Sarah Roland

Sarah Roland is the editor of Voice for the Defense. She attended undergraduate school at Baylor University, then attended law school at Texas Tech. From 2006-2011, she worked for Jackson & Hagen. In 2011, she opened her own practice in Denton. Sarah was chosen as a Super Lawyer for 2017 in the state of Texas, as well as being awarded the Hal Jackson Award by the Denton County Criminal Defense Association. She ranks as a top lawyer in the area through her trial work. She primarily serves clients in Denton, Dallas, Collin, and Tarrant County. Sarah also handle cases in Wise and Cooke County.

Editor’s Comment: It’s Been an Honor


It’s been one of my greatest pleasures to serve TCDLA as editor since Michael Gross entered the officer chain as secretary 5 years ago. The time has come, however, for me to step aside and allow new, fresh ideas and perspectives be involved. I have submitted my resignation as Editor of the Voice effective June 25, 2021. I will remain in an advisory capacity and will continue to serve TCDLA, but will be passing along the torch. This is certainly a bittersweet moment for me.

The Voice is bigger than any individual editor or author, and it always will be. It is a collective effort. Last March, I asked Jeep Darnell and Clay Steadman to join me as assistant editors. They graciously agreed, and I will be forever grateful. You never know what life is going to bring, and as the world was adapting and adjusting to a new normal during COVID-19, my family’s world turned upside down. In July, out of nowhere, my then four-year-old, Sam, suffered devastating medical issues. They have been ongoing but thankfully we are in a much better place now. It was Jeep and Clay who stepped in and picked up the slack with the Voice since my focus was completely on Sam. It was Melissa Schank who reassured me and kept things going. TCDLA has a real treasure in Melissa. And, recently, we added Amanda Hernandez to the fold. She has already exhibited editing prowess. It has been wonderful to have Jeep, Clay, and Amanda as part of this editorial team. We have certainly worked well together. My only regret is that I waited much too long before I recruited their assistance.

I have been blessed to work with giants like Buck Files, to talk to him each month, to read his columns, and to see him through to his 250th article. We all reaped the benefits of Michael Mowla’s SDR’s and are now benefitting equally from Kyle Therrian’s. Robert Pelton has consistently fielded calls and made sure we stay out of hot water ethically. The Chapter and Verse (Allison Mathis) and From the Front Porch (Dean Watts) columns are great additions. I have had the humbling duty of editing feature articles by lawyers much more experienced than me. I learn something new every month. I know we all do. These authors are the people who have tirelessly contributed month after month for the benefit of all of us. They are ones who should be thanked.

Michael Gross, thank you so much for having suggested me to fill this role when you joined the officer chain five years ago. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long now. I would like to think I have made a positive impact on the Voice and will be leaving it better than when I began. That’s always been my goal, at least. I have certainly enjoyed the work and the opportunities this position has provided.

Thank you, George, for brainstorming with me and editing the editor. George is my brother and best trial partner hands down.

Thank you all for reading the Voice and for trusting me to be your editor for so long. Thank you for all your submissions. Thank you for all your feedback – both good and bad. We value it all. Truly. Keep it coming because the goal will always be to continue to make the Voice a better resource for our members, and keep on submitting your articles. Your articles are the lifeblood of the Voice.

You likely know I’m a defense lawyer because of my late dad, George Roland. I’ve mentioned him before in my articles. He was the biggest Willie Nelson fan ever, so it seems appropriate to quote Willie (though somewhat out of context given the rest of the song) –

Turn out the lights, the party’s over
They say that, ‘All good things must end’

Thank you. It has been an honor.

Editor’s Comment: 250 Seems Like a Good Number


I am saddened to inform you that after 250 articles (yes, 250!) Buck Files has decided to put his pen down/close down his computer. As you know, Buck has been a consistent and prolific author of the Federal Corner column for a long time – probably for about as long as you can remember, in fact. Those of you who have had the benefit of reading his articles every month know we have a treasure in Buck. But, as Buck told me, “250 seems like a good number.” No doubt. It’s a record that will undoubtedly stand for years to come.

As the editor for the past five years, Buck’s articles were a dream. They came in on time, with superb content, and in great shape every month. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Buck’s Federal Corner column would never tell you about him and his accomplishments. However, I think it’s important that we all acknowledge the giant who has been amongst us and indeed led us for all these years.

Buck is a charter member of TCDLA and has consistently and continually strived to uphold the culmination of our mission statement – “…to promote justice and the common good.” Buck is a Marine. He has been married to his wife, Robyn, over 50 years. Buck served as president of the State Bar of Texas for 2012‑2013. He has been an active leader in both TCDLA and SBOT for many years. In 1975, he was part of the charter class to be certified as a specialist in criminal law. In 2011, Buck was inducted into TCDLA’s Hall of Fame. The next year, Buck received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Criminal Justice Section of the State Bar of Texas. You should all know, if you don’t already, that in addition to all the above‑earned accolades Buck is a genuinely polite and kind person. I will miss him. Buck, we are all thankful for you and your contributions that have made us all better, and we wish you the very best.

The Federal Corner column is an important part of the Voice, and we will continue to bring it to you without interruption with rotating columnists.

The Voice’s New Assistant Editor!

The Voice for the Defense is excited to announce San Antonio‑based lawyer Amanda I. Hernandez has joined as an associate editor!

Amanda is an associate at the Flanary Law Firm, PLLC, and has jury trial experience with misdemeanor, felony, and federal cases.

Amanda currently serves as a board member for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association (TCDLA) and the San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (SACDLA). She is also on the board of directors for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP). Amanda is a zealous advocate and has been recognized by her peers as SACDLA’s “2019 Young Lawyer of the Year” and as a 2020 Top Attorney featured in San Antonio Magazine’s November 2020 issue.

She is also a 2017 graduate of the Tim Evans Trial College, an intensive program run by TCLDA in which new lawyers learn trial strategy from some of the best criminal attorneys in Texas.

Amanda earned her degree in International Business from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2011 and went on to attend St. Mary’s University School of Law, graduating in May of 2016. After graduation, Don Flanary started the Flanary Law Firm, PLLC, and quickly promoted her from being his long‑time law clerk to the first associate attorney in his practice, where she remains today.

