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Frequently Asked Questions

Q:      How do I get someone out of jail?

When someone you know gets arrested, the first thing you should do is call a reputable attorney.  It is important that you know the following information so that the lawyer can properly assist you:  1) the person’s full name and date of birth; 2) the date and approximate time of the arrest; 3) what they are charged with; 4) what county the charge is out of; 5) whether they have any criminal history; and 6) whether they are a U.S. Citizen.  You may not have all this information but if you do it is important to pass it along. 

Personal Bond
The attorney can call pretrial services and check on the status of the person’s evaluation for personal bond.  The attorney can also check on the bond amount in the case and interview the arrested individual to expedite the process.

Many people are approved for personal bond in Travis County but a lawyer can speed up that process significantly and save your friend or loved one extra time in custody.  Also, many times when a person is rejected for personal bond, a lawyer’s involvement can change that recommendation and get the person approved for release on personal bond.  You can check the status of the arrested person on the Travis County Sheriff’s website if they are in custody in Austin.  This will give you information on the charge(s) and the bond amount(s).  You can also call Pretrial Services at (512)854-9381 between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. to see where your friend or loved one is in the process.  

A lawyer can tell you if you need to seek the assistance of a bail bondsman to obtain the person’s release.  In very serious cases and in minor cases where the person is not from Travis County or has a history of bond forfeiture, a surety bond with a bail bondsman may be the quickest option for obtaining a person’s release from custody.  The disadvantage of using a bail bondsman is that money that could be applied toward defense of the case will go toward jail release.  Sometimes people spend all of their available money getting a person out of jail and then there is little money left to actually defend the case.  I always apply whatever monies I receive to secure a person’s release from jail toward their legal fees and they thus receive what amounts to a discount on my services.  For this reason, it is always advisable to call an attorney first to see if they can help. 

Cash Deposit Bond
A cash deposit or “cash percentage” bond is also available in most instances in Travis County.  This type of bond is something a lawyer can help you get approved and it typically requires that 10% of the amount of the bond be posted with the County.  The benefit is that even though you are ineligible for personal bond you still avoid a surety.  I typically get an assignment of the 10% from the client and that offsets the legal fees for defense of the case.  For example, if the cost of the defense is $5000 and the cash deposit posted with the County is $2000, only $3000 will be owed for legal representation at the front end with the remaining $2000 being released to me at the close of the case.

Cash Bond
A cash bond is something any defendant can post without the assistance of a lawyer or surety.  Essentially, you must post the full amount of the bond with the County to secure your release.  At the close of the case the money is released to you or your assignee minus a minimal transaction fee (usually just $50).  The clear benefit is that the defendant gets back almost all the money he or she put up for the jail release at some point.  For example, if you pay $5000 to a bail bondsman you will never get that money back.  But, if you deposit $5000 with the County to secure your release, that money will be returned to you at the end of the case assuming you show up for court and resolve the charge against you.  This type of bond is feasible for many at the low end of bond amounts: e.g. $750 up to $5000.  It becomes impossible for most beyond that and that is when a surety comes in handy.  With use of a surety only 10-20% of the full bond amount needs to be raised, e.g. a $50,000 bond would require $5000 normally.               

Note that in Williamson County it is rare for a person to be released on his or her own recognizance so a surety bond will often be the only option.  I always refer clients to Freedom Bail Bonds in Williamson County because they have proven to be professional and reliable.  Their number is (512) 930-3040.  Please contact me first if your friend or loved one is in the Williamson County Jail.

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Q:      How do I find out if there is a warrant for my arrest?

There are a number of databases you can check to see if you have active warrants.  The OMNI system can be checked to determine if you have active Class C (mostly traffic) warrants.  Have your driver’s license number ready before calling the automated number at 1-800 686-0570 or locally at (512) 342-0915.  You call also check for Travis County warrants on the Sheriff’s website.  This search requires both name and date of birth.  Lastly, you can check for APD warrants on the Austin Police Department’s website.  I am happy to run these searches for you if you prefer.  

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Q:      There is a warrant for my arrest.  What should I do now?

Call an attorney.  There is a procedure called a “walk through” that may be available to you.  This procedure involves getting you pre-approved for personal or cash deposit bond so you can turn yourself in and be released shortly thereafter.  The Sheriff’s deputies will take a booking photo and your fingerprints, assign an appearance date, and let you go.  The process generally takes no more than two hours depending upon how busy they are.  The walk through is preferable to just waiting to be picked up because you do not need to fear being arrested at work, home, or while driving and you have more control over how long you spend in custody.    

