Criminal Defense

Juvenile Trial Adult Trial Texas

Key Differences Between Juvenile and Adult Criminal Trials in Texas

By | Criminal Defense, Juvenile

Juvenile Trial Adult Trial TexasThe juvenile justice system is a hybrid system. Juvenile proceedings are technically civil in nature, but they incorporate many elements from the criminal system. The reason for this separate system is to teach children that they will be held responsible for their actions without labeling them as criminals. The differences between adult and juvenile trials is a direct result of this difference in systems.


One of the most noticeable distinctions between adult and juvenile trials is in terminology. Juveniles accused of crimes are called respondents, not defendants. Juries do not decide whether a respondent is guilty. Instead, they decide whether it is true or not true that he engaged in delinquent conduct.


In Tarrant County, the participants that you will see sitting in the courtroom during a juvenile trial are not the same as in an adult case. In addition to the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, juvenile, court reporter, and jury, there are a couple other participants in juvenile cases. A parent or guardian of the respondent is required to be present during all proceedings. The Tarrant County juvenile judge also requires an intake probation officer to be present anytime the juvenile is in court.


For the most part, the procedures in an adult trial and a juvenile trial in Tarrant County are similar. The same rules of evidence apply. A juvenile respondent has the same rights during a trial as an adult defendant has. The trials in the two systems follow the same general order, as well.

There are a few significant differences, however. First, and probably most important, is the contrast in who makes punishment decisions in the trials. In adult cases, a defendant can choose whether a judge or jury determines punishment. However, in juvenile cases, a respondent only has this choice in determinate sentence cases. In all other cases, a judge will determine the punishment, if any.

Another difference is the judge’s charge to the jury. The jury charge in a juvenile case is a civil charge with criminal language included in it. It is typically longer than a standard criminal charge in an adult case. The jury’s verdict form is also a bit different. In adult cases, the verdict form asks the jury to write guilty or not guilty. In juvenile trials, as mentioned earlier, the jury determines true or not true that the respondent engaged in delinquent conduct.

Disposition/Punishment Phase

In adult criminal trials, if a defendant is found guilty, the case moves into the punishment phase. In juvenile cases, that next phase is called the dispositional hearing. This is another area in which a juvenile trial differs from adult trials in Tarrant County.

If the jury is assessing punishment in an adult case, it generally happens almost immediately after a verdict of guilty is returned. If the defendant chooses the judge to assess punishment, the hearing is usually scheduled for a later date.

In the juvenile justice system, most of the time, the respondent does not get to choose who determines disposition. The judge will make the vast majority of these disposition decisions. This means that the dispositional hearing will usually be held a few weeks after the trial. Unlike in adult cases, a social history report on the respondent must be prepared by the intake probation officer prior to the dispositional hearing taking place. This report will be considered by the judge in assessing the appropriate disposition.

Practical Differences

The last big discrepancy between adult and juvenile cases has to do with the practical effect that these cases have on the person accused. The juvenile system emphasizes rehabilitation instead of punishment. Therefore, juvenile dispositions do not have the same long-term ramifications that adult punishments have. Typically, they are limited in length due to the age limits imposed by the system. In Tarrant County, the juvenile judge will consider probation in each case in which it is appropriate to consider.

There are a lot of differences between adult and juvenile trials. The main reason for this is because these trials are part of two separate and distinct systems. The juvenile system is a hybrid, combining parts of the civil and criminal systems into one. While there are many similarities between the two, this article highlights the main distinctions between the two.

About the Author

Christy Dunn is a writer and attorney licensed to practice in Texas. She was a prosecutor for 15 years. The last five years of her prosecutorial career was spent in the Juvenile Division of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. She has tried over 20 juvenile cases in Texas and multiple certification hearings.

HL Hunt Mansion Dallas Hill v State

Dallas Oil Family’s Dismissal for Vindictive Prosecution Upheld on Appeal

By | Criminal Defense, White Collar

How Far Does the Trial Courts Discretion Go in Determining Whether to Hold a Pretrial Evidentiary Hearing?

HL Hunt Mansion Dallas Hill v StateOn September 21st the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a decision on the oil tycoon heir Albert Hill III’s criminal appeal. The question the Court faced was whether it was in the trial court’s discretion to conduct a pretrial evidentiary hearing on Hill’s motions to quash and dismiss based on prosecutorial vindictiveness. The Court determined that it was within the trial court’s discretion to conduct such a pretrial evidentiary hearing and that discretion was not limited by the defendant meeting “a certain threshold evidentiary requirement.”

Court Opinion: State of Texas v. Albert Hill (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)

The Facts | Trial Court Finds Dallas DA’s Actions Improper

Appellant Hill is the great-grandson of legendary Dallas oil billionaire H.L. Hunt and the events surrounding the indictment dealt with a multi-million dollar trust litigation between Hill and his father. Hill and his wife Erin were indicted in 2011 for making false and misleading statements in order to obtain a $500,000 mortgage from Omni American Bank. The indictment came shortly after Hill won in the trust litigation against his father. Prior to the indictment (but after Albert Hill’s victory in the trust litigation) Hill’s father’s attorney, Michael Lynn delivered a memo to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office which alleged various offenses committed by Hill and his wife. Hill challenged these charges by filing a motion to quash the indictment and a motion to dismiss. Hill argued that the District Attorney, Craig Watkins, was under the influence of his disgruntled father as well as Lisa Blue Baron, one of Hill’s attorneys in the trust litigation case that had just filed a lawsuit against Hill seeking several million dollars in legal fees.