Editor’s Comment: Tattoos Can Be Removed, But Can a “Gang Member” Label?


It all started simple enough. A question popped up in my inbox from a probation officer. It wasn’t a question about a particular client of mine – just a question from a good probation officer who, seeing beyond the criminal offense, was trying to help one of his young probationers.

“Do you know anything about the process that a probationer could use to be removed from the gang registry?”

And do you know what? I didn’t know, and I felt bad for not knowing. I could tell him all about other legal mechanisms to help restore a person – early release, expunctions, sealing records, and judicial clemency – but nothing about getting off the gang registry. So, I made it a point to find out.

When in doubt about a question like this, turn to the CCP to see if there’s guidance. The answer to the question above is found in Chapter 67. Before answering the question though, it is necessary to understand a little about the gang database.

As an initial matter, it is important to note that Texas is one of a minority of states that have a gang database. In 2005, the FBI established the National Gang Intelligence Center that integrates gang intelligence from across law enforcement agencies at all levels.

Article 67.051 mandates that the State compile and keep a database for the purpose of investigating or prosecuting the criminal activities of combinations or criminal street gangs. Subsection (d) requires local law enforcement to send to the department such information the agency compiles and maintains under Chapter 67. So, first, the database is required at the State level, and local law enforcement agencies are required to participate in providing information to the database.

Article 67.054 outlines the submission criteria for inclusion in the database:

(b)  Criminal information collected under this chapter relating to a criminal street gang must:

(1)  be relevant to the identification of an organization that is reasonably suspected of involvement in criminal activity; and

(2)  consist of:

(A)  a judgment under any law that includes, as a finding or as an element of a criminal offense, participation in a criminal street gang;

(B)  a self-admission by an individual of criminal street gang membership that is made during a judicial proceeding; or

(C)  except as provided by Subsection (c), any two of the following:

(i)  a self-admission by the individual of criminal street gang membership that is not made during a judicial proceeding, including the use of the Internet or other electronic format or medium to post photographs or other documentation identifying the individual as a member of a criminal street gang;

(ii)  an identification of the individual as a criminal street gang member by a reliable informant or other individual;

(iii)  a corroborated identification of the individual as a criminal street gang member by an informant or other individual of unknown reliability;

(iv)  evidence that the individual frequents a documented area of a criminal street gang and associates with known criminal street gang members;

(v)  evidence that the individual uses, in more than an incidental manner, criminal street gang dress, hand signals, tattoos, or symbols, including expressions of letters, numbers, words, or marks, regardless of how or the means by which the symbols are displayed, that are associated with a criminal street gang that operates in an area frequented by the individual and described by Subparagraph (iv);

(vi)  evidence that the individual has been arrested or taken into custody with known criminal street gang members for an offense or conduct consistent with criminal street gang activity;

(vii)  evidence that the individual has visited a known criminal street gang member, other than a family member of the individual, while the gang member is confined in or committed to a penal institution; or

(viii)  evidence of the individual’s use of technology, including the Internet, to recruit new criminal street gang members.

(c)  Evidence described by Subsections (b)(2)(C)(iv) and (vii) is not sufficient to create the eligibility of a person’s information to be included in an intelligence database described by this chapter unless the evidence is combined with information described by another subparagraph of Subsection (b)(2)(C).

So, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that the “gang member” label can be, and likely is, applied without due process and outside the walls of any courthouse. And as becomes obvious from a further read, removing a tattoo is easier than removing a “gang member” label.

The answer to the question of how to remove information from a gang database is contained in Article 67.151 which provides, in relevant part:

(b)  Subject to Subsection (c), information collected under this chapter relating to a criminal street gang must be removed after five years from an intelligence database established under Article 67.051 and the intelligence database maintained by the department under Article 67.052 if:

(1)  the information relates to the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity engaged in by an individual other than a child; and

(2)  the individual who is the subject of the information has not been arrested for criminal activity reported to the department under Chapter 66.

(c)  The five-year period described by Subsection (b) does not include any period during which the individual who is the subject of the information is:

(1)  confined in a correctional facility operated by or under contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;

(2)  committed to a secure correctional facility, as defined by Section 51.02, Family Code, operated by or under contract with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department; or

(3)  confined in a county jail or confined in or committed to a facility operated by a juvenile board in lieu of being confined in a correctional facility described by Subdivision (1) or committed to a secure correctional facility described by Subdivision (2).

Interestingly, the person named in the database does not have to be informed they are named in the database. However, the CCP outlines procedures for determining if a law enforcement agency has collected or is maintaining gang information, requesting a review of criminal information that may have been incorrectly included in a gang database, and also for judicial review of any such determination made. See Art. 67.201- 67.203.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice calls gangs “security threat groups.” TDCJ recognizes 12 such security threat groups: Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, Aryan Circle, Barrio Azteca, Bloods, Crips, Hermanos De Pistoleros Latinos, Mexican Mafia, Partido Revolucionario Mexicanos, Raza Unida, Texas Chicano Brotherhood, Texas Mafia, and Texas Syndicate. TDCJ has created a process for inmates to renounce their membership in one of these security threat groups (aka “gangs”). And it is a process – a 9-month process with several phases – called the Gang Renouncement and Disassociation (GRAD) Process. Of course, there are myriad considerations, not address herein, that must be evaluated before an inmate embarks on the GRAD Process. To say it is dangerous is an understatement. And the fact that an inmate has completed the GRAD Process doesn’t mean the “security threat group” notation will be forever removed. Rather, it means that the new notation will be “ex-security threat group member.” See www.tdcj.texas/gov/divisions/cid/stgmo_GRAD.html (last visited 2/9/21).

I’m thankful I received that email question. Chapter 67 is worth reading. And it’s worth a visit to the TDCJ website to check out the security threat groups and GRAD Process too. The bottom line is that it seems much easier to remove or cover up a tattoo – even a gang tattoo – than to remove the same label law enforcement has applied.

P.S. – We all weathered the recent winter blast together but experienced it in very different ways. Many of us may have experienced only minor inconveniences for a week while some of us were really hit hard and are still recovering from the damage caused. Please know that your TCDLA family is here for you. If there is anything we can do to help you, please reach out to any of us. Let’s take care of each other.