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Q:      Do you write surety bonds for clients?

No, I do not.  Some attorneys do and while the practice is legal it is ill advised in my opinion.  If your attorney is also acting as your bail bondsmen there is a conflict of interest.  If you disappear, the lawyer’s self interested goal will be to have you rearrested.  Your lawyer should never have an interest in you being arrested.  If a surety bond is the only way for a person to be released, it is best for a bail bonding company to write the surety bond. 

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Q:            I have been contacted by law enforcement and they want to ask me some questions. What should I do?

Call a lawyer immediately.  It is rarely ever to your advantage to cooperate with law enforcement.  I always hate to see that a client has given a full statement to police, without counsel, prior to the case being charged.  It makes your life and your lawyer’s job significantly more difficult.  Instead, I advise people to tell the detective or whoever is calling that you will need to speak to an attorney first.  In certain instances it may make sense to give a statement to law enforcement but your lawyer should be present.  I can advise you on how to proceed and, if appropriate, accompany you to give a statement.  Usually the advice will be to say nothing, but I have had cases where the client’s cooperation prevented criminal charges from being filed.  The simple rule to remember is never talk to law enforcement without a lawyer.  As I tell clients, law enforcement is not your friend; they are only trying to gather evidence against you.  And unlike grammar school you do not get points for participation.

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Q: What should I consider when choosing an attorney?

It is important to pick a lawyer you feel comfortable with and one who instills trust and confidence in you.  Not all lawyers have respect for their clients or for the work we are supposed to do for our clients.  Unfortunately, cost is often the driving force behind a person’s selection of defense counsel.  As with anything, you get what you pay for.  When your rights and freedom are at stake it does not make sense to go with the low price leader.  Attorneys set the fee based on the amount of work they think will be required to fight the case and a low fee often indicates that the lawyer does not plan on putting in much effort for your defense.  This should be a red flag to you.

While it is true that a high fee is not always a guarantee of high quality of legal representation, an attorney whose experience has led them to command a higher fee is generally one concerned about his or her professional reputation.  I always charge what I think I’m worth and what I think the complexity of the case demands, no more and no less.  I do not charge more because someone shows up in a fancy car for the initial appointment.  Fee setting is an exercise in ethics and we are duty bound not to charge an unconscionable fee.  I never do. 

Aside from cost and your general comfort level with the lawyer, you should consider that person’s experience, command of the facts of your case and the law, and reputation in the larger community.  A lawyer with a reputation among colleagues, Judges, and prosecutors for hard work, strong ethics, honesty, and general likeability is an asset to you and your defense.  This is a small legal community and clients pay when the lawyer they have chosen has a damaged reputation. 

I take great pride in the fact that I am often the second attorney on a case.  Since I do not advertise, what that means is that these people have become disaffected with their choice of lawyer, sought out a referral to more responsive and effective counsel, and  been given my name by a satisfied client or someone else with whom I’ve had contact in my community.  I can fix any damage that’s been done and get your case back on track. 

Accessibility is a big deal.  You need a lawyer whose volume is not so huge that they can’t be available to take your calls and answer your questions.  I govern my volume to provide the highest level of service I can to each client.  To my way of thinking, good lawyering must come first and income generation must come second.  A flashy ad can be expensive and you can bet that many hundreds of people have responded to the same ad and will create a demand on that lawyer’s time that may mean you’ll get short shrift.  Bigger is rarely better in criminal defense.   

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Q: What are the levels of criminal offenses in Texas and the penalty ranges?

Felonies
Capital Felonies: life in prison without parole or the death penalty 
First Degree Felonies: 5 to 99 years or life in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000
Second Degree Felonies: 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000
Third Degree Felonies: 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000
State Jail Felonies: 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail facility and a fine not to exceed $10,000

Misdemeanors
Class A Misdemeanors: 0 to 365 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $4000
Class B Misdemeanors: 0 to 180 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $2000
Class C Misdemeanors: fine only 

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Q:      How long will it take for my case to be over with? 

Sometimes people say that they really just want their case to be over with and to get the whole matter behind them.  While I can appreciate that sentiment, a quick resolution is often not the best.  In fact, it usually takes a lot longer to work a case out to the client’s best advantage.  There is no way to accurately predict how long a case might take because there are so many variables, many of which are completely out of the lawyer’s control.  As I tell my clients, patience pays.  Any lawyer can go up to court at the first pretrial setting and plead you out to probation, but that is rarely in your best interest.  A good lawyer will take the time to investigate the facts of your case and the law applicable to those facts.  A good lawyer will use every means necessary to put pressure on the State to improve the offer.  A good lawyer will try a case if it simply cannot be worked out to the client’s satisfaction and the client desires to have a trial.  All of these things take time and delays almost always favor the defense in my view. 

