After nearly a decade of working as a prosecutor, Corey left the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office and devoted his career to the practice of criminal defense. He specializes in direct appeals and post conviction matters, but you can find him nearly every day in court fighting for his clients. With this blog he aims to shed light on the often confusing Texas Criminal Justice System.

Defendants contemplating a plea bargain deal for prison time need to know how much time they will actually serve before being eligible for parole. One key component to understanding your parole eligibility calculation is the “good time credits” awarded by TDCJ. When doing ball park eligibility calculations, family members sometimes rely on the general rule of thumb that if the inmate doesn’t get in trouble, he gets one day of good time credit for each “calendar” day he serves (Inmates normally refer to calendar as “flat time”).

But the actual rules are more complicated. Although you certainly don’t need to understand every nuance in the law, a general grasp of what good time you can earn (and what can be taken away) is important when planning for a post-prison future.

The first thing to know is that the statutory framework for awarding good time is hard to understand if you don’t already have knowledge of how TDCJ classification works. For anyone sentenced on or after September 1, 1987 (referred to awkwardly in the system as “70th Legislature offenders”) you earn a certain amount of days of good conduct time per 30 days calendar time served. The specific number of days you can earn depends on your classification. For example, if you’re designated as “Line CLass I” you can earn a maximum of 20 days per 30-day period. In addition, the statue authorizes TDCJ to award a “Line Class 1” inmate 15 days of work time credit. So, if you start out classified as Line Class 1, get a job and keep it, and don’t get in administrative trouble, you’ll bet cruising along earning 65 days total credit for each 30-day period – 30 days flat time, 20 days good time, and 15 days work time.

Generally  speaking, an inmate or person convicted of a crime is not allowed to raise grounds for relief in an application for writ of habeas corpus based entirely on events that occurred during trial. Such grounds are described as “record-based” because they are a part of the reporter’s record. The Court of Criminal Appeals established the prohibition against raising such claims in the context of Article 11.07 writ jurisprudence (i.e. writs filed post-conviction under Article 1107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), but the general prohibition against “record-based” claims could also be applied to writs filed to challenge misdemeanor convictions and other types of statutory and non-statutory writs.

The rationale behind the prohibition is simple. If the claim is record-based, then it could have been raised on direct appeal. If the defendant did raise the issue on appeal, then the Court of Criminal Appeals considers it resolved – you don’t get “another bite at the apple.” Conversely, if you didn’t raise that issue on appeal, then you have effectively waived the issue – you had your chance to bite the apple, but didn’t, so . . . no apple for you. I promise no more apple metaphors.

In any event, that’s the rule. But as always, an inmate looking to file an 11.07 application should be mindful of a few exceptions.

The Texas legislature has given judges and juries broad discretion in assessing punishment, especially for 1st Degree felonies. If you’re convicted of a 1st-degree crime and have no criminal history or enhanceable aspects to the offense, you face anywhere from 5 to 99 years in prison.

This can lead to unfair discrepancies in sentencing for defendants that commit the same kinds of crimes. Sometimes the personality and history of the person on the bench ends up being more important than the facts of the case (e.g. is the judge a “hard nosed” ex-prosecutor, a former civil attorney with sympathies for those with substance abuse problems, or a women’s advocate who absolutely hates family violence cases). And, if you’re going to the jury for punishment, it’s basically a complete wildcard.

Texas repeat offender statutes complicate matters. If you’ve been consecutively convicted of two prior felonies, the prosecutor can indict you as a habitual offender. Upon conviction, your minimum prison sentence is 25 years.

Texas parole blogs often warn inmates that they should never waive a right to a revocation hearing. This is good advice, but unfortunately the intended audience is usually already incarcerated and doesn’t get to hear it.

So this entry is for those individuals newly released to parole who are currently in good standing with their PO but who need to know the consequences of waiving their right to a revocation hearing. Rather than dryly outline the procedures — blue warrant, arrest, meeting with PO, preliminary hearing, revocation hearing — I think an illustrative PO tactic is better. At least it gives you some strategic insight.

