Defending Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse

October 15, 2015

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

No one anywhere approves of sexual abuse of children and no one anywhere approves of destroying the lives of the innocent.  The clash of these two core values in the courtroom are not for weak or timid lawyers.

The Deck is Stacked Against You

I’ve got bad news.  If you are being questioned about child sexual abuse charges — the police, CPS, or Children’s Advocacy Center very likely think you are a child predator even though they may not tell you directly.

The legislature has given law enforcement more than enough ammunition to destroy the lives of those accused of child sexual abuse.  If you think you are being accused of such charges you must contact an attorney immediately.

What Makes Being Charged with these Crimes So Severe?

Here are some of the obvious:

(1) The Harshness of the Penalties.  Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child carries a penalty of 5-99 years in prison.  If the victim is under 6, then it is 25-years to life with no parole.  Indecency with a Child can be either 2-10 years of prison or 2-20 years of prison based on the elements. Continual Sexual Abuse of a Child carries a 25-life sentence with no parole.

(2) The Destruction of a Family.  Many sexual abuse cases involve family members or close family friends.  Allegations often cause family members to take sides against one another.  These cases can be contentious as you can guess so it stands to reason many wounds never heal regardless of the outcome.

(3) The Stigma.  The label, stigma and shame of being a sex offender is obvious — if the first two consequences weren’t enough.  Whereas a theft charge, drug charge or even a robbery charge might allow someone to still fit into society as a productive member after their debt is paid — someone labeled as a sex offender has a much bigger (if not impossible) challenge to rebuild their life.

What Your Lawyer Must Be Able to Do

They must show the jury destroying the life of an innocent person is intolerable even if it is being done with the best of intentions.  To accomplish this, your attorney must know the facts of the case better than the prosecutor, understand the law better than the prosecutor, and have a skilled plan of attack.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas and he is certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about your case or any situation you should contact an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Additionally comments, posts, or communications through this blog are not confidential.


Why Police Do Illegal Searches

January 16, 2013

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Police do illegal searches for one simple reason.  They think they’re dealing with a criminal in a classic struggle of good versus evil.

It is literally life imitating art.  We all grew up watching shows about good versus evil like the “Superfriends” huddling together to defeat “The Legion of Doom,” 

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or the Lone Ranger fighting injustice, or even shows like Perry Mason where even a wrongful accusation is so blatant as to be obvious injustice.

An illegal search is simply no different.  The police officer has convinced themselves based  on a mix of objective evidence and highly subjective criteria they have uncovered a criminal in the midst of committing a crime.  Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re not.

Terry vs. Ohio is the classic Supreme Court case which discusses the differences between officers using “hunches” or supposition instead of using concrete evidence.  It has long been recognized hunches, guesses or other manufactured probable cause go hand in hand with police profiling.

Psychological Studies Recognize People’s Views of Themselves Affects Their Behavior.

People tend to view themselves differently than they view others.  They tend to view themselves as objective, unbiased, and generally more positively.  Additionally, people tend to over-estimate how much we can learn about another during a brief encounter.  Practically, then, it is easy to see where a self-assured officer convinced he or she has uncovered a crime which only they alone can sense pushes, and pushes, and pushes a situation to the point where a search becomes illegal.

How It Works In Reality

A police officer who has pulled over a group of highly anxious teenagers in a beat-up car at 1 a.m. on a Saturday morning is simply more likely to suspect drug or alcohol involvement than if he were to pull over a mom in a minivan at 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday.

In the former situation, experienced defense lawyers are naturally skeptical of a police report which tends to craftily bend, twist, or slant the officer’s observations which try to convert subjective beliefs into concrete facts justifying a search.

For example, it’s not uncommon to read police reports which claim a suspect “was anxious.”  Anxiety may be present for countless reasons in a suspect yet a police report will often continue, “in my training and experience it is common for drug dealers to be nervous when confronted by police.”  While this is probably true to some extent — its simply pure guesswork.

Other extreme examples I’ve come across include where an officer claimed to have observed the suspect’s heart beating through a t-shirt (which in the officers experience indicated guilt) and when Defendant stepped out of the vehicle — he did so to distance himself from drugs in his car which is a common tactic for drug users (based on the officer’s training and experience).

