Throwback from My First Term as HCCLA President

The following was my first “President’s Message” from May 2009:

Throughout the past several years, I have watched and participated as our Association has grown into the finest and largest local criminal defense bar in the state. I am deeply honored to have been elected president of such an outstanding organization.

As HCCLA has grown, we have garnered strength and respect: strength from our members, respect from our actions. We are a professional organization, serving our members and improving the system within which we work. We must continue this journey toward success, without regard to personal motives, but with an eye toward justice. To be respected, we must first respect others: our members, our opponents, and our judiciary. We should always fight the good fight but be mindful that ours is an intellectual fight.

Naïve as it may be, I thought the fight was at least supposed to be fair. Sadly, I continually find myself surprised at the amount of intellectual dishonesty in the criminal justice system. Is it really better to free a hundred guilty men rather than convict just one innocent man? Read some appellate opinions and you might think it’s harmless to convict just one innocent man. Read the Texas District & County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) weekly case summaries and you might think defendants are presumed guilty. (Note: I have read the constitution, and I always thought it was the other way around…could I be mistaken?)

I’d like to share a few quotes from the TDCAA case summary commentaries, and see if you can help me understand the rules and play fair:

  1. With regard to jail credit: “ This shows one very patient trial judge. The defendant got the benefit of every doubt…[a]nd the failed probationer still wants to complain. Fortunately, the court of appeals applies a very reasonable interpretation of the law to prevent credit for time served in county jail on amendments.”[i] Hmmm…I thought defendants had a right to complain. I thought that was called an appeal. But I guess they should just take what they get. It’s probably harmless anyway.
  2. Regarding an error by the government: “This is just the latest in a series of cases in which the court has held that a defendant is entitled to credit for jail time during a time period in which he definitely was not in jail. Am I the only one who has a problem with this? Okay, so he was incorrectly released. I get that. And maybe he does not have any responsibility to tell the authorities that he was being incorrectly released. Maybe. But does that mean that he gets jail time credit when he was not even incarcerated?[ii] Gee, I thought we held the government responsible for its own mistakes. I guess the defendant should just suck it up and relieve the state of any fault.
  3. And my favorite: “Fortunately, the mistake in this case was made harmless by the horrible facts of the original crime.”[iii] Yes, Virginia, the ends do justify the means.

Well, as I clearly don’t understand, I’ll wait for one of you to explain it to me! Until then, I’ll try a little intellectual honesty. See ya ‘round the courthouse putting up the good fight!

[i] TDCAA Weekly Case Summaries: May 15, 2009, Commentary of Gutierrez v. State, Cite No. 11-07-00322-CR, 11th Court of Appeals.

[ii] TDCAA Weekly Case Summaries: April 3, 2009, Commentary of Ex parte Baker, Cite No. AP-76,031, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

[iii] TDCAA Weekly Case Summaries: May 8, 2009, Commentary of Smith v. State, Cite No. AP-75,479, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

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