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Downtown Fort Worth Atelier Building

BHW Completes Full Renovation of Fort Worth’s Historic Atelier Building

By | Criminal Defense

Downtown Fort Worth Atelier BuildingBarnett Howard & Williams PLLC recently completed a full renovation of the historic Atelier Building (1905) in downtown Fort Worth. The Atelier Building is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Fort Worth, Texas that stills stands today. Built in 1905, the Atelier Building housed several different businesses over its 112-year history, including architects, banks, and a restaurant at one time. Located on 8th street between Houston and Throckmorton, the Atelier Building is marked by its dual terra-cotta fireplaces and marble facade.

The Atelier Building was last renovated in 1980 when architect Cameron Alread purchased the building. The building housed Mr. Alread’s architect firm for 36 years, until he sold the building to the law firm of Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC. Over the last six months, the law firm completely renovated the building from floor to ceiling. “One of our goals in this renovation was to bring out the history of the building,” said owner Luke Williams. If you take a look inside the building you will see exactly what he means. Plaster walls were removed to expose the original brick on the walls – bricks that have been around longer than most building in downtown. The foyer is graced by an enlarged photograph that was taken outside the building sometime during the 1930’s, back when 8th street was a brick road.

Office manager, Sue Holdridge has noticed a warm reception from the people of downtown. “Folks on the sidewalk continue to stop by and tell us how much they have enjoyed watching the transformation of the building and how much character it brings to this block of downtown.”

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC moved its practice to Fort Worth in 2013, and maintained an office in Sundance Square until December 2016, when the Atelier Building renovation was complete. The firm gives all the credit for the renovation to Eric Hill at Hill Design & Build in Keller. He was the primary designer and architect for the project.

Keys to Juvenile Success in Texas

For Parents: Keys to Success in the Juvenile Justice System

By | Juvenile

The following article is from Christy Dunn, former juvenile prosecutor in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – Juvenile Division:


Keys to Juvenile Success in TexasAs parents, we want the best for our children. We also want to protect our kids as much as we can. So, naturally, the first reaction for most parents when they find out that their child is being charged with a crime in the juvenile system is to do whatever they can to make the whole thing go away. However, in many cases, this is the worst thing you can do for your child. A lot of times, having a child placed on juvenile probation can be a blessing in disguise, especially if you understand the keys to success in the juvenile system.

The Keys to Success

The keys to success for a child in the juvenile system, at least in Tarrant County, are the attitudes and beliefs of the parents. It is crucial that you remove the blinders of parental love and take an honest and unbiased look at your child’s case. You need to take this objective stance on the case as early in the process as possible. There are several reasons why this is important.

Reason #1: Belief in Your Child’s Innocence and Willingness to Fight

If your child has been accused of committing a crime and is truly innocent, then they need to know that you believe in their innocence. Your child also needs to know that you are going to be there to support them and be willing to fight for them. You can show this support by hiring an attorney to investigate and fight the case. You also need to communicate your support to your child during this difficult time.

Reason #2: Open to Accept Your Child’s Mistakes

Another reason to be honest with yourself about your child’s juvenile case is because it will allow you to have an open mind to the fact that your kid might be guilty of doing what they are accused of. No child is perfect, and sometimes they do stupid things that get them into trouble with the law.

As a general rule of thumb, Tarrant County juvenile prosecutors don’t tend to file frivolous cases. This means that if they file a petition on your child, they usually have some evidence to show that the juvenile was, at a minimum, present during or involved in the commission of the crime. As a parent, you need to be able to consider this evidence with an open mind.

In some cases, it is difficult for a juvenile to admit wrongdoings if their parents are unwilling to accept their guilt. If you are adamant that your child is innocent, they may feel obligated to go along with your beliefs in order to avoid disappointing you. The hardest person in the world to confess to is your parent. By having an open mind, you give your child the opportunity to admit their guilt to you without the worry of disappointing you.

Reason #3: Realistic Assessment of Your Child’s Needs and Problems

In Tarrant County, we see that many times, a juvenile will be involved in a crime due to a need or problem that they have. Sometimes, this is a drug addiction or anger problem. Sometimes, it is a mental health condition or a conflict with someone within the household. Taking an honest look at your child’s juvenile case can help you to realistically assess what their needs and problems are. Acknowledging these problems is the first step to solving them. It is important that both the child and parents accept the problems and make a commitment to fix them.