Editor’s Comment: Here for Each Other


A new year. A fresh start. Or so it’s supposed to be. We are all still dealing with COVID-19 and all its many implications on our profession. Many of us are balancing work with helping our children with connected learning. Some of us have lost loved ones. We have all been, and continue to be, impacted. Amidst all this, please know that TCDLA continues to be out front fighting for us. Your officers and executive director work incessantly for the interests and benefit of all of us. Recently, our leadership reached out to Governor Abbott about vaccine prioritization for criminal defense lawyers. After all, as we know, criminal defense lawyers are essential to a fully functioning criminal justice system.

Keep on keepin’ on (as my Dad would say), stay safe, and let’s continue to take care of each other.


Two New Year Reads

I want to share a couple of books with you that I recently read and think you will enjoy.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man
By Emmanuel Acho

I had heard about this book a while back and considered reading it but honestly just happened to pick it up on a whim recently. I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t put it down. The book is exactly what its title indicates. There’s nothing pretentious about it. Acho, the son of Nigerian immigrant parents who grew up in Dallas, played for the NFL, and who now is an analyst on Fox Sports, fully acknowledges his experience is not representative of all black people, and that gives the book a certain credibility. Each chapter begins with a question – a question many people have thought if not wondered out loud at some point. Then, each chapter discusses the history behind the question, the uncomfortableness around the question itself, and how to come together. The book is appropriately divided into three parts: 1) You and Me; 2) Us and Them; and 3) We. Acho doesn’t talk down to the reader or make the reader feel ashamed, and he provides actionable suggestions to become a part of the solution. This is a quick but thought provoking read. You will learn something about yourself and someone else. As Acho points out (and we all know from experience), black men are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in our justice system. You won’t regret spending the time to read this book if you haven’t already.

Murder in Montague: Frontier Justice and Retribution in Texas
By Glen Sample Ely

Even though I’m a Baylor/Texas Tech girl, Mr. Ely and the University of Oklahoma Press was kind enough to send me Murder in Montague to review. If you love history, this book is for you.

On a sweltering August night in 1876, a Methodist minister, his wife, and children were brutally slaughtered in their North Texas home. Acting on deathbed testimony, three men were arrested and tried for the murders. The book is a blend of true crime reporting, social drama, and legal history and presents a vivid snapshot of frontier justice in Texas following the Civil War.

The sheer brutality of the Montague murders terrified settlers already traumatized by decades of chaos, violence, and fear – from the deadly raids of Comanche and Kiowa Indians to the terrors of vigilantes, lynchings, and Reconstruction lawlessness. But the crime’s aftermath – involving five Texas governors, five trials, five appeals, and life at hard labor in the state’s abominable, inhumane prison system – offered little in the way of reassurance or resolution.

Viewed from any perspective, the 1876 murders were both a tragedy and a miscarriage of justice. Combining the long view of history and the intimate details of true crime reporting, this book captures this moment of reckoning as vigilante justice grudgingly gave way to an established system of law and order.

Editor’s Comment: Is the Risk Worth it?


The Voice has always been an important benefit of this organization. Back in 2007, I submitted my first article for publication to the Voice. It addressed the presentment requirement of search warrants as applied to search for blood.1

Now, 13 years after my first article – and along with many other Americans, I’m certain – I find myself contemplating more and more another topic related to search warrants: no-knock warrants. The requirement has long been a part of history even before Justice Thomas authored the opinion for a unanimous SCOTUS in Wilson wherein he wrote: “At the time of the framing, the common law of search and seizure recognized a law enforcement officer’s authority to break open the doors of a dwelling, but generally indicated that he first ought to announce his presence and authority. In this case, we hold that this common-law ‘knock and announce’ principle forms a part of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment.”

Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U.S. 927, 929 (1995). The case involved a search warrant based on information from a confidential informant. Police had information that the target had previously been convicted of arson and firebombing and also that he had threatened the confidential informant with a semiautomatic weapon. Police officers announced entry contemporaneous with, rather than prior to, entry in this case. The SCOTUS ultimately reversed and remanded the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court to address whether evidence of potential danger to law enforcement and destruction of evidence justified the failure of law enforcement to announce their presence prior to breaching the door.

Thus, since 1995, the knock and announce requirement is part of the reasonableness inquiry of a Fourth Amendment analysis. But now, especially given all the recent events, the question is: does the ever-increasing cost of no-knock warrants outweigh their potential benefits?

The scene in executing these no-knock warrants is often the same – an arsenal of police in military-type tactical gear (versus typical patrol uniforms that we are all used to) load up under the cover of darkness and surround the target house often giving hand signals to communicate. To anyone watching, they appear ready for war. Then, when the signal is given, they breach entry with some sort of battering ram, again under the cover of darkness, throw flashbangs while simultaneously screaming commands, and storm the location with guns drawn and shields up. The occupants are often sleeping, and there are frequently noninvolved people – sometimes kids and/or elderly – present at the location. They are awoken or interrupted suddenly by the sounds of flashbangs and screaming. Through an open interior door, the occupants may see smoke and guns pointed at them. Predictably, panic and chaos often ensue, and gunfire is often exchanged.

In my experience and reading, these no-knock warrants are typically employed in drug raids. Certainly, the same concerns that existed in Wilson as justifications for the failure of the police to announce their presence will exist in the execution of a warrant in virtually every drug (and every other criminal) case. The consideration, then, has to be is it worth the risk. Is it worth the risk to any one law enforcement life? Is it worth the risk of life to the sometimes completely innocent occupant? Importantly, to answer the question, we must acknowledge that “it” is most frequently a covert drug bust. The problem is further compounded by the fact that Texas is a proud “stand your ground” state. Gunfire, or the sound of gunfire, will often predictably be met with the return of gunfire. Is the risk of harm really worth it? Not a chance.

Just search “no-knock warrants” and you will find that many police departments in Texas are now suspending or severely limiting the use of no-knock warrants for precisely this reason. And, in June, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul introduced the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act to prohibit no-knock warrants at the federal level and for states or any local law enforcement agency that receives funding from the Department of Justice.2 What harm will it actually do to eliminate or severely restrict the use of no-knock warrants like many police departments and legislation propose? None. The warrants will still be executed, police will still come prepared, and people will still be arrested. The risk isn’t worth it.

