would a single arrest be important enough for an officer to stake his or her career on.  If they are caught being dishonest — most good agencies won’t have anything to do with them.  They really are trying to do their best.  They just see the world — and the arrest differently.

Fortunately a police report is of limited importance.

Rarely do I come across something in a report which is just an unmitigated whopper.  I have to keep several things in mind when I’m reviewing a police report.

  • My client and I have a different version of events.  This doesn’t make the officer a liar.  He or she just saw the events a different way.
  • It is normal for a police officer to omit facts which don’t support their conclusion.
  • There is a difference between lies and exaggerations.

Exaggeration in Police Reports and the “Halo Effect”

A “Halo Effect” is a cognitive bias about someone or something which causes a person to paint an over-all picture about that thing a certain way.  For instance when an employer does a job review for an employee they like – they might give the employee better marks for individual tasks than they otherwise deserve.  The employee’s “halo” blinds our view of other not-so-perfect traits.

But we’re focused here on the reverse.  The officer’s negative impression of the arrestee paints facts and traits which are negative, not positive.  So it is not uncommon to see on offense report where everything negative fact about a defendant down to dirty fingernails is listed by the officer.  We see a “reverse” halo effect in a police report.

How to Use Police Lies to Your Advantage In A Criminal Case

Today we have more and more use of body-cams, in car videos, and even citizens filming police with their own cell phones.  When the police lie, exaggerate, or omit facts from their police report which don’t support their conclusion — then often time they are caught because the video shows otherwise.

In cases where there is no video, the challenge is different.  A skilled cross-examination can show how surrounding circumstances and logic make their conclusion not so.

The Bottom Line:

Rarely will we ever completely agree with the police officer’s account.  But we have to remember his or her account is only so important.  In showing the jury the truth, we do not have to defeat the officer — we have to show the officer was mistaken/ biased/ exaggerating/ inconsistent or whatever human trait lead him to an imperfect conclusion.  This takes skill.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is licensed in the State of Texas and is Board Certified in Criminal Law.  Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 


Background Checks

April 12, 2017

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

I get asked about the dreaded background check a lot.  As in every day.

The whole point of criminal defense is (1) keeping my client out of jail; and (2) keeping my client’s record as clean as possible.  It stands to reason this is a huge concern for everyone who comes into my office.

I’m a criminal defense lawyer and I can bore you about the rules of evidence, the Constitution, and what the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas has been up to all day long.  I’ve picked up a thing or two about criminal background checks along the way so here is some basic info:

Who Keeps Criminal Records?

Criminal records are kept by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).  The FBI’s database is called the “National Crime Information Center, or “NCIC” for short.  DPS maintains the “TCIC” or the Texas Crime Information Center.  Every time someone is arrested in Texas they get both a TCIC and NCIC tracking number.

TCIC and NCIC records are not public and it’s actually a crime for someone to disseminate it to the public.

Also city and county jails keep records with varying degrees of success as well.  This could show arrests or tickets on a city level which may or may not get reported either to the TCIC, NCIC or online.  Some publish citations directly to the public.

Private companies are allowed to purchase records.  These companies in turn re-format them to make them more user friendly and are the traditional back-ground search companies typically used.

So How Does a Background Search Work?

Police and law enforcement can directly access TCIC and NCIC records when they run a report.  Everyone else has to go through a private company.  Some search engines are more reputable than others.  Again, the private search engines typically purchase records and provide a more user-friendly product to whomever is doing the search.

So generally a lender, employer, or apartment complex first has to have a legal reason and/or authorization to run your background check.   This is under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999.  When logging onto the search engine a user is asked the purpose of the search.  Not to get too bogged down on this point, people can’t run your back-ground just to do it.  They have to have a reason.

Will The Background Search Be Accurate?

It’s a human process so there will be an error rate.  An additional problem is prospective employers, bankers or landlords also tend to not understand what it is they are reading.  Ultimately you have to recognize the world isn’t a fair place.  Bad background searches will happen and even a good result from a criminal case can be mis-read by someone making a hiring decision.

