Oct 19, 2015

Aggravated Robbery

Texas Penal Code §29.02 states that a person may be charged with robbery if they have, in the course of committing theft, caused another person bodily injury or placed them in fear of imminent bodily injury or death either intentionally, knowingly or recklessly. This crime is prosecuted as a felony in the second degree.
Section 29.03 further describes aggravated robbery as any act of robbery in which one or more of the following circumstances was present:
  • The offender inflicted serious bodily injury on another;
  • The offender used or presented a deadly weapon;
  • The offender threatened to harm another person who was 65 years of age or older, or was considered to be "disabled".
Aggravated robbery is a more serious offense, and is normally prosecuted as a  first degree felony. Although the severity of most theft crimes directly correlate with the value of the stolen property, this does not apply to robbery. Instead, it only has to be established that the defendant has placed another person under duress with the threat or use of physical force while committing, attempting to commit, or fleeing from the commission of a theft offense,  defined as "...the act of unlawfully appropriating property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it."

Not all crimes follow the same sentencing guidelines, even if they are considered to be on the same level of severity. However, the Texas Penal Code does outline "ordinary" felony and misdemeanor punishments and under these statutes aggravated robbery is defined as a first degree felony with a sentence of prison for life, or a term of 5 to 99 years.

In order for the state to make a case against you for the crime of robbery or aggravated robbery, they must be able to prove that you had caused or threatened to cause bodily injury to another person during the commission of a theft. If the prosecution is unable to do so beyond a reasonable doubt, a competent criminal attorney may have a good chance of reducing the charges to a lesser offense of theft, which means that the severity of the charges would be based on the value of the property that was stolen. If the property was valued at less than $1,500, the charges may even be reduced to a misdemeanor.

The lawfirm of Parnham and Associates handles offenses charged by both the State and Federal Court systems, nationally and within the State of Texas. Our extensive experience in criminal defense ranges from simple to complex litigation. The firm's extensive experience in criminal defense ranges from simple to complex litigation. If you have been charged with theft or robbery, contact us at (713) 224.3967 for a free consultation.

Oct 15, 2015

Differentiating Between Theft and Robbery

The crimes of theft and robbery are commonly lumped together by most people, since they both involve the unlawful taking of someone else’s property.
Theft simply involves taking something from someone else with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Embezzlement is a form of theft in which an employee diverts money intended for his employer or other employees for his or her own use. Likewise, fraud is also a form of theft, involving using trickery to permanently deprive someone of his or her property.
Robbery requires both theft and a form of violence or threat of violence used to deprive someone of their property. The most common example of a robbery is a convenience store holdup, in which a robber threatens to shoot a cashier unless the cashier hands over the loot. A person commits robbery if in the course of committing theft and with intent to obtain or maintain control of the property, he intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes fear of, or actual bodily injury to another. It is a more severe form of theft because the offender knowingly puts the victim in danger. Employing a weapon as a means of intimidation elevates the crime to aggravated robbery, which is considered a first-degree felony and carries a minimum five-year prison sentence.
An armed robbery charge is one of the most serious charges an individual can face and may be filed in conjunction with illegal possession and/or assault with a deadly weapon charges.
Robbery typically refers to the act of taking property away from another person by the use of force or the threat of force. The average prison sentence for robbery is significantly longer than that for burglary because of the comparative risk and trauma to the victims.
Charges of theft or armed robbery should always be taken seriously since the consequences of a conviction are so severe. Long term loss of freedom, permanent criminal record, and probation are just a few of the many penalties associated with theft and armed robbery charges. Because of the often violent nature of such crimes, prosecutors are notoriously aggressive in their attempts to secure convictions in theft or armed robbery cases.

If you have been accused of a crime, please contact us today for a free consultation with an aggressive and resourceful criminal defense attorney. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Visit robbery-attorney.com or call (713) 224.3967 for more information.