Some items of interest that the court noted were:

  • Lisa Blue Baron exchanged several phone calls and text messages with Watkins leading up to the indictment;
  • Michael Lynn’s law partner donated $48,500 to Watkins’ campaign prior to the indictment;
  • Lisa Blue Baron made a $100,000 donation to SMU LAW in Watkins’ honor after the indictment;
  • Lisa Blue Baron also held a fundraising event for Watkins’ campaign at her house and made a $5,000 donation to the campaign.

The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Hill’s motions and granted both the motion to quash and the motion to dismiss.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Court’s Decision

The Fifth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s dismissals holding that the trial court “erred in conducting a hearing on Hill’s motion to dismiss.” The State argued that the trial court should not have held a pretrial evidentiary hearing because Hill failed to prove, with evidence, a prima facie case of prosecutorial misconduct and vindictiveness. The Court of Appeals stated that before a pretrial evidentiary can be held for a defendant claiming a violation of his constitutional rights, the defendant must “present facts sufficient to create a reasonable doubt about the constitutionality of his prosecution.” The Court of Appeals found that Hill did not sufficiently meet this standard.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Disagrees with the Court of Appeals, holds that Trial Courts Have Sound Discretion to Conduct a Pretrial Evidentiary Hearing

1. Article 28.01 – The CCA points to Article 28.01 in determining that the trial court had the discretion to hold a pretrial hearing on Hill’s motions to quash and suppress. Article 28.01 §1 provides that a trial court “may set any criminal case for a pre-trial hearing” and that some of things that the pre-trial hearing shall be to determine is the “pleadings of the defendant,’ ‘exceptions to the form or substance of the indictment,’ or discovery.’” Article 28.01 §1(1), (2), (4), (8). Additionally, while Article 28.01 does not expressly provide for an evidentiary hearing on a motion to dismiss like it does for a motion to suppress, the Court determined that it would be a misapplication of the rules of statutory construction to decide that oral testimony cannot be used in a pretrial hearing to resolve any other issue raised.

2. Case Law – The Court supported its Article 28.01 decision with the Court’s decision in Neal v. State which held that a defendant is required to “preserve a complaint of vindictive prosecution by filing a pretrial motion to quash and dismiss.” 150 S.W.3d 169. With that decision in mind the Court said “it would make no sense to limit the trial court’s discretion to hold an evidentiary hearing on such motion.”

The State pointed to federal case law that provided defendant must make a prima facie case that raised a reasonable doubt. However, these cases dealt with the issue of whether the trial court erred by denying a pretrial hearing. Thus, the Court stated that this case law is not on point in Hill’s case and thus are not controlling on this issue, and do not persuade the Court to hold otherwise.

Decision of the Criminal Court of Appeals | The Trial Court’s Discretion is Not Limited

The CCA determined that Article 28.01 has no limiting factor on the judge’s discretion to hold a pretrial evidentiary hearing based on any threshold evidentiary standard. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in conducting the pretrial evidentiary hearing in Hill’s case but instead acted within its bounds of sound discretion.

Texas Statute of Limitations

Statute of Limitations in Texas | How Long Does the State Have to Bring Charges?

By | Criminal Defense

How Long Does the State Have to Bring a Criminal Case Against Me?

Texas Statute of LimitationsTexas law sets out the statute of limitations, the period during which formal charges must be brought against the defendant for most offenses. These time periods range from two years to over twenty years, and for some offenses there is no limitation period at all. The applicable limitation period depends on the particular offense that is alleged.

The various statutes of limitations mean that the state must present an indictment or information within said time period or prosecution will be time barred. The presentation of an indictment occurs when the grand jury has made its decision and the indictment is received by the court. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.06. The presentation of an information occurs when it has been properly filed in court. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.07. The limitations period is tolled while the case is pending after an information is filed or indictment issued. Tolling means that the time will not be counted against the limitations period.

Generally, the time period is measured based on the date the offense was committed. When computing the time period, the day on which the offense was committed and the day on which the charge was presented are excluded. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.04. Thus, the clock starts running the day after the offense was committed and is paused when the indictment or information is presented. Additionally, any time the defendant was absent from the state is excluded when computing the time period. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. Art. 12.05(1).

What Are the Time Periods in the Texas Statutes of Limitations?

Texas law provides that for all misdemeanor offenses there is a standard period of limitations of two (2) years. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. arts. 12.02. Thus, for any given misdemeanor charge, the State must bring prosecution within two years from the commission of the crime.

There are several periods of limitations provided for the various felony offenses, as well as a catch all time period of three years for all other felonies not specifically provided for. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(7). See the chart below for the time period provided for certain major felony offenses.


(A) Five Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(4).

  • Theft or Robbery,
  • Kidnapping or Burglary (except as provided in (E)),
  • Injury to Elderly or Disabled (unless 1st Degree),
  • Abandoning or Endangering Child, and
  • Insurance Fraud
(B) Seven Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(3).

  • Money Laundering
  • Credit Card or Debit Card Abuse
  • Medicaid Fraud
  • False statement to obtain property or credit; and
  • Fraudulent Use or Possession of Identifying Information
(C) Ten Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(2).

