Monthly archive

September 2016

September 2016 SDR – Voice for the Defense Vol. 45, No. 7

Voice for the Defense Volume 45, No. 7 Edition

Editors: Tim Crooks, Kathleen Nacozy

Supreme Court

The Massachusetts court’s explanation for upholding the law prohibiting the possession of stun guns contradicted precedent; the Second Amendment extends to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those not in existence at the time of the founding. Caetano v. Massachusetts, 136 S. Ct. 1027 (2016).

        The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a Massachusetts law prohibiting the possession of stun guns after examining whether a stun gun is the type of weapon contemplated by Congress in 1789 as being protected by U.S. Const. amend. II. The Supreme Court here found that the explanation the Massachusetts court offered contradicted Court precedent. The Court vacated the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and remanded.

        The Supreme Court has held that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008), and that this “Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States,” McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742 (2010).

        The Massachusetts court offered three explanations to support its holding that the Second Amendment does not extend to stun guns. First, the court explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.” This is inconsistent with Heller’s clear statement that the Second Amendment “extends . . . to . . . arms . . . that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” The court next asked, under Heller, whether stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual,” in an attempt to apply one “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.” In so doing, the court concluded that stun guns are “unusual” because they are “a thoroughly modern invention.” By equating “unusual” with “in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” the court’s second explanation is the same as the first; it is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason. Finally, the court used “a contemporary lens” and found “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” But Heller rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.”

The government improperly froze assets of D indicted for violations of health care laws; the assets had no connection to the charged crimes, and depriving D of the untainted assets intended to pay for counsel undermined D’s fundamental right to the assistance of counsel. Luis v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 1083 (2016).

        “A federal statute provides that a court may freeze before trial certain assets belonging to a defendant accused of violations of federal health care or banking laws. Those assets include (1) property ‘obtained as a result of’ the crime, (2) property ‘traceable’ to the crime, and (3), as relevant here, other ‘property of equivalent value.’ 18 U.S.C. § 1345(a)(2). The Government has charged petitioner Luis with fraudulently obtaining nearly $45 million through crimes related to health care. In order to preserve the $2 million remaining in Luis’ possession for payment of restitution and other criminal penalties, the Government secured a pretrial order prohibiting Luis from dissipating her assets, including assets unrelated to her alleged crimes. Though the District Court recognized that the order might prevent Luis from obtaining counsel of her choice, it held that the Sixth Amendment did not give her the right to use her own untainted funds for that purpose. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. . . . The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded.”

        The pretrial restraint of legitimate, untainted assets needed to retain counsel of choice violated U.S. Const. amend. VI. The nature and importance of the constitutional right taken together with the nature of the assets lead the Supreme Court to this conclusion. The government’s non-constitutional interest in preserving the assets to provide for payment of potential criminal forfeitures or restitution if D was convicted was not the equivalent of D’s constitutional right to the assistance of counsel of D’s choice.

Fifth Circuit

Fifth Circuit rejected D’s claim that he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his intellectual disability; D failed to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unreasonably determined D did not exhibit adaptive behavioral deficits that originated before age 18. Matamoros v. Stephens, 783 F.3d 212 (5th Cir. 2015).

        The Fifth Circuit rejected death-sentenced D’s claim that under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), he was ineligible for the death penalty, even though the only competent scientific evidence in the record suggested that D had deficits in nu­merous adaptive behavior areas; the State’s expert was later discredited.

Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of D’s motion to suppress the evidence of cocaine found dur­ing a traffic stop premised on D’s failure to signal properly before turning; the record showed the officer had an incorrect legal understanding of the statute he sought to invoke (mistakenly thinking changing lanes required a signal). United States v. Alvarado-Zarza, 782 F.3d 246 (5th Cir. 2015).

        Although an objectively reasonable mistake of law does not violate U.S. Const. amend. IV (Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S. Ct. 530 (2014)), here the mistake of law was not objectively reasonable because the relevant interpretive case law far predated the stop, and the statute on its face gave no support to the officer’s erroneous interpretation of the statute. D had changed lanes to effectuate a turn. When the law in question is given its proper interpretation and applied to turning, not changing lanes, the officer also committed a critical mistake of fact; it was not objectively reasonable for officer to conclude D had failed to signal 100 feet prior to turning. In fact, the evidence (the video of the stop and the defense expert’s testimony) showed D had signaled 300 feet before turning (as opposed to simply changing lanes).

District court did not plainly err in applying an eight-level “aggravated felony” enhancement under USSG § 2L1.2(b)(1)(C) on the basis of D’s prior federal conviction for conspiracy to launder monetary instruments in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1956(h). United States v. Mendoza, 783 F.3d 278 (5th Cir. 2015).

        Whether the money-laundering-conspiracy conviction qualified as an “aggravated felony” under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(D) turned on whether more than $10,000 was laundered. This inquiry was not subject to the categorical/modified categorical approach but rather, under Nijhawan v. Holder, 557 U.S. 29 (2009), was a circumstance-specific inquiry not subject to the proof constraints of the categorical/modified categorical approach. The evidence a court may consider under a circumstance-specific inquiry is broader than the evidence that may be considered under a modified-categorical analysis inquiry. The district court thus did not err in relying on D’s presentence report and attached documents to determine that D’s prior conviction involved over $10,000.

In sentencing D convicted of a threat to kill, injure, and unlawfully damage and destroy buildings by means of fire and explosives (in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(e)), the district court did not err in applying a six-level enhancement under USSG § 2A6.1(b)(1) for conduct evidencing an intent to carry out the threat. United States v. Pillault, 783 F.3d 282 (5th Cir. 2015).

        Although some overt act is required to justify a § 2A6.1(b)(1) enhancement, here the court did not clearly err in crediting testimony that D had committed such acts (e.g., buying copper pipe for a pipe bomb). Furthermore, in sentencing D, the district court did not improperly rely on rehabilitation or D’s need for treatment in imposing its 72-month prison sentence—a sig­nificant upward variance. Rather, the record showed that the primary justification for the sentence was public protection, and rehabilitation was simply a permissible secondary con­cern/additional justification.

Where D was charged with a petty offense committed on a federal enclave (a naval air station in Louisiana), it was not unconstitutional for a magistrate judge to try, convict, and sentence him, even without his consent. United States v. Hollingsworth, 783 F.3d 556 (5th Cir. 2015).

        D had no right to trial before an Article III judge.

In sentencing D convicted of receiving child pornography (18 U.S.C. §2252(a)(2)), the district court did not err in applying a five-level enhancement under USSG § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B) for distributing child pornography for the receipt of a non-pecuniary thing of value. United States v. Groce, 784 F.3d 291 (5th Cir. 2015).

        Generally, when a defendant knowingly uses peer-to-peer file-sharing software (as D did), he engages in precisely the kind of distribution contemplated by § 2G2.2(b)(3)(B). By using this software as D did, the user agrees to distribute the child pornography on his computer in exchange for additional child pornography. D knew that other users could download his files and that, by allowing users to do so, he would be dis­tributing child pornography; he also implied that he had know­ingly let users download from him. The Fifth Circuit did not reach the merits of the five-level enhancement for engaging in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor, USSG §2G2.2(b)(5), because any error in this regard was harmless.

District court did not plainly err, on revocation of D’s supervised release, by going above the Guideline range of 24 to 30 months (and rejecting the magistrate’s recommendation of 28 months) based primarily on the seriousness of the murder charge that constituted one of D’s violations of supervised release. United States v. Rivera, 784 F.3d 1012 (5th Cir. 2014), on denial of reh’g, 797 F.3d 307 (5th Cir. 2015).

        Sentencing error occurs when an impermissible consideration is a dominant factor in the court’s revocation sentence; in United States v. Miller, 634 F.3d 841 (5th Cir. 2011), the Fifth Circuit held that it is improper for a district court to rely on 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A)(referencing the seriousness of the offense, respect for the law, and the need for just punishment of the offense) in the revocation context. Here, the seriousness of the murder and the need for just punishment were clearly dom­inant factors in D’s revocation sentence; moreover, the district court’s error affected D’s substantial rights. However, the Fifth Circuit “[could not] say that the district court’s revocation sentence of 60 months impugns the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the court system.” The Fifth Circuit said, “[T]he facts here do not warrant correction of the error. At the hearing on [D]’s supervised release revocation, in considering the proper sentence, the district court observed that [D] was never charged with illegal reentry following deportation even though she had committed the crime. The district court further noted that an illegal reentry conviction would have resulted in a Guidelines range of 57–71 months.” Thus, the plain-error standard was not met; the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court.

In a case charging an 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) conspiracy to commit concealment-type money laundering in violation of § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i), the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction of one defendant (the trainer of the horses that were the center of the laundering operation). United States v. Colorado Cessa, 785 F.3d 165 (5th Cir. 2015).

        Particularly, the evidence was insufficient to show that the trainer joined the conspiracy knowing that its purpose was to conceal the source or nature of illegal funds.

        (2) The district court abused its discretion in instructing the jury that “the commingling of illegal proceeds with le­gitimate business funds is evidence of intent to conceal or dis­guise.” A jury instruction must make clear that an inference of this type is permissive and not mandatory, and this instruction does not do so. Although this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as to two defendants, it was not harmless as to another defendant; the Fifth Circuit vacated that defendant’s conviction, sentence, and money judgment and remanded.