I can say that the typical misdemeanor Assault Family Violence case and the typical misdemeanor DWI case take about nine months to a year to resolve.  You will have to live with the outcome for the rest of your life so the time necessary to achieve the best possible resolution is well worth it.    

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Q:      I do not like my current lawyer.  What can I do about that?

For some reason I am often the second lawyer hired on a case.  I therefore have a lot of experience advising people on what to do if they are unhappy with their current lawyer.  It is not necessary or advisable to fire the lawyer in every case.  Often the main problem is a lack of communication and that can sometimes be corrected.  I usually tell people to let the lawyer know they are unhappy by written communication.  In my experience a letter is more likely to receive a response and changed behavior than frequent phone calls.

If you are still unhappy you can always change lawyers.  You must be aware that rarely if ever will you get back any of the money you paid to the initial lawyer.  As you can imagine switching lawyers can become a costly choice, but in certain instances it is the best thing a person can do.  In some circumstances the conduct of the lawyer may warrant the filing of a grievance with the State Bar

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Q:            I am not a U.S. Citizen.  Is that an important consideration in dealing with my criminal case?

Yes, your non-citizen status may be very important depending on the charges against you.  Some offenses carry with them immigration consequences that are far worse than the criminal consequences.  Theft and Assault Family Violence, for example, can result in deportation and permanent exclusion from citizenship.  It is extremely important that you hire a lawyer who is familiar with the immigration consequences of conviction. 

NOTE:  I do not speak Spanish and I will not represent Spanish speakers, but I will refer such cases to reputable Spanish speaking colleagues. In my experience, it is not sufficient to have family translate for a client.  A lot is lost and misunderstood in translation.  Spanish speakers should always be represented by other Spanish speakers.

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Q:            Is taking a plea offer better than going to trial?  Who makes the decision about whether I go to trial?

Taking a plea offer avoids the risk of trial.  I always tell clients that a 100% chance of dismissal through plea negotiations is better than a 99% chance of acquittal at trial.  Even a 1% chance that a jury will act unpredictably and convict on a weak case is not worth the gamble in most cases. 

I have an excellent track record of having my clients avoid conviction without the necessity of a trial. I do this by relentless and well considered plea negotiating.  The prosecutors know I am always prepared and they trust my judgment and assertions.  They also know I will not back down from trial if we are unable to negotiate a deal.

Nationally, less than 10 % of criminal cases end up going to trial.  The rest get dismissed or resolved through negotiated plea.  Ultimately, the decision about whether to go to trial is the client’s alone.  I will advise the client on what I think the most prudent course of action would be and the consequences of conviction, but the client makes the call.  Even though it is unlikely your case will end up going to trial, you need to hire a lawyer willing and able to try a case.  There are some lawyers who are very upfront about the fact that they will get you the best deal they can but will not try a criminal case.  The problem is that the State won’t offer the best deal they can to a lawyer they know never tries a case.  Although I almost always achieve results that obviate the need for a trial, I am prepared to try your case and I enjoy trying criminal cases.     

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Q:      What is the difference between a deferred adjudication and a regular probation?

With a deferred adjudication you enter your plea of guilty or no contest, but the Judge withholds a finding of guilt and places you on probation.  If you successfully complete the deferred adjudication probation, your case will be dismissed and you will avoid conviction for the offense.  If you avoid conviction you may be entitled to have you your records sealed, but not expunged, in the future.  If you fail to comply with the terms of probation a “Motion to Adjudicate” will be filed and at that point the Judge can enter a finding of Guilty.  If that occurs you will have a conviction on your record. 

With regular or “straight” probation, you enter your plea of guilty or no contest, the Judge finds you Guilty, and you are placed on probation.  Successful completion of probation will allow you to avoid additional jail time, but from the moment of your plea you are convicted of the offense.  You are never entitled to have your records sealed or to have your record expunged.  This is so because you have taken a “final conviction” for the offense.  

It is important to understand the ramifications of probation, the terms of probation, and the consequences of your non-compliance.  Too many lawyers spend too little time explaining probation to their clients and it results in lots of probation failure.  I always spend a good bit of time explaining probation and how to avoid motions to revoke or adjudicate being filed in the future.  My goal for my clients on probation is that they successfully complete it.  I tend not to recommend probation to clients who have little realistic chance of successful completion.  In some circumstances a short jail sentence is preferable to a term of probation which will likely be revoked in the future.  Usually the jail sentence imposed when probation is revoked far exceeds what would have been offered at the time of the plea.      