Reason #4: Realization of Your Contribution

It can be a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes we, as parents, must realize that we have contributed to our children’s problems. This doesn’t mean that we are bad parents. It doesn’t mean that we intentionally set out to harm our children. But, in some cases, the parents have contributed to the problems that caused the child to land in juvenile court. By honestly accepting your part in the problem, you will be able to help solve it for your child in a much quicker manner.

Reason #5: Participation in a Plan to Address the Problems

Taking an objective view of your child’s juvenile case, and your part in creating the problems that led to it, will allow you to be an active participant in coming up with a plan to address the problems. Once a juvenile is involved with the juvenile court system, they gain access to many services that you may not have been aware were available. You will also gain access to one or more probation officers, attorneys, and possibly counselors that can help you and your child meet your child’s underlying needs.

Reason #6: Communicate a Team Approach to Your Child

Your thoughts and attitudes about your child, their case, and the resolution of it are conveyed to your child, whether you realize it or not. You can have a huge impact on how your child feels about the case and what they learn from it. By not judging your child and having an open mind to the outcome, you communicate to your child that you are on their side. You let them know that you are in this together and are there to help them be successful. This is vital to their belief in themselves and their willingness to engage in the process.

Reason #7: Parental Engagement in Probation

Unlike adults, juveniles cannot successfully complete probation without help from their parents. Many times, they do not have a driver’s license or transportation to get to and from their counseling, community service, and probation checks by themselves. So, parental engagement in the probation is a must. If you as the parent buy into the positive aspects of probation and the benefits it can give to your child, you will start to see the buy-in by your child. Additionally, you will ensure that your child gets to each appointment while on probation. By being a part of the process, you will become a valuable part of the team that is there to help your child grow and learn from his mistakes.


Kids tend to feed off of their parents’ beliefs and attitudes when it comes to their viewpoints on the juvenile justice system. Therefore, the secret to your child’s success as they navigate their way through the system is your own honest and open mindset about the process. By having the right attitude, you can affect how and what your child gets out of the system and whether your child returns to the system later. While it may not be easy, this can be a great opportunity to teach your child many life lessons while helping them take a huge leap in the growing up process. Your opinion matters, especially to your child.

Criminal Plea Bargains in Texas

Can a Rejected Plea Bargain Offer be Revived?

By | Plea Bargain

Criminal Plea Bargains in TexasContrary to television portrayals, most criminal cases never reach trial. While it is difficult to put a number of it, I would say that 90 to 95% of criminal cases are resolved by dismissal or plea bargain. Our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys put the interests of the client first and will always pursue a dismissal and sometimes attempt to reach a favorable plea deal with the prosecutor as an alternative to the uncertainty of trial.  But in some occasions, a trial is the only way to go. What follows is a recent case opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals regarding a plea bargain situation gone wrong.

Rodriguez v. State (Texas Court of Criminal Appeals 2015)

On advice from counsel, Israel Rodriguez rejected a ten-year sentence plea bargain. Rodriguez was convicted and received eight life sentences.

Rodriguez filed for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel; he believed his attorney’s advice regarding the plea offer was wrong. Rodriguez asked that the State be required to re-offer the ten-year deal.

The judge granted a new trial and ordered the State to re-offer the deal. The judge proceeded to reject the deal.

After denying the ten-year deal, the judge informed Rodriguez he could withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial or accept a 25-year sentence. Rodriguez rejected the 25-year sentence and filed a recusal motion, arguing that the judge had demonstrated prejudice. The judge recused, and a new judge was assigned.

Rodriguez filed a motion to require the State to re-offer the ten-year deal. The new judge said the original judge’s recusal had “wiped the slate clean,” including the ten-year plea offer, but he would accept a new agreement if one were presented. The state offered a plea deal of 25 years, which Rodriguez accepted. The judge accepted the plea agreement and executed the judgments of conviction.

Rodriguez argued on appeal that he was entitled to the original ten-year offer and the court was required to accept it. The court of appeals considered three factors: (1) whether Rodriguez would have accepted the original offer; (2) whether the State would have been likely to withdraw the offer; and (3) whether the judge would have likely accepted the agreement.

The court of appeals concluded Rodriguez had suffered inadequate representation. The court’s solution was for the State to re-offer the ten-year deal and have a judge who had not recused herself accept or reject the deal. The court did not agree that the judge was required to accept the ten-year deal. The case was remanded for the State to re-offer the deal.