Some Anecdotal Good News

Experience teaches me a few things about background searches.  First, is when someone or their loved one is charged with a crime — there is a feeling every eyeball in the planet is on them.  It is common to feel everyone knows everything about what they are going through.  This is not true.  Additionally, background checks are probably much more rare than you think.  Not everyone is running you every day.

Also my experience is most employers tend to take a ‘wait and see’ attitude when they do learn of something negative on a background report.  They are afraid to take action and really do want to get both sides of the story before they make a decision.  This at least allows the person a chance to explain their side.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed in the State of Texas.  He is Board Certified in Criminal Law.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about this or any situation you should contact an attorney directly.


Will My Employer Find Out if I’m Arrested?

December 2, 2016

By Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

I get asked this a lot.  My guess is normally employers don’t find out but information is a hard thing to control.

Will the Police or Courts Notify My Work?

Rarely.  Most State and even Federal courts are inundated with case after case.  Usually your case is nothing special to them and they’ve got their own issues to deal with or worry about and there’s really no reason for them to go out of their way to hurt someone’s ability to make a living.  Plus they understand notifying an employer for any reason is — how should I say politely — “messed up” or “below the belt.”

What Are Situations Where Police or Courts Would Notify My Work?

One way work finds out is in cases where law enforcement really doesn’t like someone they will have them arrested at work.  Maybe they think it’s flashy or they feel entitled to humiliate someone.  This almost never happens on garden variety arrests for assault, DWI,  or theft.

Sometimes a Court could impose work related restrictions as a condition of bond or probation.  That could be related to driving company vehicles in a DWI case, or potentially limiting or monitoring travel in some felony cases.  Some sex cases might involve the accused not being able to work around children until the case is finalized.

Another rare reason might be someone from work could be called as a witness or by an investigator for some reason (assuming the criminal charge isn’t work related to begin with).

Your work could learn about the criminal case too due to absences for Court or because you find yourself in a funk where others around you are wondering what’s been eating at you.

What Will A Background Check Show?

In this information age, you should assume a background check will show your arrest and/or charges.  There is an error rate like with anything else and it’s not 100% your arrest will show up or be accurate.  But it’s best to be honest if you’re asked about an arrest.

Do I Have to Tell My Employer?

Read your company hand-book.

Texas is an at-will state for employment purposes so you can be hired, fired, promoted or demoted for good reasons, bad reasons or no reason at all.  This means you can be fired for not telling your employer if your hand-book says you must.  You can also be fired if you do tell work you were arrested, unfortunately.

My experience is with most charges employers take a “wait and see” attitude.  Many are actually extremely supportive.

Obviously I don’t know your employer as well as you do.  So disclosing an arrest is understandably a calculated gamble.

Expunctions and Non-Disclosures

See if you are eligible for an expunction or a non-disclosure when your case is over.  These can eliminate or lessen the amount of public information available about your case.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed in the State of Texas.  He is Board Certified in Criminal Law.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For advice about any situation you should contact a lawyer directly.

 

 


A Different View on Civil Liberties

August 28, 2016

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

I’ve got a world view which many have a hard time understanding when it comes to rights and it is this:  I don’t need most of them.  At least, I don’t think I do.  Most people I know really don’t need them either.

Though I fight hard for my clients against the powers that be — I’m a conformist at heart. I don’t live on the fringe and by that I mean I don’t say things which get authority figures so angry they’d want to jail me.  My neighbors don’t hate me because of what I drive, how I dress or what goes on at my house (at least I don’t think).  No one hates me because of who my family is or isn’t.

You could give me more rights than everyone else and I still wouldn’t need them.  The right not to stand in line at the hottest night club (I’m not cool enough), the right to the best tickets to NASCAR events (I’m not a fan), or the right to own the first house on the moon (I’m too scared to go and I couldn’t afford it).  These rights are useless to me because I  don’t need them.

On the flip side — you could probably take away many of my rights and though I wouldn’t be happy about it, my life would probably continue uninterrupted.  I’d probably find a way to get along without my right to be free from illegal searches or my right to remain silent.  I’ve never needed to exercise these rights and I do my best to lead my life in a way where I hopefully never will.

