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How does an inmate's medical condition affect his parole review in Texas?

 Posted on January 27,2023 in Uncategorized

how_does_an_inmates_medical_condition_affect_his_parole_review_in_texas.jpgSometimes my clients get sick while serving their Texas felony prison sentences. Sometimes they are already sick and their condition worsens. Obviously, if we are fighting to get a client released to parole, his health can be an important factor for the Board to consider. Below I try to set out common issues that arise when advocating for a sick or physically compromised client.

TDCJ Medically Recommended Intensive Supervision

If a client is terminally ill, he may be eligible for special review and release to parole under TDCJ’s “MRIS” program (Medically Recommended Intensive Supervision). The requirements are strict. As a threshold issue, you have to be terminally ill, over the age of 65, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, require long term intensive medical care, have an organic brain syndrome, or be in a persistent vegetative state. Additionally, only inmates convicted of non-violent and non-sexually assaultive offenses can normally qualify (except that if an inmate is in a vegetative state he may be released under MRIS even if he was convicted of a sexual assault offense).

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Texas Parole FAQ

 Posted on January 20,2023 in Parole

texas_parole_faq.jpgI’ve represented clients in parole review all over Texas. As the vote date approaches, my clients and their family often have questions, mostly about what the Parole Board is up to and when they will vote. I’ve put together some general answers to the most common questions raised by my clients and their families. As always, this isn’t legal advice. Find a good parole lawyer to get specific advice for your loved one’s case.

1. What does it mean to be in parole review?

In Texas, inmates go into parole review 6 months before their first parole review date or 4 months before any subsequent parole review date. Theoretically, a Texas Parole Board can vote to release or deny release to an inmate any time during that 6 or 4-month review period. But that almost never happens. Most Boards will vote on an inmate within a few weeks of the parole review date. So what is the point of having an inmate in parole review status for so long? I think the most helpful way to understand the parole review period is from an administrative perspective. Having an inmate in “parole review” means that TDCJ is on the clock for getting the file prepared for the Board to vote and getting the inmate interview completed. It also provides specific timelines for parole attorneys to prepare and submit parole packets and support materials to the board.

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Texas 11.07 Writ of Habeas Corpus Investigations

 Posted on September 23,2022 in Uncategorized

writ_of_habeas_corpus_investigations.jpgIf you’re looking to hire a lawyer to file an 11.07 writ of habeas corpus for an incarcerated person in Texas, there’s a few things you need to understand about writ investigations.

First, keep in mind that the whole point of an 11.07 writ is to find things that did not make into the record during the trial or plea proceedings. If your loved one had a jury trial, the events recorded in the trial transcript cannot be a basis for relief by themselves. This is because “record based” claims must be raised on direct appeal (ineffective assistance of counsel claims can be raised in a writ. Technically these aren’t “record based” claims because to succeed you need new evidence from the trial attorneys themselves in the form of an explanation of their trial strategy).

Attorneys attempting to develop evidence outside the record have 3 main sources of information:

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When can you withdraw a guilty plea in Texas?

 Posted on June 10,2022 in Uncategorized

when_can_you_withdraw_a_guilty_plea_in_texas.jpgCriminal defendants quickly discover that the criminal justice process in Texas is nothing like the movies. They realize that when they step into court they’re just another face in a crowd of other defendants. They feel like the prosecutor sees them as an offense report, not a person, and that the judge’s primary interest seems to be just getting the case finished.

This feeling isn’t entirely accurate, but that doesn’t make the experience any less disconcerting.

One of the consequences of the experience of a chaotic, impersonal, and crowded court room is that a guilty plea can feel rushed — what if you realize it was a mistake and that you’d rather fight the charges?

Is it possible to withdraw a plea?

The answer is yes, but it’s all a matter of timing. And timing depends on what legal situation you are in — a negotiated plea, a jury trial, or a sentencing hearing. Let’s break it down.

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Don't panic over Shinn v Ramirez but also make sure to hire competent State habeas counsel

 Posted on May 30,2022 in Post Conviction

make_sure_to_hire_competent_state_habeas_counsel.jpgInmates planning to challenge their state convictions in Federal Court are worried about the recent Supreme Court case Shinn v. Ramirez.

Although I realize the Shinn holding will damage some inmates' 2254 habeas claims, I'm telling my clients that they don't need to panic.

First, let's discuss what the case is about.

The Shinn opinion addresses a narrow issue: is an inmate challenging a state conviction in Federal Court under Section 2254 allowed to introduce evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel that occurred during their state trials but was not introduced by state habeas counsel? I emphasize the word “evidence” because that is the only issue before the court in Shinn. Under the unique procedural posture of the defendants in Shinn, it is undisputed that the defendants are able to plead ineffective assistance of trial counsel even though they didn't raise that issue in state proceedings.