  • Theft of any estate by an executor, administrator, guardian, or trustee
  • Theft by a public servant of government property
  • Forgery or uttering, using, or passing of a forged instrument
  • Sexual assault (except as provided in (F)),
  • Injury to an elderly individual or disabled individual (if punishable as a first degree felony), and
  • Arson
(D) Ten Years from the Victim’s 18th Birthday


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(6).

  • Injury to a Child
(E) Twenty Years from the Victim’s 18th Birthday


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(5).

  • Sexual Performance by a Child younger than 17
  • Aggravated Kidnapping with intent to sexually abuse a victim younger than 17, and
  • Burglary of a Habitation with the intent to sexually abuse a victim younger than 17
(F) No Time Limitation


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(1).

  • Murder or Manslaughter
  • Leaving the Scene of an Accident which Resulted in Death
  • Indecency with a Child
  • Sexual Assault or Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child
  • Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
  • Sexual Assault if DNA testing indicated that the perpetrator’s identity could not be readily determined
  • Sexual Assault if there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed the same or similar offense against 5 or more victims
(G) Three Years


See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(7).

  • All other Felonies.

Periods of Limitations for Aggravated Offenses, Attempt, Conspiracy, and Solicitation

The limitation period for criminal attempt is the same as provided for the offense attempted. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. §12.03(a). Additionally, the limitation period for criminal conspiracy or organized crime is that of the most serious offense that is the subject of the conspiracy or organized crime. §12.03(b) Further, the limitation period provided for criminal solicitation is the same as the period of the felony solicited. §12.03(c). Finally, an aggravated offense has the same period of limitation as provided for the primary crime. §12.03(d)

In conclusion, these limitations are set out to protect defendants from having to face charges where evidence is stale and witnesses are unavailable due to the long period of time the State has waited to bring prosecution. The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure is very specific in how it has laid out the periods of limitations so that there will be no question as to the time period for a particular offense and how that time period should be computed.

*Note: The above provided chart is not all-inclusive but instead focuses on only some of the major felony offenses. An exhaustive list can be found in Section 12.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

Husband Wife Privilege Texas Rule 504

Can One Spouse be Forced to Testify Against the Other?

By | Criminal Defense, Jury Trial

Can My Spouse be Forced to Testify Against Me in a Criminal Trial in Texas?

Husband Wife Privilege Texas Rule 504Everyone knows (or should know) of the attorney-client privilege which prohibits the calling of an attorney to testify as a witness against his client and protects the attorney-client relationship. But what about the husband-wife relationship? Are spouses afforded any protection from having their spouse testify against them in a criminal trial?

Yes. In Texas there are two “Husband-Wife” privileges that apply to the marital relationship: spousal immunity and the marital communication privilege. Many people are aware that certain privileges arise but often do not know exactly what protections these privileges provide. The following article discusses both of the matrimonial privileges in Texas.

See the full text of Texas Rule of Evidence 504 – Spousal Privileges

What is Spousal Immunity? How does Spousal Immunity work in Texas?

Spousal immunity is the privilege that exists in a criminal trial for the defendant’s spouse not to be called as a witness in certain situations.  Tex. R. Evid. 504(b). This privilege applies to spouses that are married to the defendant during trial and are asked to testify as to matters that occurred during the spouse’s marriage to the defendant. The non-defendant spouse holds this privilege; meaning he or she is the one who may invoke the privilege not to testify and it is ultimately his or her decision. Tex. R. Evid. 504(b)(3). Thus, if the spouse wants to voluntarily testify for the State, she may do so regardless of whether the defendant objects to the spouse’s testimony.

Spousal immunity does not stop the defendant from calling their current spouse as a witness. If a defendant chooses to do so the spouse cannot assert this privilege and will be required to testify. With that, if the defendant does not call the spouse and surrounding evidence suggests the spouse could testify to relevant matters the State is allowed to comment about that. 504(b)(2).

Exceptions to Spousal Immunity in Texas

There are two exceptions to spousal immunity in Texas.

  • First, the privilege does not apply in a criminal proceeding in which the defendant has committed against the spouse (e.g. Domestic Violence) or prosecution for bigamy.
  • Second, the privilege does not apply when the spouse is called to testify about matters that occurred before they were married to the defendant.

What is the Texas Marital Communication Privilege?

Under Texas Rule of Evidence 504(a), spouses have the privilege to prevent testimony of certain communications made during the marriage from one spouse to the other spouse.  Unlike the spousal immunity privilege, the marital communication privilege may be invoked by either the defendant or the spouse being called as a witness. Additionally, this privilege survives divorce; meaning it applies whether or not the defendant and the spouse are still married as long as the communications were made while they were married. Tex. R. Evid. 504(a)(2).

This privilege only applies to communications that were intended to be confidential, that is, they were made privately with no intent to disclose to anyone other than the spouse. A communication will still be confidential if someone overheard the conversation if the defendant spouse made the statement without knowledge or intent that the other person would hear the conversation. Basically, the requirement is that the communication made was intended for the spouse’s ears only.

Exceptions to the Marital Communications Privilege in Texas

There are two exceptions to the confidential communications privilege.

  • First, if the communication was made in whole or in part to aid in the commission of a crime the privilege does not apply.
  • Second, the marital communication privilege does not apply in prosecutions for crimes against the defendant’s spouse, any minor child, or a member of the defendant or defendant spouse’s household.