And finally, although our country is clearly divided, let us not become so. Let us embrace the differences in each other and let us remember that whatever our differences may be, we stand united because we all are criminal defense lawyers.

Peace on earth and goodwill to all.

P.S. – A huge thank you to all those committees and individuals who have committed to contribute to the Voice. Your thoughtful contributions are what continue to propel the success of this publication.

Editor’s Comment: A Season of Change


It is with sadness and understanding that I must inform you that TCDLA’s beloved Michael Mowla has resigned his post as SDR contributor and editor after three years of contributions. I originally tapped him for the job knowing that he would raise the level of the Voice. We all know Michael has been and continues to be tireless in his efforts to help us all be a little smarter legally. He was happy to help, answer questions, and point us all in the right direction. He provided stellar (and comical) SDRs. We are grateful for his service.

Please join me in welcoming our new SDR contributor and editor, Kyle Therrian. Kyle has been extremely active – especially lately – in TCDLA. He has been a part of COVID-19 Response Task Force, Amicus, Memo Bank, Strike Force, and Nominations committees and TCDLEI Board. Like me, he must not sleep much. I was thrilled he agreed to step into this very formidable role. You will find the SDR remains very readable and very insightful. Kyle is more than capable of keeping us up to speed on significant decisions.

You will find this edition of the Voice dense with valuable insight and information as we begin to return to “normalish.” There are none better to have tested out the new frontier of Zoom trials than Jennifer Lapinski, Robert Hirschhorn, and Lisa Blue. They participated in the first two Zoom trials from jury selection through verdict. Should there be any tendency to proceed with a Zoom jury trial, this article should cause us all to put on the brakes, and to resist any effort to be put to trial via Zoom or any other electronic means. There is absolutely no benefit that will come to our client with a Zoom trial.

Ed McClees explains the difficult concept of “combinations” as related to engaging in organized criminal activity (EOCA) cases in his article “When it Takes More than Two to Tango.” We all know EOCA can be really tough, but Mr. McClees helps simplify the complexity of one of the main issues in these cases. He also reminds us to be sure to check that the predicate offense alleged in the indictment is one of the enumerated offenses listed in the statute since not every criminal offense is a qualifying predicate offense for EOCA.

Dr. John Fabian, in part one of a two-part article, provides a richly sourced article that suggests our military clients, precisely because of their traumatic experiences serving in the military, may be more predisposed to commit certain violent acts. While these experiences may not be exculpatory in most cases, it is most certainly mitigating in every single case, and now thanks to Dr. Fabian, there is supporting literature on the very topic. Let’s always be sure to fully explore the backgrounds of all of our clients, especially those who have given of themselves at one time in service to us.

Finally, my deepest appreciation and thanks to assistant editors Jeep Darnell and Clay Steadman – especially during this time – for all their work in helping edit the Voice and bring you the best product possible. As always, please let us know if you have any feedback – good, bad, or otherwise – to help improve the quality of the Voice for all our readers.

Be sure to vote, love your families, stay safe, and be well.

As we went to print, news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died at the age of 87 filled the media. Quite simply, her legacy is unrivaled, and we would all do to heed her advice: 

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
  And let’s all be sure to vote and encourage others to, as well.

Editor’s Comment: The Grim Backdrop COVID-19 is Creating


I was talking to a good friend and colleague recently about the impact of COVID-19 on our local court system and criminal defense community. We were lamenting that, on the whole, we, the criminal defense lawyers, seem to be the only moving part in the process – going to and from the jail and courthouse to facilitate pleas (even if doing pleas via Zoom). It was a role we undertook, understanding it placed us at risk, as we, and our clients, were largely the only live and in-person components of the criminal justice system. And now, as was inevitable, the jails are experiencing a rash of COVID-19 cases. The anxiety we are experiencing is real and palpable. The backdrop this pandemic is creating is just as real.

Consider the impact of this constant hum of worry on someone struggling with substance abuse, where the very “triggers” for use might well be the stress and anxiety that are now constants for all of us. The unintended hardship COVID-19 is creating in our communities, especially for those struggling with substance use disorder, is impossible to ignore: inability to attend in-person AA/NA meetings; loss of jobs; loss of housing; isolation; working in less-than-safe conditions; finding treatment facilities that are able to take new patients; and many, many more. Telehealth is an answer to many of these problems, but it’s less than ideal given the importance of face-to-face connection, physical contact with others, and the role environment all play in therapeutic communication. As we all know and have experienced at this point, there is just no substitute for face-face connection – for actual eye contact with a person rather than starring at one’s reflection and the two-dimensional faces of others on a screen. 

Make no mistake, the economic and social conditions created by the pandemic are devastating, and the collateral impact of COVID-19 on those struggling with substance use disorder is real, and places serious impediments to the recovery of some. It is well-publicized that alcohol sales were up during the shut-down and have remained above normal. What we lack, presently, is data regarding illicit drug sales and drug use. It stands to reason though that drug use and sales have risen also in response to the uncertainty.

Thousands of people die each year in the US from drug overdose in a normal (re: non-pandemic) year. Over the last two decades, the number has grown close to 600,000 people who have been lost to drug overdose. The number of overdose deaths in the US for 2018 (the most recent year for which there are statistics) exceeds 67,000, according to the CDC. COVID-19 has far eclipsed that number but will-inevitably and directly increase the number of overdose-related deaths during this pandemic. The backdrop this pandemic is creating for those struggling with substance use disorder is real, and is scary.

August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. The goal of IOAD is to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of overdose deaths. It also acknowledges the grief felt by family and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. That grief is real and should not be stigmatized. IOAD spreads the message that overdose death is entirely preventable. That is worth considering again: Unlike deaths from other diseases or viruses, deaths from drug overdose are 100 percent preventable.  

Maybe we can all do our part, however small, to help prevent an overdose. Let’s pick up the phone and call that client who may be struggling – not to talk about their case but just to talk to them, to check in with them and see if there is anything we can do to help them, to let them know you care. Talk to the client who has the state jail possession charge about their substance use. We all know odds are that it’s not the first time that person has used. Know the substance abuse resources in your area. Let’s be a lifeline to that person.