Oct 13, 2015

Theft : Definitions & Ramifications

 A person commits theft under Texas law if the person “unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property.” (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 31.03.)
The criminal offense of theft is comprised of three elements: the item involved must have value, there must be intent by the defendant to appropriate the item, and the item must have been appropriated without the consent of the owner.
Like the majority of states, Texas classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the stolen property or services, and in some instances by the type of property that is taken. Theft and larceny encompass a wide range of criminal activity such as shoplifting, the actual theft that takes place during a burglary or robbery, or virtually any non-consensual taking of property from another person or business. Writing bad checks and certain types of fraud may also fall under the classification of theft.
Because the crimes in question are so varied the possible sentences vary widely as well. The average sentence for larceny and theft in the criminal system is just over two and a half years - almost exactly the same as the average sentence for burglary. The average sentences in state courts are somewhat lower.
The largest disparity occurs in the area of motor vehicle theft, where state court sentences average 18 months and federal court sentences nearly 11 years.There are many property crimes that involve the destruction of property rather than theft or intrusion, with arson being considered the most serious of them in most jurisdictions.

The ranges of punishment for any theft allegation are based on the amount of loss or intended loss. For instance, shoplifting of less than $50 is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by fine only. There is then a "Theft Ladder" that ratchets up to felonies as the amount of loss increases. Often, in these cases, the way the government calculates the amount of loss is a matter of contention.
If a person has one prior conviction for any level of theft, any theft that the person later commits in Texas, involving property or services valued at less than $50, will become a Class B misdemeanor rather than a Class C misdemeanor.
If a person has two or more prior convictions for any level of theft, any theft that the person later commits in Texas, involving property or services valued at less than $1,500, will become a state jail felony rather than a Class B or Class A misdemeanor.
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits theft (including shoplifting) in the state of Texas may be civilly liable to the theft victim under the Texas Theft Liability Act. The theft victim (i.e. the store owner in a shoplifting case) may recover a monetary award that includes actual damages caused by the theft (such as the retail value of the item if not returned in sellable condition), and a civil penalty of no more than $1,000.
The parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits theft also may be civilly liable under the Texas Theft Liability Act, but monetary recovery is limited to the actual damages caused by the theft, with a cap of $5,000, and no civil penalty is available.

An experienced Criminal Defense attorney is necessary to investigate, evaluate and use the existing Law to mitigate or in some cases, eliminate these numbers.
For more information please visit robbery-attorney.com

Aug 21, 2015

Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are facing criminal charges, you are encountering the risk of consequences that may change your life. Any kind of arrest on criminal charges can become a very serious matter if not handled quickly and correctly. To build the best defense against any charges, an accused should make finding a criminal defense attorney a top priority.

Many individuals facing criminal charges delay finding a qualified attorney until there is no other option. People who are arrested and accused are naturally upset and want to explain their side of the incident in question to law enforcement; this can end up inadvertently hurting a case rather than helping it. There are undoubtedly many important things happening at once when charges are made, but the first thing that should be done is to find legal counsel. Early attorney representation allows clients to first explain everything in confidence to their own attorney, who can then take over any communication with the prosecutor and the court: most criminal defense attorneys would stress that the outcome of the case may very well depend on early attorney representation.

In many cases attorneys can negotiate a dismissal before charges are actually filed. Any negotiating prior to authorization of charges, plea bargaining, or other discussion about dropping or lessening charges is more likely to happen in the early stages of a case rather than after charges have been finalized. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know if they can negotiate with the prosecutor and will know how to proceed from that point.
It is essential for clients to completely trust the lawyer that is chosen, follow whatever instructions have been given, and do nothing more. Some parts of the legal process happen quickly while other parts don’t seem to be happening quickly enough, which may be a serious stress factor for individuals facing serious legal repercussions. Confidential questions and concerns can and should be made only to the defendant’s attorney so they can handle the case and achieve the best possible outcome.

Whether or not the charges against you have any merit, the justice system does not allow for any mistakes on behalf of the defense. Paper work is extensive, pleadings and court trials are extremely complex and any simple mistake by the individual can lead to dire consequences.
Unless the accused has legal counsel for their defense they are left completely on their own to navigate through this complicated process brought on by a criminal charge. 

When it comes to criminal law cases, an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between a prison sentence and reduced or dismissed charges. The lawyers of Parnham & Associates are dedicated to defending the rights of the accused and our criminal defense attorneys are committed to the presumption of innocence. Even in less serious cases, a good criminal defense attorney can make a serious impact on the outcome of the case by ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected throughout the legal process. For these and other reasons, it is vital that those accused of a crime select the most competent, experienced and effective attorney available.