One last claim I am seeing more and more often is an officer claiming the ability to smell unburnt marijuana — often outside the vehicle or even in containers or baggies.  While police are specifically trained to detect the distinct odor of burnt marijuana — there is virtually no proof the ability to detect unburnt marijuana is anything better than a guess.

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

 


Top 5 Tactics Prosecutors Use to Convict People at Trial

December 29, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

It’s obviously important to know your adversary, your adversaries tendencies, and how your adversary thinks.  Having been a prosecutor, it’s easy for me to place myself in their shoes to analyze how I’d have prosecuted the case against my client were the roles reversed.  Today I’ll discuss the Top 5 most common tactics we see in criminal prosecution I see on a regular basis.

Criminal prosecution is a difficult and noble profession.  The vast majority of prosecutors are honest, hard working and consciences.  The rules are (in some ways) much more restrictive against prosecutors who have extremely high expectations of honesty and integrity whereas a defense lawyer usually has an immediate uphill climb with juries.  While creativity is heralded in criminal defense — it is frowned upon in criminal prosecution (often unfairly).

Though I can easily nit-pick prosecutorial tactics and paint them as unfair… probably none of the techniques I describe below were created or have evolved from malicious intent, rather they were created by advocates who may not fully appreciate the harmful effect some of their tactics may have.

With that out of the way, let’s review the top 5 tactics prosecutors use in trial:

5.  “Liar Liar Pants on Fire”

Proffering a defense in a criminal trial is extremely difficult.  If you think about it, it’s almost impossible to do without a prosecutor being able to accuse your client, his friends, family or anyone testifying on their behalf of being a liar.  It’s really a built-in, automatic rebuttal when someone takes the stand to say “my friend wasn’t drunk we he left the bar” in a DWI trial, or “I was with my husband the time you say he was sexually assaulting the accuser,” or  “my wife bought that scarf three weeks ago from your store… she wasn’t shoplifting.”

What many jurors don’t realize is this built-in tactic is the exact reason we have the right to remain silent.

4.  Spinning a Lack of Evidence, Neutral Evidence, or Evidence of Innocence into Evidence of Guilt For the Jury.

One of the more frustrating techniques I come upon is where a prosecutor infers evidence which obviously points to innocence actually points to guilt.

A common example in DWI cases is where the person looks good on the video… prosecutors frequently argue this is evidence the person has a high tolerance for alcohol abuse.  It’s possible in some cases this argument may be true.  Then again, what they’re really saying the accused person is just guilt regardless of the evidence.  If they look drunk — they’re drunk and if they look sober — they’re drunk.

Another common example is in cases where there is very little evidence and only a select few witnesses.  Some prosecutors will actually argue this is because the crime was committed with expertise.  Prosecutors will argue, “The Defendant chose the time, place, and witnesses to the crime.”  In other words… if there is no evidence it’s not because the Defendant may be innocent — but because the defendant is good at getting away with things.

This tactic is a recipe for erroneous convictions.  Read the facts of cases from inmates who get exonerated after decades and you’ll see a continual pattern of virtually all evidence being subjective conjecture or horribly flawed eyewitness testimony.  No evidence means no evidence.

What is more upsetting about this tactic is it is really prohibited by the Texas Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 2.03 (b) which does not allow any officer of the court to “impair the presumption of innocence.”  When evidence of innocence is being spun into evidence of guilt — I’d say that provision is being broken.

3.  Feigned Fairness

Prosecutors are taught to cover concepts such as the presumption of innocence, the defendant’s right not to testify, and the burden of proof being very high in their arguments and jury selection presentations.  The cursory discussion has the effect of making them seem even-handed to the jurors.

Like a politician who makes a broad statement he’s for one thing… then promptly does another, a prosecutor talks about the defendant’s important rights briefly and then pays them lip service for the rest of the trial.

Experience has taught me brushing over a defendant’s constitutional rights without any context or explanation is a sure way to have a jury ignore them.