Where Louisiana defendant, convicted of armed robbery in 1985, was subjected to a 1997 Louisiana statute governing the forfeiture of good-time credits upon revocation of parole that was less favorable than the forfeiture rule in effect at the time of his offense, rejection of D’s ex post facto challenge was contrary to clearly established federal law. Price v. Warden, Forcht Wade Correctional Center, 785 F.3d 1039 (5th Cir. 2015).

        The state courts’ rejection of prisoner’s challenge was, namely, contrary to the Supreme Court’s summary affirmance in Greenfield v. Scafati, 277 F. Supp. 644 (D. Mass. 1967), aff’d mem., 390 U.S. 713 (1968). By summarily affirming in Greenfield, the Court necessarily held that it violated the U.S. Constitution Ex Post Facto Clause to apply a “good time” forfeiture law enacted after a prisoner’s sentencing even if the forfeiture is triggered by the parolee’s post-enactment conduct; because Greenfield was materially distinguishable from this case, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment denying federal habeas relief and remanded to the district court with instructions to order the state to either recalculate D’s sentence using the law in effect at the time of his offense or release him.

Court of Criminal Appeals

In a case in which D’s large family was excluded from voir dire not, according to the trial court, as a closure of the trial but because the jury panel would fill all the available chairs and space in the courtroom, COA was required to consider first whether D showed the trial was closed to the public and second whether the closure was justified. Cameron v. State, 482 S.W.3d 576 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016).

        D was found guilty of murdering her ex-boyfriend. COA reversed, holding that D’s right to a public trial was violated during voir dire because the public was asked to leave the courtroom to accommodate a large venire panel. On discretionary review in 2014, CCA affirmed COA. Here, CCA granted the State’s motion for rehearing. CCA vacated COA’s judgment and remanded to COA for application of correct prin­ciples. COA was required to defer to the trial court’s findings of fact that were supported by the record as a necessary prerequisite before it could resolve whether D met her burden of proof to show her trial was closed to the public based on the totality of the evidence, and then resolve the ultimate legal question of whether D’s public-trial right was violated.

The record was clear that the State did not object to the lack of affidavit verification given that the Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 64.01 motion was a joint filing; D’s failure to comply with the Chapter 64 verification requirement was a non-fatal pleading deficiency. Skinner v. State, 484 S.W.3d 434 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016).

        D was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the killing of his girlfriend and her two sons in the home they shared. On direct appeal, CCA affirmed his conviction in 1997. Subsequent to his conviction, DNA testing was conducted pursuant to Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Chap. 64. The trial court found that the test results were not favorable to D. Here, he appealed that finding and asked CCA to decide whether it was reasonably probable that he would not have been convicted had the test results been available at trial. CCA abated this appeal: “In light of Appellant’s advisory [of errors in his DNA test] and the nature of this issue, this Court has determined that further fact-finding and analysis by the trial court may be in order.”

If the Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 11.07 habeas application had been received and was pending, the party had to file a motion to stay the proceedings pending the filing of evidence in trial court; CCA could consider evidence not filed in the trial court if compelling and extraordinary circumstances existed. Ex parte Pena, 484 S.W.3d 428 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016).

        D pleaded guilty to delivery of a controlled substance and did not appeal. In this habeas application, D contended his plea was involuntary and the State failed to disclose evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). CCA directed the parties to brief whether: (1) the misconduct in D’s case should be imputed to the prosecution for D’s Brady v. Maryland claim; (2) this misconduct was exculpatory; and (3) D’s plea was involuntary because of “impermissible conduct by state agents.” Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970). Attached to the State’s brief as Appendix A was a police incident report. This report was not filed in the trial court first. Here D filed a motion with CCA to strike the State’s brief or strike Appendix A and all references to it from the brief. D argued Appendix A was not made part of the habeas record and was otherwise inadmissible hearsay, CCA should not hear the evidence, and the State’s attempt to supplement the record at this stage was improper.

        CCA conditionally granted Applicant’s motion to strike Appendix A and references to it from the State’s brief. For CCA to consider Appendix A as evidence, the State shall comply with the procedures set out in this order. If the State fails to do so, Appendix A and references to it would be considered struck and would not be considered for any purpose.

        An Article 11.07 application “must be filed with the clerk of the court in which the conviction being challenged was obtained.” Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 11.07, § 3(b); cf. Tex. R. App. P. 73.4(a). “There is no provision in Article 11.07 or the Rules of Appellate Procedure that permits a party to file evidence directly in this Court. Nor is there a provision explaining how a party should supplement the record after we have received an Article 11.7 application or filed and set it for submission. But we have said that evidence should not ordinarily be filed directly in this Court. . . . Today, we . . . explain the procedures a party must follow if, after we have received an Article 11.07 application from the county of conviction or filed and set it for submission, the party wishes this Court to consider evidence not filed in the trial court. . . . First, the party may file evidence directly in this Court with a motion for this Court to consider the evidence. In this motion, the party should describe the evi­dence for this Court to consider and explain its evidentiary value and why ‘compelling and extraordinary circumstances’ exist for us to consider it. In an Article 11.07 proceeding, such circumstances must be truly exceptional before we will consider evidence filed directly in this Court. Second, the party may file in this Court a motion to supplement in the trial court. In this motion, the party should describe the evidence . . . and explain its evidentiary value and why the evidence could not have been filed in the trial court before we filed and set the application for submission. After we have filed and set an Article 11.07 application for submission, we will not consider evidence that was not filed in the trial court unless a party follows these procedures and we grant the appropriate motion.”

D used materials available to her while incarcerated and was able to make clear to the trial judge that she was attempting to invoke the appellate court’s jurisdiction because the judge further amended the document by adding “ON APPEAL” after “Order Appointing/Denying Counsel,” crossing out “Denying,” and appointing appellate counsel. Harkcom v. State, 484 S.W.3d 432 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016).

        “Appellant was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine, of less than one gram. On October 2, 2012, appellant was convicted of a state jail-felony and was sentenced to twenty-four months’ imprisonment and a $2,250.00 fine. The trial court certified her right to an appeal that same day. On October 30, 2012, the twenty-eighth day after the sentence was imposed, appellant filed a pro se application for appointment of counsel, writing the word ‘APPEAL’ on the top of the document. This was the only document made available to appellant while incarcerated, and she had not yet been appointed an attorney. On October 31, 2012, twenty-nine days after the sentence was imposed, the trial court granted appellant’s application for appointment of counsel and changed the title of the document to ‘Order Appointing Counsel on Appeal’ by adding the words ‘ON APPEAL’ in block letters to the original title and crossing out the word ‘Denying’ in the phrase ‘Order Appointing/Denying Counsel.’ It is clear from this amended document that the trial judge understood the appellant to be acting pro se and giving notice of appeal. The trial court signed and filed the judgment the same day. Appellate counsel was notified of his appointment the next day, thirty days after sentence was imposed. Appellate counsel filed a more formal notice of appeal on November 8, 2012, seven days past the 30-day deadline to timely file a notice of appeal. . . . [COA] dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction due to the lack of a timely notice of appeal. . . . [COA] concluded that the handwritten reference to an appeal on the order granting appellant’s application is not determinative and ‘does not necessarily reflect the trial court’s understanding of appellant’s present intent to appeal.’. . . We find this analysis contrary to our instruction to construe the rules related to the perfection of an appeal liberally. . . .

        “The Rules of Appellate Procedure should be construed reasonably, yet liberally, so that the right to appeal is not lost by imposing requirements not absolutely necessary to effect the purpose of a rule. . . . All that is required is that the notice be in writing, be submitted within thirty days or ninety days after sentencing, as appropriate, and show the party’s desire to appeal from the judgment or other appealable order. In this instance, appellant used the materials available to her while incarcerated. We know that, by adding the simple word ‘APPEAL’ to the Order requesting counsel, appellant was able to make clear to the trial-court judge that she was attempting to invoke the appellate court’s jurisdiction because the judge fur­ther amended the document by adding the words ‘ON APPEAL’ after the phrase ‘Order Appointing/Denying Counsel,’ crossing out ‘Denying,’ and appointing appellate counsel. The trial-court judge thereby recognized appellant’s intent to give a notice of appeal and request appellate counsel. Construing the Rules of Appellate Procedure liberally leads us to conclude that appellant gave sufficient notice. . . . We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand[.]”

Officer did not have reasonable suspicion to detain D based on observing him walking with another person at 2 a.m. in an area known for narcotics activity and based on officer’s unsubstantiated belief that D was a known criminal; D was illegally detained, and the court erred by denying D’s motion to suppress the cocaine found in the subsequent search. Brodnex v. State, 485 S.W.3d 432 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016).

        D was charged with tampering with physical evidence and possession of a controlled substance after he was stopped by police and found to be carrying crack cocaine. D filed a pre­trial motion to suppress the evidence, which the trial court denied. After a bench trial, the court acquitted D of the tampering offense but found him guilty of the possession offense. D pled true to three enhancement paragraphs, and the court sentenced him to 20 years’ confinement. D appealed the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the officer did not have sufficient grounds to come into contact with him, and that the discovery of the drugs was the result of an excessive pat-down search. COA affirmed the trial court. After refusing D’s petition for discretionary review, CCA granted review on its own motion to determine whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to detain a suspect based on observing the suspect walking with another person at 2 a.m. in an area known for narcotics activity and based on the officer’s unsubstantiated belief the suspect is a “known criminal.”