Aug 14, 2015

Simple Assault and Imminent Threat

Simple assault consists of intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person; intentionally or knowingly threatening another person with imminent bodily injury, or intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another that the offender knows or reasonably should know the victim will find provocative or offensive.
Simple assault involves only minor bodily injury like a cut, scrape, or bruise. In fact, assault does not even require actual physical contact with another individual: simply threatening another person with violence may be considered assault if that person has a reasonable fear that the act will be committed.
Words alone, no matter how insulting or provocative, do not justify an assault or battery against the person who utters the words.

If you do not directly suffer pain, illness or impairment by the contact but the contact is still offensive or unwelcome then an assault claim could still be brought for offensive contact. These types of claims normally include sexual assault, in which the harm is emotional or mental rather than physical. A sexual assault does not have to result in a bodily injury. The elements of this assault claim require that;
  • The defendant acted intentionally or knowingly; 
  • The defendant made contact with plaintiff’s person; 
  • The defendant knew or reasonably should have believed plaintiff would regard the contact as offensive or provocative; and 
  • The defendant’s contact caused injury to plaintiff.
An offensive contact assault claim requires the defendant to know or be expected to know that the contact would be considered offensive; a person acting carelessly may touch another person offensively, but unless they intended to offend the victim or acted with reasonable certainty that they would offend another person there is no assault.

An assault brought for a threat of bodily injury does not require physical contact, but a plaintiff still must prove a specific type of threat was intentionally made and that the threat had an effect on the plaintiff. 
A threat of bodily injury is a declaration of intent to inflict punishment, loss, or pain on another person and has to be a threat of imminent harm; the threat has to be of a present harm rather than "future" harm. 

The plaintiff must prove that any injury caused by the threat was foreseeable: minimum injury for this type of claim is that the plaintiff was apprehensive. The plaintiff then must show that they were apprehensive and that it was foreseeable that she would be apprehensive.Texas courts have ruled that a plaintiff does not even need to prove fear, just apprehension about the threat.

For more information please visit http://www.texasassaultattorney.com

Aug 7, 2015

Use of Mental Health Evidence When the Insanity Defense is not Relied Upon

The state of Texas does not recognize diminished capacity as an affirmative defense in cases not based on an actual Insanity Defense. Despite this, there is a line of cases that suggest that mental illness can be used to defeat the proof of the allegation of the prosecution in the particular offense. The Judge has discretion to allow this evidence, and Code Crim. Proc. art. 38.36(a) provides that  "In all prosecutions for murder, the state or the defendant shall be permitted to offer testimony as to all relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the killing and the previous relationship existing between the accused and the deceased, together with all relevant facts and circumstances going to show the condition of the mind of the accused at the time of the offense."

For more information on mental health and Insanity Defense visit www.insanitydefenseattorney.com. If you have been accused of a crime, please contact us today at (713) 224 - 3967 for a free consultation.

Mar 3, 2015

Texas Burglary of a Habitation Part 3: Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer

In this final presentation of a three part series of videos, criminal defense attorney George Parnham discusses criminal trespass laws as well as the implications of burglary or criminal trespass charges in a situation such as divorce, in which the defendant maintains a community property interest.

Although similar, burglary and criminal trespass are two separate crimes in Texas. Under Texas Penal Code § 30.05, the definition of criminal trespass is more complex than simply being on someone else’s property. To begin with, the law defines property as including "...residential land, agricultural land, a recreational vehicle park, a building, or an aircraft or other vehicle".
This means that criminal trespass can encompass all sorts of public and privately owned property intended for different types of use. People can be convicted of criminal trespass when they unlawfully cross residential property, commercial property, agricultural property, forest land, and even government property. It is also unlawful to trespass in an area with an oil refinery, chemical manufacturing facility, water treatment plant or an electrical power generating facility.

Unlike the charges for burglary, criminal trespass charges do not require any intent of theft or felony. Also, although you can be charged of burglary simply by having any part of your body on the property (i.e., holding a flashlight through a window or door in order to survey the contents of a room), criminal trespass requires that your entire body be on the property.