The State filed for review of the court of appeals’ decision, alleging four errors:

(1) The voluntarily recusal should not have been considered.

(2) Nothing in the record supported the possibility of the original judge accepting the ten-year deal.

(3) The second judge should not have been required to order the State to re-offer the ten-year deal.

(4) The judgment of conviction should not have been reversed.

The CCA considered the same three factors considered by the court of appeals. Although Rodriguez’s convictions were vacated, he was still entitled to a determination of whether he had received effective counsel. The CCA agreed with the court of appeals that Rodriguez had been harmed by following his attorney’s advice in rejecting the offer. No evidence suggested Rodriguez would have rejected the deal. The State was not likely to withdraw the offer because the passage of time had made the victims’ testimony at trial unreliable.

The CCA said the only question was whether the first judge would have likely accepted the ten-year deal. No intervening circumstances would have given the judge a basis to reject the deal. However, Rodriguez did have an extensive criminal history, and the police reports for his charges were particularly damning. But nothing in the record indicated the judge would have rejected the ten-year deal if it had been presented to her prior to the trial. The CCA thus rejected the State’s second allegation of error.

The State agreed the first judge would have likely accepted the ten-year deal prior to trial, but it argued the voluntary recusal was irrelevant. No evidence indicated any prejudice against Rodriguez. Requiring the State to re-offer the ten-year deal and then rejecting it were proper rulings and did not require recusal. On the State’s first allegation, the CCA said, the court of appeals had erred.

The CCA sided with the State on its third allegation, finding Rodriguez had received exactly what he requested–a new trial with a clean slate and a decision on a plea agreement by a judge. The second judge was not obligated to give Rodriguez what the first judge had already given—consideration of the ten-year deal. Therefore, there was no requirement that the State re-offer the ten-year deal. The CCA did not consider the fourth allegation because its decisions on the first three allegations made the fourth issue moot. The CCA reinstated the 25-year sentence offered by the State, agreed to by Rodriguez, and accepted by the second judge.

An individual facing criminal charges will be advised by his Fort Worth criminal defense attorney regarding whether to accept the deal. Although the decision is ultimately up to the defendant, bad advice that ultimately leads to a worse outcome than the deal offered may present an opportunity for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

Fort Worth Keller DWI Attorneys

DWI Intox Manslaughter Case Reversed Due to Drunk Victim

By | DWI

Causation Difficult to Prove In DWI Intoxication Manslaughter Case | Fort Worth DWI Attorneys

Fort Worth Keller DWI AttorneysOne of the key issues in any criminal case is causation. In order to be found guilty of a crime, a defendant’s actions must be found to have been the cause of the criminal act. While causation may seem like a simple thing to prove, causation may depend as much on the actions of the victim as on the actions of the defendant.

Saenz v. State (14th Court of Appeals, August 2015)

FACTS: Monika Saenz was driving her truck around 3:00 a.m. when she struck Jose Torres, Jr., killing him. Blood drawn over an hour after the accident yielded a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .172 for Saenz. The autopsy of Torres determined that his BAC was also .172 at the time of the accident and that he had used marijuana and cocaine prior to his death.

Saenz was convicted of intoxication manslaughter and accident involving injury or death. There was no question as to whether Saenz’s truck hit Torres. Saenz’s only defense was concurrent causation: If Torres’ conduct was clearly sufficient to produce the accident that resulted in his death, and Saenz’s conduct was clearly insufficient to produce that result, then Saenz should be acquitted under the theory of concurrent causation.

Saenz pointed to many features of Torres’ conduct that were sufficient to cause the accident. He was walking in the road in dark clothes while intoxicated in the middle of the night; there was no evidence that Saenz’s car ever left the roadway; Torres was walking on the wrong side of the road; and Saenz was not speeding at the time of the accident. Saenz’s position was that her driving while intoxicated was insufficient to cause Torres’ death because even a sober driver would have struck and killed Torres given his conduct.

As part of her concurrent causation defense, Saenz attempted to admit evidence of Torres’ .172 BAC. However, the medical examiner refused to state his opinion that Torres’ .172 BAC would have affected his normal use of physical or mental faculties. As a result, the trial court did not allow admission of the evidence regarding Torres’ BAC.