2.  Shifting the Burden to the Defendant

It’s virtually impossible for a Defendant to prove they’re innocent of an accusation.  Think of how impossible it would be to prove you’re innocent of making a bad lane change if you were accused of it.  You’d have no video evidence or other documentary evidence supporting your case at all.  You’d only have your word — or the word of a passenger in your car.  That defense is a loser (see #5 above, Liar Liar…).

Prosecutors routinely shift the burden, though, in very tacit ways.  One common method is during jury selection prosecutors will explain Defendant has a right to discovery under the Texas Penal Code and the prosecutor has no such right.  Another is the Defendant has equal subpoena power.

Both statements are true and leave an impression of rules that are even or even turn the district attorney’s office into being victims of an unfair process.

These impressions are highly misleading, however.  First — the accused gets information because (as explained above), the prosecution is charged with proving an affirmative action.  Defendant is not required to prove a negative.  Second, Defendant’s “equal subpoena power” is extremely hollow considering the police and government have virtually unlimited investigatory resources compared with virtually none of the defense.

1.  Lowering the Burden of Proof

This is easily the No. 1 tactic prosecutors use to secure convictions.  Prosecutors are trained to lower the burden on themselves and many of them don’t even appreciate this is what they’re doing.

The burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  This phrase used to be defined for jurors as, “..the kind of doubt that would make a reasonable person hesitate to act in the most important of his own affairs.”  In 2000, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did away with this rule and allowed jurors to define it how they chose fit.

An extremely common example used by prosecutors — especially in DWI cases — is a likening the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt to an incomplete puzzle where you can still make out the over-all image (usually of a whale or a handgun).  The prosecutor explains there may be missing pieces, the jurors still don’t have a “reasonable doubt” as to the over-all picture.

Jurors find this explanation simple and highly persuasive but the puzzle is problematic.  It’s flawed assumption is proving a crime is a general proposition… instead of a specific proposition with fine details.  It lowers the burden of proof because you could remove over half the pieces to a picture of a giant whale and still be certain it’s a whale.  But what if instead of a puzzle a case is more like a math equation where we’re missing just one or two key numbers?  The remaining pieces of the equation become worthless because we can’t be sure of the outcome or how to get there.

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


The Top 5 Things You Should Tell Your Lawyer

December 5, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

(972) 369-0577

It’s common for people who’ve never been in trouble before to assume everyone knows (or will know) all the details of their case… this includes their attorney.  Try as I might, I’m just not a psychic.  There aren’t many types of cases I haven’t seen… but each case I handle is truly it’s own snowflake.  

Not only is each case it’s own snowflake, but everyone has different motivating factors in decision making.  Often how we treat a case depends more on a collateral issue (such as professional licensing, a medical condition, or immigration status) as it does the actual underlying facts.  It’s too important to assume your attorney understands what truly keeps you up at night about the case.

I hope my client knows I’m not the high school principal, a policeman, or a judge.  Nothing they tell me is going cause me to treat their case anything other than professionally.  

As such, today we’re discussing the 5 things you should tell your lawyer:

5.  All the facts about the case you think are important.

I want my clients to feel comfortable.  They can tell me every detail about their case or none of the details because we don’t live in a country where we must prove our own innocence. One of the problems I have in evaluating a case through only a police report, though, is police reports tend read like a soviet history book with white-washed and self-serving facts and conclusions.  Often I find a police report doesn’t support nor contradict my client’s version of events.  This shows the importance of my client’s own account to the over-all evaluation of the case.

4.  If You’ve Been in Trouble Before.

Most people have only 1 or 2 run-ins with the law during their lifetime.  If you’ve been in trouble in the past, it’s important your lawyer know this because it could dramatically effect plea negotiations and even the Prosecutor’s ability to enhance the charges against you. 

3.  If You’re Citizenship Status is Anything Less than A Full Citizen.

Immigration is a hot topic in Washington.  Criminal actions can have extremely complicated and far-reaching implications for people seeking naturalization or people who may seek to apply for citizenship in the future.  Immigration issues often put people in “must-win” situations in Court.