Editor’s Comment: Times A-Changin’


“Is it over yet?” we keep asking ourselves and each other. “Can’t things just go back to normal?” Not hardly. As the great lyricist Bob Dylan sang in 1963, “The Times They Are A-Changin”. Amid the first (and hopefully only) pandemic that we have all experienced, we are being put to the test every day. We are trying to stay connected in the face of social distancing. We are homeschooling while simultaneously trying to keep the doors to our businesses open and dollars coming in to take care of our employees…even though the majority of the state has been under stay-at-home orders. We have all been adapting and maintaining in the best ways we know… all while trying to keep our families and ourselves healthy.

And as you know, TCDLA has been adapting, maintaining, and retooling, too. There is no better evidence of this than Rusty Duncan. While this wasn’t Rusty as it has been in years past, this year was still a success thanks to our chief executive officer, Melissa Schank, and her staff, our course directors, and our speakers. And I’m sure the same will be said about the Declaration Readings next month. Be sure to start or get involved in your local Declaration reading whether it occurs virtually or in accordance with social distancing recommendations. It is that important. Especially now, as we define for ourselves and for our clients why the work we do is essential.

A final thought. Take time for yourself to be and stay well. In addition to the regular stresses of our daily pre-pandemic practices, this is an emotionally exhausting, stressful, overwhelming time. While the doors are closed and the phones may not be ringing as much lately, the new stresses are unique and very real. So, exercise, meditate, read, knit, watch baseball (when it starts back in July) — do something for you. Self-care is vitally important. We need to take care – both physically and mentally – of ourselves first so that we can take care of our families, friends, and clients. A great place to start is TCDLA’s seminar series Mindful Mondays.

Stay safe and well,


P.S. – And this month, again for the safety of our staff, members, and postal service workers, we are publishing the Voice online. We know the overwhelming majority of our readers prefer to have the hard copy of the Voice and it is our hope to return to that very soon. In the meantime, if you’d still like a hard copy, please let us know so that we can get it to you.

We are all in this pandemic together as humans and as criminal defense lawyers, but we each have our own unique experiences both personally and professionally. As courthouses across the state begin to reopen, please consider sharing your experience – whether uplifting, heart wrenching, or anything in between – with us. We are compiling stories of criminal defense lawyers from around the state to share in the upcoming issue this summer. Send submissions to .

Editor’s Comment: Defending the Indefensible


There’s a lot going on in our world. As an American, I can’t help but think about, worry about, and be saddened by what is going on. What happened to George Floyd is wrong, and the officers should be held accountable for their conduct. But, as a criminal defense lawyer, the idea of circumventing due process to hold those officers accountable, as seems to be the rallying cry of many, is also scary and terribly worrisome.

In the Boston Massacre Trial of 1770, then-future president John Adams defended eight British soldiers who had killed five Bostonians. The killings were publicly and collectively termed the “Boston Massacre” within days after they had occurred. The five Bostonians killed quickly became martyrs for the Patriot cause. To describe Adams’ defense as unpopular would be a massive understatement. That his business would have taken a tremendous hit because of his defense of the eight British soldiers is a given. But he did it. Due to Adams’ defense work, Captain Preston, whom the prosecution argued gave the order to fire, was acquitted. And, when the trials of the remaining British soldiers were finally over, only two were convicted – and of the lesser offense of manslaughter, at that.

How and why did Adams defend the British soldiers? He did it for the same reasons we defend the indefensible case: because we, as criminal defense lawyers, hold an unshakeable belief in our justice system.

Several years later, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. That was followed by the US Constitution which was ratified on June 21, 1788.

Fast forward nearly 250 years, to the killing of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd’s death has been followed by days (and sure to be weeks) of protest — many peaceful but some riotous. It can be unsettling and uncomfortable, and it should be. Injustices are inhumane.

But, we also realize as criminal defense lawyers who believe in our Constitution, that just as surely as protestors have a right to speak out, so too, do the Minnesota police officers have a right to fair trials with zealous representation unclouded by personal judgment. It doesn’t mean we condone the conduct in any way; quite the opposite. It doesn’t mean we want to see the officers escape accountability for their actions; they should be held accountable for their conduct. It just means to keep the integrity in our justice system – a system designed to protect the innocent – we must have trials where the defense is just as vigorous as the defense mounted on behalf of the British soldiers by John Adams. Our justice system fails when there is a laydown, railroad job – from any side.

It takes a special kind of person – it takes a criminal defense lawyer – to fight for our Constitution, be a zealous advocate, and defend the truly indefensible cases. It takes a special kind of lawyer to be able to not let personal feelings interfere with their representation. There are some cases some of us choose not to take because we recognize our objectivity may be or become compromised, and that’s ok. We are all human.

We will all defend the unpopular, hated client at some point during our careers. We have all been asked (at least a dozen times) “how do you defend someone you know is guilty?” And we all know, and believe to our very core, the answer to that question. We believe in and protect our Constitution. That is just what great defense lawyers like John Adams do. They stare into the abyss and march forward giving it their all to protect our justice system for all of us.


Please be a part of the Declaration Readings happening in your area this Independence Day.

Sarah Roland

Clay Steadman
Associate Editor

Jeep Darnell
Associate Editor

Melissa Schank
Executive Director

Jury Selection in Sexual Assault Cases

I. Introduction

There is a certain stigma that permeates sexual assault allegations.  It’s an undefinable icky-ness factor.  This is amongst the few categories of criminal allegations that even some criminal defense lawyers won’t touch.  We all know, though, that not every sexual assault allegation is true and not every accused person is found guilty.  The question, then, is how can we overcome the inherent stigma in sexual assault cases? It starts early.  It starts with framing the issue of the case correctly.  It starts with jury selection.

II. First Things First: The Law

Before any strategic discussion of jury selection particular to a sexual assault case can occur, it is imperative that we be familiar with the law governing jury selection, in general.  Chapter 35 of the Code of Criminal Procedure governs jury selection.   While it is prudent to read the whole chapter, the following articles are the most noteworthy:

A. Excuses – CCP 35.03

Sec. 1.  Except as provided by Sections 2 and 3 of this article, the court shall then hear and determine excuses offered for not serving as a juror, including any claim of an exemption or a lack of qualification, and if the court considers the excuse sufficient, the court shall discharge the prospective juror or postpone the prospective juror’s service to a date specified by the court, as appropriate.