On appeal, the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals questioned why the medical examiner would refuse to concede that a BAC of more than twice the legal limit for driving may have affected Torres’ use of his mental or physical faculties. Furthermore, the Court noted that the standard for public intoxication is that an individual is intoxicated to the degree that he may endanger himself or others. According to the Court, the evidence of Torres’ .172 BAC may have led the jury to conclude that Torres was a danger to himself while walking in the middle of the road in the dark. Further, the Court held, the BAC evidence might have provided a possible explanation to the jury for why Torres failed to move from the roadway when the vehicle appeared.

After finding that the evidence of the victim’s BAC should have been admitted, the Court addressed the question of whether the failure to admit had harmed Saenz’s case. According to the Court, Torres’ BAC evidence was essential Saenz’s defense, and excluding the evidence denied Saenz the opportunity to properly present her concurrent causation defense. Because the Court determined that exclusion of evidence of the victim’s BAC was error that may have contributed to the conviction or punishment, the Court reversed the conviction for intoxication manslaughter and remanded the case for a new trial.

This case illustrates the complexity of the current causation defense, which is used in cases other than criminal cases, particularly property insurance cases. A Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney will be familiar with the concurrent causation defense and may be able to obtain an acquittal for his or her client by showing that the criminal act would have occurred even if the defendant had done nothing wrong because the victim’s conduct would have caused it.

Fort Worth DWI Lawyers

Coming Soon: DWI Videos Releasable to Defendant

By | DWI

Legislative Changes to Texas DWI Laws | Fort Worth DWI Defense Attorneys

Fort Worth DWI LawyersDWI Update:  Some clients want to see their DWI video.  Some don’t.  Some want to take it home and show their friends and some want to dig a deep hole and bury it away forever.  Since the passing of the Michael Morton act, regardless of their clients’ wishes, criminal defense lawyers could not provide a copy of the DWI video without first obtaining a court order or prosecutor permission.  This all changes on 9/1/15.

This past legislative session, the Texas legislature passed House Bill 3791 which amends Chapter 2 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure by adding the following paragraph:


A person stopped or arrested on suspicion of an offense under Section 49.04, 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, Penal Code, is entitled to receive from a law enforcement agency employing the peace officer who made the stop or arrest a copy of any video made by or at the direction of the officer that contains footage of:

(1) the stop;

(2) the arrest;

(3) the conduct of the person stopped during any interaction with the officer, including during the administration of a field sobriety test; or

(4) a procedure in which a specimen of the person’s breath or blood is taken.

Now (beginning 9/1/15) DWI defendants are entitled to receive a copy of the DWI video (if they want it).  There is no clarification regarding whether the defense attorney, or the DA may provide the copy, but at a minimum it may come from the police agency.

DWI Trial Lawyers | Free Consultations

Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC practices DWI defense in Fort Worth, Texas.  Our office is located in Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth.  Call (817) 993-9249 for free consultation of your DWI case.

Fort Worth Criminal Lawyers Warrantless Search

When is a “No-Knock” Entry Legal?

By | No-Knock Entry

Can Police Enter a House Without Knocking or Obtaining a Warrant | No-Knock Entry Defense Lawyers, Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Criminal Lawyers Warrantless SearchThe Fourth Amendment, generally, protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Nevertheless, there are exceptions that allow police officers the ability to enter one’s home without a warrant or notice. These instances are commonly called “No-Knock” entries and are permitted only when a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their entry would be dangerous or futile.

In Trent v. Wade, the Defendant, a police officer, witnessed two all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) racing on a closed section of a freeway. He attempted to pull over the two ATV riders, but they both fled, and the Defendant followed one rider to the Plaintiff’s house. The Defendant parked outside and entered the house without a warrant, upon which he encountered the Plaintiff and discovered that his son was the person riding the ATV. The Defendant arrested the son, and the Plaintiff sued the Defendant under 42 U.S.C § 1983 claiming that the Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures by entering his house unannounced and without a warrant.

The Defendant argued that because he was in hot pursuit of the Plaintiff’s son, the hot pursuit exception authorized his unannounced warrantless entry into the Plaintiff’s house. However, in order to justify a “no-knock” entry, the police officer must reasonably suspect that knocking and announcing his or her entry would be dangerous or futile. Such an entry is futile when the occupants of a house are already aware of the police officer’s presence outside. The Court ultimately held that while the Plaintiff’s son was aware of the Defendant’s presence, there was a question of fact about whether the other occupant’s of the house were aware of his presence.