In conclusion, there are certain situations where matters occurring between spouses are kept within the sanctity of the marriage and will not come out in court. However, as you can see these privileges are very specific and it is important to be aware of what exactly is privileged and when such privileges apply.

See the full text of Texas Rule of Evidence 504 – Spousal Privileges

Facebook Evidence in a Criminal Case

Facebook Likes and Twitter Tweets as Evidence in a Criminal Case

By | Criminal Defense

Facebook Evidence in a Criminal CaseIn the age of social media it seems more and more that our identities are being fast tied to what we post, like, love, or retweet on social media. Our firm handles criminal cases on a daily basis and in the course of our work we’ve seen an increasing reliance by law enforcement and prosecutors on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. More often than not, investigators are scrolling through the entirety of a person’s social media profiles scouring the information for incriminating statements, pictures or conversations. A Facebook picture or an Instagram post that one might consider innocent, humorous, or obscure could end up being a key piece of evidence used against that person in a court of law.

Here’s what you need to know about social media and the law.

Anything you post on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can and will be used against you.

Period. The general rule that citizens need to know is that by exposing information about yourself on social media you are essentially waiving your privacy rights. A person can’t scream at the top of their lungs in an open room the most private fact about themselves and then expect it to go unheard. The same is true about social media. By posting on sites like Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram, you are essentially consenting to whatever information you disclose to be made public.  Even if your profile is set to private, your friends could end up sharing your content. Once public, that information is now available to everyone…including the government. If you are under investigation or suspect you might be under investigation for a criminal offense, and you have social media profiles, never post anything if you think it has even a remote possibility of hurting your case.

What can be done to protect my privacy on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram?

Don’t post! The first thing you can do is to place a limit and a premium on your social media activity. Some people feel like social media websites are the perfect forum for venting frustrations, making off-color jokes or personally attacking others. If you think about what you are posting in terms of who might potentially see your post, then you should limit the things you say. Remember, anything you post will be considered public information.  If the temptation is too strong to post on social media, then you should really consider disabling your account altogether (at least while your criminal case is pending).

Can Social Media Privacy Settings be used to protect my information?

Privacy settings are the second step in preventing the government or any other unwanted viewers from obtaining your social media information. The majority of the more popular social media websites allow you to limit who can see your information and what can be seen. Putting strict limits on who and what can be seen on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages can be very effective in preventing unwanted eyes. But is it enough? For the general public, yes, it is. Further, law enforcement agents typically do not have special privileges to see information that has been set to “private” either. But, there are other ways of getting your information and viewing your profiles. Law enforcement has been known to create fake profiles with attractive pictures to entice users into accepting friend requests and allowing them to view information intended for friends only. There is nothing that legally prevents law enforcement from taking such actions.

If my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts are set to “Private,” is that enough to protect my information?

Ultimately, no. Even if a person hasn’t unwittingly accepted a friend request from an officer or agent and has limited access to their profile via privacy settings, law enforcement can still get a subpoena, court order or search warrant for your social media information.

According to their website, Facebook will only disclose records in accordance with the Stored Communications Act (“SCA”), 18 U.S.C. Sections 2701-2712 and in response to:

  • A valid subpoena issued in connection with an official criminal investigation is required to compel the disclosure of basic subscriber records (defined in 18 U.S.C. Section 2703(c)(2)), which may include: name, length of service, credit card information, email address(es), and a recent login/logout IP address(es), if available.
  • A court order issued under 18 U.S.C. Section 2703(d) is required to compel the disclosure of certain records or other information pertaining to the account, not including contents of communications, which may include message headers and IP addresses, in addition to the basic subscriber records identified above.
  • A search warrant issued under the procedures described in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure or equivalent state warrant procedures upon a showing of probable cause is required to compel the disclosure of the stored contents of any account, which may include messages, photos, videos, wall posts, and location information.

So, even if your privacy settings won’t allow anyone to view your profile, law enforcement agencies may still be able to get that information by way of a subpoena, court order or search warrant.

Assume that unwanted eyes will see what you post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

If you’re under investigation for a criminal offense or charged with a criminal offense, you need to assume that unwanted eyes will see what you post on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Our attorneys have handled cases involving cases where the government has used Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram postings against our clients. We don’t want that to happen to you. Call one of our attorneys and speak to us about what you can do to protect your information and ultimately your rights.

NOTE: The United States Supreme Court has confirmed that the police CANNOT search your cell phone to discover Social Media evidence, text messages, phone call, or anything else without a proper search warrant.

Difference in Deferred Adjudication Straight Probation in Texas

What is the Difference Between Deferred Adjudication and Straight Probation?

By | Criminal Defense

Probation in Texas: Make Sure You are Headed Down the Right Path. What is Deferred Adjudication?

Difference in Deferred Adjudication Straight Probation in TexasWhen we are counseling new clients, we routinely address the punishment range that is available for the charged offense and whether probation is an option in their case.  It is important to note that all criminal offenses (except class C citations) are punishable by incarceration. However, first-time offenders and those charged with misdemeanors and non-aggravated felonies will often receive probation when prosecutors, judges, and juries agree that community supervision (probation) is a better alternative to jail time in the given situation.  For some offenses, however, probation is not an option (see our previous article on 3g offenses in Texas).