Sec. 2.  Under a plan approved by the commissioners court of the county in the same manner as a plan is approved for jury selection under Section 62.011, Government Code, in a case other than a capital felony case, the court’s designee may hear and determine an excuse offered for not serving as a juror, including any claim of an exemption or a lack of qualification.  The court’s designee may discharge the prospective juror or postpone the prospective juror’s service to a date specified by the court’s designee, as appropriate, if:

(1)  the court’s designee considers the excuse sufficient;  and

(2)  the juror submits to the court’s designee a statement of the ground of the exemption or lack of qualification or other excuse.

Sec. 3. A court or a court’s designee may discharge a juror or postpone the juror’s service on the basis of the juror’s observation of a religious holy day or religious beliefs only if the juror provides an affidavit as required by Article 29.012(c) of this code.

B. Excused by Consent – CCP 35.05

One summoned upon a special venire may by consent of both parties be excused from attendance by the court at any time before he is impaneled.

C. Number of Challenges – CCP 35.15

(a)  In capital cases in which the State seeks the death penalty both the State and defendant shall be entitled to fifteen peremptory challenges.  Where two or more defendants are tried together, the State shall be entitled to eight peremptory challenges for each defendant;  and each defendant shall be entitled to eight peremptory challenges.

(b) In non-capital felony cases and in capital cases in which the State does not seek the death penalty, the State and defendant shall each be entitled to ten peremptory challenges.  If two or more defendants are tried together each defendant shall be entitled to six peremptory challenges and the State to six for each defendant.

(c) The State and the defendant shall each be entitled to five peremptory challenges in a misdemeanor tried in the district court and to three in the county court, or county court at law.  If two or more defendants are tried together, each defendant shall be entitled to three such challenges and the State to three for each defendant in either court.

(d) The State and the defendant shall each be entitled to one peremptory challenge in addition to those otherwise allowed by law if one or two alternate jurors are to be impaneled and two peremptory challenges if three or four alternate jurors are to be impaneled.  The additional peremptory challenges provided by this subsection may be used against an alternate juror only, and the other peremptory challenges allowed by law may not be used against an alternate juror.

D. Reasons for Challenge for Cause – CCP 35.16

(a)  A challenge for cause is an objection made to a particular juror, alleging some fact which renders the juror incapable or unfit to serve on the jury.  A challenge for cause may be made by either the state or the defense for any one of the following reasons:

    1. That the juror is not a qualified voter in the state and county under the Constitution and laws of the state; provided, however, the failure to register to vote shall not be a disqualification;
    2. That the juror has been convicted of misdemeanor theft or a felony;
    3. That the juror is under indictment or other legal accusation for misdemeanor theft or a felony;
    4. That the juror is insane;
    5. That the juror has such defect in the organs of feeling or hearing, or such bodily or mental defect or disease as to render the juror unfit for jury service, or that the juror is legally blind and the court in its discretion is not satisfied that the juror is fit for jury service in that particular case;
    6. That the juror is a witness in the case;
    7. That the juror served on the grand jury which found the indictment;
    8. That the juror served on a petit jury in a former trial of the same case;
    9. That the juror has a bias or prejudice in favor of or against the defendant;
    10. That from hearsay, or otherwise, there is established in the mind of the juror such a conclusion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant as would influence the juror in finding a verdict. To ascertain whether this cause of challenge exists, the juror shall first be asked whether, in the juror’s opinion, the conclusion so established will influence the juror’s verdict.  If the juror answers in the affirmative, the juror shall be discharged without further interrogation by either party or the court.  If the juror answers in the negative, the juror shall be further examined as to how the juror’s conclusion was formed, and the extent to which it will affect the juror’s action; and, if it appears to have been formed from reading newspaper accounts, communications, statements or reports or mere rumor or hearsay, and if the juror states that the juror feels able, notwithstanding such opinion, to render an impartial verdict upon the law and the evidence, the court, if satisfied that the juror is impartial and will render such verdict, may, in its discretion, admit the juror as competent to serve in such case.  If the court, in its discretion, is not satisfied that the juror is impartial, the juror shall be discharged;
    11. That the juror cannot read or write.

No juror shall be impaneled when it appears that the juror is subject to the second, third or fourth grounds of challenge for cause set forth above, although both parties may consent.  All other grounds for challenge may be waived by the party or parties in whose favor such grounds of challenge exist.

In this subsection “legally blind” shall mean having not more than 20/200 of visual acuity in the better eye with correcting lenses, or visual acuity greater than 20/200 but with a limitation in the field of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees.

(b) A challenge for cause may be made by the State for any of the following reasons:

    1. That the juror has conscientious scruples in regard to the infliction of the punishment of death for crime, in a capital case, where the State is seeking the death penalty;
    2. That he is related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity, as determined under Chapter 573, Government Code, to the defendant; and
    3. That he has a bias or prejudice against any phase of the law upon which the State is entitled to rely for conviction or punishment.

(c) A challenge for cause may be made by the defense for any of the following reasons:

    1. That he is related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity, as determined under Chapter 573, Government Code, to the person injured by the commission of the offense, or to any prosecutor in the case; and
    2. That he has a bias or prejudice against any of the law applicable to the case upon which the defense is entitled to rely, either as a defense to some phase of the offense for which the defendant is being prosecuted or as a mitigation thereof or of the punishment therefore.

Be careful about using a peremptory strike outside of the strike zone, as a defendant who does so may not then complain about the harm of a juror within the strike zone who could have been removed instead.  Comeaux v. State, 445 S.W.3d 745, 752 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). 