        CCA reversed COA. “Under the totality of the circumstances, we hold that the facts apparent to [officer] at the time he detained Appellant did not provide him with a reasonable suspicion for the detention. Thus, Appellant was illegally detained, and the crack cocaine that was found in the subsequent search should have been suppressed. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to the trial court[.]”

D’s amended habeas application was not statutorily barred because the plain language in Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 11.07 permitted the court’s consideration of amended or supplemental claims filed by an applicant before final disposition of an application; counsel was ineffective for not impeaching the chief witness against D. Ex parte Saenz, No. WR-80,945-01 (Tex.Crim.App. Apr 6, 2016).

        CCA granted habeas relief. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to adequately cross-examine the chief witness against D with the witness’ prior inconsistent statement under Tex. R. Evid. 613(a); the witness identified D in court but had told police the day after the shooting that he could not see the shooter’s face and would not recognize him if he saw him again, and counsel later admitted in a deposition that it would have been a mistake not to impeach the witness. D was prejudiced because the evidence establishing D’s identity as the shooter was weak.

Although, in entering a guilty plea to assault on a family member under Tex. Penal Code § 22.01(b-1)(1), (2), (3), D did not have an agreed punishment recommendation from the State, and he did enter into a bargained-for waiver of his right of appeal in exchange for the State’s abandonment of one of two punishment enhancements. Jones v. State, 488 S.W.3d 801 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016).

        “[A]ppellant contends that, because the trial court’s certification of the right of appeal was defective by indicating that he waived his appellate rights, the court of appeals erred by upholding that certification as a basis for dismissing his appeal. Appellant claims that he did not waive his right of appeal because he did not sign any document that would be adequate to show a valid waiver of that right, and he further contends that the record does not otherwise indicate that he waived his right to appeal. The State, however, contends that the court of appeals properly found that appellant waived his right of appeal based on the plea agreement. . . . Pursuant to that agreement, the State abandoned one of the two punishment-enhancement paragraphs that had been alleged, thereby reducing the minimum punishment that appellant could receive from twenty-five years in prison to five years in prison. In exchange, appellant agreed to plead guilty, waive his right to trial, and waive his right to appeal. We conclude that, although he did not have an agreed punishment recommendation from the State, the record supports a determination that appellant did enter into a bargained-for waiver of his right of appeal in exchange for the State’s abandonment of the enhancement. We affirm the court of appeals.”

        As evidence of the bargained-for agreement, D signed a document stating, “Further, I waive any right of appeal which I may have should the court accept the foregoing plea bargain agreement between myself and the prosecutor.” Although this was not a plea bargain case as defined in Tex. R. App. P. 25.2, the language referred to a “plea bargain agreement” and was binding.

Court of Appeals

Because defense counsel opened the door to the redirect examination by the State and subsequent rehabilitation of its witness, regarding whether complainant’s testimony was truthful or fabricated, the trial court properly concluded that the State’s questioning did not amount to improper bolstering. Nassouri v. State, No. 04-15-00280-CR (Tex.App.—San Antonio May 16, 2016).

            The testimony did not violate the Tex. R. Evid. 610 prohibition against invoking the religion of the witness in an attempt to support her credibility. Furthermore, the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that complainant’s testimony regarding her cutting herself and using “weed” after the alleged sexual contact was admissible because it was more probative than prejudicial under Tex. R. Evid. 401 and 403. COA affirmed D’s conviction for indecency with a child by sexual contact.

The Warrior’s Discovery Toolbox

Getting as much insight as possible into your opponent’s case is the keystone to an effective defense. The more information you and your client have, the better informed you and your client are so that both of you can make an informed decision. An uninformed decision, based on inaccurate or no information, can harm your client.

You and your client have a right to Discovery, and there is nothing wrong for asking for the world, as long as the information requested could reasonably lead to admissible evidence.

I. The Examining Trial

A Motion for an Examining Trial asks for a hearing to determine if there was probable cause for an arrest of an unindicted (felony accusation) defendant. The judge is being asked to find that there was no probable cause for the arrest. If a judge finds no probable cause for the arrest, then the State cannot subsequently obtain an indictment against the defendant, since a Grand Jury is there for the sole purpose of determining if probable cause exists for the accusation.

The examining trial is used “to examine the truth of the accusation made,” pursuant to Article 16.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The examining trial can also be used to “determine the amount or sufficiency of the bail, if a bailable case.” Id.

Unfortunately, although the defendant’s right to an examining trial is “absolute,” this right to a preliminary hearing is not unrestricted and is terminated by the return of an indictment. State ex. Rel. Holmes v. Salinas, 784 S.W.2d 421 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990).

Cross-examining adverse witnesses in advance of trial is a luxury that no good defense attorney should pass up. Unfortunately, the Motion for an Examining Trial rarely works. On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to ask for examining trials. Unfortunately, the Court I made the request to either delayed the hearing, the prosecutor quickly went to the grand jury to obtain an indictment, or a combination of the two.

II. The Administrative Law Review (ALR) Hearing

The ALR Request is unique to Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) cases. For the purposes of this article, I will address the ALR ramifications concerning an adult, rather than a minor, who is arrested for DWI.

The ALR hearing gives us the luxury of cross-examining the officers involved in advance of trial. Such sworn testimony can be used later in the DWI trial to contradict the officers with prior inconsistent statements.

If a person is arrested for any type of DWI offense, the arrested person will be offered a breath test or blood test. Refusal of either test will generally (please refer to Sec. 524.022 and 724.035 of the Texas Transportation Code) result in a 6-month driver license suspension that occurs 40 days after the arrest—unless the arrested person requests an ALR hearing no later than 15 days after the arrested person received the “Notice of Suspension, Temporary Driving Permit” (usually on day of arrest). This notice is also called the DIC-25 and is required to be served by the officer pursuant to Section 524.011 or Section 724.032 of the Texas Transportation Code. Relevant to this article, Section 524.011 and Section 724.032 of the Texas Transportation Code also requires the officer to create a “sworn report of information relevant to the arrest,” known as a DIC-23.

The two issues that may be addressed at the hearing are the following: 1) whether the person had a BAC of 0.08 or more, or if the person is alleged to have refused, whether the person did indeed refuse (or did they try really, really, hard to blow?), and 2) whether there was probable cause for the detention or arrest. Please see Sect. 524.035 and Sect. 724.042.

You have a right to subpoena two officers for the hearing. One subpoena may be issued to compel the presence of the peace officer who was primarily responsible for the defendant’s stop or initial detention, and the other may be issued to compel the presence of the peace officer who was primarily responsible for finding probable cause to arrest the defendant. If the same officer was primarily responsible for both the defendant’s stop and arrest, the attorney may issue only one subpoena. See Texas Administrative Code Rule 159.103.

Always subpoena two officers if you can. And I strongly advise you to read Chapter and 155 and 159 of the Texas Administrative Code because there are deadlines and rules that you must abide by, or otherwise, you may waive your right to a hearing. If the two officers you subpoenaed don’t show up, as is the case in very large jurisdictions, then your client’s DL is not suspended. If the two officers you subpoenaed do show up, then you can cross-examine. And don’t forget the witness fee for these two officers if they do show. Again, read the Texas Administrative Code.

I struck a goldmine in one of my DWIs a few years back at an ALR hearing. My client allegedly hit a parked car in downtown Houston in the middle of the day. A Houston metro police officer was first on scene, and then a Houston police officer arrived a short time later and administered Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs). My client was arrested for DWI and then a blood warrant was obtained by the SFST officer, and the blood results came back 0.33.

The SFST officer put in the blood warrant affidavit that the Houston metro officer talked to an independent witness who told the metro officer that he saw my client driving and then wreck. At the ALR hearing, the Houston metro officer admitted he talked to no independent witness. The ALR hearing officer refused to suspend my client’s license based on no probable cause for the arrest (driving element). After the hearing, I called this so-called independent witness, who admitted to me that he didn’t see who was driving the pickup when it crashed, and that he had to drive around the block and back before he saw my client standing next to the truck. There was a driving element that the State was not able to prove.

Then it occurred to me a very important thing. The blood warrant was bad because there was a lie in the supporting affidavit. I filed a Franks v. Delaware motion on the day of trial in order to get the blood kicked out. I even voir-dired the jury on Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. I was going to ask the jury to throw out the blood draw if the judge didn’t do so. The State could see my tactic a mile away, and there was absolutely no explanation for this officer’s lie. Interestingly, the State also brought in the 911 caller to prove that she saw my client driving, even though my investigator took pictures of where she worked, and I believe we proved to the jury she didn’t see who was driving the pickup that crashed.

Then came the decisive moment: when the State finally put the SFST officer on the stand. I was eager to cross-examine him on his lie. But the officer continually kept commenting on the fact that my client kept asking for his attorney. He just wouldn’t shut up. I finally got the judge to grant me a mistrial.

While waiting for our second DWI trial, my client was ar­rested for DWI again in Harris County. I was very disappointed when this happened. I had put up an incredible fight in the first DWI trial. I went back to the prosecutors to negotiate, and interestingly enough, the new prosecutors on the case didn’t want to go through another trial on the first DWI. They told me point blank that they heard that the first trial was a slaughterhouse and they didn’t want to fight that fight again. Even the judge was encouraging us to negotiate. She told us right out that she didn’t want to do another jury trial. My client was offered a “Divert” for his first and second DWI in the newly created misdemeanor Veteran’s Court. His Unlawfully Carrying Weapon charge from the first DWI was dismissed, and he entered the “Divert (pretty much a Pretrial Diversion for DWIs—thank you Harris County)” program.

