Jeep Darnell

Jeep Darnell received his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and received his law degree from the University of Oklahoma. Jeep is licensed to practice in Texas and New Mexico and licensed to practice before the United States District Courts for the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico and the Eastern District of Wisconsin as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Jeep has represented clients in everything from administrative hearings to felony trials and appeals and has a civil practice as well. He is a member of the El Paso Bar Association Board of Directors and a member of the TCDLA Executive Committee, Board of Directors, COVID-19 Task Force, and CDLP Committee, and serves as either chair or co-chair of the Technology Committee, Membership Committee and Listserve Committee. Jeep has spoken at seminars across Texas teaching lawyers about all aspects of criminal defense. Jeep is married to Meghan Darnell and they have two little boys, James Ford and Kennedy Patrick.

Editor’s Comment: The Christmas Miracle

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By the time you read this we will have finished Thanksgiving dinner and we may be moving out of our respective food-comas.  I hope that each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, safe from COVID, and with the ability to enjoy all the family time that you can possibly handle. Now, on to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and other winter holidays that allow (require) each of us to do it all again. In case my tone is not clear via the typed word, too much family time is too much for me on occasion. I am known to reach my limit on extended family interactions somewhere around the first or second day of joyous festivities, and I suspect I am not alone in that need for space.  But, shame on me.

We, as criminal practitioners, know better than just about anyone what a privilege it is to spend time with family on the holidays. So many of our clients, whether they are pre-trial or post-conviction clients, don’t get to experience what we take for granted or what, in my case, tends to drive me nuts. I can’t tell you the number of jail calls I get beginning around the week before Thanksgiving begging me to try one more time to get someone out of jail. I know as well as the next person that not every client is being truthful about wanting to be home for their respective holiday celebration, but I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the old line, “I just want to spend Christmas with my kids.” Even when I know the dude is full of it, it makes me wonder how I would feel if I couldn’t see my boys’ smiles on Christmas morning. Even if picking up all the trash after opening presents and the inevitable breaking of a Christmas present on Christmas morning is aggravating, seeing and feeling the joy of watching them open presents fills my tank and helps me get going for another year.

When I was a baby lawyer, I had this yearly feeling by Thanksgiving that I was tired of it all and needed a break from the grind. I would try and coast as best as I could to the end of the year. (Let’s be honest, I still get that same feeling). Then, one year, I was set for trial in early December on an injury to a child case for an appointed client for whom I had been fighting for years. I knew the judge wouldn’t actually be calling any cases for trial that week and that all of the trials would be reset. I was grouchy and tired of the grind that Friday morning when I showed up at the courthouse just to reset my client’s case. My poor client had been beset by horrible health problems during the duration of her case, brought on in part by the anxiety of the pending charges. I walked into the court coordinator’s office to get my new setting and she instructed me I needed to conference the case with the prosecutor. Annoyed, I walked to the room where the prosecutors were waiting and grumpily informed them that I was told to conference with them before I got a reset and consider this grumpy message my conference and I was leaving. The lead prosecutor on my case, however, told me to wait a second. He told me that the case had been reset too many times and, although they knew they weren’t actually going to trial, they had subpoenaed many of the cases in order to determine if they actually had any witnesses to testify in the eventual trials.  Mine was one such case. He said, let’s go check and see if I have a witness. We walked out, together, into the foyer on that floor of the courthouse where he called for his witnesses, and none appeared. He walked me back into the court offices and filled out and signed a dismissal. After getting the Judge’s signature, I walked a copy to my client, handed it to her with a smile and told her something to the effect that the perpetual annoyance of her case was over. She burst into tears in the middle of the crowded foyer. She hugged me and told me that I had saved her life. 

I’m not re-living this story for an atta-boy. I’m telling y’all, and really reminding myself, that we all have a Christmas miracle in us that we can bring to one of our clients. And sometimes prosecutors surprise us near the end of the year, too. I don’t always get dismissals at Christmas time, but I might be able to get someone out of jail, or I might be able to do something as simple as going and visiting a client in jail, not to talk about the case, but just to visit and remind him or her that they aren’t alone. If we shrug off the tired at the end of the year, we can bring some semblance of joy to someone we represent and make this time of year a little happier. And who knows, that may make all the difference in the world to our client.

Be safe.

