All Posts By

Jason Howard

12.44(a) and 12.44(b) State Jail Felony Reduction

Explaining Section 12.44 | Felony Reduced to Misdemeanor

By | Sentencing

What is Section 12.44(a) and Why Does it Matter to the State Jail Felony Defendant?

1244(a) and 1244(b) State Jail Felony Reduction Our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys are routinely asked by family and friends of clients charged with State Jail Felony offenses about 12.44(a) and 12.44(b). Although it is sometimes elusive, our attorneys have had success in reducing State Jail Felony cases under Section 12.44. This article will discuss Sections 12.44(a) and 12.44(b) of the Texas Penal Code and explain why they are important to the State Jail Felony defendant.

State Jail Felony Punishment in Texas

In accordance with Section 12.35 of the Texas Penal Code, the confinement range for a State Jail Felony in Texas:

  • From 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail facility.

Any resulting conviction under Section 12.35 is considered a felony conviction for most purposes.

When a person is sentenced to confinement for a State Jail Felony offense, the sentence is served day for day. Aside from State Jail Diligent Participation Credit, a state jail sentence will last for every single day of the term, unlike a prison sentence, which may be cut short for parole or good time. For example, if someone receives a sentence for 12 months in state jail, that person will serve 365 actual days on the sentence.

What about 12.44?

Since parole and good time are not options for state jail time, Section 12.35 requires the defendant to serve that sentence day for day. However, section 12.44 of the Texas Penal Code allows for a reduction of the above consequences for someone charged with a state jail felony.

Sec. 12.44. REDUCTION OF STATE JAIL FELONY PUNISHMENT TO MISDEMEANOR PUNISHMENT.
(a) A court may punish a defendant who is convicted of a state jail felony by imposing the confinement permissible as punishment for a Class A misdemeanor if, after considering the gravity and circumstances of the felony committed and the history, character, and rehabilitative needs of the defendant, the court finds that such punishment would best serve the ends of justice.
(b) At the request of the prosecuting attorney, the court may authorize the prosecuting attorney to prosecute a state jail felony as a Class A misdemeanor.

Please note section 12.44 has two subsections. The differences between them are significant.

What is the Difference Between 12.44(a) and 12.44(b)?

12.44(a)

Under 12.44(a), at the discretion of the court, a state jail felony can be punished as a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the conviction results in a felony conviction. However, if sentenced to confinement, the defendant is allowed to serve time the same as if he were convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. That means the defendant can serve his time in the local county jail as opposed to a State Jail facility. That also may allow the defendant to have access to good time offered by the county jail in his jurisdiction (e.g. In Tarrant County, this could result in 2 for 1 credit or 3 for 1 if the defendant is a trustee).

12.44(b)

Under 12.44(b), at the discretion of the prosecutor, a state jail felony can be converted to a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the conviction results in a misdemeanor conviction. If incarcerated, the defendant would serve his time in the county jail the same as described in the above paragraph.
Note: Both 12.44(a) and (b) require the sentence to be within the penalty range of a Class A misdemeanor (0-365 days confinement and a fine, if any, not to exceed $4,000).

Probation Under 12.44

Straight Probation and Deferred Adjudication probation are also allowed under both 12.44(a) and 12.44(b). Straight probation would result in a conviction for a felony if reduced under 12.44(a) and a conviction for a misdemeanor if reduced under 12.44(b). If you receive deferred adjudication probation under either a 12.44(a) or 12.44(b) reduction, a conviction can be avoided altogether if the probation is successfully completed. Any future probation revocation proceedings by the state would be limited at sentencing to the misdemeanor punishment provided by section 12.44 as discussed in the paragraphs above.

Note: A probated sentence under 12.44 cannot exceed 2 years – the maximum time allowed for a probated sentence for a Class A misdemeanor.

State Jail Felony Defense Attorneys, Fort Worth, Texas

Depending on the circumstances, if you or someone you know is charged with a state jail felony in Texas, Section 12.44 may be applicable. There are many factors that the prosecutor or judge will consider if your attorney requests a 12.44 reduction. It is important to discuss your specific circumstances with your attorney. Please feel free to contact Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC if you have questions.