The lesson learned is to always request the ALR hearing.

III. The Initial Discovery Requests

A. The 39.14 Request

This is one of the initial filings I file in every criminal case. The request tracks the language of Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure word for word. The request is mandatory in that the prosecutor’s office must comply. No judge’s signature or order from a judge is needed. Just the request.

The State may provide electronic duplicates of any documents or information requested, and the statute must be complied with “as soon as practicable after receiving a timely request.” Id. The statute does not authorize the removal of documents or items from the State, and any “inspection” of items must be done in the presence of a representative of the State. Id.

Please be aware of two danger zones in the statute. First, if you are to receive any information pursuant to this statute, you are not authorized to disclose the discovery to any third party that is not your investigator, expert, consulting attorney, defendant, or other agent. Please see Article 39.14(e) of the code. Additionally, you cannot provide hard copies of the discovery to the defendant unless it is the defendant’s own written statement. Please see Article 39.14(f) of the code.

Finally, before accepting a plea, each party shall acknowledge in writing or on the open record the items received. Please see Article 39.14(j). A Harris County District Attorney tried to get me to sign for receipt of evidence and, at the same time, sign away any future rights to discovery. I believed that waiving any future rights to discovery, even in a plea setting, violates Article 39.14(k). I refused to sign the receipt.

B. The Brady Request

Even though an Article 39.14 request per se covers Brady material, I believe that separately requesting evidence in the form of a Brady motion that requires a judge’s signature is a good idea. Why? It is possible that appellate courts in the future may limit 39.14 discovery rights, possibly even impinging on Brady material itself. Be safe and make a separate Brady request in every case. Always be sure to get a ruling from the trial court on the request/motion.

C. The Texas Disciplinary Rules Discovery Request

There is a changing tide in Texas concerning prosecutors withholding evidence, and we need to take advantage of this tide.

I have a third common discovery request entitled “Motion for Disclosure of Evidence Pursuant to Rule 3.09(d) & 3.04(a) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.”

The disciplinary rules are treated like statutes. O’Quinn v. State Bar of Texas, 763 S.W.2d 397, 399 (Tex. 1988). In Schultz v. Commission for Lawyer Discipline, No. 55469, Board of Disciplinary Appeals, December 17, 2015, available at, prosecutor Shultz argued to the commission that he didn’t need to divulge certain evidence to the defense because that evidence was not “material” as required by Brady. A Brady complaint contains as one of its three elements that the information be “material.” Strickler v. Green, 527 U.S. 263, 281–282 (1999); Harm v. State, 183 S.W.3d 403, 406–407 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000)(same); Moore v. Illinois, 408 U.S. 786, 794–795 (1972)(same); Monroe v. Blackburn, 607 F.2d 148, 150–151 (5th Cir. 1979)(same).

The board disagreed and threw out the materiality requirement, ruling that any exculpatory evidence must be turned over regardless of its “materiality.” Id. “The United States Supreme Court has acknowledged that the ethical duty to turn over information to the defense is broader than the Brady requirements.” Id. Schultz was then handed a partially probated suspension for his unethical behavior.

Therefore, my motion asks the judge to order the prosecution to disclose to counsel for defendant all exculpatory evidence or evidence favorable to the defendant that the prosecution may have in its possession without regard to its materiality.

IV. The Follow-Up Discovery Requests

A. Motion for Order in Aid of Discovery

Attorney David Suhler out of Houston turned me on to this fancy little motion while we were defending a Continuous Sexual Assault of a Child Case arising in Cleveland, Texas.

Many times the situation occurs when you initially receive the discovery from the State and find that there is more discoverable evidence referenced in the State’s materials that was not turned over to you. The motion points out the specific evidence needed that was originally requested in the 39.14 request but not provided. The motion makes reference to the original 39.14 request, points to the items requested, and asks for electronic duplication, copying, and/or photographing of the material requested.

The motion ends with language tracking the language of Article 39.14 with an example such as this: “Said photo lineups are in the sole possession, custody, or control of the State. Said photo lineups are not work product of counsel in the case and their investigators and their notes or report. Said photo lineups are not privileged. Said photo lineups constitute or contain evidence material in this case.”

The motion is significant in that it suggests that maybe the prosecution is not living up to their duty to disclose when it is clear from the existing evidence that the State has possession of the items requested.

B. The Business Records Affidavit

I don’t mind hearsay as long as it helps me. And this trick is an excellent little hearsay exception.

A Subpoena Duces Tecum can be issued to an individual prior to trial, and I have found it to be a very useful part of my Discovery Toolkit, particularly when I need documents that I can introduce as evidence.

The Subpoena Duces Tecum that I use subpoenas the individual and orders the individual to report to court instanter (or on date-certain) with the records requested. But I offer the subpoenaed individual an out. It states: “In the alternative, said request may be satisfied by the current Business Records Custodian of the ___________ attaching said documents, evidence, or other tangible things described above to a properly executed Business Records Affidavit, herein attached as Exhibit #1, and delivering said Affidavit to the Law Office of D. Chris Hesse at the address below.”

I have used this approach with great effect. Records of Regularly Conducted Activity is a hearsay exception pursuant to Texas Rules of Evidence Rule 803(6). But who wants to go through the excruciating endeavor of bringing in the Business Records Custodian to prove the documents up at trial? I sure don’t. So I take the extra step of getting a self-proving “Business Records Accompanied by Affidavit” pursuant to Rule 902(10).

Don’t forget that there is a service requirement for said records upon the prosecution at least 14 days in advance of trial. The Business Record Accompanied by Affidavit no longer needs to be filed with the clerk. And the word “affidavit” in Rule 902(10) includes an unsworn declaration made under penalty of perjury. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Sec. 132.001.

The Business Records Affidavit with Attached Records can be a very useful tool in trial. Juries love documentary evidence. The Business Records Affidavit is not limited to private businesses, but can be executed by government entitles. City and county sheriff departments have Business Records Custodians. I have had sheriff departments do Business Records Affidavits for their official policies concerning any number of things. I have had Texas DPS do a Business Records Affidavit for their Sexual Registration Files on a certain individual. When the prosecutor saw that Business Records Affidavit, it quickly encouraged him to dismiss that particular case.

The only pitfall in going the Subpoena Duces Tecum route for your Business Records Affidavit is that you have to file the sub­poena, and the prosecutor could see in the clerk’s file that you are searching for that information. The person subpoenaed could also complain to the prosecutor, and it is possible that the prosecutor could file a Motion to Quash Subpoena.

It may be that you don’t want the prosecution to get wind of your search for a Business Records Affidavit. One alternative is to do an Open Records Request to the entity and ask that gov­ernment entity to do a Business Records Affidavit. This is the softer, gentler approach.

C. The Request for Notice of Experts

You are entitled to Notice of the State’s Experts at least 20 days prior to trial, and it would be ludicrous of you not to request this notice in a DWI case or any felony. The request must be in writing pursuant to Article 39.14(b) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and Rule 702, 703, and 705 of the Texas Rules of Evidence.

You are entitled to know the name and address of any expert the State may use at trial and the facts and data that are the basis of any report produced by the expert. See Tex. Code. Crim. Proc. Art. 39.14(b).

Your knowledge of whom they intend to call as an expert is significant. The State cannot designate the person as an expert at trial if they haven’t given you this notice. This is significant because we all know that pursuant to Texas Rules of Evidence 701, an expert can indeed give his opinion, whereas a layperson cannot give an opinion. The basis of the expert’s opinion has to be known. Your knowledge of who the expert is and what the basis of his opinion is can help you decide if you want to conduct a Daubert hearing. Discover this evidence and decide if this ex­pert is peddling junk science to the highest bidder. We are all too aware of the State’s expert witness who travels the state—and the nation, for that matter—making a living off of ac­tively assisting the prosecution in any way possible with absurd scien­tific concepts that are generally rejected by the scientific com­munity.

D. The Request for Notice of Extraneous Offenses or Bad Acts

While the criminal history of your client is almost always provided by the prosecution, it is still a good idea to file a “Defendant’s Request for Notice of State’s Intention to Use Evidence of Extraneous Offenses at Trial.” It is important to ask for such notice in every case. If the State does not actually give you the notice, you can argue later to the judge not to allow the extraneous crimes or bad acts in because the State gave no notice when specifically requested to do so.

Texas Rules of Evidence Rule 404(b) requires notice be given before the State’s intent to introduce your client’s other “crimes, wrong, or other act” in its case in chief. Rule 609(f) requires notice of the State’s intent to use evidence of any prior conviction of any witness so designated. Article 37.07(g) is the equivalent of a 404(b) for the punishment stage of trial. However, notice under article 37.07 is broader to the extent that it requires that “if the attorney representing the state intends to introduce an extraneous crime or bad act that has not resulted in a final conviction in a court of record or a probated or suspended sentence, notice of that intent is reasonable only if the notice includes the date on which and the county in which the alleged crime or bad act occurred and the name of the alleged victim of the crime or bad act.” You deserve the notice of the possibility of these other crimes, wrongs, or acts possibly coming out, although you should certainly prevent them from coming out if they try to do so at trial.

E. The Brady Complaint

This is the atomic bombshell of discovery motions, and I have no qualm in using it if I have to. The Brady complaint is entitled “Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for Violation of Production of Exculpatory Evidence.”