Editor’s Comment: Goose, Meet Gander

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From October 7 through October 8, 2021, I had the pleasure of attending my first TCDLA Forensics Seminar.  The seminar may be the most educational CLE event I have ever attended.  What Philip Wischkaemper, E.X. Martin, and Larry Renner, along with Melissa and the folks at the home office, put together is an incredible event that every criminal defense attorney should try to make time to attend in the future.  While I got my normal dose of camaraderie that I often feel when I attend TCDLA events and get to hang out with our brothers and sisters from across the State, the Forensics Seminar struck me as such an interesting difference from the norm because all of us attendees were primarily taught by non-lawyers for the entire seminar. Learning from the professionals who know the sciences, rather than from lawyers who have learned it from a professional, was a fascinating difference.  Each of the scientific professionals who presented were wonderful and helped me, and I would hope others, understand at a deeper level each of their respective forensic sciences, including and maybe most importantly, the limitations. 

In fact, that was a regular topic of conversation among many of the attendees.  While we are generally trying to keep out many of these various fields of forensic science in our trials, we cannot forget that sometimes the fields of science can work to our benefit. While we should never allow the government to bring garbage dressed up as science in front of a judge or jury without a fight, we should not be unwilling to utilize forensic sciences to our benefit, even those forensic fields that may be considered on the fringe.  We’ve all known forever that polygraphs are inadmissible in criminal courts in Texas, but that doesn’t mean we cannot utilize them to conduct our investigations into our clients. It also doesn’t mean that the best post-conviction lawyers we have among our members don’t utilize them all the time to help with the exoneration of their clients. 

Similarly, blood spatter evidence should not be discarded by our members as junk without any potential merit. Let me be clear, I will never suggest that blood spatter evidence should always be admissible. What I am suggesting is that within the proper limitations of blood spatter evidence exists the potential exculpatory use of that forensic field. I have used evidence to my client’s benefit that I would probably fight tooth and nail to keep out or discredit if the tables were turned. Don’t let us box ourselves out from properly utilizing forensic sciences to our clients’ benefit simply because of our own disagreements with improper use of a certain field.

One of the other great presentations at the Forensics Seminar was by Mark Daniel. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mark for the work that he has done on behalf of the criminal defense bar at the Forensic Science Commission. With Mark’s help, the Commission has made strides in limiting the use of junk science in criminal courts in Texas. Among those achievements is the licensing requirement for certain Forensic analysts in order for their forensic analysis of physical evidence . . . and expert testimony to be admissible in a Texas criminal court. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 38.35(d)(1).   Although not every Forensic science has such a licensing requirement, there are many professed forensic sciences that have been excluded from the licensing requirement because they are unreliable. On the other hand, there are other forensic sciences that the Commission has simply not required licensing despite the general evidentiary admissibility of the field. Do not forget to review to article 38.35 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. And you probably want to get a copy of Mark’s PowerPoint presentation that specifically lays out the sciences that require licensing and those that don’t. 

There is no way I can summarize in one short column the information I learned at the Forensics Seminar.  However, I can tell you that until we learn to work with experts in the various forensic fields and gain our own understanding of the proper application of the fields and the limitations, we are simply missing out on a benefit to each of our clients. Lucky for us, Philip Wischkaemper is planning to put on the Forensic Seminar again next year.

Be safe.

Editor’s Comment: October 2021

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A cursory review of the widely-known source www.nationaldaycalendar.com shows that October is the National month of a laundry list of causes and celebrations, some serious others not so serious.  While Bat Appreciation Month, National Toilet Tank Repair Month, Squirrel Awareness Month (which according to the website is different than Squirrel Appreciation Day, which occurs in January), and International Walk to School Month are certainly causes that I am sure others may get very excited about, there are a few other causes that are a little nearer and dearer to my heart that I’d like to discuss in my column this month.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am married with two little boys: James (6) and Kennedy (3). I practice out in the west Texas town of El Paso, with my dad, Jim, and my brother from another mother, Cris Estrada. I had a dog that I adopted as a puppy in law school, named Hank the Cowdog, who just recently passed away. Our other dog, Sissy, who is a Great Dane, was very sad and lonely after Hank’s passing.  So, a few weeks ago, my wife Meghan and I loaded up the boys and we went to one of the local rescue shelters. We checked out the cast of poor, unfortunate souls cast aside and forgotten, and ultimately found the newest member of our household: Major Joe, a German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, Beagle, Boxer mix (we sent off his DNA to figure out what the Wookiee looking thing we just brought home was).  Our vet believes that Major Joe is likely about 2 years old, so we have been working hard to house train this wall-jumping, ball-fetching, barking, and howling mess of a new buddy. 