“To preserve error for a trial court’s denial of a valid challenge for cause, it must be demonstrated on the record that [defendant] asserted a clear and specific challenge for cause, that he used a peremptory challenge on that juror, that all his peremptory challenges were exhausted, that his request for additional strikes was denied, and that an objectionable juror sat on the jury.”  Green v. State, 934 S.W.2d 92, 105 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996); Sells v. State, 121 S.W.3d 748, 758 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003).  The procedure for preserving error on challenges for cause during the selection of an alternate juror should be the same.  See Cooks v. State, 844 S.W. 2d 697, 721 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992).  The erroneous excusing of a venire-member will call for reversal only if the record shows that the error deprived the defendant of an unlawfully constituted jury.  Jones v. State, 982 S.W.2d 386, 394 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).  To say this is exceedingly difficult to do is a huge understatement.

Before a potential juror may be excused on the basis of bias or prejudice, the law must be explained to them, and they must be asked whether they can follow that law regardless of their own personal views.  See Thomas v. State, 470 S.W.3d 577, 594 (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.] 2015, aff’d, 505 S.W.3d 916 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

E. Absolute Disqualification – CCP 35.19

No juror shall be impaneled when it appears that he is subject to the second, third or fourth cause of challenge in Article 35.16, though both parties may consent.

“The list of enumerated reasons in the statute are not exclusive…and a prospective juror may be successfully challenged if the facts show that the juror is incapable or unfit to serve on the jury.  A juror’s failure to truthfully answer questions put to him by the court may support a challenge for cause.”  Matthews v. State, 960 S.W.2d 750, 753 (Tex. App. – Tyler 1997, no pet.).

III. Starting Early: Getting the Story

You can’t properly pick a jury in a sexual assault case without knowing your client.  While there are some aspects of the law and sexual assault cases that will exist in every case, jury selection in sexual assault cases should be tailored to the particular facts and issues of the case, and to your client.  So, preparing for jury selection in a sexual assault case starts the minute we first meet the client.  As we listen to the client’s story, we need to begin thinking about the questions a juror would have so that we can be fully prepared to answer these questions later in the arena of the courtroom.

The very first thing defense counsel should do is interview the client and get the story.  Find out who the witnesses are.  Begin a timeline.  Find out what (explicit or implicit) admissions or denials the client may have made to law enforcement or anyone else.  Regardless of what admissions your client may have already made to law enforcement or others, we still have a duty to get the full story from the client and should.  Getting the story from your client will also help you develop a list of witnesses.  It is important to get the full story from your client, not just what happened in the minutes preceding the allegation.  Who had been with or seen the client or accuser that day?  In the days before?  In all probability, law enforcement will not have talked to all the important witnesses in the case.  Likewise, law enforcement may not have seen all the communications between the client and the accuser.  Often, there is useful information in reviewing all the messages and/or posts available.  What is the relationship between the client and the accuser? Attention to these questions, at the very least, lets you know and prepare for any traps ahead. Additionally, it might bring possible defenses to light.

The key is this: think early on about topics for jury selection.  While there are topics of discussion that apply in every jury selection, no jury selection should be “canned.”  This is even more true for sexual assault cases.

IV. Practical Considerations

In any discussion about jury selection, it is important to take into account certain practical considerations.  For example:

  • How does the judge handle challenges for cause? Does the judge require challenges to be made during voir dire at the time the challenge arises (which is really awkward but can often end up being beneficial) or are all challenges taken up at the end of voir dire outside the presence of the jury? 
  • Is the courtroom equipped with technology necessary for your devices? Do you know how to use the technology available in the courtroom?
  • Will the judge allow questionnaires and/or do you want to use a questionnaire?
  • Does the judge intend on seating an alternate juror?
  • Will the judge impose any sort of time limit on jury selection? A note here: Sometimes there is discussion about judges impermissibly restricting jury selection.  While judges cannot impermissibly restrict jury selection, this type of error is reviewed for abuse of discretion.  Unless you are trying the case for appeal and/or you are absolutely certain you can preserve error correctly and get the case reversed for impermissibly restrictive jury selection, prepare to operate at least generally within any time limits imposed by the trial court.   

V. First Impressions

Before stepping into the courtroom to pick a jury in sexual assault case, or any case for that matter, understand and appreciate that everyone makes first impressions, whether calculated or unintentionally, and we at the defense table are being judged and sized up from the start.  It’s hard to shake a first impression but it can be done.

Here’s where it’s worth it to have a female on the team of lawyers.  Often, the accused in sexual assault cases are males and the complainants are females.  From an amateur psychology point of view, this author has observed that if jurors see a female defense lawyer genuinely getting along with the accused and advocating for the accused it makes him more likeable and acceptable, and any defense more palatable.  Regardless of whether there is female lawyer on the team, be acutely aware of your body language and interactions with the accused.  They are being scrutinized throughout and are as important as most evidence in the case.

VI. No One is For It

No one is “for” sexual assault or any criminal offense. It seems such an obvious thing that it shouldn’t even have to be said, but I find it’s worth saying and it’s worth saying in almost every kind of case – especially sexual assault cases.  We are living in the #MeToo Movement.  First thing, let the jury panel know that no one at the defense table – not me, not co-counsel, not our client – no one is supportive of, or okay with, sexual assault.  It’s an obvious thing but the jury must be reminded and explicitly told especially after the State’s voir dire.  Tell the potential jurors that sexual assault allegations should always be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.  However, when the evidence just isn’t there, or when it’s clear a sexual assault did not occur, the case should stop, and the accused should be cleared.  That’s why we are here.  Because client didn’t sexually assault the complainant.

VII. Embrace the Bad Answers

Prepare to hear bad answers.  And by bad answers, I mean really bad answers—hateful, spontaneous comments.  It’s a sexual assault trial after all.  As much as some of potential jurors’ comments may make us cringe, remember the comment is from a potential juror.  Take the comment or question as a gift.  First, thank the potential juror for being honest.  Second, make sure you question the potential juror (presumably about a bias or prejudice) so that they are properly challengeable for cause pursuant to Article 35.16(a)(10) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.  See supra.  Then, and most importantly, find out if there are other potential jurors who agree with the (outrageous) comment and challenge those jurors for cause, too.  The bad answers are gifts.  Thankfully, in a group of +/-70 there is usually another potential juror who will come to your rescue.  If not, once you have identified and challenged all those unfavorable jurors, be prepared to pivot to another issue.