A valid Brady complaint contains three elements: (1) regardless of the prosecutor’s good faith or bad faith, the State failed to disclose evidence; (2) the evidence is exculpatory; and (3) the evidence is material to the defense, meaning that there is a reasonable probability that had the evidence been disclosed, the outcome of the trial would have been different (i.e., the defense was prejudiced). Strickler v. Green, 527 U.S. 263, 281–282 (1999); Harm v. State, 183 S.W.3d 403, 406–407 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000)(same); Moore v. Illinois, 408 U.S. 786, 794–795 (1972) (same); Monroe v. Blackburn, 607 F.2d 148, 150–151 (5th Cir. 1979)(same).

I file this motion if I believe that the State does have evidence that will exonerate my client but the State is refusing to turn it over. I have used this motion with great effect at least once in the past. On that occasion, I did not explicitly know that the evidence was actually “exculpatory” pursuant to the second Brady prong above, but I had a very strong hunch it was.

In August 2013, my client was charged with DWI after being found passed out at an intersection in his running pickup in Katy, Texas. My client performed SFSTs, was brought to the station, and voluntarily gave blood. After consulting with my client, I determined that the blood draw was done 8½ hours after the arrest, and the State was still not turning over the blood even up to the eve of trial. Starting around August 2014, I began pushing for the blood evidence from the Fort Bend County mis­de­meanor prosecutor. He was genuinely perplexed why the blood had not come back from the lab. He told the judge and me that he was going to try to prove intoxication at trial by loss of normal use of mental or physical faculties, not BAC of 0.08 or above. I said I wasn’t going to stand for that. I started to suspect foul play.

In October 2014, I filed the Brady violation motion and sought a hearing. The two misdemeanor prosecutors asked to speak to me in their office and took it personally that I was accusing them of withholding exculpatory evidence. They were really bent out of shape. I kindly explained that the duty to dis­close affects not only the prosecutor, but also the police, so it is not necessarily a reflection on them. The prosecutors then asked the judge for a continuance on my hearing request so they could get the blood.

Then, in November 2014, I was informed by the prosecutor that Katy PD found the blood vial in their evidence locker. This is one year and three months after the arrest! The blood was then sent for testing.

Finally, in March 2015 the prosecutor called me advising he was dismissing the case.

F. The Pretrial Motion to Suppress Hearing or Pretrial Daubert Hearing

Much like the ALR hearing request, this discovery tactic works best if the Motion to Suppress Hearing or Daubert hearing is conducted prior to trial. We all know that a judge can force the suppression hearing or Daubert hearing to occur during trial, in which case it is not as useful of discovery tool anymore. Always get a transcript of the prior testimony if you have a pretrial hearing, as testimony always seems to change. If you aren’t able to have a pretrial hearing, though, make sure you still find out what the cops and experts are going to say (before they say it in front of the jury) in a hearing outside the presence of the jury.

V. The Lesson

Gather as much information as possible. The more you dig, the more you will find. Don’t be the all-too-typical attorney who doesn’t do his homework and walks right into trial only relying on what the State has given you. Your oath requires you to be a zealous advocate. Be that Warrior.

Are You Thinking About Cyber Security?

“Dear Client.” That’s how the letter usually begins. The next few sentences are a little trickier; there is really no good way to tell someone that their data has been stolen.

Unfortunately, writing this letter is becoming an all too common occurrence in the legal industry. Cravath Swaine & Moore, LLP, Weil Gotshal & Manges, LLP, Mossack Fonseca, and Piscitelli Law Firm are all examples of firms that have had very public data breaches recently. Businesses lose more than $100 billion a year to cyber attacks and fraud globally, and since law firms house a treasure trove of sensitive data, the legal industry is a prime target.

While a security breach might be one of the last things on your mind, the most recent Travelers Risk Index report shows that it’s a top concern for your clients—“Personal Privacy Loss and Identity Theft” went from barely ranking on their survey a few years ago to being #2, right behind “Financial Security.” The covenant between law firms and their clients is real, and consumers want to know that their data is safe.

The expectation, especially in the legal field, where attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct, has to be met with the same fervor and drive that you strive to meet all your other clients’ expectations.

In writing this article, my hope is that I can start some conversations within your organization that will assist in protecting that covenant, as well as your brand and bottom line.

Engage and Educate Your Employees

It’s important that we create a culture of security within the organization because security is everyone’s responsibility. If you don’t have buy-in from all your team members, you’re exposing your business to unnecessary risk. The majority of attackers gain access to networks via social engineering and the manipulation of a user within an organization, not via command line “hacking” from a dark, Cheetos-filled basement somewhere, as the movies often portray. Why would someone spend days trying to crack your accountant’s password when they can simply call your IT desk pretending to be your accountant and ask him to reset it to something new?


Having an up-to-date anti-virus deployed on all of your desktops and servers is vital. An unprotected computer is an easy target for a motivated attacker. Don’t make it easy on them—pay for anti-virus and make sure it’s regularly updated by your IT staff.

Password Management

It’s important that you and your employees leverage strong, complicated passwords that aren’t easy to guess. There are now hacking applications you can plug into a computer that will run through the most common 10,000 passwords used in about four minutes, trying each of them. You’d be surprised how many folks with access to critical data have the password of “password,” or if they are feeling clever, “password1.” (Did I just guess your password? Go change it!)

Secure Your Networks

I don’t want to get too technical in this article; just know that having a firewall between your corporate network and the internet is very important. If you don’t, there is very little stopping someone from freely accessing your data.

Secure Your Cloud

No matter what cloud provider or service you use, make sure you do your due diligence on their security practices. If they can’t easily and quickly tell you how your data is secured, odds are it isn’t. Also, for any accounts used to access your firm’s data, make sure you have strong passwords and only access it via a computer you own or trust. If you access your cloud on an infected machine, a hacker could potentially learn your password and use it later on without your knowledge.

Protect Your Banking Information

Make sure that all financial data, accounts, and records are kept secure and segregated from the rest of your firm’s general shared drives. If financial transactions are conducted electronically, ensure they are done over an encrypted connection, and that your employees never email account numbers, credit card information, or sensitive financial documents.


One of the most common types of breaches we’re now seeing involves “ransomware” attacks. Instead of “stealing” data from your organization, these attackers find your critical data and then encrypt it (digitally locking you out of it)—making it so only the person with the digital “key” can unlock and access that data. The hackers then offer the victim access to the “key” for a very large fee. If you’re hit with one of these attacks, you have two options: Pay the fee or restore the locked data from a recent backup. This is why backups are so important. Over the past year a very large hospital, a police department, and a public school (along with literally thousands of other victims) have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get their data back.

Making sure your data is backed and stored separately from your main repository can help protect you from attacks such as these.

Physical Security

This one is self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how much client data is left lying around the office. Ensure your partners, paralegals, and finance team lock away any sensitive documents when they aren’t working with them.

Mobile Devices

While they are a convenience and increase productivity of the staff, mobile devices mean that your clients’ sensitive data can potentially walk out your firm’s door without you ever knowing it. Make sure that all mobile devices used to access corporate data have passwords (your email server can force this requirement), and if you have employees that use laptops, you should look at having the hard drives for those machines encrypted. Most modern operating systems have encryption built in (you just have to enable the feature), and it’s foolish not to leverage it. If an employee accidentally leaves a laptop on a plane or in the back of a taxi, you’ll be guaranteed that all data on it is secure and protected.

The legal profession, your brand, and your bottom line depend on the trust you develop with your clients. Handling the items listed above will go a long way in protecting all three.

In Defense of Authenticity

This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3

Sitting on the bench in front of my rural East Texas office, I was talking with a man with a big white beard, a weathered baseball cap with a logo I could not quite make out, a cargo shirt, and casual jeans. He had a big dip of snuff in his mouth, and I noticed some of it running down his white beard. I was just out of court and dressed in my suit. A few people walked by and gave us odd looks. Perhaps they thought it was my dad or a fishing buddy. I do not know. I was too busy paying attention to what he was telling me.

What he was telling me was mesmerizing. The man I am describing was my consulting expert on a very serious felony case, and he had just finished interviewing my client at our local jail. Although we had discussed the case on the phone, I had never met him in person until that day. He is a renowned psychologist who has testified in literally hundreds of trials in multiple states as an expert witness. He was direct, thoughtful, insightful, and brilliant in his analysis of my client. And yet he looked like he was on his way to jump in a bass boat.

I doubt he looks like that when he testifies, but the fact that he was dressed the way he was and looked the way he looked gave me even more confidence that I had the right man for the job. Why? Because he was his “authentic self.” He was comfortable in his own skin and his own clothes and didn’t feel the need to dress up for me or carry a fancy briefcase to our first meeting. He was just himself. And I knew at once a jury would love him.

This got me thinking about myself and how I have tried cases over the years. When I first started in private practice, I would try different things. I would attempt different voice styles, different clothing styles, and I would always cut my hair short and shave my facial hair before trial. But as the years have gone on, I have come to realize that the effort I put into trying to “change myself” was wasted effort—because it was not authentic. It was not who I am. I sense looking back that jurors knew that.

I truly believe that, for the most part, juries are collectively smart. They are 12 or 6 people who come together from different points of view and different walks of life to become one voice. They watch and listen carefully. And I have come to see that what they are looking for in lawyers and experts is authenticity.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in the Scarlett Letter: “No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” It would seem to me that a bewildered lawyer begets a bewildered jury. Perhaps if we are true to our authentic selves then we might alleviate a jury’s questions about our true opinions of our case.