Another new joy-invoking task that we have recently undertaken is little league baseball. James just turned 6 in August, so he is only now old enough to play coach-pitch baseball.  The league in which we are playing has players ranging in age from six years old to eight years old.  Our team is made up entirely of six-year-olds, none of whom have ever played baseball. After four practices and one game, I am sad to report that we have not yet reached the fundamental level of Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

I tell y’all of these new-found joyous activities only to say that October is also National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month, Emotional Wellness Month, National Learning Development Month, and National Positive Attitude Month, which are clearly issues I am either fully invested in or need to become intimately aware of soon.

So, what does any of this have to do with TCDLA or being a criminal defense lawyer? While trials are occurring throughout the State, no one is back to practicing law the way we were before the pandemic hit.  We are in month 19 of this seemingly never-ending nightmare and I am, as I assume most of y’all are, am yearning for a return to normal. However, the delay in returning to normal is giving all of us an opportunity we will likely never get again: to spend a little bit more time with our families. I miss the intensity of trial, but I have to remind myself that I need to take advantage of this time I have been given to be a dad like I never was before the pandemic hit. I need to enjoy a few more adventures with my boys, because the reality is that I will never get this much time with them again for the rest of our lives. Unless, of course, they end up following in my footsteps someday, and come to work in our office as lawyers down the road. That thought is sobering. So, I now have to remind myself that October is also National Sarcastic Awareness Month and I need to maintain my sense of humor too.

Be safe
-Jeep Darnell

Editor’s Comment: Fight the Good Fight

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Despite the necessity to do so, it was one of my very greatest pleasures to work with TCDLA lawyers on the COVID-19 Response Task Force Committee during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The work that Chair Clay Steadman, then Co-Chairs Allison Clayton and Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube, along with vice-Chairs Betty Blackwell, John Hunter Smith, and Kyle Therrian, along with the rest of our Committee, did to help the members of this Organization and their clients remain safe against tyranny was as much fun as one could have when courts were shut down. Man, I thought those days were moving past us. It appears what was old may be new again. 

On August 4, 2021, Bexar County Judge Ron Rangel, Judge of the 379th Judicial District Court and Local Administrative Judge for the Bexar County Courts, shut down all in-person jury trials again because of the renewed threat COVID-19 has on members of the community. While I suspect that other counties and courts may follow suit depending on the on-going or worsening COVID-19 threat, there will be courts, judges, and locations where the threat to lawyers, defendants, and necessary witnesses will be ignored. I know that the band will be ready to get back together to fight for the protections of all our members should they be put in danger. Please do not hesitate to contact your local Committee representative if there are situations that arise that make you feel unsafe in the practice of criminal defense. We did not sign up to give up our lives to defend the Constitution. We may give up just about everything else, but don’t forget we all have someone who we have to protect, whether it be ourselves or our loved ones. I hope the new surge is short and that we can sooner get back to normal. Until then, be safe.

Editor’s Comment: July/August 2021

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I’m old enough to know that I’m still too young to get to toot my own horn regarding my wins and important cases.  There are far too many lawyers who have earned the right to do that in the pages that follow this article. Those men and women have spent far longer than I have changing the face of criminal defense in this State and bettering the lives of countless defendants. I am, however, old enough to tell everyone how important TCDLA is to me. My best friends belong to this Organization, and I can’t tell you how lucky I am to be able to say that. I’ll always remember Clay Steadman pushing me to get more involved; John Hunter Smith hearing me present the first time at a CLE and telling me I needed to keep speaking while immediately recruiting me to do so; David Moore asking me to serve and even chair a few committees during his Presidency; Heather Barbieri, Lance Evans, and Reagan Wynn all taking the time to help me learn as much as I could at the TCDLA Texas Criminal Trial College; Betty Blackwell and Clay asking me to speak in Austin at the seminar they were moderating (Clay told me I was in the big leagues and I better not f*ck this up and I better not say f*ck either); Sarah Roland asking me to serve as one of her co Vice-Editors; my good friends Sarah and Rusty Gunter recruiting me to come speak in Lubbock just so I could be introduced with my testicle case (don’t ask); Kerri Donica asking me to serve on her COVID-19 Task Force and fighting the good fight all over Texas for an entire year with one of the best groups of lawyers I’ve ever been around; and many other unforgettable times. My time in TCDLA has made me certain that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 