In order for someone to be convicted of criminal trespass, they must have either been given notice that entry to a property is forbidden, or they must have been told to leave the property and then either failed to leave or returned to the property (still without consent). Notice can be given in several ways;  it can be an oral or written communication by the owner or someone acting for the owner, it can be a fence or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders or to contain livestock, or it can be in the form of sign posted in a location reasonably likely to be noticed.
On forested or agricultural property,  notice can be in the form of readily visible purple paint marks of proper size and placement on trees or posts spaced no more than 100 feet apart on forest land or 1,000 feet apart on non-forest land. Notice can also simply be the visible presence of any crop grown for human consumption that is under cultivation, in the process of being harvested, or marketable if harvested at the time of entry.

Criminal trespass is normally a Class B misdemeanor with a fine up to $2,000 and a jail term up to 180 days. If the trespass is on agricultural land, and the trespasser is apprehended within 100 feet of the boundary of the land, the offense is a Class C misdemeanor with a fine up to $500. Agricultural land is broadly defined and includes land suitable for growing plants (for food, feed, fiber, seed, etc.) or trees or for keeping farm or ranch animals. However, under certain conditions including if one has a deadly weapon on or about one’s person the offense is a Class A misdemeanor with a fine up to $4,000 and a jail term up to one year.

If you have been accused of a crime call us today at 713-224-3967 or visit parnhamandassociates.com for a free consultation with an aggressive and resourceful criminal defense attorney. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Mar 2, 2015

Texas Burglary of a Habitation Part 2:Houston Criminal Defense Attorney

In this second presentation in a three part series of videos, criminal attorney George Parnham discusses issues of effective consent as applied to an individual's access to private property, the types of properties involved, and the importance of "intent" as applied to charges of burglary of a building or habitation. He also discusses the differences between "burglary of a building" and "burglary of a habitation" as defined by Texas state laws.  
In Texas, burglary is defined as "unlawfully entering or remaining in any structure... with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault inside".  
Home invasion refers specifically to a burglary that occurs within a habitation- any structure or vehicle that is adapted for the overnight accommodation of one or more people (Tx. Stat. & Code Ann. § 30.02.)

The two elements of the definition -unlawful entry and intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault inside- must be either proved beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted to by the defendant to be convicted of burglary. Without sufficient proof of both elements, the prosecutor may secure a conviction for another crime such as trespass, but not burglary.
The intended crime (such as theft) need not actually be completed; proof of entry and of the intent to commit one of these crimes inside are the only requirements for a conviction.

Defense against a burglary charge usually concentrates on situations in which all the necessary elements of proof haven’t been met. If the plaintiff consented to the defendant’s acts it may serve as a defense; i.e., if they consented to the person’s entry or allowed them to take an item of property, it may negate an element of burglary. However, the consent needs to be voluntary and the plaintiff needs to  be of legally capable of consenting.

Likewise,  if the defendant didn’t actually intend to commit theft or felonious crime at the time that they entered the building, structure, or dwelling place then burglary charges wouldn't apply. An example would be someone who entered a building without permission, but simply to take photographs or out of curiosity rather than to remove property or commit any other felony.

Burglary charges also usually don’t apply to open spaces or places that are not actually structures. The point is that someone’s building is being entered for the purpose of committing a crime inside. However, some jurisdictions consider yards and gardens to be part of the dwelling place.

Even with the lack of intent to commit a theft or felony, the defendant may still be charged with Criminal Trespass. Section § 30.05 of the Texas Penal Code states that it is illegal to enter or remain on a property, including land, buildings or an aircraft of any kind without consent if the person had notice that their entry was forbidden, or if they received notice that they should depart and then failed to comply.

Burglary of a building that is not a habitation is a state jail felony, and occurs when a defendant unlawfully enters or remains in a public or private building (but not a habitation) with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault.
Burglary of a habitation, or home invasion, is a second degree felony, and occurs when a defendant unlawfully enters or remains in a habitation with the intent to commit a felony theft or an assault therein. The crime increases to a first degree felony if the defendant entered the habitation with the intent to commit a felony other than felony theft therein.

