Today we're talking about Texas criminal law cases, crimes, and consequences within the court process.
An arraignment can be handled through a waiver of arraignment, where a defendant essentially skips that first hearing. Basically saying, "I don't need to have my charge read to me in an open court with a judge, I understand the allegations, I know what it is, and that's ok. The waiver of arraignment is a step that makes skipping the formal arraignment an option for you.
After that step, you can enter a plea of not guilty, and then begin negotiations with the state district attorneys office. That's the plea process in a nut shell, and in that plea process, under our current state laws, the district attorneys office has an obligation and a duty, as does defense counsel or the defendant if they're representing themselves- to put in writing that they want all materials that are subject to Texas code of procedure, criminal code 39.14, also known as the Michael Morton Act.
The Michael Morton Act means "give me everything you got in the universe of the allegations against me, I want to see it all."
The state district attorney's office has an obligation to turn that all over to you and they need to do so with all new speed, and in my experience, they do. That allows the defense the opportunity to review and dig into the strengths and weaknesses of any case that the state may have put together against a particular defendant, and that the defendant would be in a situation where you're starting to evaluate levels of responsibility for things like the charged offense, any lesser included offenses, any other agreements that can be reached to take things off the table, to lessen the consequences, so that the criminal defendant would be willing to reach an agreement with the state prosecutor's office on how to resolve the case.
For example, if a defendant is a habitual offender, simply because of the nature, they got three or four or five prior felony convictions, felony dwi, felony possession of small amounts of of illicit drugs, controlled substances: oxycontin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, things that are clearly not small deals, you know we're not talking about people busted with pounds and kilos and scales and little dope bags, we're talking about people who are addicted, people who are coping with with their own invisible injuries up here through drugs and alcohol.
They have prior felony convictions, that means that you know, three strikes you're out, got to charge them as a habitual felony offender. This makes a plea bargain very very tough, right? But if you take that off the table because this really isn't the most serious offense, and do we need to be clogging up the Texas prison system with essentially low-level non-violent offenders, drug offenders, at the cost of 60 000 a year, these are where the defense has some room to bargain, that maybe that the charged offense is just the habitual offender, that's in the indictment makes the consequences extremely hard if not impossible to negotiate on. So if that could be removed, then the deal could be struck for something in that range of punishment that the defendant would accept responsibility or another frequently used avenue would be the lesser included offenses.
For example, so the state of Texas has alleged that this occurred, right, which is some sort of state jail third degree, second degree felony, and there's a way to make the consequences more palatable to the defendant and not force the state of Texas to empanel 12 jurors do all the work that's necessitated by a jury trial for something that can be resolved on a lesser included offense.
For example theft breach of fiduciary duty, we're talking about essentially a white collar offense, most white-collar offenders are not violent offenders, they really need to be going to the penitentiary for five to ten to twenty years, what would be a lesser included offense that could include some pretty harsh probated sentences or other things of that nature, stiff restitution, things that will keep people paying their taxes and supporting their family, not putting their family in jeopardy of also being on social welfare because the breadwinner's gone and in prison for doing something that, while not insignificant, is not violent, right? In other words, we're preserving, we're coming up with agreements to accept responsibility for criminal actions within that scope of lesser included offenses or other punishment alternatives so that we house the most violent offenders in our Texas prison system and we don't clog up the beds with with essentially non-violent or low-level drug users.
Next up we're talking about what happens when pleas negotiations just run short! Check back later this week for a new blog!
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