For those that don’t know this about me, I went to college wanting to be anything but a lawyer. Specifically, a lawyer in Texas. More specifically, a criminal defense lawyer in Texas. Even more specifically, in El Paso, Texas.  My dad, Jim, is the best lawyer I know and I just didn’t want to have to work as hard as he has for as long I’ve been alive. But during college, it only took one science class for me to figure out I wasn’t going to be a doctor, so I started working towards law school.  I went on to attend the University of Oklahoma College of Law, never intending to practice criminal defense, and certainly not criminal defense in Texas, and absolutely not criminal defense in El Paso. My first day of Constitutional Law class set me straight, though; I was going to take a side in criminal law and that side was on the side of the good guys. Still, I sure as hell wasn’t coming back to Texas or to El Paso.  It turns out God had other plans and, for the last 10 years, I’ve been working alongside my dad, as a criminal defense lawyer, in Texas, working too hard but fighting the good fight. So, in addition to all of the friends I’ve mentioned, and all of those I haven’t, I have my dad, the person I’ve looked up to forever, to thank for getting me into what consists of the greatest group of people I’ve ever known. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have known after one day of law school what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I wouldn’t be who I am today.  He’s also the person who told me I had to join TCDLA because it was (and is) a giant organization of people who work too hard fighting the good fight every single day. That’s why all of the people I’ve mentioned are among my best friends. They understand what I do because it is what we all do on a daily basis, fighting the un-winnable fights because it’s the right thing to do (or maybe we’re all nuts). 

Be safe.


50 Years of Editors

Sarah Roland…………………………2016-2021

Michael Gross……………………….2013-2016

Greg Westfall…………………………2009-2013

Emmett Harris………………………2005-2009

David Richards……………………..2004-2006

John Carroll…………………………..2001-2004

D’Ann Johnson……………………..1999-2000

Suzanne Donovan…………………………..1998

William P. Allison…………………1995-1997

Jim Skelton……………………………1993-1995

Kerry P. Fitzgerald…………………1984-1994

Stanley Weinberg…………………..1981-1983

Clifton Holmes………………………1977-1981

F.R. “Buck” Files, Jr……………………….1976

Harry Lee Hudspeth………………1974-1975

Emmett Colvin……………………..1973-1974

Wesley H. Hocker………………………….1972

Editor’s Comment: Filling Big Shoes

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I’ve always loved history, enough even to major in history in college. From that love has grown a tendency to look back to learn from those who have come before me and to gain a reverence for whatever new task, job, assignment, or position I undertake. As the new Editor of The Voice, I didn’t change my stripes but instead wanted to find out who had held this position before me in the last almost-50 years of TCDLA. Sometimes not knowing the answer is probably more comforting than knowing the answer because there are times where you don’t want to know the size of the shoes you are trying to fill. A veritable Who’s Who of criminal defense lawyers in Texas have undertaken to make sure that the materials provided in The Voice have been up to snuff during the last almost-50 years. To name a few:

Emmett Colvin
Harry Lee Hudspeth (later United States District Judge)
Buck Files
Scrappy Holmes
Stanley Weinberg (a good Sooner, like myself)
Emmett Harris
Greg Westfall
Michael Gross
Sarah Roland

There are many more, too many to put in one article, but I can’t help but think, “Wow, what the hell am I doing getting this gig?” These folks have each had such an instrumental position in making TCDLA the wonderful organization that it is today. I count on this list alone a number of friends and a lot of heroes. I don’t know that I’ll live up to being a federal judge or Scrappy Holmes, but maybe knowing the size of the shoes you’re supposed to wear makes you feel the responsibility to fill ‘em. I think I owe it to our wonderful Organization and the previous Editors to do my best to continue the tradition of not only making The Voice a high-quality publication for each TCDLA member and every Judge in the State, but also to strive to be as zealous an advocate as each of my predecessors. Now, I’m off to put on extra socks to fill the shoes.

