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.

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?

For accused persons facing prosecution for certain low-level felony offenses, Texas Penal Code Section 12.44 is like the Holy Grail of plea deals. Clients continuously ask “what is a 12.44(a)” . . . “can I get a 12.44(a)” . . . and “how does 12.44(a) work?” They ask the same questions about Section 12.44(b).

So here’s the basics (and as always, if you have a particular legal question about YOUR CASE, talk to your lawyer . . . this post is for general info and should not be considered legal advice):

Section 12.44 of the Penal Code allows the trial court to either send you to your local county jail to serve time on a State Jail Felony Conviction (that’s Section 12.44(a)), or, with permission from the prosecutor, reduce your State Jail felony case to a misdemeanor conviction and have you serve your time in a county jail facility (that’s Section 12.44(b)).

Our firm regularly helps clients facing multiple charges. Sometimes these cases stem from a single incident, like a person who allegedly drives while intoxicated and evades the police all in the same night. Sometimes a person may get arrested for several unrelated charges. One example of this would be a person whose ex-wife presses charges for an assault. The husband then gets arrested a few months later for possession of  a controlled substance. Although the cases are completely unrelated, he will have to make legal decisions about both cases at the same time.

For people who don’t have a long history with the criminal justice system, a prison sentence can usually be avoided (depending on the severity of the accusations), and a person can usually expect to get the “extra” or less-serious charge dropped when facing multiple charges arising from the same incident.

But those with a substantial criminal history or facing extremely serious charges may have to deal with a prosecutor who threatens to “stack” an accused person’s sentences for prison time.

Many people come into my office wanting to know if they can “go on probation” to avoid jail or prison time.

The first thing I tell them is stop talking about pleading guilty – it’s always the State’s burden to prove you did the crime, and sometimes the best option is to try and beat the case, either through pretrial negotiations or jury trial.

But when a plea is in a client’s best interest, I always take the time to explain that there is more than one option to avoid jail or prison. In Texas a judge can defer a finding of “guilty” and place you on “deferred adjudication,” or you can be found guilty by a judge or jury and be placed on what is called “straight probation.” In this post I try to outline the major differences between these two types of dispositions. As always, your situation is fact-specific. Don’t mistake this general primer as legal advice, and make sure to talk with your attorney before making any decisions related to your case.

Most people don’t expect to get arrested. When it happens, a range of emotions can hit you, from anger, to disbelief, to pure panic. But after the initial shock wears off, you’ll start to think about the best way to protect yourself. In trying to figure out how to react to your new reality, you probably won’t be relying on direct experience (unless you’re used to getting arrested all the time!). Instead, you’ll rely on what you consider common knowledge of how the criminal justice system works. But be careful, because many of the “truths” about how the system works are in fact nothing but myths. Here’s five “Criminal Justice Myths” that you should stop believing in:

 1. If the Officer doesn’t read my Miranda Rights, my case will get dismissed.

“Mirands Warnings” are a list of rights that you’ve heard on television a million times: the right to remain silent, the right to talk to an attorney, and the right to know that anything you say can and will be used against you in Court. I’m sure you have a favorite Miranda scene in a Movie. Mine is from the “Dragnet” remake with Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd.

Everyone knows the line “you have got the right to remain silent” – its part of the “Miranda Warnings” that officers say to suspects after they’ve been arrested. When an average citizen says that you shouldn’t talk to the police, he’s thinking of that kind of situation — where a guy is handcuffed and leaning against a patrol car with red and blue lights flashing in the background.

It’s easy to keep your mouth shut under those circumstances . . . but that’s normally not when a suspect talks.

Most people accused of crimes, especially serious felonies, aren’t under arrest when they first encounter law enforcement. They will get a phone call from an investigator, or a laid back invitation from an officer trying to “figure out what’s going on” or who “just wants to hear your side of the story.” These law enforcement professionals will sound friendly, relaxed, and helpful. They will assure the suspect that there are no charges pending, that no one’s under arrest, and that all they want to do is talk.

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By: Tracy Pullan

Today I am here to dispel some of those myths about the effectiveness of “dropping charges” on an alleged abuser in Montgomery County, Texas. I remember my days as a new prosecutor over 10 years ago. I, and two others, were in charge of all the misdemeanor intake for Montgomery County. That job required countless hours of reading offense reports submitted by police officers followed by either accepting or rejecting charges. It was an excellent way to become familiar with elements of criminal offenses and spotting potential issues within a case. Many times that would entail calling an officer or victim to get some further information prior to accepting charges.

Many times an assault family violence charge would come across my desk where the victim/complainant wanted to drop charges. At the time, I would review the case, look at photos for injuries, talk to the complainant – and 9 times out of 10 – I would honor the request of the complainant and reject the charge. This meant the arrested individual did not have to come to court or hire an attorney to defend his or her interest.

Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law which make significant changes to the way a grand jury is selected. The old “pick your pal” method of selecting grand jurors is now history, but the new law doesn’t address other problems with the grand jury process.

How the grand jury selection process used to work:

A grand jury is a group of 12 citizens selected in a particular jurisdiction to decide whether a person should be indicted for a felony offense. Unlike the familiar jury in the courtroom (the “petit jury”), which is empaneled to decide whether a person is guilty or innocent of a crime, the grand jury has to answer a “threshold” question — whether there is probable cause to accuse a person of a specific crime or crimes. So the grand jury acts as the justice system’s gatekeeper.

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