A jury may hate what your client is accused of or what they may ultimately convict him or her of, but what I have found after speaking with jurors at the conclusion of my trials (or those I have merely observed as a spectator) is that regardless of the type of case, they wanted the defense attorney to fight for the client. They wanted to know that the attorney cared, and that when that attorney spoke they meant what they said.

This seems completely understandable to me. If the jury senses that the attorney does not care then why should they care? In my opinion, you have to be authentic and genuine in order to care.

We have all had “that client” who causes us to cringe when we hear they are calling in to discuss their case. If you have a client you cannot generally tolerate being around or even talking to, try to find one thing that you like about them, latch onto that, and let that be your focus for letting your authentic self shine through. The jury will take notice.

Recently, there was an article in the Kansas City Star about a lawyer named J. R. Hobbs. The article demonstrated to me, again, the importance of authenticity in the practice of law. Mr. Hobbs is a prominent attorney in Kansas City who has defended some of the most notorious criminal cases in recent city history. But as Dugan Arnett, the author of the article, stated:

During his tenure practicing law in Kansas City, Hobbs has established himself as more Atticus Finch than Saul Goodman. He is also achingly polite, a little bashful, with a good dose of “aw-shucks” Midwestern humility to him. In Court, for many years, he would arrive wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. “And it wasn’t because he was trying to portray this image,” says Matt Whit­worth, a U.S. Magistrate Judge who pre­viously spent more than two decades with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri. “He just liked them.”1

As the author continued: “Inside the courtroom, respect for Hobbs is far-reaching. Juries love him, say those who’ve worked with him, because he makes them feel like they are part of the process.”

I recently tried a sexual assault case. My client had confessed to the police, but upon my advice, he pled “not guilty” because of some extenuating circumstances surrounding the offense. The jury convicted him after about 45 minutes of deliberations.

We elected to have the jury assess punishment, and I called Dr. Thomas Allen, another well-respected psychologist, to testify as to mitigation. I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Allen on numerous occasions. He had interviewed my client and conducted clinical testing on him as well. During his testimony he stated that my client showed no signs of being a sociopath, that my client showed empathy, did not have behavioral problems growing up, did not abuse animals, and interacted well with others.

On cross-examination, the skilled prosecutor asked: “Dr. Allen, isn’t it true that someone can be a sociopath and still fake empathy, not have behavioral problems, not abuse animals, and interact well with others? Aren’t there certain people who are able to fool others into believing that they are not a socio­path?”

Now remember, I am in deep East Texas. As “Red State” as it gets. Dr. Allen paused, looked the prosecutor squarely in the eye, gave him a puzzled look, and asked: “Wait? Are you talking about Republicans?”

My heart skipped a beat. A jury box full of conservatives is a safe assumption around here. Prison it is. We are done! I thought to myself.

And guess what happened? A roar of laughter from the jury box. Dr. Allen turned and looked directly at the jurors, and he had a twinkle in his eye and an ever-so-slight grin on his face. One that couldn’t be faked. One that was truly authentic. And suddenly I knew the jury was with us.

Their punishment: two years probated and no fine. I attribute that success to Dr. Allen because the jurors sensed his authenticity and thus trusted every word he said. He led them to the correct decision.

Lance Secretan, a well-known expert in leadership theory, said, “Authenticity builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.”2

Be authentic. Build trust with the jury. And hopefully you can be the leader that they can follow to the correct result.


1. Dugan Arnett, “Meet J. R. Hobbs, K.C.’s go-to for a who’s who of criminals.” Kansas City Star, March 29, 2015.

2. “Unmask: Let Go of Who You’re Supposed to Be & Unleash Your True Leader,” Jeff Nischwitz (2014).

Misdemeanor Murder!

Average Americans think of murder as the cold-blooded crime among all crimes, and the one that mandates sending the offender away for a long, long time.

They are partly right; some murders are planned in detail and committed in cold-eyed pursuance of the object of the planning. People who commit that sort of crime are truly dangerous people and, what’s more, can be counted on to commit murder or other serious criminal activity the very next time the opportunity presents itself. These people do need to be locked up and have the key thrown away.

The truth is, however, such murders are rare outside organized crime. Drug dealers and others who get up every day and go out and commit crime as part of an ongoing enterprise dispatch one another with cold premeditation on a regular basis, but most murders occur in the heat of passion, with no planning whatsoever.

The rate of recidivism among murderers of this type is among the lowest for any type of crime; they kill once, in a fit of passion, and are otherwise near-model citizens for the rest of their lives.

These murders tend to involve a murderer and victim who know one another and are the culmination, in many cases, of long-standing “bad blood” between them. Alcohol seems almost invariably to be involved.

Around San Antonio, this kind of murder seems to take place in two primary locations—neighborhood bars and birthday parties at someone’s home. Both kinds of cases present real nightmares for the police.

In the bar shootings, the basic problem is that nobody will acknowledge having seen anything.

There may be 40 people in the bar, but each will claim to have been in the men’s room when the shooting came down, notwithstanding the men’s room is a four foot by seven foot one-holer.

In these cases, though those involved in the shooting—the shooter and the shootee—may have known one another, the others in the bar don’t know either one, don’t care, and don’t want to get involved.

It’s not unheard of for the bartender to drag the body out in the street and swear the shooting took place out there, secure in the knowledge that all the patrons will either scatter before the police get there or swear they were in the bathroom when it happened. The bartender’s motive? To keep his job. Too much violence in a place will get the liquor license lifted.

In the birthday party shootings, the problem can be just the opposite. Though the party was in every room of the house, the front yard and the back yard and spilled over into the neighbor’s yards on both sides, everybody will claim to have seen just what happened. In these cases virtually everyone at the party was a friend of either the victim or the shooter.

There usually are several people who actually see what happens, simply because so many people are present. However, after “getting your laundry back” on several of these cases, you begin to realize that there are always two stories being told after the event, one by the friends of the deceased (making it a cold-blooded murder) and one by the friends of the accused (making it a clear-cut case of self-defense).

The friends of the victim never saw the gun/knife/tire tool (fill in the blank) in the victim’s hand, while the friends of the defendant invariably did. If no such object is found by the police, it is because it didn’t exist (say decedent’s friends) or because unnamed friends of the deceased carried it away (defendant’s friends).

In all events, the deceased most assuredly accompanied a very clear assaultive gesture (the “hip pocket move,” which made it appear he was going for a weapon, or the like) with strong language conveying a clear intent to engage in assaultive behavior, according to approximately one-half of the witnesses.

These birthday parties and bar shootings have over the years begun to be called “misdemeanor murders” by some people in the system. It is not because such murders are viewed as not being serious, but because of the frequent outcome of such cases when they are tried to a jury.

Whereas the seasoned prosecutor or defense lawyer will have heard a substantially similar story on several prior occasions, this will be the one and only time the average juror will.

Not surprisingly, when confronted with a similar number of witnesses on each side, all with approximately equal credibility, telling stories which are absolutely inconsistent, jurors are not quite sure who or what they should believe. Often as not, they will resolve their dilemma by holding against the defendant on his self-defense theory (thus convicting the defendant) and then assessing a low punishment (thereby crediting him and his witnesses with some degree of credibility, as well).

This combination of serious crime and low punishment explain the denotation “misdemeanor murder,” perhaps, but they don’t really justify the term’s connotation of a not-very-serious murder. For that reason, and because I know the term is misunderstood by those outside the system, I avoid using it. Besides, “barroom shooting” and “birthday party shooting” convey the same impressions to system insiders without shocking everybody else.

When I was a rather young lawyer, it was my good fortune to “second chair” (i.e., sit behind and assist) a first-rate lawyer, the late Charlie Butts. (Charlie’s beautiful wife, Shirley, is now a retired appellate judge, and she called him Charles, but he’ll always been Charlie to me.)

Charlie, in a long and illustrious career, had been First Assistant District Attorney in a couple of counties, a crackerjack personal injury lawyer, and, more to the point here, one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the state.

Our facts were very similar to what I have described, except that two separate altercations were involved.

In the first altercation, which took place while our client was at home, minding his own business, his brother was set upon by several at the party, with the now-deceased as the instigator and chief antagonist, and the brother’s leg was broken.

When this story got to our client, in the language then applicable to the law of self-defense, he armed himself with a .410 shotgun (with which to defend himself in the event of an unprovoked attack upon him) and went to “seek a peaceable explanation.” (No. None of this jibes with current law.)

The deceased was shot in the living room at a distance of less than 10 feet. Predictably, there were more witnesses than would fit in the room, and they were divided, unfavorably to the defense, with about one-third who saw the deceased lunge for the defendant with a broken beer bottle and two-thirds who swore that never occurred.

Tom Even (also no longer with us, demonstrating again my advancing years) was still in law school at the time, and was signed up for a clinic-style course that allowed him to obtain credit for assisting in the investigation of criminal cases. He signed on, too.

I had spent the last three of four years in law school (I went part time, at night) working as an independent claims adjuster, and fancied myself as something of an investigator. I was delighted to have Tom on board, not only for the independent investigation he would do, but also because that meant I could participate directly in the investigation without ending up by disqualifying myself as a lawyer on the case (since he could be called, rather than me).

We did rather a lot of investigation, but the really significant investigation centered around a 15-year-old named Elvira.

Elvira had given a statement to the police that indicated our client had shot the deceased without provocation. The statement was short, however, and we were interviewing all the witnesses, favorable and unfavorable, so we could evaluate their credibility for ourselves. Further, since Elvira’s statement was quite short, we wanted to flesh her story out a bit.

