240th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

In an historic event in honor of our nation’s 240th anniversary, Mary Beth Harrell will lead local lawyers in Readings of the Declaration of Independence starting at noon at the flag pole in front of the Bell County courthouse in Belton. Bell County lawyer will join with lawyers around the lone star state who will lead Readings in all 254 counties. This event has been organized by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. It was first held in 2010 in just a handful counties.

declaration of independenceThe Declaration of Independence is our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty embodying our stand against tyranny. Our founders resisted the illegal and immoral practices of the crown. Today, we continue to fight against the abuses of government: police and prosecutorial overreaching and misconduct. Prosecutors continue to withhold evidence, courts persist in plea mills, police abuse our citizens, and appellate courts engage in intellectual dishonesty to achieve a desired result while disregarding rules of law. Our readings are our reminder to all in the criminal justice system that abuses of power will be exposed and fought by the defense bar.

Please join us in honoring our nation’s most sacred document in the spirit of independence.

Successfully Suppressing a Search Warrant in Federal Court

As published in the Voice

The Facts

Mary Beth Harrell attorneyMy court-appointed client, Jermaine Jones (JJ), a career offender, had been indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Western Dis­trict of Texas, Waco Division, for possessing just shy of 46 grams of crack cocaine and a loaded .45 handgun. Four Deputy U.S. marshalls (DUSMs) and three Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigation (DPS CID) agents arrested JJ on local state warrants for felony possession of a controlled substance and money laundering. The agents found the drugs, gun, and a wad of cash in his apartment while conducting a protective sweep for dangerous persons after his arrest. Okay, he’s done, you might say. Let’s pull out the sentencing guidelines and do the math. He’s looking at a lot of time.

Stay with me. It gets interesting.

Prior to executing the warrants, the DUSMs and DPS CID agents conducted surveillance of the apartment where JJ and his girlfriend, Marcy, were known to reside. Marcy was named on the lease but JJ wasn’t. JJ’s silver Mitsubishi car was parked out front, and the license plate came back to JJ’s mom, who owned it. While conducting surveillance, the agent in charge called his confidential informant (CI). The CI told him if the Mitsubishi is there, then JJ’s inside. Agents did not observe any drug trafficking activity; no one was going to and from the apartment.

After a while, agents saw Marcy leave the apartment, drive to Popeye’s, pick up two meals and two drinks, then return to the apartment. Agents did not speak to her, did not detain her, and let her re-enter the apartment. A few minutes later, Marcy left the apartment again, got in the car and started to drive off. One marshall and one agent got into their respective cars and blocked her exit. The agent in charge then interviewed Marcy. Marcy didn’t have any warrants. She told the agent that JJ was in the apartment, gave the front door key to the agent and permission to use it to enter the apartment. Marcy was detained outside the apartment.

With guns drawn, the agents and marshalls approached the apartment door and opened it with the key. JJ was not in the front room. The agent called JJ by name to come to the door. It took a minute for JJ to respond. No doubt he was rather surprised and needed a second or two to think it through. He wasn’t a novice nor a fool, so he slowly emerged unarmed from the back bedroom, shirtless and carrying a pair of shorts with his hands in the air. He cooperated and complied with their orders. He was arrested at the front door. The agent searched JJ and found a small amount of marijuana in the pocket of his shorts. They did not find any drugs or weapons on his person or within his immediate reach, nor in plain view in the front room. They did not ask JJ for permission to search the apartment.

The agents and marshalls then conducted a “protective sweep” of the entire apartment for “dangerous persons.” The agents looked underneath the bed in the back bedroom, where they observed the drugs and cash. Then the agents asked Marcy for permission to search the apartment. Marcy refused. The agent in charge prepared an affidavit for a search warrant, which was granted by the local district judge. The agent returned to the apartment with the search warrant and confiscated the drugs, gun, and money from under the bed.

