Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dropping Charges - The Non-Prosecution Affidavit

Clients often ask whether the prosecutor will dismiss their criminal case if the complainant "drops the charges?" During this scenario the complaining witness may contact the prosecutor and ask them to stop the prosecution of their case. In Brazos County, the prosecutors require the complainant sign a "non-prosecution affidavit" in support of this request.

Note the complainant has no actual authority to compel the State to dismiss a case. Rather, the prosecutor has absolute authority to continue, or not, the prosecution of any criminal case in Bryan|College Station or any other area of Texas. However, in the right situation a non-prosecution affidavit from the alleged victim can go far in giving the accused person negotiation leverage. That is, many times the prosecutor does agree to dismiss the case, or sometimes reduce charges, based on the wishes of the victim. But in other cases, like those involving serious violence, I've seen prosecutors give a non-prosecution affidavit the "circular file" treatment. That is, no value whatsoever.

So, when speaking with your criminal defense attorney about the issues in your case, don't forget to let them know if the alleged victim might be willing to sign a non-prosecution affidavit. Be very careful, though. DO NOT attempt to persuade, convince, or coerce an alleged victim to "drop charges." There are criminal laws prohibiting retaliation against a person who is a victim or one who reports the occurrence of a crime. You could be prosecuted for a serious felony offense, like retaliation, if you said the wrong things or inadvertently frightened the victim. LET YOUR LAWYER handle this matter after consulting with you.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Failure To Communicate Plea Offers

The criminal defense lawyer's professional responsibility to each client is to timely communicate plea bargain offers made by the prosecutor. When defense attorneys fail to communicate plea offers to clients they commit ineffective assistance of counsel, which can often lead to reversal in a criminal case.

To establish an ineffective assistance of counsel claim the client must, first, prove their lawyer's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Second, the client must prove the deficient performance resulted in prejudice.

Failure of defense counsel to inform a client of plea offers made by the prosecution is an omission that falls below a standard of professional reasonableness. Furthermore, courts have been unanimous in finding that defense counsel's failure to inform a client of a plea offer constitutes a violation of the person's Sixth Amendment constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel.

But the failure to advise the client of the offer is not quite enough to obtain a reversal. The client must also show they were harmed by the lawyer's unprofessional conduct. In other words, the client must further prove they would have accepted the plea offer had it been communicated. Luckily, the courts have not required defendants prove the trial court would have accepted the plea bargain to establish harm. Only that the defendant missed the opportunity of accepting such a bargain and presenting it to the trial court for consideration.

If you find out your lawyer failed to communicate a plea offer to you, contact new defense counsel immediately. Relief might be available and you need to discuss the matter with an informed and experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Patience's a Virtue in Brazos County

The smile on my client's face made the long wait worth it. He'd been arrested in November 2008 and charged with 8 counts of aggravated robbery, one count of burglary, and assorted controlled substance charges. During each visit with my client I encouraged him to remain patient. We had investigated the facts of the serious robbery charges and determined there was little evidence to prove guilt, if any.

The nature of this case dovetailed well with my earlier post regarding the corroboration of accomplice testimony. Here my client was being held on the testimony of an accomplice. (which can be probable cause enough to indict and detain) However, with the help of my investigator we demonstrated the State had no corroboration. After we brought this to their attention, we went before the judge requesting a bond reduction. Although we failed to obtain the personal bond we sought, the judge did lower the bonds significantly. However, we continued to wait and wait for the prosecutor to perform their follow-up investigation and come to the same conclusion we had, no corroboration.

That was 9 months ago. Finally, our patience paid off when the State agreed they'd dismiss 8 counts of aggravated robbery and one county of burglary against my client. We resolved the remainder of the charges with a plea bargain for time-served, and my client couldn't be happier. He's going home very soon.

So the moral of the story is be prepared with a large dose of patience. A good criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the ins and outs of your particular situation. But most of the time it's the prosecutor that must come around and see the handwriting on the wall.