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Q:      Can I get my criminal record expunged?

It depends.  If you pled to straight probation and successfully completed that probation, I am sorry but you cannot get your record expunged.  If you completed a “deferred adjudication” and the case was ultimately dismissed you cannot get your record expunged, but you may be able to get your record sealed.  The sealing of records will make them available only to law enforcement and similar entities but not to the general public. 

Only if your case was dismissed or you were found Not Guilty at trial might you be eligible for expunction of your record.  Even then, there are other considerations that may affect your eligibility.  This analysis is very fact specific and requires a lawyer’s expertise. 

The major benefit of expunction is that it allows you to legally deny that you were ever arrested on a specific charge.  This can be very helpful on employment, school, loan, rental, and other applications. 

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Q:      The alleged victim in my case wants to drop charges.  Can he/she do that?

Clients and alleged victims often think that if the victim simply “drops the charges” the case will go away.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  From the moment of the arrest the cases are styled The State of Texas vs. whomever.  What that means is that the State can and usually will proceed with the case even if the alleged victim does not want to press charges. 

Nevertheless, there are ways an alleged victim can help secure jail release for a defendant and can help resolve the case in a way favorable to the defendant.  These issues come up most often in the context of Assault Family Violence cases.  If you are an alleged victim in one of these cases, you can call Pretrial Services at (512) 854-9381 and explain that you are not afraid of the defendant and that you would be okay with him or her being released.  When possible, Pretrial Services will want to actually meet you in person so you can arrange that when you call in.  This will expedite the defendant’s release. 

As the case progresses, if you indicate that you do not want the client prosecuted most attorneys will prepare an “Affidavit of Non-Prosecution” for your signature.  This document does not make the prosecutor dismiss the case, but it does indicate your unwillingness to proceed and will cause the State to evaluate their case more critically. 

Although there is a procedure at the County Attorney’s Office whereby alleged victims can take a class called Project Options and then meet with an Assistant County Attorney to “drop charges,” I never recommend that people go through that.  In my experience both as a defense attorney and a former prosecutor who conducted these interviews, the State almost NEVER recommends that a case be dismissed.  The whole process is little more than a waste of time from the standpoint of assisting in the client’s defense.

DISCLAIMER TO ALLEGED VICTIMS:  Lying to assist a criminal defendant in an affidavit or during court proceedings may subject you to perjury charges.  You should not tell Pretrial Services you are not afraid if you are afraid.  Your safety must come first and the possibility of a second assault or worse puts the client at great risk as well.  If you feel you are in danger of future acts of domestic violence you can call SafePlace at (512) 267-SAFE (7233). The defense attorney is not your lawyer and he or she has the best interests of the client at heart, not necessarily your best interests.  While it is entirely appropriate for you to speak with defense counsel and for defense counsel to contact you as a witness in the case, you may want to consult with your own attorney.

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Q:      How do you set your fees?  Do you accept payment plans?   

Criminal cases are almost always handled on a “flat fee” basis meaning we do not bill by the hour but by the case.  Many variables affect the cost of representation including: 1) the degree and nature of the offense; 2) the complexity of the evidence and legal issues in the case; 3) the criminal history of the client; 4) the employment or immigration status of the client (e.g. a pilot will lose his pilot’s license if a DWI is not dismissed and a non-citizen is subject to deportation if they are convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for Assault Family Violence.  The options open to defense counsel in these cases are limited and the work required is generally greater and the fee must reflect that.); 5) the client’s general attitude about the case and desired result. 

I prefer not to but will entertain payment plans in most cases.  With payment of a retainer (generally equal to half the cost of representation) up front, I can spread out the remaining payments over the course of the representation which may take many months. 

In each case the fees are split between the “pretrial fee” and the “trial fee.”  While most contracts make reference to a trial fee, such a fee is not due and owing unless and until the case gets set for trial and the client has indicated that trial is the manner in which he or she wishes to proceed. 

Costs for additional services such as preparation of a Petition for Occupational Driver’s License or expunction once a case is dismissed are separate and not included in your pretrial fee.  Costs for appeal are also separate and I do not do appellate work.  I will refer you to an appellate specialist if you are convicted at trial and wish to appeal your conviction. 

Litigation costs in criminal cases tend to be low but will be passed on to the client and are the client’s responsibility.

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