There comes a point in any revocation when the PO attempts to “sell” the parolee on waiving his rights to a revocation hearing. Usually, this occurs with the two actors — PO and parolee — facing each other, with wire mesh or safety glass between them. Often each person will have a plastic jail phone receiver pressed up against his or her ear.

It seems like a simple question. Most of my clients believe that when you appeal a conviction you get to let the appellate court know all the mistakes that were made during trial. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There are two factors that limit the complaints (or points of error) that you can raise on appeal.

The first limiting factor is the concept of preservation. Although there are some exceptions, for the most part you only get raise issues on appeal that were preserved during the trial. The usual steps to preservation are: 1) make an objection; 2) make sure the trial court rules on your objection; and 3) if you are trying to admit something into evidence, make sure you make a record of what you would have admitted if allowed. If these steps are not taken, the appellate court will not be able to review your complaint, even if it was an otherwise valid legal issue.

New clients often ask me when they can apply for a writ of habeas corpus under Article 11.07. Unless they’ve been prison for awhile, my normal answer is, “Not yet.”

Article 11.07 refers to a section of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that establishes the procedures for filing an application for writ of habeas corpus after being convicted of a felony offense. This may sound straight forward, but there are some procedural rules that limit when such an application can be filed.

First, your conviction has to be final. Or to use a technical phrase, “mandate” has to have issued. Mandate only issues when you have exhausted the direct appeals process. It’s probably easier to explain this with an example.

As marijuana becomes legal in more States, the States where is it still illegal (Texas) are happily continuing to arrest and prosecute those that possess it. As you come back from Colorado with your legally purchased marijuana, you should know that not all marijuana is treated the same in Texas.

Possession of marijuana in its plant form will most likely be a misdemeanor – you have to work to get to a felony – we are talking over 4oz.  If you are interested you can look at the statute here: Health and Safety Code section 481.121. This visual guide found on Leafly.com gives you an idea of how much marijuana you can carry and still be in the misdemeanor range.

https://www.conroecriminaldefenselawyer.com/files/2018/05/marijuana.chart_-173x300.png
<—That is one ounce.  You can have 4x that and still be in the misdemeanor range

If you are on a felony probation, deferred adjudication, or just on conditions of bond for a pending felony case in Montgomery County, your life has gotten a lot harder this year.

Starting in January, the Montgomery County Probation Office began implementing a new randomized drug testing procedure. The policy requires all persons accused of a felony or who have pled to some type of felony probation or deferred adjudication to call the office every day and see if they have to submit to a drug test.

Here’s how it works. First, the probation department issues you a PIN number. It is then your responsibility to call the office every morning, enter your PIN number, and learn from the automated system if you have to take a urinalysis that day. You then have until 5:00 p.m. to travel to the probation office had provide a sample for testing.

Facing felony criminal charges in Montgomery County has been increasingly difficult for defendants who have to deal with both the underlying charges and onerous conditions of bond.

But things have recently gotten worse.

The Montgomery County Adult Probation Office has decided to implement a new random drug and alcohol test policy. Under this new policy (it’s been around for a few months now), Defendants must call in to the probation department EVERY DAY and enter in a unique pin number. An automated system will then inform them whether or not they have to submit to a urine analysis that day.  Because the system is randomized, you could be tested once a week, twice a week, or have no tests for two months. There’s no way to predict the frequency of tests for any one client.

It’s a common scene: a defense attorney sitting with a pile of paperwork balanced on his lap, his client next to him. The attorney takes each page in turn and reviews it with the client: the judgment, the stipulation of evidence, the waiver of the client’s constitutional right to have a full trial.

This is the plea process, the way the majority of criminal cases end – with the defense attorney making sure his or her client truly understands what he is pleading to and understands what it all means.

Often the most time-consuming and complicated part of the plea paperwork is explaining the terms of a client’s probation. It seems simple enough at first glance – just a list of things you have to do, and a list of things you can’t do. Pay some fees. Go see your probation officer. Don’t use controlled substances. What’s the big deal?

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