2.  If You Have Special or Professional Licensing.

Criminal charges and professional licenses don’t mix well.  If you’ve got any type of special licensing required by your job it’s important your lawyer know so they can do everything possible to protect that licensing.  It ranges from a license to practice law, medical licensing and even commercial driver’s licenses.  Again, we’re not psychic and a criminal conviction can might only result in probation — but a loss of licensing could cause permanent damage to your livelihood.

1.  The Truth.

Having criminal charges pending against you isn’t much different from being on an operating table.  You wouldn’t lie or even shade the truth to your Doctor about where they need to cut to save your life.  Telling your lawyer something which misleads them only hurts you in the long-run.

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

 


The Top 6 Things You Should Know Before Pleading Guilty

September 7, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Pleading guilty may be the best option in a case – but it should never be the first option.  The decision to plead guilty is often not much different than the decision to get a permanent tattoo everyone can see.  You should fully know and understand the consequences and alternatives before making this choice.

1.  What does it mean if I Plead Not Guilty?

It means you are exercising your right to a trial by judge or jury.  Every person has the right to a trial and every person has the right to plead “Not Guilty” to a criminal charge regardless of whether they committed the crime alleged.  There is nothing dishonest or immoral about pleading “Not Guilty” because your claim is essentially the state or government is unable to prove your case beyond all reasonable doubt.  Some backwards countries require you to prove your innocence — but the U.S. isn’t one of them.  By asking the State to bring it’s proof against you — you are keeping your government accountable to the people.

2.  What Rights am I Giving Up?

The framer’s of our constitution really knew what they were doing.  They gave us several extremely powerful rights — which in and of themselves could actually prevent you from being convicted regardless if you are “guilty as sin” or are completely innocent.  My list is only partial, but here are some of the rights you’ll waive in a guilty plea:

  • The right to a jury trial, the value of which speaks for itself;
  • The right to testify in your own defense and be heard — or the opposite — to remain silent so you don’t have to be exposed to harassing or abusive questions (known in the legal profession as “do you still beat your wife” questions) from the prosecutor.
  • You’re waiving arguably your most important right — the right to cross examine a witness.  Cross examination is a powerful way to break down the State’s case and show the jury or judge the full truth of an accuser’s account.
  • You’d typically (but not always) waive your right to appeal which means barring some remarkable unknown circumstances — the case will be final once the judge accepts the plea.

3.  What Are the Consequences of My Guilty Plea?

Know what you’re signing up for.  Understand the differences between deferred adjudication and a conviction and ask your lawyer about how it impacts your ability to expunge (clear) or hide (non-disclose) your record.  Understand the requirements you’re agreeing to if you’re accepting probation — and the punishments if you fall short.  Ask about other collateral consequences particular to the type of charge you’re pleading guilty to… will it affect your right to vote?  To own a firearm?  Could it cost you your job, a professional license or the ability to get a professional license?  If you’re agreeing to go to jail or prison, know the parole guidelines first.

4.  Can I Actually be Acquitted at Trial?

I tell juries all the time the truth that, “people are acquitted in courthouses all around America every single day.”  Your lawyer should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each case with you.  Again, the prosecution bears the burden of proof beyond all reasonable doubt which never shifts back to you.  Not only that, but you are presumed innocent.   Just because some facts may look bad in your case doesn’t mean you’ll lose.  Before you make the decision to plead guilty, you should know what may or may not happen at trial.

5.  Will the Punishment be Worse if I Take the Case to Trial?

People often assume the prosecutor’s plea offer is a better shake than the judge or jury will give in the event you’re convicted after a trial.  Often prosecutors, in making plea offers, simply don’t have their fingers on the pulse of the community.  Merely because the individual prosecutor may be judgmental doesn’t mean a judge or jury will agree with them.  A prosecutor asking to jail a 42 year homemaker with 3 kids for a DWI after a night of drinks with girlfriends may find the jury is angry with him for what could be seen as a mean suggestion.

6.  Won’t Fighting the Case Make the Prosecutor or Judge Mad?

Maybe.  But so what?