For those of you that prefer the bullet points up front, here is the short answer regarding the difference between straight probation and deferred adjudication:

Straight Probation in Texas

  • A person on Straight Probation in Texas must report to probation and complete required terms as set by the judge
  • In a straight probation, the case results in a Criminal Conviction
  • In straight probation, there is no option have the case expunged or non-disclosed upon completion of probation
  • If revoked on a straight probation, the penalty range is limited to the underlying jail term (see more below).

Deferred Adjudication in Texas

  • A person on Deferred Adjudication in Texas must report to probation and complete required terms as set by the judge
  • A Deferred Adjudication Case Does NOT result in a Criminal Conviction
  • In a Deferred Adjudication in Texas, there is an option to have the case non-disclosed upon completion (in most cases)
  • Under a Deferred Adjudication, If revoked, the judge may sentence anywhere in the full punishment range for the offense.

Deferred Adjudication vs. Straight Probation

In Texas, there are two types of community supervision in criminal cases: regular community supervision (or what is typically referred to as “straight probation”) and deferred adjudication (or “deferred probation.”) The difference between them is significant.  Chapter 42.12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure covers with both types of probation in Texas.

Straight Probation in Texas

Let’s discuss straight probation first. As an example, assume someone is facing a charge for a Class A Misdemeanor. The penalty range is 0-365 days in jail. A straight probation offer from the state might look like this:

180 days in jail probated for 12 months.

If you agree to this offer and decide to take it, at the time of the plea the judge would ask for your plea of guilty, find you guilty and assess punishment at 180 days in jail. However, he would not require you to actually serve the jail time. Rather, he would probate the jail time and place you on community supervision for a period of 12 months. If you successfully complete the straight probation by reporting as directed and abiding by the terms and conditions, you would not be required to serve jail time for the conviction.

Straight Probation Comes With a Criminal Conviction

With straight probation, the most significant consequence is the conviction itself. When you plead guilty, the judge finds you guilty and a conviction is rendered. You avoid jail time by the sentence being probated, but the conviction remains on your record. A conviction, even if probation, can never be expunged from your record (regardless of the passage of time), so it is important to be wise with your decision to take a plea agreement in which straight probation is offered.

If you receive straight probation and fail to comply with the terms and conditions, the state can seek to have your probation revoked. At a revocation hearing or sentencing, the judge’s sentencing ability is limited by the underlying sentence received at the time of your original plea. So, in the above example, if you received a sentence for 180 days in jail probated for 12 months and are later revoked, the judge cannot sentence you beyond the 180 days (even though the penalty range for a class A misdemeanor is up to 365 days.)

Deferred Adjudication in Texas

Chapter 42.12 section 5 offers a different type of probation than the straight probation discussed above. It’s called deferred adjudication. Let’s go back to our example and say your facing a Class A Misdemeanor with a penalty range of 0-365 days. A deferred adjudication offer might look like this:

18 months probation

If you agree to this offer, you would plead guilty at the time of the plea. However, the judge would withhold finding you guilty and instead place you on probation for a period of 18 months. The reporting and terms and conditions would mirror those of a straight probation. If you successfully complete the probation and are discharged, you would not be required to serve jail time and you would not receive a criminal conviction.

Deferred Adjudication Does Not Come With a Criminal Conviction

With deferred adjudication, the most significant benefit is the case is dismissed upon discharge and no conviction rendered. You not only avoid jail time, but a conviction as well. You also may be eligible to file for a non-disclosure after discharge in most cases. Section 411.081 of the Texas Government Code is the law covering when and if you can file for a non-disclosure after discharge from deferred adjudication.

As with straight probation, if you receive deferred adjudication and fail to comply with the terms and conditions, the state can seek to have your probation revoked. However, there are some significant distinctions at a revocation hearing or sentencing on a deferred adjudication case. First, the judge’s sentencing ability is unlimited. This means he can use the entire penalty range. In our example, if you receive deferred adjudication for 18 months for a class A misdemeanor and are later revoked, the judge can sentence you anywhere in the penalty range of 0- 365 days. Also and more importantly, if revoked, the judge will find you guilty resulting in a conviction.

Contact Our Fort Worth Criminal Defense Firm if You Have Questions About Deferred Adjudication or Straight Probation in Texas

This was a rough overview of the different types of probation in Texas on criminal cases. Of course, there are always factors that can effect if and which type of probation is available as an option to you. The attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC would be glad to discuss your situation and provide more information about these options. Please feel free to give us a call at (817) 993-9249.

DWI offenses are not eligible for deferred adjudication in Texas. If you’d like to see that changed, contact your state representatives’ offices and voice your opinion

Recording Conversations Wiretapping Texas

Can I Record a Conversation Without the Other Party’s Consent in Texas?

By | Criminal Defense

Recording Conversations Without Consent in Texas | Wiretapping Laws

Recording Conversations Wiretapping TexasWith red light cameras at nearly every street corner, video surveillance in businesses and homes, web cams on computers, and recording capabilities on mobile phones – we must navigate carefully in a digital world. We’ve seen titillating news reports exposing a secret audio tape of a public figure having scandalous phone conversations, or video surveillance of questionable traffic stops that escalate in shocking fashion. You may have had a suspicious feeling that you were being recorded, or on the other hand, felt as if you needed to record a conversation with another for your own protection.