If you have been accused of a crime call us today at 713-224-3967 or visit ParnhamandAssociates.com for a free consultation with an aggressive and resourceful criminal defense attorney. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Feb 25, 2015

Texas Burglary of a Habitation: Part 1- Texas Criminal Attorney

In this first of a three part series of videos, criminal defense attorney George Parnham discusses the charges of burglary to a habitation as provided under Texas state laws.
Texas State Law provides for several different types of burglary charges. Generally speaking, burglary is distinguished from other theft crimes because of the element of entering into a building with the intent to criminally steal another person’s property, or to commit a felony. You can be charged with burglary if any part of your body has entered the building; for example, simply holding a flashlight in the door or window of a building that is not open to the public with the intention of stealing something from that building.

Although similar, burglary and criminal trespass are two separate crimes in Texas. To get a conviction for burglary a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that without consent of the owner, the defendant entered a private habitation with the intent to commit a felony, theft, or assault. Entering a vehicle or breaking into a coin-operated machine with the intent to commit a felony or theft is also considered burglary. For burglary, even if the felony, theft, or assault did not take place, a defendant may be found guilty, even if all he/she had was the intent to commit a crime.

Texas Penal Code states that you have committed the offense of burglary if you, without consent:
  •  Enter a habitation or building not open to the public with the intent to commit a felony 
  • Conceal yourself in that habitation/building and commit/attempt to commit a felony 
Burglary of an uninhabited building is considered a state felony. A conviction may include a jail term ranging from 180 days to two years, as well as fines up to $10,000.
Burglary of a building that is inhabited (such as a house or an apartment) without the permission of the owner and with the intent or actual commission of theft or felony, that is considered as burglary of habitation.
Burglary of a habitation is considered as a second-degree felony in the state of Texas, and may be sentenced with prison term from two to twenty years. If there is intent to commit another felony or an actual commission of it during the burglary, the offense will be elevated to a first-degree felony, which is punishable by a life sentence or up to 99 years in prison. In addition, there is a potential fine up to $10,000 dollars.

Criminal defense strategies applied in these situations need to be created for the particular offense, evidence involved and based upon the defendant’s needs. Contact Parnham & Associates today at (713) 224-3967 or click here for our convenient online submission form.
We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Jan 29, 2015

Understanding the Grand Jury System, Part 3: Perceived Flaws in the Texas Grand Jury System

In this last of a three part series on grand juries in the USA, Houston, Texas criminal attorney George Parnham explains a little understood part of our criminal justice system.

The United States is virtually the only common law jurisdiction in the world that continues to use the grand jury to screen criminal indictments, and the system is used on both federal and state levels. While all states in the U.S. currently have provisions for grand juries, only half of the states actually employ them and twenty-two require their use, to varying extents. Rather than using a grand jury, a more modern trend is to hold preliminary hearings before a trial court judge to determine probable cause that a defendant committed a serious felony.
 In Texas (and Harris County particularly), the Texas grand jury system has come under scrutiny with allegations of witness intimidation and cronyism.

Grand juries are held in secrecy for good reasons: witnesses may hesitate to appear and deliver honest testimony if they are on public record, and defendants who are accused but not indicted could suffer consequences simply for being exposed to the process. But questions of transparency go beyond the secret nature of the hearings; it is difficult to know how often people with potential conflicts of interest are appointed to grand juries, whether they are racially and economically diverse or if witnesses are intimidated because much of the proceedings and documents are confidential.
Texas law allows judges in its 254 counties to decide for themselves whether to have grand jurors chosen at random or selected by a "key man": a method frequently used by judges in Austin, Dallas and Houston.
Potential for abuse or manipulation increases as these judges do not select grand juries at random, instead  appointing a commissioner who often turns to retired friends or connections in the legal and law enforcement community to find jurors sympathetic to their own attitude.

This “key man” system, used only in Texas and California, has faced several legal challenges with allegations that it can foster favoritism and taint grand jury makeup.
Jurors are commonly drawn from particular segments of the community that may have strong ties with law enforcement officers, and may be more likely to enforce whatever the judge, prosecutor or officers say without proper scrutiny of facts. Texas defendants have challenged the racial composition of grand juries numerous times, and although the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the key man system they have warned that it is “highly subjective” and “susceptible of abuse.”

Jan 28, 2015

Understanding the Grand Jury System, Part 2: Inequities in the Grand Jury System

In this three part series on grand juries in the USA, Houston, Texas criminal attorney George Parnham explains a little understood part of our criminal justice system.