And importantly, prepare your client before jury selection that there will be bad, hateful comments made during the course of jury selection.  Explain to your client that it is vitally important that you hear these comments and get these potential jurors excluded.  Better they speak up than be sleeping lions on the jury.

VIII. Theme Begins Here

It is imperative that the theme of the case be woven seamlessly throughout the trial beginning in jury selection.  Whether it’s a false allegation, a revenge allegation, or a bad investigation, the theme of your case should be apparent in jury selection through your statements and questions.  This is where we first frame the issue for the jury. 

For instance, the first question to reframe the issue after an hour of the State’s presentation could be “how does an innocent man get accused of sexual assault?”  There may be silence for a few seconds.  Do not be afraid of the silence.  In a room of 70, someone will speak.  Someone will come up with a real answer to that question.  Then, loop that answer until the steam runs out.  After all, our client is the innocent man.  Then, in discussing the Fifth Amendment, perhaps ask “why might an innocent person decide not to testify?”  Consider also asking: “how would an innocent person respond to an allegation of sexual assault?”  Make the theme clear and carry it throughout jury selection.

IX. Answering the “Why” Question

In any sexual assault case—particularly child sexual assault cases—answering the “why” question is always an issue even though it’s a question that will never appear in the court’s charge to the jury.  Why would a complainant make up an allegation of sexual assault against the client?  It must be answered satisfactorily to win in a sexual assault case.  Sometimes that’s an easy question to answer based on the evidence; sometimes it’s not quite so easy.  However, it is always a good idea to ask the jury panel why a complainant—child or adult—would make an allegation of sexual assault that wasn’t true.  Sometimes, the panel will give you something you hadn’t thought of before.  Most often, though, the panel will hit on your theme.  When it’s an idea from another juror rather than the defense lawyer, it’s more readily accepted.  And, if the juror uses wording that’s a little different than what you have prepared in opening or questioning, rephrase to parrot the juror’s words back.  Even if the potential juror doesn’t end up serving on the jury, the other jurors will recall that another of their own had come up with that reason therefore it must be reasonable.  Make sure you ask the panel the “why” question.

X. Talking about Particulars

It’s easy to get caught up in the legalese of these kinds of cases.  However, it’s important to remember what happens in real life.  It’s important to reflect on your own experiences and those of your friends and family to have any barometer on what happens in real life.  Understand, whether they speak about them or not, as they evaluate evidence, jurors will recall their own personal experiences. 

For instance, if you know that the now-seventeen-year-old complainant will testify that she has been sexually abused since she was 12 years old and she has never before told anyone, it is important to ask the panel about teenage girls.  Draw on your own observations and personal experience to think of questions.  Do they [young teenage girls] talk to each other?  What do they talk to each other about?  Do they talk about personal things?  Are they exposed to sex at school, on the internet, in song lyrics, and on TV?  Do they talk with other teenagers about sexual experiences? 

Or, in a delayed outcry of sexual assault in young adults, what’s it like to be in love so young?  Is it an all-consuming, jealous kind of relationship?  Has anyone ever had a bad break up or know of anyone who has?  The last part of the question is important because a juror may not want to self-disclose but might want to talk about the experience.  Has anyone ever been ashamed of something they have done or how they have acted when they were a teenager?      

XI. Evidence

Prepare the jury for the insanity of circular reasoning that will inevitably occur when the SANE testifies.  Sexual assault by history means that sexual assault occurred regardless of any physical findings.  Both the presence and absence of medical findings indicate sexual abuse when there is sexual abuse by history.  Ask the jurors why type of physical evidence they would expect to see in a sexual assault case.  The panel will give you answers.  They will expect to see something.  Perhaps someone will say that there may be no physical findings. 

XII. Impact of the Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh Hearings

Many who watched the questioning of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were disgusted by what they saw and heard. Regardless, something very good happened for defense lawyers in sexual assault cases as a result of those very public hearings.  Anytime someone is acquitted of sexual assault—in a courtroom or in the media—it reminds the public that false allegations of sexual assault do occur.  It reminds the public—especially in the he-said-she-said cases—why the presumption of innocence is so important.  The accused is not required to prove that he or she did not engage in wrongdoing; in most cases it’s impossible to do.  And, more is required to condemn than just a bare allegation, albeit one that is emotional.  That’s certainly helpful to defense lawyers, and the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings brought that conversation to the forefront in a very public way.

XIII. Understand We Have the Edge, Then Listen and Be Prepared to Respond

We always lament that the State gets to go first and last in closing arguments.  However, we have the distinct advantage in both jury selection and opening statement.  We get to go last; we have the last word.  And we should capitalize on this opportunity.  These are early opportunities that shape the course of the trial.  Confirmation bias is a real phenomenon (?) in psychology and cognitive science.  Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that conforms to, and confirms, one’s preconceptions.  In trials, we often accuse law enforcement of engaging in confirmation bias or tunnel vision.  Let’s not forget that, despite our best efforts, we all engage in confirmation bias.  That means jurors do, too.  The more compelling presentation or story, the more likely jurors are to accept it and thereafter subconsciously interpret evidence that confirms the story, while ignoring or rejecting evidence that casts doubt on it.  That’s why it is vital to make the better jury selection presentation and better opening statement.

Also, while it is imperative that we be focused on our theme and presentation and even remembering the names of the potential jurors, it is even more important to listen when the State gives its presentation.  It’s obvious (but not so easy) that we should listen – really listen – to the answers from potential jurors.  It’s often more difficult to listen to what the State says.  It can be easy to tune them out and focus on and refine our own presentations during that 45 minutes or so.  However, to do so misses a prime opportunity.  We should listen to the State and object when required, of course (i.e., commitment questions, etc.).  But we should also be listening for things the State says that we can use later.  Then, we must respond whether in jury selection, opening, questioning, or closing to what the State has said during voir dire.  For instance, when the State uses the CSI example (trials aren’t like CSI; we don’t have the capabilities they have on CSI) to water down jury expectations, we can directly respond to that in jury selection and throughout trial about a real discussion about what evidence is available or would be available if the accusation were true.

XIV. Conclusion

Sexual assault cases are some of the most challenging and time-consuming cases.  They are also some of the most daunting.  But when you start early and frame the issue correctly, jury selection can set the stage for a successful result.