With privacy seemingly harder to come by as compared with days long past—what does Texas law say about recording conversations? Is it illegal to record a phone conversation with another person? What about in person?

The short answer is: YES, you can record a conversation with another person without that person’s consent. But this answer requires more explanation.

Recording Phone Calls in Texas | Texas is a One-Party Consent State

Under Texas Law, it is a crime intercept or record any wire, oral or electronic communication without the consent of at least one party. The good news is that you count as one party and if you’re recording then you have probably given yourself consent to record the conversation. Generally speaking, state wiretapping laws turn on whether the state is a one-party consent state. While some states require the consent of all of the parties to a conversation prior to recording, Texas permits the recording of telephone calls, so long as the consent of one of the parties is obtained. As stated, if you are one of the parties on the phone call, then you may consent to having your own conversation recorded—you need not alert the other party. Additionally, a parent may give vicarious consent to the recording of a child’s conversation if the parent has a good faith objectively reasonable belief that the recording is necessary for the welfare of the child.

However, if during a phone call there are multiple parties who are in different states, then be aware that other state laws may require pre-recording consent of all of the parties. In this scenario, if the recording party obtains consent from the other parties before the recording begins, then the recorder is not in violation of wiretapping laws.

See this link to learn more about the various state wiretapping laws.

Recording In-Person Conversations in Texas | Can I Record Someone Else’s Public Conversation?

Texas law (Penal Code §16.02) does not permit you to record in-person communications when the parties have an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception (i.e. If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy). If you wish to record a conversation to which you are not a party, all of the parties must give consent before the recording device is turned on. If you are a party to the conversation, record away.

Further, you are able to record in-person communication at a public place, like a mall food court or at a football game for example, where parties do not have the expectation of privacy. Remember—if you say it in a public place, within earshot of others who may overhear, you do not have an expectation of privacy in those statements. Generally, such statements may be recorded without violating that state’s wiretapping laws.

A Word of Caution of Recording Conversations in Texas

Please be aware that there are both federal and state wiretapping laws that may limit your ability to making recordings of telephone calls or in person conversations. This article addresses state wiretapping laws in Texas only. Additionally, if a person has violated a state or federal wiretapping statute, he may be both charged criminally and be sued civilly by the damaged party.

Further, while a person may have successfully recorded a conversation under state and federal wiretapping laws, the act of disclosing the recording to other third parties could be, in and of itself, punishable criminally or civilly under other legal theories (such as slander, for example).

If you are faced with a wiretapping charge, or have questions about wiretapping, please contact an attorney who will address both the state and federal regulations as they are related to the facts of your specific case. Wiretapping charges are potentially serious felonies that could land a person in jail or prison, with fines ranging from $200 to $10,000. If you are faced with charges related to wiretapping in Texas, please contact our offices at (817) 993-9249 for a consultation.

Summary on Texas Wiretapping

  • A person can record a conversation to which you are a party in Texas without violating wiretapping laws, so long as the other party is in a “one party consent” state.
  • A person can record a conversation (to which he is not a party) if one of the participants gives him permission.
  • A person can record a conversation when, in a public setting, the participants do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • It is almost always illegal to record a phone call or private conversation to which one is not a party, does not have consent from at least one of the parties, and could not naturally overhear the conversation.

This article is for educational purposes only and should never be substituted for legal advice.

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Federal Prosecutor Tips

5 Things I Wish Defense Attorneys Knew in Federal Criminal Cases

By | Criminal Defense

Guest Blog Post: Former Federal Prosecutor Offers Tips for Defense Attorneys in Federal Criminal Cases

Former Assistant United States Attorney and long-time U.S. Marine prosecutor Glen Hines provides some tips regarding Federal criminal cases from his time as an AUSA in Arkansas.  The views contained in this post are his own and not those of the Department of Justice, the United States Marine Corps or any other government organization.

Below are the top five unsolicited practice points for defense attorneys practicing in the Federal justice system:

Number 1 Icon

Read up on the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual.

Although this is non-binding guidance to AUSAs, they rarely deviate from it. Be aware of the Principles of Federal Prosecution, at Section 9-27.000, because you can use these to get your client a better outcome in some cases. This will give you a good idea of DOJ policy on issues like charging decisions, non-criminal alternatives to prosecution, plea agreements and their provisions, and cooperation issues. These policies form the AUSA’s mindset to any federal case. If the AUSA on your case deviates from the USAM to the detriment of your client, ask him or her why they are doing it.

Number 2 icon

Get out ahead of the government’s case.

This is easier said than done in practice; unfortunately, by the time most of your clients get around to retaining you, they have likely already been indicted. But in the rare event one hires you beforehand, it’s an opportunity for you to shape the case before it even gets started. Don’t be afraid to proffer your client. If you think he has something to offer the government that might help them get a bigger fish, most offices have a standard use immunity agreement to cover whatever your client tells them during the proffer. Moreover, as stated above, if you can get in touch with the AUSA on your case, you might be able to obtain a non-criminal alternative to prosecution; for instance in financial cases you could offer the government that your client agree to a civil, financial forfeiture and “pretrial diversion” (Section 9-22.000) in lieu of indictment.