If you’re charged with a crime, you have to be far more concerned with how the case will impact you 10, 20, or 30 years down the road… long after both the judge or prosecutor have forgotten your name.  Besides, the vast majority of judges I’ve been around actually appreciate strong advocacy from defense lawyers and few judges (or juries) give in to a frustrated prosecutor upset about having to prove a case.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice and for legal advice about any situation you should consult with an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship an communications sent through this forum are not privileged nor confidential.


Collin County Pre-Trial Diversion Update (June, 2012)

June 22, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Collin County Pre-Trial Diversion program.  

As a refresher, the pre-trial diversion program is a less formal probation offered under Tex.Code.Crim.P. 42.12.  In Collin County, a first-time offender may be offered the opportunity to enter the pre-trial diversion program which would result in the underlying charges to be dismissed and eventually expunged.  

The Collin County District Attorney’s Office has made this alternative more available in the past few years for certain categories of cases.  Most qualifying cases tend to be misdemeanor theft and drug cases though those charges are not exclusively considered.  While the diversion program is available for felonies, selection of felony cases for diversion has been extremely selective. Diversion is not offered for DWI or DUI charges.

The program has endured some growing pains but remains an excellent avenue towards clearing one’s record.  The current process is that a defendant’s attorney must first apply and be approved by the District Attorney’s Office.  After receiving approval from the DA’s office, a candidate is sent paper-work to be reviewed with their attorney.  The candidate is then required to personally make an appointment with the probation officer who conducts a final interview and decides if the candidate is admitted into the pre-trial diversion program.

Generally speaking a candidate is usually accepted into the program at the interview — but not always (a point they make repeatedly).  The interviewer, however, can reject the application.  The criterion for such rejection can be rather vague but probably hinges on the needs of the person entering the program in relation to the current load of the program.

The program isn’t perfect, but from a practitioner’s standpoint seems to have a high success rate for those who are accepted and remains a useful option.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice 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.


Can I Recant a Police Statement?

June 20, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

Generally speaking a statement made to police in the course of an investigation can be considered by the police, a judge, or a jury for it’s full meaning.  Recanting the statement might call the original statement into question… then again it might not.

Who Made the Statement?

Statements of the Accused

Important in the analysis is who made the statement, what role that person plays in the proceedings, and the timing of the statement or statements.

A statement by an accused is referred to as an admission by a party opponent under Tex.R.Evid. 801(e)(2).  If the statement is relevant to a jury then it’s fully admissible.  The person or person(s) the statement was made to can testify to what was said by the accused or can have a written statement admitted.

Practically speaking, an accused and his or her lawyer would have to explain their reason for recanting such a statement although the burden of proof never shifts to the defendant under any circumstance.  Many judges and jurors would be naturally skeptical — and police tend to believe statements which fit their theory of the case.

Witness Statements

A statement by a witness or an alleged victim is a different and far more complicated matter.  The defendant in a case has the right to confront accusers in open court.  A witness who gives inconsistent statements to police — or attempts to recant a previous statement to police could be impeached or cross examined on the inconsistent statements before a judge or jury.

Suppressions of Statements

An accused’s remedy to have a prior statement nullified is usually a motion to suppress.  This would be in a situation where the original statement was taken illegally in violation of Miranda rights (or in Texas known as Tex.Code.Crim.P. Art. 38.22).  Those provisions do not apply to statements made prior to custodial interrogation (arrest).

Warnings about Inconsistent, Changed, or Recanted Statements to Law Enforcement

Depending on the situation — a person might not have a duty to cooperate with law enforcement.  An accused person, for example, always has the right to remain silent.  If you are cooperating with law enforcement, however, you have the legal duty to do so honestly.  Making inconsistent statements or admitting that previous statements were false could result in a person being prosecuted for criminal offenses of making false statements to law enforcement, obstruction of justice, or even perjury in some circumstances.

If you’re in the situation where you are considering in good faith recanting or amending a statement to law enforcement — you should have an attorney involved to counsel you.

*Jeremy F. Rosenthal is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas.  Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about this or any circumstance you should contact an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship nor are communications or postings in this forum privileged.