Consequentially, the Defendant was denied qualified immunity.

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort Worth

Warrantless DWI Blood Draw Held Unconstitutional By Fort Worth Court

By | DWI

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort WorthMosquitoes are pesky little things. They land on you, insert a sharp needle-like nose into your arm and suck your blood without even asking for permission. Well, like the hard slap of a hand on top of one of these pests, Texas courts are finally falling in line behind the Supreme Court’s ruling in Missouri v. McNeely (133 S. Ct. 1551 (2013)) striking down warrantless blood draws of a driver’s blood in DWI cases.

Last month, the Second District Court of Appeals in Burks v. State held that a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw – even conducted pursuant to the mandatory-blood-draw and implied-consent provisions of the Texas Transportation Code violates the Fourth Amendment to the United State’s Constitution.

The defendant in the Burks case was pulled over for changing lanes without signaling. A North Richland Hills police officer pulled him over and developed probable cause to arrest him for DWI. Because the defendant had been convicted twice before for DWI, the officer relied on Texas Transportation Code 724.012 to take the defendant’s blood without consent and without a warrant. Texas Transportation Code 724.012 provides that an officer may obtain a blood sample from a defendant without consent and without a warrant if the defendant on two or more occasions had been previously convicted or placed on community supervision for Driving While Intoxicated.

The Second Court of Appeals specifically held that this type of blood draw, despite being authorized by a state statute, still violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition to the Supreme Court’s ruling in McNeely, the court here relied on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in State v. Villarreal (No. PD-0306-14, 2014 WL 6734178 (Tex. Crim. App. Nov. 26, 2014), which held also that a warrantless, nonconsensual draw of a DWI suspect’s blood does not categorically fall within any recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, nor can it be justified under a general Fourth Amendment balancing test.

What does all this mean? As we’ve said in the past, the demise of warrantless blood draws for drivers in Texas continues to remain imminent and cases like Burks continue to reinforce the fact that the teeth of the United State’s Constitution bite much harder than the needle of an unreasonable search and seizure.

Probation sentence in Texas

Sentencing Range and Probation Period Not Linked

By | Sentencing

Probation sentence in TexasThe punishment range for a second-degree felony sexual assault is 2-20 years in prison. However, the minimum period of community supervision (i.e. probation) for the same offense is five years. So can a trial court award community supervision if the jury returns a punishment verdict of less than five years? Here’s how this situation played out down in Houston:

A jury found a defendant guilty of the second-degree felony of sexual assault. On sentencing, the jury awarded the defendant the minimum punishment (two years) and further recommended community supervision (a recommendation the trial judge is required to take). The trial judge, however, informed the jury that its verdict was illegal because the minimum period of community supervision is five years. The trial court essentially instructed the jury that if it wanted to recommend community supervision, it must sentence the defendant to at least five years (which would then be probated). Following instructions, the jury went back and returned a verdict of five years with a recommendation for community supervision.

Was the trial court correct in his instructions to the jury?

NO, says the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Mayes v. State.

There is nothing in Article 42.12 (Tex. Code Crim. Proc.) that states, or even suggests, that the jury must assess a sentence that equals the minimum period of community supervision, the maximum period, or any particular period in between. The jury does not determine the period of community supervision. It assesses the sentence and recommends that the trial judge place the defendant on community supervision. The judge must follow that recommendation, but he has the discretion to determine the appropriate period of supervision, as long as it within the minimum and maximum statutory period.

The CCA opinion makes clear that the statutory minimums for punishment and community supervision are not inextricably linked.

[A] rule that a jury cannot assess the minimum sentence in a case if it also wants the defendant to serve that sentence on community supervision would lead to an absurd result.

Accordingly, the CCA reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Facebook Evidence Fort Worth Texas

The Facebook Jury Instruction

By | Jury Trial

Facebook Evidence Fort Worth TexasAs I was perusing my typical news sources this morning, I came across this article about a Tarrant County juror who was excused from a civil case and then charged with contempt for trying to “friend” the defendant in the case on Facebook.  That’s the world in which we live, I suppose.  Everything is real-time, social media is pervasive, and folks are indiscriminate about what they do online.  It has already been and will continue to be interesting to see how the trial judges tackle this issue in their instructions to venire panels.  It is probably prudent to have a standard Facebook jury instruction.