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Challenging felony charges in Texas with a pretrial writ

 Posted on May 13,2022 in Uncategorized

Texas trial courts are seeing an upward trend in pretrial writ of habeas corpus applications challenging felony indictments. This trend seems “organic,” i.e., there’s been no specific change in the law that attorneys are reacting to. It is unclear why the criminal defense legal community seems to be gravitating towards this strategy. I suspect that recent successful facial challenges to the constitutionality of a few Texas Penal Code provisions has put pretrial writs on the defense bar’s radar. But I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

In light of recent a recent Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”)decision — Ex parte Edwards, it’s helpful to for defense attorneys that do not regularly file writs to be mindful of what type of grounds are “cognizable” in a pretrial writ, i.e. what kind of grounds can be properly raised. This is because in Edwards the CCA appears to have rolled back what most lawyers considered a “safe” pretrial writ claim — arguing that the State indicated a defendant outside the statute of limitations.

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The long path to victory

 Posted on May 06,2022 in Writs of Habeas Corpus

I recently prevailed on an 11.07 writ of habeas corpus for a client who had been convicted of one of the most serious allegations in the Texas Penal Code — Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child.

Of course I was elated on the night that the Court of Criminal Appeals issued the opinion agreeing with the trial court’s findings. My client would get a new trial. He would get to bond out like any other defendant and return to his family. We had done what had seemed nearly impossible — convince the Court of Criminal Appeals to give my client another opportunity to fight for his freedom even after a Texas jury had convicted him of a terrible crime (in the face of my client’s continued and unwavering claims of innocence).

But, speaking generally now, it is hard not to feel a ceaseless sense of struggle, even when we win the post-conviction legal battles.

Part of the reason is obvious. If a client gets a new trial, he still faces conviction. Although many successful 11.07 writ cases end of pleading on more favorable terms for the defendant on remand (for reasons that can only be addressed in a separate blog post), the prospect of fighting the case again is always stressful, even when the client “has the wind at his sails” with a recent victory.

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The Old and the Cold: Subsequent 11.07 writs and old convictions

 Posted on April 29,2022 in Uncategorized

Is there anything you can do for a friend or family member who has been serving a prison sentence on an old case in Texas?

I often get calls about old cases — I’m talking convictions from the nineties. There’s many reasons why a family or inmate would reach out after so much time has passed. One is financial. Sometimes families reconcile with inmates and bring to bear new financial resources that weren’t available previously to assist the inmate in fighting his conviction. A second reason is new relationships. I’ve know many convicts who make connections in the outside world and form relationships with new people, gaining a new support network. These new friends and spouses will often reach out to my law firm to take a fresh look at their loved one’s case.

I ask the same questions every time:

  1. Has your loved one filed an 11.07 writ before?
  2. What’s the news since your loved one was convicted or last filed a writ?
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FAQ: When is the best time to file an 11.07 writ?

 Posted on April 15,2022 in Uncategorized

During consultations, potential clients and their family members often ask me when they should file an 11.07 writ to challenge a Texas felony conviction.

There’s a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, you can’t file it too soon.

The conviction you’re trying to challenge must be final. So if you have a trial and then appeal your conviction, you have to wait until the appellate court issues an opinion, the time has elapsed for all post-opinion motions has elapsed, such as petitions for discretionary review and motions for re-hearing, and mandate has issued. Mandate is just the official document announcing that the conviction is final. Mandate won’t issue until all appellate courts have had their final say on your appeal.

If you pled guilty and didn’t have a trial, then your conviction is final 30 days after you entered your plea, which is when trial court loses its plenary jurisdiction. Of course, if you file a motion for new trial, that time line will be extended.

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Challenging deadly weapon findings on direct appeal and in 11.07 writs in Texas

 Posted on March 25,2022 in Uncategorized

Inmates convicted of non-aggravated crimes who have a deadly weapon finding on their judgments may have a unique opportunity to challenge their sentence. Because of the outsized impact of the deadly weapon finding on an inmate prison’s time, I wanted to set out how deadly weapon findings work in Texas and describe the typical ways in which they are challenged post-conviction.

What is an affirmative deadly weapon finding?

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ definition is: “the trier of fact’s express determination that a deadly weapon or firearm was used or exhibited during the commission of the offense.” Polk v. State, 693 S.W.2d 391, 393 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985).

The Court is saying that an “affirmative finding” is an “express determination.”

Not too helpful.

It’s better to just think about it in practical terms. If the State alleges in the indictment the magic phrase “used or exhibited a deadly weapon” and the jury finds you guilty as charged, then, practically speaking, the jury has made a deadly weapon finding.

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