The question isn’t whether you, me, or anyone we know values these rights because unfortunately experience teaches me we don’t.  When you tell people their rights will be taken next they normally don’t care.

When someone unpopular or someone who says, does, or is accused of doing something heinous needs their rights — do we deal with them in an honest way as the framers of the constitution intended?  Do we make up the rules as we go along and give them lip service about their civil liberties?

All too often I deal with an establishment that in some small ways rationalizes minimizing someone’s rights.  Simple rights like the presumption of innocence, the right to be free from an inappropriate search, or someone’s right to an affordable bond can be infringed because “look at what you did!”  I wonder if this is what third-world countries might do to someone they don’t like.

Our rights guaranteed by the Constitution aren’t for the popular people, the conformists or the good every-day citizen.  They don’t need them.  They are for the people on the fringes, the unpopular people, and the misunderstood.  People who need meaningful rights most of all are the people we’ve determined in our heart of committed some terrible wrong.  This is what separates America from a third-world-country.

So when I argue about protecting rights to a jury — I don’t tell them to protect someone’s rights because those rights could be taken from them or their family one day… Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn people don’t care about their own rights for the same reason I question whether I need them myself.  Instead, I ask them what a third world country would do with a person like my client… and would we tolerate Americans acting the same way as them?

Can we be like a third-world country?  I suppose if the shoe fits.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is a licensed attorney in the State of Texas.  He is Board Certified in Criminal Defense.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.


An Argument I’ll Never Understand

September 11, 2014

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Here’s something we all hear on occasion… normally when a jury acquits someone who seems to be affluent or maybe just someone that doesn’t appear to be the scum of the earth… you might hear someone complain, “I’m tired of seeing the rich people get off because they can afford a lawyer…”

I’ll just never understand the logic behind that view.

So are we to believe that because the poor and downtrodden can’t afford an adequate defense — affluent people should be subjected to injustice too?

Inherent with this line of faulty logic is the underlying assumption everyone accused of a crime is guilty.  If everyone accused is guilty… then yes… why should the rich people be immune from responsibility just because they have money.

When you take the presumption of guilt out of the equation though… the logic falls flat.

Everyone should have a defense in every case.  Not everyone is guilty.  Even if they are just because the legislature, a prosecutor or even a judge says a certain punishment is fair doesn’t make it so.

Make a mental note next time you hear someone make that comment.  Ask yourself what the world would be like if we didn’t have the ability to dispute accusations or the consequences.  How would you feel if after you were vindicated someone just chalked it up to your economic status?

Doesn’t sound fair, does it?

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.

 


Why Acquittals Normally Don’t Make the News

May 12, 2014

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

The reason is simple.  The vast majority of people charged with crimes generally aren’t in the news to begin with and they want to keep it that way even if they win.

Publishing a win actually defeats the purpose of wiping a record clean with an expunction. Erasing every trace of the arrest everywhere was the goal in the first-place.

Law enforcement, on the other hand, has every reason to make announcements and otherwise publish cases which put them in a positive light.

The result is that in the paper, we tend only to read about the wrong-way drunk driver or meth addicts who say they’re wearing someone else’ pants.

But that’s not reality.

I won two trials last week (Sorry, you knew I had to do some bragging).  Neither case will make the news nor should they.  The fact is people are acquitted every day for countless reasons…

  • The police made up their mind at the beginning of an investigation & wouldn’t let the facts get in the way;
  • Prosecutors chose to believe an accusation from someone which wasn’t substantiated with anything other than emotion;
  • Police played doctor during a DWI arrest rather than let medical professionals determine if a person’s behavior was due to some other factor than pills or alcohol;
  • An officer profiled teenagers out late and in doing so stretched the law a bit too far in making a stop…

…And the reasons for acquittals go on, and on, and on….

The point I’m trying to make is this — what we read in the newspaper and what we see on TV are true stories that leave a skewed impression.  And whats the harm in that?  It causes jurors to be more skeptical of defense theories (and then everyone acts shocked when someone’s been behind bars for 25 years for a crime they didn’t commit).

But the truth, as with most things in life, is somewhere in the middle.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.