Number 3 icon

Know the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

They drive everything. For some reason, a lot of defense attorneys avoid federal cases because they are afraid of having to deal with the guidelines, but it really isn’t rocket science. This is very important because almost every case I did as an AUSA, I pulled up the guidelines first to see what the case was going to be worth, the idea being, why should the government spend the resources to indict a case if the punishment was going to be very minimal? Know generally how to calculate the range, know about enhancements and deductions, and especially know that your client gets 3 points off the applicable range for timely pleading and “acceptance of responsibility.” See section 3E1.1.  Your client is going to want to know how much time he is going to have to do if he pleads as opposed to going to trial and getting convicted, so you need to be able to calculate that number. A helpful calculator (not affiliated with any governmental entity) is on the internet HERE. Always check your numbers against what the AUSA comes up with.

Number 4 icon

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease”/Return my phone calls.

This goes along with #2 above. The defense attorney who calls or emails me about his case will get their call or email returned. If I know you are paying attention to your client’s case and hearing from you, it’s more likely I will view you as a straight-shooter and try to work with you on a potential deal. If I never hear from you and you never return my calls or emails, I will assume you want to go to trial and I’ll start preparing to do so.

Number 5 icon

The AUSA is not going to deal your case out at the last minute.

Do not turn down a plea offer because you think the AUSA is going to knuckle under at the last minute and give you a sweetheart deal as the jury is walking in for voir dire. I know this happens on the state level, but as said before, the AUSA does not have the discretion to fashion some kind of sentence deal; the guidelines drive sentencing. If you wait that long, expect to go to trial. AUSAs typically don’t have the huge caseload state deputy district attorneys do, so they try fewer cases and are only more than willing to roll the case out to the jury when the time comes.

Glen Hines Former Federal ProsecutorGlen. R. Hines (LinkedIn) is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and a reserve Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and judge advocate. The majority of his 18-year, active-duty and reserve military career has been served as a prosecutor and Military Judge. He is a graduate of George Washington University (LLM-Highest Honors) and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (JD). He has written on national security, federal and military criminal law, and gun control issues.  See his past article at Task & Purpose.

Fort Worth Failure to Register as Sex Offender Defense Lawyer

Failure to Register is Not a Separate and Distinct Sex Offense

By | Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

Is Failure to Register as a Sex Offender a Sex Offense Itself?

Fort Worth Failure to Register as Sex Offender Defense LawyerAt his trial, Eric Putnam pleaded guilty for “failure to register as a sex offender,” a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250 that “carries a statutory range [of punishment] for supervised release of five years to life.” 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k). A Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (“PSR”), calculated Putnam’s punishment for supervised release at 15 years, treating his conviction of Failure to Register as an additional sex offense under section 5D1.2(b)(2). PSRs are reports used by federal courts to assist the court in measuring a defendant’s punishment under the US Sentencing Guidelines Manual. Courts have discretion in determining type and length of punishment, sometimes deviating from the recommendation of the PSR. For Putnam, the district court adopted the PSR, sentencing him to ten months imprisonment followed by a supervised release term of 15 years.

See the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Putnam

Putnam appealed the 15-year term of supervised release, contending the district court erroneously treated his conviction for Failure to Register on the sex offender registry as a separate sex offense in and of itself. Because Putnam failed to object to the length of the sentence at the time of trial, essentially waiving his right to appeal the sentence on the merits, he must show (1) that a “plain error” was made at the sentencing phase of his trial, and, (2) that the “plain error” affected his substantial rights. United States v. Warren, 720 F.3d 321, 332 (5th Cir. 2013); United States v. Escalante-Reyes, 689 F.3d 415, 419 (5th Cir. 2012) (en banc). The “Plain Error Doctrine” refers to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 52(b) that permits federal courts of appeals to consider “plain errors” even though they were not brought to the district court’s attention at the time of trial.

Here, the government “concedes that a plain error [did] occur with respect to the Guidelines calculation for the length of…the supervised release term.” In earlier case law, the Fifth Circuit has held, “that failure to register under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act does not qualify as a sex offense under section 5D1.2(b)(2) of the Guidelines.” United States v. Segura, 747 F.3d, 323,329-31 (5th Cir. 2014). The Court agrees with the government and with Putnam—that a plain error did in fact occur at trial, and that the recommended sentence on the PSR should have included a supervised release from one to five years, instead of the range of five years to life.

Next, the Court explained, “Putnam has met his burden of showing that the [plain] error affected his substantial rights…[because] but for the district court’s misapplication of the [Sentencing] Guidelines, Putnam would have received a lesser sentence.” United States v. Mudekunye, 646 F.3d 281, 289 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam). A defendant meets the burden of showing that plain error affected his substantial rights when:

  1. the district court mistakenly calculates the wrong Guidelines range;
  2. the incorrect range is significantly higher than the true range; and
  3. the defendant is sentenced incorrectly. Id.

Here, Putnam fulfills all three requirements—the district court miscalculated his range of punishment; the range was significantly higher (three times the correct amount); and Putnam was sentenced incorrectly. Although the courts may use discretion in sentencing—sometimes giving a longer sentence to a habitual offender, or someone with a long criminal history—Putnam had only one prior, lesser conviction. The district court did not have a compelling reason to go above the correct sentencing guidelines.