Grand Juries have recently made headline news in the USA after they have decline to indict police officers in cases which involved what many people consider unreasonable use of force.

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in a chokehold. Medical examiners concluded that Garner was killed by "compression of neck (choke hold), compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police", however the NYPD policy prohibits the use of chokeholds and law enforcement personnel contend that it was merely a "headlock".
On December 3, 2014 a grand jury decided not to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer accused of choking Garner to death. The event stirred numerous public protests and rallies with charges of police brutality. The Justice Department has announced an independent federal investigation.

On August 9, 2014 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting and the resultant protests and civil unrest received considerable attention in the U.S. and abroad, and sparked a vigorous debate about law enforcement's relationship with African-Americans, and police use of force doctrine in Missouri and nationwide.
The Prosecuting Attorney decided to bring the case in front of a grand jury to determine whether there was probable cause to indict Wilson for his actions. On November 24, it was announced that the jury had decided not to indict Wilson. Legal analysts raised concerns over the prosecutor's unorthodox approach, asserting that this process could have influenced the grand jury to decide not to indict, and highlighted significant differences between a typical grand jury proceeding in Missouri and Wilson's case.

Grand Juries almost always indict in criminal cases, with the common exception being cases which involve police officers. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment.

There are at least three possible explanations as to why grand juries are less likely to indict police officers; the first is juror bias, in that jurors may tend to trust police officers even when the evidence says otherwise. Second is prosecutorial bias; because prosecutors depend on the police while working on criminal cases, they may be inclined to present a less compelling case against officers.
A third possible explanation may simply be that prosecutors normally only bring a case to a grand jury if they think they can get an indictment. But in high-profile cases such as a police shooting, public pressure can force them to bring charges even if the case itself is weak.

The decisions by grand juries not to indict officers in these and other cases have spurred various proposals to reform grand juries. One measure being considered by Congress would require that in an alleged crime  involving a police officer, the governor would appoint a special prosecutor to conduct a public probable cause hearing that is open to the public. If passed, law enforcement would forfeit federal funding unless they adopt the new rules.
In Texas senators recently introduced bills to eliminate what is referred to as the "key man" or "pick-a-pal" system, requiring the courts to randomly summon jurors instead of allowing a district judge to pick three to five people to serve as grand jury commissioners, who are then charged with finding 30 prospective grand jurors and selecting 12 who qualify. Critics have long argued that grand jurors in Texas are often pulled from those with strong ties to the criminal justice system.
 Some of the current proposals may deserve consideration but they would have greater long-term impact and meaning if they improve transparency within the criminal justice system more generally, and are not limited to cases just involving police. 

Jan 22, 2015

Understanding the Grand Jury System, Part 1: Federal Grand Juries

In this three part series on grand juries in the USA, Houston, Texas criminal attorney George Parnham explains a little understood part of our criminal justice system.
In certain federal and state crimes, a grand jury is convened to review evidence and hear witness testimony in order to determine if an individual should be indicted. This process is a mystery to most defendants, and even many attorneys are unfamiliar with how to handle the grand jury process.

The "grand jury" was instituted in England about the middle of the twelfth century, intended to determine cause for criminal prosecution. Though originally intended to hold the local community responsible for bringing its malefactors to justice, it has come to be regarded over the centuries as a safeguard against unwarranted prosecution and was incorporated into the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides that "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger..."

Individuals subject to grand jury proceedings do not have a constitutional right to counsel in the grand jury room, nor do they have a right to confront and cross-examine witnesses. Additionally, individuals in grand jury proceedings can be charged with holding the court in contempt (punishable with incarceration for the remaining term of the grand jury) if they refuse to appear before the jury. All evidence is presented by a prosecutor in a cloak of secrecy, as the prosecutor, grand jurors, and the grand jury stenographer are prohibited from disclosing what happened before the grand jury unless ordered to do so in a judicial proceeding.

Grand jury proceedings are secret. No judge is present; the proceedings are led by a prosecutor; and the defendant has no right to present his case or (in many instances) to be informed of the proceedings at all. While court reporters usually transcribe the proceedings, the records are sealed. The grand jury can compel a witness to testify, but the target of a grand jury investigation has no right to testify or put on a defense.