After a couple of trips to her home without locating her, we were advised by another of the witnesses that she had been picked up for some sort of offense and was in the Juvenile Detention Center.

We contacted her there and learned that she was willing to speak with us. We spoke with her probation officer, who agreed to be present at our interview, both to see to it that the girl was not over-reached and so that she, the probation officer, could hear the story too, as Elvira had up to that time refused to talk to her about the murder case (which, after all, was unrelated to her own more recent problem and detention).

We began by assuring Elvira several times that we weren’t asking her to say anything in particular, that we simply wanted her to tell us the truth, whatever the truth might be, whether it hurt our client or not. She said she understood.

We then asked her to simply tell us in her own words what had happened, explaining that if we had questions we would interrupt or ask them after she was finished. She agreed, and began to tell us her story.

To our surprise, she was telling very much the same version of the events as had been given to us by our client.

I interrupted after she gave us the basic story, explaining that I had read the statement she had given to the police, and that I knew that what she had told them was very different from what she was telling us—that she had pretty much described an unprovoked shooting in her statement to the police.

She readily acknowledged that she had given a very different statement to the police, but explained that she had done so because the friends of the deceased, who had given similar statements, had told her that she’d better tell the story that way or they would hurt her.

We pressed again and again for the truth. The probation officer emphasized the importance of her being truthful. She stuck by her guns; it was self-defense, and she had only told the other story initially out of fear of the state’s witnesses.

I even explained to her that giving two statements under oath, both of which cannot be true, is a misdemeanor, and the prosecutor doesn’t even have to prove which statement is false. If he can prove which statement is false, it’s a felony. She still stuck by her guns.

The beauty of this situation was this: When the prosecutor tried to impeach Elvira with her prior statement, she would have a response that not only explained away her prior statement in terms of her own credibility but which blew all the prosecution witnesses out of the water.

It’s one of the very few times I can remember being in a position of looking forward to having a witness questioned about a prior inconsistent statement by the other side. The case went to trial several weeks later. The prosecution witnesses told it pretty much like they had told it to the police.

Charlie Butts had made some mileage on cross-examination, but when the State rested, the case looked pretty much like an assassination in response to the assault that broke the defendant’s brother’s leg. The deceased may not have looked too good to the jury, since he had led a gang assault on the brother, but at least the brother had not been killed.

Two or three witnesses in to our side of the case, Charlie announced that our next witness would be Elvira. The bailiff headed to the witness room to get her, but I knew she was out in the hall with the probation officer, so I went in that direction to get her.

When I got outside, I found myself confronted with a probation officer who was extremely distraught.

“What’s the matter,” I asked. “Isn’t she willing to testify now?”

“That’s not it,” she said. “She’s changed her story again. Now she says that what she told the police was the truth and what she told you was a lie.”

Elvira stared at the floor, refusing to even look at me, much less respond to my questions, and I knew that what the probation officer was saying was true.

I confess; I panicked. Elvira was to have been our star witness, and now she said she had been lying to us.

A jumble of different issues crashed together in my brain. A lawyer can’t call a witness he knows is lying. . . . You can’t claim surprise if a witness has told you before going on the witness stand that’s what he’s going to say. . . . But wait, she was going to tell what she says is the truth. . . . But, that story hurts us. . . . What the hell is the truth in this case, anyway?

I remembered that the jury was waiting with some anticipation for Elvira to take the witness stand. I scurried back into the courtroom and up to Charlie Butts.

“Charlie,” I tried to whisper but practically shouted in his ear. “She changed her story. She now says that she lied to us and what she told the police is the truth.”

Charlie paused, turned his head slowly toward my ear, and whispered in his very West Texas drawl: “Don’t let the jury see that you’re upset. We’ll just go on with another witness. Have a seat and calm down.”

With that, Charlie called the next witness.

We called our one-third who told it our way, and the defendant himself testified pretty well, but we just didn’t have the horses; the jury convicted the client. At punishment, Charlie delivered an argument that I swear had the judge’s eyes glistening, much less the jury’s.

Ten years, they said, but several of them told Charlie later that they had wanted to grant probation, but just couldn’t muster the votes.

Misdemeanor murder, birthday party shooting, call it what you will. This (then) young lawyer learned a lot about lawyering sitting behind Charlie Butts in this trial. He should have charged me a bundle for the lessons.

September 2016 Complete Issue – PDF Download



23 | The Warrior’s Discovery Toolbox – By Chris Hesse
29 | Are You Thinking About Cyber Security? – By Clinton Henry
32 | In Defense of Authenticity – By Brian Schmidt
35 | Misdemeanor Murder! – By Judge Pat Priest

7 | President’s Message
9 | Executive Director’s Perspective
11 | Editor’s Comment
14 | Off the Back
16 | Federal Corner
20 | Said & Done

4 | TCDLA Member Benefits
5 | CLE Seminars and Events
39 | 4th Amendment Musings
41 | Significant Decisions Report

President’s Message: Numero Tres – By John A. Convery


I was thinking about what I wanted to convey to you in my president’s message as I watched the Olympics wrapping up in Rio. Like most of you, I was enthralled by the games. As the athletes’ nervous anticipation turned into joy or heartbreak, one thing stood out most vividly to me. It wasn’t just the recognition of the athletes’ skill, training, and commitment or the sheer wonderment of so many countries setting aside their differences and coming together. It wasn’t solely about who won the gold or who fell short. Instead, I was captivated by the patriotism. Track athletes wrapped in the American flag. Fans dressed up in the red, white, and blue teeming with USA pride. The tears that flowed as our anthem echoed to the crowd. I was astonished at the demonstration of incredible athleticism, but more so, I was struck by the celebration of American. Thoughts of our work crept into my mind as I watched what was, at its heart, a celebration of the thing we Americans covet the most—Freedom.

I thought of the amazing work that TCDLA is doing to protect the freedom of those caught up in the criminal justice system. Not only do we individually protect freedom every day in our representation of our clients; TCDLA is also engaged in activities designed to improve justice in broad, systemic ways, including our Innocence Trainings and our role on the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Coincidentally, TCDLA’s annual Innocence Training in Austin started on the same day as the Olympics. It was another extremely successful CLE program that exemplifies both TCDLA’s contribution to the overall improvement in criminal justice, resulting in the exoneration of the wrongly convicted, and our role in training our members how to fight for and demand that each client is treated fairly. I was inspired by the case of Richard Miles, ex parte Miles, 359 SW.3 647 (2012 Tex.Crim.Pro), and the actual innocence opinion of Court of Criminal Appeal’s Judge Barbara Hervey, demonstrating the commitment of Texas to protect the freedom of the innocent.

Simultaneously, our work on the Texas Forensic Science Commission came to my mind. As you know, TCDLA has had an active part in establishing standards to stop the use of “junk science” in Texas courtrooms. After defense attorneys among us uncovered systematic flaws in the handling and analysis of forensic science, the commission was formed and has proven to be a powerful force in developing procedures for licensing forensic analysts, among other things, aimed at protecting the freedom of the innocent. It is time for TCDLA to recommend another member to the commission to replace Bobby Lerma, as his term is over. I thank Bobby for his service and am excited for another member to be our voice—the only defense voice in this important venue. We have submitted the names of ten amazingly qualified and committed members to the governor, who will select one to serve.

TCDLA was also asked to contribute to a report that will serve as a national model for creating similar forensic science commissions, and therefore improve the quality of justice, in other states. We were specifically asked to provide a brief statement about our role on the Texas Forensic Science Commission, hopefully to encourage other states to give their defense Bar a seat at the table.

I’m incredibly proud to serve as TCDLA’s president. This organization and its members do amazing and noble work to make the concepts of fairness and freedom a reality—a reality that will continue to represent who we are as Americans. So, the next time you hear the national anthem, or see a USA athlete waving a flag, I hope you will feel proud of the individual work that you do and proud to be part of an organization that strives to promote justice for everyone.

Executive Director’s Perspective: Dog Days of Summer – By Joseph A. Martinez


We thank outgoing TCDLA President Sam Basset (Austin) for his service to the TCDLA membership over the last year. We wish him well and good verdicts.

John Convery (San Antonio) took the helm of TCDLA as president in June at the 45th Annual TCDLA Annual Meeting. We look forward to a most productive year under John’s leadership.

We thank outgoing chair of the Criminal Defense Lawyers Project (CDLP) Jani Maselli Wood (Houston) for her outstanding dedication and tireless efforts over the past year. We wish her well and good verdicts. John Hunter Smith (Sherman) is the new chairman. CDLP oversees the grants TCDLA receives from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Heather Barbieri (Denton) is the co-chair.

We thank David Guinn (Lubbock) for his leadership as chair of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Educational Institute (TCDLEI). Lance Evans (Fort Worth) is the new chair of TCDLEI.

Congratulations to the new TCDLA Hall of Fame inductees, Shirley Baccus-Lobel (Dallas), Ed Mallett (Houston), and Bill Habern (Houston). They are truly examples of lawyers who have served the legal profession with honor and distinction and contributed to the improvement of criminal jurisprudence in Texas.

Congratulations to Jani Maselli Wood (Houston), named TCDLA Charles Butts Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year, and Brian Wice (Houston) and Richard Gladden (Denton), named the Percy Foreman Lawyers of the Year.