Fort Worth Grand Jury Attorneys

The Big Needed Change To Grand Jury Selection

By | Grand Jury

Fort Worth Grand Jury AttorneysYears ago, I was employed as an assistant district attorney in a DA’s office out in West Texas. From time to time, I would oversee the grand jury and the presentation of felony cases for indictment. At the first of every month, the county would summon potential jurors from a random selection process to serve on the grand jury. The first fourteen (twelve to serve as grand jurors and two as alternates) who were not disqualified by statute were seated on the grand jury.

Those fourteen citizens were always different. Different ethnicity. Different gender. Different religions. Different socio-economic status. Most importantly, different political parties. The goal was to create an impartial jury of peers to review the evidence in criminal cases and determine whether probable cause existed for indictment.

You can imagine my surprise when I moved to the DFW area and discovered jurisdictions here which used the other method of selecting grand jurors.

Article 19.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows the “pick a pal” method wherein judges can hand pick “jury commissioners” who individually select citizens to serve on the grand jury. As you can imagine, there has been a serious influence of politics on the grand jury process a result of this practice. It’s hard to have an impartial grand jury when everybody comes from the same political party and economic sector of society.

Fortunately, House Bill 2150 was signed into law last month. On September 1, 2015, the “pick a pal” process will no longer be an option. Instead, the newly revised Article 19.01 will require all jurisdictions to apply the random selection process to the grand jury selection process.

This change is long overdue. An accused’s right to an impartial jury should be the same at the grand jury as it is at trial.

Operation Motor Vehicle Texas DWI

Operating a Motor Vehicle in the DWI Context

By | DWI

What does it mean to “Operate” a vehicle under Texas’ DWI laws?

Operation Motor Vehicle Texas DWIThe simple answer is that it means whatever the jury (not the judge) says it means.

Under Section 49.04(a) of the Texas Penal Code, a person commits the offense of DWI when the person “is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Emphasis added.  The Penal Code, however, does not define the term “operating.” When words are left undefined by statute, the Texas Government Code Section 311.011 tells us that those words are to be “construed according to the rules of grammar and common usage,” unless the word or phrase has some “technical or particular meaning,” in which case, the word or phrase “shall be construed accordingly.” What about the word “operating?” Is it common or technical?

In the trial of Kirsch v. State out in the Longview area, the defendant was charged with DWI after the police found him drunk while standing over his motorcycle trying to kick-start it on a public road.  As you might guess, there was a dispute over whether he was “operating” his vehicle while intoxicated.  Over defense objection, the trial court included the prosecutor’s requested definition of “operate” in the jury instructions:

to exert personal effort to cause the vehicle to function.

To the prosecutor’s credit, the definition was taken from an appellate case (although not one dealing with jury instructions).  Now, under this definition it is pretty clear that by trying to kick-start the motorcycle, the defendant was indeed operating a motor vehicle.  But if the term “operate” had been left undefined for the jury, then the defense could have certainly argued under the rules of grammar and common usage that the defendant was not “operating” his vehicle, because it was not running (or whatever other arguments an able defense counsel might make).  Armed with a black and white definition of “operate,” the jury convicted the defendant of DWI.

The 6th District Court of Appeals (Texarkana) affirmed the conviction.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed. For a unanimous court, Judge Alcala wrote:

Our cases have consistently held that “operate” is a common term that has not acquired a technical meaning and may be interpreted according to its common usage… Although an appellate court may articulate a definition of a statutorily undefined, common term in assessing the sufficiency of the evidence on appellate review, a trial court’s inclusion of that definition in a jury charge may constitute an improper comment on the weight of the evidence.

The opinion goes on to note that by instructing the jurors on the definition of the term “operate,” the trial court “impermissibly guided their understanding of the term.” “The jury should have been free,” the CCA held, “to assign that term ‘any meaning which is acceptable in common parlance.’” The CCA reversed the case and remanded it back to the COA for a harm analysis.

There you have it. The meaning of the term “operating” in the Texas DWI statute means…whatever the jury thinks it means.

Fort Worth DWI Defense Attorneys | Keller DWI | Grapevine DWI

Contact the top-rated Tarrant County DWI attorneys of Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC for a FREE consultation of your DWI case. We will help you determine whether the State could prove that you were operating a motor vehicle under Texas DWI law.  Call (817) 993-9249 or send us a contact email from our website. Our team of DWI attorneys will get to work defending your rights and protecting your future.