Editor’s Comment: Agree to Disagree

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As criminal defense attorneys, each day we strive to advocate for and protect the rights of the accused, one citizen at a time. We do not punch a timeclock or have an eight-to-five job, and our work does not slow down or stop, even in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. We worry, obsess, and overcompensate while advocating for and defending our clients, often sacrificing time with family, friends, and loved ones. It is our belief and mission that we stand between the government and our clients, defending their liberty and protecting their rights, regardless of the circumstances. We are united in our belief that every defendant has a right to be heard and their constitutional rights protected at any cost. It is this belief system, which is engrained in us as defense lawyers, which has its origin and roots in the actions and deeds of our founding fathers, that we use as our mantra every day to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Between all our members, we obviously have differences in our opinions regarding politics, social and economic policy, and other personally held beliefs and convictions. We all have a right to express those personal opinions and beliefs, but we should be tolerant and mindful of those who disagree with us. It is a healthy debate for our democracy, to agree to disagree on issues of social and cultural policy, politics, or other personal beliefs and convictions, which we hold as individuals in a democratic society. However, from time to time, we should be reminded that, as criminal defense attorneys, there is more that binds us than divides us, as we fight the common enemy to protect and advocate on behalf of the accused.

When we rang in the New Year, welcoming in 2020 on January 1st of this year, I don’t know that any of us would have thought this is where we would find ourselves in September, amid the worst worldwide pandemic since the Spanish Flu. The ability to practice law, specifically criminal defense work, has changed dramatically in the last six months and morphed into something no one could have imagined such a short time ago. It has taken the resiliency of our criminal defense bar statewide to ensure that the rights of the accused have been and continue to be protected as we adjust to this new normal.

Then George Floyd died, and those who are alleged to have been responsible for his death have been charged and arrested. As we had commented on previously, those individuals are entitled to and will have their day in court, as should all who stand accused of criminal conduct, however detestable or abhorrent it may be. Civil unrest grew and festered as it does, but this time the result was an outpouring of protests nationwide calling for police reform and social change, which has been long overdue.

I am sure everyone has a different opinion on how and why these protests occurred, and to what degree they were peaceful or ended up being non-peaceful. However, what has happened as these events have unfolded is the issues have become polarized, both politically and socially, and when we can’t agree, we sometimes label those we disagree with on the very issues and social change we are fighting for. Labels are a dangerous thing and far too easy to throw around, especially in our new digital age where a tweet or a Facebook post can be seen and ultimately heard instantaneously. As criminal defense attorneys, we fight every day in courts throughout the nation and this state, to prevent our clients from being labeled and discarded because of that label. Just because we do not agree with one another about certain issues does not mean we cannot have a civil disagreement regarding those issues, and at no time should our disagreements result in name-calling and labeling of those who oppose our beliefs or viewpoint.

John Lewis, in his last speech to America, stated, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good, necessary trouble.” Ladies and gentlemen, he is speaking to us. As criminal defense attorneys, we are at the forefront of getting into good and necessary trouble and fighting for the rights of the accused, which all too frequently are threatened, often involving components of racial injustice. We are on the same team, and we can agree to disagree, but should always be courteous to our fellow brothers and sisters who are in this fight with us, and always conduct ourselves as professionals.

Given the current state of the practice of law, specifically as it concerns the criminal defense bar, it is now more important than ever that we stay TCDLA Strong, and we fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The pandemic has not yet run its course. Racism, sexism, hatred, and bigotry are unfortunately alive and well. There are constant attacks upon our freedoms and liberty, and continuous attempts to erode the very underpinnings of our constitution and the rule of law. Rest assured there will be other hurdles ahead, but, as the largest and strongest statewide criminal defense organization in the nation, we will and must face these together.

We draw upon and from each other, and it is our collective life experiences, diverse as they are, that enable us to grow and shape our lives and careers. It is this collective experience and diversity that makes us better advocates and stronger as an organization. Let us remember who we are, and what our mission statement is, by conducting ourselves with the dignity deserving of our life’s work while being respectful of each member’s beliefs and their right to hold those beliefs. Be safe, be strong, and always fight the good fight.

This editorial column is dedicated to Sarah Roland, who has given so much time and personal sacrifice in making the Voice the great resource and publication that it is today.