Special thanks to our course directors for this year’s 29th Annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course held in San Antonio in June. They were Heather Barbieri (Plano), Jo Ann Jacinto (El Paso), Jim Darnell (El Paso), Kameron Johnson (Austin), and Mark Stevens (San Antonio). Thanks to their efforts over the last year and their outstanding lineup of speakers, we had 810 attendees. Special thanks also to the members who donated items for the silent auction held during Rusty Duncan. Thanks to speaker Robin Conley (Huntington, West Virginia), who spoke at our Capital Luncheon in San Antonio.

Please make plans to join us at next year’s 30th Annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course. Please note the change: The course will be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk. Next year’s course directors will be Cynthia Orr (San Antonio), Audrey Moorehead (Dallas), Robert Lerma (Brownsville), and Frank Sellers (Lubbock).

Special thanks to our course directors, Deandra Grant (Dallas) and Mark Thiessen (Houston), for our 3rd Annual Lone Star DWI seminar held in Austin in July. Thanks to their efforts we had 170 attendees.

Special thanks to our course directors for our Training the Trainers CLE held in South Padre Island in July. Thanks to their efforts we had 69 attendees. We require all of our CDLP speakers for the coming year to attend this training.

Special thanks to our course directors for our Upholding Justice One Client at a Time CLE held on South Padre Island in July. Thanks to their efforts we had 83 attendees.

We held a TCDLA/CDLP/TCDLEI Board Orientation at South Padre Island. We had 30 board/committee members attend.

We have a great lineup of DWI CLE in the coming months. Please join us for these quality TCDLA DWI seminars.

Sept. 16Houston14th Annual Top Gun DWI
Danny Easterling & Grant Scheiner
Nov. 3–4San Antonio12th Annual Stuart Kinard Memorial Advanced DWI Seminar
Adam Kobs, Michael Gross & Bobby Barrera

TCDLA currently has 3,106 members. It is the largest criminal defense lawyers association in the country. We ask our members to encourage other lawyers who practice criminal de­fense to join TCDLA.

Weren’t able to attend this year’s Rusty Duncan event? You can order the DVD and get CLE credit. Please go to our website for more information and to order. Do you need CLE credit and can’t attend our seminar training? Please call the Home Office (512-478-2514) for a list of the DVDs and accompanying CLE credit.

Don’t have a local criminal defense bar in your area? Would you like to re-energize and jump-start your organization? Are you interested in forming a local criminal defense bar? Need help getting organized? Please contact Susan Anderson (Dallas), , Laurie Key Lubbock), , or Carmen Roe (Houston), , co-chairs of the TCDLA Affiliate Committee.

Good verdicts to all.

Editor’s Comment: Back 2 School – By Sarah Roland


School is back in session. College campuses are crawling again with students, fresh back from summer break. Dorm rooms are filled with first-year college students yearning for the ultimate college experience, complete with an appropriate balance of academic success and serious fun. The endless weekends of fraternity and sorority parties and tailgating events are well underway. The backdrop is thus perfectly set for the code of student conduct hearings that are regularly happening in universities around our state.

If you represent college students and you’ve never been to one of these conduct hearings, you should go for several reasons. The criminal case and the disciplinary hearings are inter­connected. Conduct hearings afford us an early opportunity for discovery. Also, our presence alongside the student at the hearing solidifies the attorney-client bond and instills the student’s trust in us from the beginning of the representation. That foundation is vital for candid discussions about the criminal case further down the road.

Tell the student to be on the lookout for a notice from the school; the student will be provided notice and an opportunity to be heard before a sanction is imposed. This due process right is one of the few that exist in disciplinary hearings—everything else is covered by the university’s code of student conduct. And it is important to note that the law allows for tremendous latitude in what will suffice for due process. While the hearing can be conducted without the student’s presence (bad idea), by refusing to attend the hearing, the student subjects himself to being blocked from registering for classes, receiving grades, living on campus, etc.  

One of the first things students are required to do is sign a statement agreeing to abide by the code of student conduct. On the whole, most students never bother to read the university’s code of student conduct. However, just like ignorance of the law is not a defense to criminal conduct, neither is ignorance of the university’s code of student conduct a defense to disciplinary action by the university. Be sure to have a current copy of the university’s code of conduct . . . and read it.

These hearings are more than just a trivial occurrence. The university always asks the student to write out the events that led to the arrest—a student statement form. Sound like a written confession? Help the student write out the student statement form (and keep a copy of the statement for your file). The university always asks the student to explain what happened during the conduct hearing. Sound like an oral confession? Talk to the student about what to say and what not to say at the hearings. Be there to cut off inappropriate questions. Oftentimes, these hearings are recorded, but even if not, there is always some type of record of the hearing. So, since the criminal case and the disciplinary hearing are interrelated, be sure to include the uni­ver­sity in all petitions for expunction.

In the end, if it is the student’s first infraction, it is relatively minor, and appropriate steps are taken, permanent disciplinary marks on a transcript can be avoided. After all, the bottom line for the student’s academic career—similar to the criminal case—is a transcript free from the scarlet stain of a disciplinary mark. The overwhelming majority of the students we represent learn from the mistakes of their youth, never enter the criminal justice system again and go on to become productive and contributing members of society.

Off the Back: How to Cultivate Your Personal Brand – By Stephen Gustitis


How do your individual attributes and professional experiences create value in the lives of other people? What qualities do you project? For what are you known? In total, these things embody your personal brand. And like it or not, you already have one. Accordingly, consider your brand as a manageable asset. Your brand is something to continuously shape with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you. It should represent the value you are consistently able to deliver to those you serve. It’s being a role model, a promise-keeper, a mentor, or a voice others can depend upon. It’s being an advocate, a representative, or a courtroom warrior. By way of contrast, cultivating your personal brand falls well short of self-promotion. Rather, branding yourself is simply establishing a sense of what you’re about and how you connect with people to add value to their lives.

I’m stating the obvious. Our client base is the lifeblood of a thriving and financially rewarding criminal defense practice. Whether retained or appointed, our clients talk about us. For good or bad they have the greatest impact upon our branding efforts. Their opinions form the basis of what we are known for. They talk among their friends. They chat on social media. Many will publish reviews on Yelp and Avvo. Hence, did they know us as someone who genuinely cared or someone who simply cashed in on another’s hard luck? Were we openly generous with our time? Did our tone regularly communicate patience rather than agitation or indifference? Did we respond promptly to questions? Did we quickly return telephone calls? Did we listen? Of course, establishing good communication with clients helps us avoid most complaints and grievances. But from a business generation standpoint, satisfying communication with clients forms the lynchpin of our success since clients are the principle source of direct referrals.

For this reason, establish a communication policy with clients at the beginning of your representation. Always honor it. Train your staff to be empathetic with clients, and maintain strict quality control. Be generous with your time. Return telephone calls pursuant to office policy. Keep your promises. These steps assure that communication with clients will satisfy their need for information and their need for understanding. It will also help shape your personal brand. These clients will likely recommend your legal services based upon their positive communication experience with your firm. And what about former clients? Why communicate with them? Not surprisingly, this communication continues to build your brand. It reinforces the impression that you make communication a priority. Less frequency is required with former clients, and communication may be in the form of newsletters, press releases, or simple thank you notes. Add value to their lives by providing them beneficial information. Former clients with whom you regularly communicate are more likely to remember you when a friend needs a criminal defense lawyer. And don’t hesitate to ask them for referrals. Demonstrate your gratitude in advance. Keeping your name fresh in their minds will continue to cultivate a quality brand.

Respond to all online internet reviews. Actively solicit these reviews from clients at the conclusion of your representation. Once a client publishes a review, respond to it online. Prospective clients read these reviews and your replies. Express your gratitude for their strong endorsement of your firm. Likewise, respond appropriately to negative reviews. This dialogue helps a prospective client develop a good impression of your firm. Furthermore, your responses demonstrate you value feedback and you make communication a priority. It also begins the trust-building process with prospective clients and gives you an edge over the competition who may not solicit, nor respond to, client reviews.

Respond to comments on your blog. And yes, you should be blogging. It’s a key component of one’s marketing and branding efforts. Blogging is communication. It reveals your personality, work ethic, knowledge, and experience. Accordingly, respond to blog comments in similar fashion as you’d respond to online reviews. Your comments help prospective clients develop a good impression of your firm and show them you make communication a priority.

Lastly, our professional colleagues have a direct impact upon our brand and our financial bottom line. Are we known for freely offering our time and expertise? Do we promptly return their telephone calls and emails, as well? Are we supportive? Work to develop a reputation among your colleagues as a promise-keeper, someone who is genuine, and someone whose voice they can depend upon. Add value to their lives by being generous with your knowledge. Regular communication with them builds trust and friendship. In other words, it cultivates a quality brand. Colleagues (including your competition) will talk highly of you when speaking with potential clients who may be interviewing for a criminal defense lawyer.

In today’s market, branding is requisite to a thriving and fi­nancially rewarding legal services enterprise. And, thankfully, not everyone is looking for a Rolex. Omega, Breitling, and Seiko all have their market niche and provide needed value to those they serve. In criminal practice the vast majority of our clients were first-time visitors who may have recently discovered us on the internet. Though we may enjoy occasional repeat business, the great bulk of our clients were, just moments ago, strangers to us. Consequently, we are continuously challenged to build credibility with them by cultivating a quality brand. Effective communication with others is the first step in this trust-building process. These efforts cost you nothing but time. More importantly, though, by managing your brand as an asset you help others benefit from having a relationship with you. I couldn’t think of a more gratifying professional legacy.