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Are you a court appointed lawyer? That's a question I've been asked a number of times as I walked the halls of the Cameron and Bexar County Courthouses. It seems like a simple question but the answer is not so simple. In short, yes, I do court appointed work. But no, I cannot "appoint" myself to represent any individuals. Every county has a system for appointing attorneys to cases depending on the attorney's experience, the level of offense (misdemeanor, State Jail Felony, 3rd degree felony, etc) and type of case. (DWI, Possession of Controlled Substances, Sexual Assault, etc).
Typically, an individual who cannot afford to hire an attorney must go to court on the date that he or she is scheduled for the initial hearing, and ask the court to appoint an attorney. The court will then conduct an interview to determine whether the person qualifies for a court appointed lawyer and refer to it's list of available attorneys to appoint.
Now for the scary part, court appointed lawyers typically work for drastically reduced fees. Many counties pay attorneys a "flat fee" of $100 to $150 per misdemeanor case. In San Antonio (Bexar County) attorneys earn $100.00 flat fee for a misdemeanor plea and $25 for each additional case a person may be charged with. Felonies pay a little more depending on the level of felony. Additionally, in many counties it takes between 4 to 6 weeks after a voucher is submitted for the payment to be made. That means that for "court appointed" attorneys to make ends meet, they have to work out as many cases as they can as quickly as they can so they can get paid as soon as possible. (Believe it or not, attorneys have bills to pay too).
I know some court-appointed lawyers are very well qualified and do very good work. However many are in it for the quick flip of a case so they can submit a voucher and be paid sooner rather than later. (PLEAD 'EM AND BLEED 'EM-When a client is informed that he or she is guilty and should just plead guilty, without much effort without much by way of investigation or legal research, [plead em] and the client is left with a mountain of fines, fees, court costs, and other associated fees that go along with a plea [bleed 'em])
Many cases are disposed with a plea bargain, but will your court-appointed attorney put in the work necessary to ensure the best plea-bargain possible? Will he or she treat you with respect and dignity? Will he or she be prepared to put the time into preparation of your case for trial? Will your attorney have trial experience? Maybe. Do you really want to take that risk? Be careful what you wish for. . . you just might get it.
|Posted on October 18, 2017 at 11:50 PM|
|Posted on October 18, 2017 at 1:35 AM|
Sometimes arrests are made of multiple people for a single case. For instance, in a situation where a vehicle is pulled over and searched the officer may discover the presence of marijuana or some other contraband in the vehicle. Typically, in such a case, if no one "accepts responsibility" at the scene (Which I do not recommend anyone ever do) everyone will get arrested.
Often, individuals are advised by their friends, family, or loved ones that they might as well just plead guilty because they were present where drugs were found and they will obviously be found guilty. Sometimes, defendants receive that same type of advice from inexperienced attorneys or experienced attorneys looking to quickly flip a case. (See my blog "Be Careful What you Wish For. . . You Just Might Get It")
Even if the vehicle was yours or was in your care, you have a right to fight the case. Aside from potential issues with challenges to the validity of the stop, search, and seizure, mere presence is not enough for the State to prove its case against you Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. The State must prove additional independent facts and circumstances that affirmatively link the defendant to the contraband in such a way that it can be concluded that the defendant had knowledge of the contraband and exercised control over it.. Nhem v. State, 129 S.W. 3d 696, 699-700 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2004, no pet.).
This applies to any place where multiple people may be implied in a possession case, including a residence, office building, or any other location. Don't give up the fight simply because it looks like it will be difficult. If you've been arrested for possession of marijuana or possession of a controlled substance in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, or any other city in South Texas, call the Law Office of Joseph Moreno to assist you in your defense.
|Posted on September 26, 2017 at 4:55 PM|
One of the things I learned about the practice of criminal defense while working as a student attorney in the Center for Legal and Social Justice in San Antonio is that you have to know your case better than anyone else in the courtroom. I learned that it's not enough just to read a police report and talk to your client about what happened. You have to visit the scene of the offense. Sometimes it seems like this step is unnecessary or a waste of time. It's easy to doubt whether there really is anything to learn from the scene of a DWI by going to the site of arrest.
Well, there's a lot to be learned. In order for the police to stop you to begin with, they have to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you have committed a violation of law or are in the process of committing a violation of law. Often, the initial reason for the stop is a minor traffic infraction such as failure to stop at a stop sign, or speeding.
One example of the importance of visiting the scene is a case in Brownsville, Texas where my client was charged with unlawful possession of an illegal knife. Police said they stopped my client for failure to stop at a stop sign. After the stop, my client was asked to exit the vehicle and police executed a warrantless search. They found a kitchen knife under the passenger seat.
In preparation of the case I decided to visit the scene of the offense where my client had been stopped. As it turns out, there was no stop sign at the location of the stop. My client was illegally stopped and searched. Upon presentation of the facts, and the pictures I had taken of the scene, to the prosecutor, the case was dismissed.
On another occasion, police listed the reason for stopping my client as seen speeding on the highway, in Olmito, Texas, in a northern direction while the officer travelled the opposite direction. I decided to see for myself whether there was a listed speed limit sign on the highway where the officer stopped my client. It turns out, I learned more than that, I learned that with the wall that divides the highway, it's impossible to see traffic traveling in the opposite direction. I managed to get the prosecuting attorney to take a ride with me to see for himself what I had learned through my "crime scene" investigation and he agreed with me. Even better, he dismissed the case because he knew that the case would not hold up against a motion to suppress evidence.
Those are just two examples of how it pays off to pay attention to the little details of a case. Often the winning ingredient lies in "the little things" that you do to prepare. Types of cases that I have had dismissed because of "crime scene" investigation include: Arson (Revealed burn marks were from prior unreported incident and no emergency vehicle was called out to the scene), DWI (Revealed view of alleged speeding was impossible), Sexual Assault (Revealed alleged "offender" was harassed, threatened, and extorted by accuser).