The most persistent criticism of grand juries is that jurors are not a representative sampling of the community, and are not qualified for jury service because they do not possess a satisfactory ability to ask pertinent questions, or sufficient understanding of local government and the concept of due process. Unlike potential jurors in regular trials grand jurors are not screened for bias or other improper factors. They are rarely read any instruction on the law. The prosecutor drafts the charges and decides which witnesses to call, and is not obliged to present evidence in favor of those being investigated. The jurors job is only to judge on what the prosecutor produced.

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), the grand jury has come under increasing criticism for being a mere "rubber stamp" for the prosecution without adequate procedural safeguards. Critics argue that the grand jury has largely lost its historic role of protecting citizens from unfounded accusations by the government; they provide little protection to accused suspects and are much more useful to prosecutors.   Grand jurors often hear only the prosecutor's side of the case and are usually persuaded by them: they almost always indict people on the prosecutor's recommendation.

If you have been accused of a serious crime in the state of Texas, you need a reliable and experienced attorney. Visit http://www.parnhamandassociates.com for information on your rights.

Jan 15, 2015

Age Innapropriate: 17-year-olds are "teens", not adults deserving of prison time.

Age inappropriate: Texas must recognize 17-year-olds are teens, not adults deserving of prison time.

"In Texas, you have to be 21 to apply for a concealed handgun, 18 to play the lottery and 18 to get a body piercing without a parent's consent. Yet a nearly century-old Texas law treats a 17-year-old who shoplifts an iPhone as an adult criminal. He is held with adults in jail, tried in adult criminal court, sent to adult prison if incarcerated and issued a permanent adult criminal record. In 41 other states, such a youth would enter the juvenile justice system instead.

It's not just a question of whether 17-year-olds know the difference between right and wrong. Many teens that age have achieved the basic intellectual abilities of adults. With parental consent, 17-year-olds can enlist in the U.S. military. But according to behavioral research and brain science, the process of psychosocial maturation — in other words, development of the internal governor that compels us against engaging in risky behavior — is not complete until their adult years.

 Not only brain science but a slew of depressing statistics supports the common-sense notion that 17-year-olds merit different treatment than adults. Juveniles are five times more likely to be assaulted in adult rather than in juvenile facilities, often in the first 48 hours of incarceration, according to U.S. District Judge Reginald Walton, Chairman of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
Youths under the age of 18 are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult institutions, says University of Texas professor Michele Deitch. Similarly, after their release, youths incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to struggle to get a job or housing because of their adult criminal record.

The adult system does not offer the education, rehabilitative services or the strict probation rules that the juvenile system uses to hold younger teenagers accountable, reduce the likelihood that they will commit future crimes and help them turn their lives around. Interventions that incorporate substance-abuse treatment into community-based services and that emphasize school continuity may be particularly well suited to reduce recidivism among 17-year-olds, according to some experts. Most of the crimes committed by 17-year-olds are nonviolent misdemeanors.

Everyone knows that prison is often a school for crime, where hardened criminals mold young people by their example. It is counterproductive and cruel to impose the lifelong collateral consequences of the adult criminal system on 17-year-olds who might respond to rehabilitation. To remedy this inequity, the Legislature should expand the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds, except where special circumstances indicate adult-level supervision is required. Problems with implementation should not excuse inaction. Lawmakers can provide counties lacking juvenile facilities with the flexibility and funding to make alternative arrangements. Seventeen-year-olds are not children. But they aren't adults, either, and it's time Texas stops treating them as such. We shouldn't throw away the key on a life yet to be lived."

The above editorial was published in the Houston Chronicle on Jan. 8, 2015.
Houston criminal attorney George Parnham has issued a response, stating that:

“I certainly do concur with the editorial opinion about raising the age of majority to at least 18.  Medical science has proven that the frontal lobe of the brain, that portion that is responsible for ‘connecting the dots’ relative to risk assessment and decision making, is not fully developed at the age of 17.  Ironically, the mid-twenties is more appropriate.  A 17 year old who takes a car belonging to someone else does that act in all probability for the thrill of “joy riding.”  Should that same car be taken by a 30 year old, the ultimate intent is to steal the car for one’s own use.  I applaud the recent changes brought by the Supreme Court in dealing with juveniles and the death penalty, as well as life without parole.  I would only hope that the State Legislature would follow the same impetus.”