What’s The Problem With Pre-Trial Interventions?

As I keep progressing in my legal career, certain things that District Attorneys do continue to confound and bewilder me. This week, it was the seeming reluctance of ADA’s to allow me to put together pre-trial intervention packets for clients, because of very minor past charges that clients had on their record. For example, I was denied the opportunity to put together a PTI packet for a client who was suspected of DWI, because she had a marijuana possession charge. While the rules on PTI state that they’re for people with “clean” records, why is this the case? Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a defense attorney, but I believe in keeping people’s criminal records as clean as possible. ADA’s don’t seem to understand how hard it is for some people to find employment in general, much less with a criminal record of any kind. I know clients that have deferred adjudications on their record for relatively minor offenses that have trouble finding jobs for that exact reason. I realize that ADA’s in Harris County have a great deal of cases to deal with, but it’s appalling to me how much they seem to disregard the lives of each individual defendant.

Briefly, just in case there are other young attorneys that might be reading this, I want to outline how to properly put together a pre-trial intervention packet. First, your client has to put together a detailed statement explaining his offense, and his conduct that led to his offense. This will not be used against him in the future, except to impeach him if he testifies inconsistently at trial. Our good friends JoAnne Musick, Danny Easterling, and Wade Smith were able to convince the District Attorney’s office to remove language that stated that law enforcement could keep its records if the intervention was granted and you wanted to expunge your client’s record later. Huge boon for defense attorneys. Secondly, you will need to write a statement for your client stating why pretrial intervention would be more beneficial than deferred adjudication. Lastly, collect as many letters from family members, or friends of the client as possible that show support for him and his situation, as well as assuring the court that he will never again participate in criminal activity.

Protecting Those Who Protect Us?

Fate whispers to the warrior, you cannot withstand the storm. The warrior whispers back, I am the storm.” -Unknown

There can be no doubt of the sacrifices made by those who protect our way of life as Americans by serving in the armed forces. These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day so that we can enjoy the rights, freedoms and privileges that we as Americans often take for granted. But what do we do, and what do we owe on a moral level, to those who fight? What do we owe those who are the storm so that we can bask in the sunshine?

In early 2016, I was in a district court in a county near Houston. I overheard a conversation between a man with a crew cut and the judge and staff. The man, let’s call him David, was being told that he did not qualify for a court appointed attorney, yet the man told the judge and staff he was on Veteran’s Affairs disability and could not afford an attorney to help him fight his felony charge. I stopped to listen, and a few moments later, David left the courtroom with a dejected and defeated look on his face.

I walked up to David in the hallway and stuck out my hand to shake his. I introduced myself, handed him my business card and told him to look me up and if he wanted me to represent him, I would at no charge. He looked at me with incredulous eyes. David told me he wanted to pay something, but I told him I only wanted a handshake at the end of the case, no matter the outcome.

Over the next several months, I learned about the case and about David. He told me that he was hurt in Iraq while serving in the United States Army. An explosion did severe damage to his leg. He was also involved in multiple firefights and had seen horrible things. David explained he had been working with the benefits coordinators at the VA and was hopeful he would be approved for more benefits. He had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was seeing doctors and therapists.

I also learned he had a wife and a young family. Perhaps due to his PTSD or his injuries, David had been unable to hold down a meaningful job for very long. His doctors had prescribed him several pain medications, but David was also charged with possession of a controlled substance and was potentially facing up to twenty years in prison. The prosecutors had a strong case against my client. I worked with a specialty prosecutor on this case who was an Army Veteran himself. We got records from the Department of Defense and the VA, worked with David’s counselor and benefits coordinator for months.

A few weeks ago, David entered into a veteran’s diversion program and can avoid having charges on his record after a twelve-month program. He’s substance free and while on bond, he earned a job and is making a good living for his family. We walked out of court together, and David was so excited for his future and potentially not having any sort of record. We shook hands on the courthouse steps and I told him it was my honor and privilege to represent him.

This case seems like it’s destined for a happy ending, but it brings some ugly truth to light. Besides the obvious issues of mental health problems, substance abuse and a lack of a social safety net, there are issues in the legal field as well. Why did a man who fought for our country not even know about Veteran’s Court before his case was months old? Why was there such a roadblock to getting an appointed attorney to protect his rights? Why did it take so long for David’s case to get to court? Does the State have a duty to identify impacted veterans? What do we owe those who protect us?