Lastly, the Court determined whether the plain error affected the “fairness, integrity, and reputation of the judicial proceeding.” Courts “often exercise…discretion to correct error when it result[s] in a custodial sentence in excess of the correct Guidelines recommendation.” United States v. Hernandez, 690 F.3d 623, 621-22 (5th Cir. 2012). Here, “miscalculation of a supervised release” is [un]common…but [nevertheless] is a substantial restraint on liberty.” United States v. Segura, 61 F.App’x 119, at *1 (5th Cir. 2003).

In sum, the Court concluded that there was, indeed, an error in Putnam’s case that resulted in a sentence ten years above the correct Guidelines range, “satisfying all the plain error inquiries.” The Court vacated the sentence and remanded to the district court for proper sentencing.

Felony Hindering Apprehension

Hindering Apprehension for a Sealed Federal Charge

By | Criminal Defense

“Run, Baby, Run!” Girlfriend’s Warnings, Personal Tattoos, and Attempts to Flee From US Marshals, Do Not Rise to the Level of “Felony Hindering Apprehension” Says the CCA

Felony Hindering ApprehensionKeiona Nowlin and her boyfriend, Demarcus Degrate, were riding in a car when a United States Marshal, executing a sealed, federal warrant on the boyfriend, pulled up behind them. After the Marshal activated the siren and lights, the couple pulled over and Degrate fled on foot. The Marshal chased Degrate. Moments later, as two Marshals arrived at the scene, they observed Nowlin screaming, “Run baby run…get away” while she also fled on foot. The Marshals detained Nowlin “to find out why she was running.” At that point, Nowlin fled the Marshals’ car. Nowlin was placed under arrest for escape.

See the CCA Opinion in Nowlin v. State.

After the arrest, Nowlin said she “knew the cars the Marshals drove…and…did not want Degrate to be arrested…[because] he was out on bond for state charges.” The Marshal noted that Nowlin had Degrate’s name tattooed near her collarbone; the trial court inferred the tattoo as indicative of an intimate relationship. The trial court found Nowlin guilty of third-degree felony hindering apprehension, sentencing her to four years imprisonment.

Nowlin appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that she was not warning Degrate of impending apprehension because “he was already aware of the [Marshal’s] presence.” Nowlin contended that because she did not know the contents of the sealed federal warrant, she could not have known Degrate was charged with a felony. The court of appeals disagreed, holding that her statement at the scene, “run baby run…get away,” provided sufficient evidence of providing a warning to Degrate. The court of appeals pointed to statements made at the scene that she knew “he was out on bond for state charges…and…she did not want her man to get arrested.” The court of appeals added that her tattoo was proof of her close relationship with Degrate, and that she likely knew of the felony-level charges he was facing.

Nowlin appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that because the federal indictment was sealed and secret, she could not have known about the indictment itself; that no evidence exists that she knew of the felony-level charges Degrate faced; and, that her tattoo was not proof of a close relationship where she would have had knowledge of the charges. The State argues that the evidence was sufficient: that the tattoo is evidence of a close relationship that implies she knew intimate details of Degrate’s life; that she knew Degrate faced serious state-level charges, and that her attempt to flee from the US Marshal is evidence of her knowledge of the “serious nature of Degrate’s crimes.” In an interesting turn of events, the State offered an alternative to acquittal–that an alternative charge could be misdemeanor-level hindering apprehension, and the sentence could be amended to reflect a lesser charge.

“In order to show that the evidence presented was legally sufficient to support a conviction of felony hindering apprehension, the State must prove:

  1. the defendant warned another person of impending discovery or apprehension;
  2. the defendant had the intent to hinder that individual’s arrest; and,
  3. the defendant had knowledge that the individual was under arrest for, charged with, or convicted of a felony.

Tex.Penal Code § 38.05(a), (d).

An individual acts with knowledge when he is aware that the circumstances exist. Tex. Penal Code § 6.03(b). In a nutshell, the State must show Nowlin was aware that her boyfriend was under arrest for, charged with, or convicted of a felony. The Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) now decides whether the evidence is sufficient to show that Nowlin knew Degrate was charged with a felony offense.

Here, the CCA does not agree with the trial court and court of appeals. “The state offense that Degrate was on bond for cannot serve as the basis for [Nowlin’s] conviction.” The CCA notes that there was no evidence at trial that named the type and level of the state offense, therefore, the trial court had no way of knowing if the offense was a felony or not. Also, there was no mention of whether Nowlin knew what type of charge her boyfriend was facing. Therefore, because there was insufficient evidence regarding the state offense, the state offense cannot serve as the basis for Nowlin’s conviction.

Further, Degrate’s federal indictment was sealed. There was no way for Nowlin and Degrate to know about the charges before their arrests. “With this mandated secrecy and the lack of evidence that he was told about the indictment during the attempt to arrest him, Degrate could not have known that he was under indictment for felon in possession of a firearm.” It would have been impossible for Degrate to have told Nowlin about the felony charge because he would not have known about it.

Lastly, the inferences made about Nowlin’s close relationship with Degrate—including the tattoo on her collarbone and her attempt to escape the Marshall—do not apply here. “While the inferences that the court of appeals makes would likely be reasonable ones had there been any evidence of Degrate himself having knowledge of the indictment, no such evidence was ever presented.”

The CCA found that the evidence was insufficient to support a felony-level hindering apprehension charge. The CCA reforms Nowlin’s convictions to a misdemeanor hindering apprehension charge, instructing the trial court to conduct a new punishment hearing to reflect the lesser charge.