The search warrant affidavit stated: The agents went to the apartment to execute the state warrants, conducted surveillance, saw JJ’s Mitsubishi, watched Marcy leave the apartment, drive to Popeye’s, return with “two meals and two drinks,” and enter the apartment. She was later detained when she exited the apartment again and returned to the vehicle. The agent questioned her, and Marcy confirmed that JJ was in the apartment and provided her apartment key. Agents detected the odor of marijuana inside her vehicle. Agents used her key to enter the apartment, JJ emerged from the back right bedroom, “was taken into custody near the door,” agents searched the shorts in JJ’s hand and found a useable amount of marijuana in the pocket. Officers entered the residence, “conducted a protective sweep for other persons,” looked under the bed in the back right bedroom, observed a ziplock bag containing cash and a quantity of suspected crack cocaine, and observed marijuana residue on the nightstand.

As I read the search warrant affidavit and looked at the apartment photos taken by the agents, my instincts told me that the protective sweep didn’t pass the smell test. So I called Marcy’s retained lawyer. He told me that the protective sweep was allowed and would survive my challenge. I wasn’t so sure, so I called my friend, Stan Schwieger, an appellate lawyer who’s way smarter than I am. Did I have a viable motion to suppress the sweep, the search warrant, and the contraband? Stan wasn’t sure either, but he believed it was worth pursuing. Stan and I spent several hours sorting through the facts and identifying legal issues. Stan re-acquainted me with Wayne LaFave. As you may recall from your law school days, LaFave literally wrote the book on search and seizure.

I don’t know any trial lawyer who enjoys researching and writing a brief in support of a motion to suppress, including me. So I knuckled down to the painful task, thinking it an exercise in futility, but you gotta do what you gotta do. After all, my client was a career offender.

Stan’s assistance was invaluable. He edited my motion and brief for logic, substance, style, and form. He’s my Yoda. If you don’t have a friend or mentor like Stan, find one real quick.

The Brief

A. Protective Sweep of Persons

A protective sweep for dangerous persons incident to arrest may be a permissible exception to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, depending on totality of circumstances—including the scope and duration of the sweep. The Supreme Court has placed limits on the circumstances, scope, and duration of the sweep. First, law enforcement must have entered legally and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose. Second, officers must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the area to be swept contains (a) a person, and (b) that person poses a danger to those on the scene. Third, the protective sweep must be limited to a cursory inspection of only those places where a person may hide, not a full search of the premises. Finally, officers must conclude the sweep once they have dispelled their reasonable suspicion of danger, and they may not continue the sweep after they are no longer justified in remaining on the premises.Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 334 (1990); United States v. Mata, 517 F. 3d 279, 285 (5th Cir. 2008).

1. The facts in this case do not justify a “protective sweep for persons” in Defendant’s residence.

A “protective sweep” made in connection with an arrest will be upheld in circumstances such as the following: The location is a major narcotics distribution or manufacturing point, or police believe that others within may be engaging in more serious conduct at that location, or the arrestee is unlikely to be a solo participant, or that others are seen or heard running into other parts of the premises, or it is located in a violent or dan­gerous neighborhood. Mata, 517 F. 3d at 287, 288; United States v. Charles, 469 F.3d 402 (5th Cir. 2006).

Here, surveillance did not disclose any articulable facts that could give rise to the reasonable belief that any other individuals, besides Marcy and JJ, were residing in the apartment or that criminal activity was being conducted in the apartment either before or during the arrest. The officers were there to arrest JJ for Hill County warrants, where the criminal conduct was alleged to have occurred. JJ resided in McLennan County. The dep­uty U.S. marshall observed Marcy exit the apartment alone and return alone with only two meals. Marcy cooperated with the lead agent and disclosed that JJ was in the apartment alone. She gave her front door key to the lead agent and permission to enter. JJ surrendered to officers at the door and was arrested at the front door. There was no suggestion that the apartment was in a dangerous or violent neighborhood. The agent offered no articulable or specific facts particular to JJ in the search affidavit to justify the protective sweep for persons. The agent did not articulate facts giving rise to exigent circumstances that would require or permit law enforcement to conduct the prior protective sweep.

2. While a search of the place adjoining the arrest is per­mitted, the search of Defendant’s entire residence, and spe­cifically the back bedroom, exceeded the place from which an attack could be launched against officers.

The Supreme Court held that police may “as a precautionary matter and without probable cause or reasonable suspicion look in closets or other spaces immediately adjoining the place of ar­rest from which an attack could be launched.” Buie, 494 U.S. at 334. In this case, the agent and other officers arrested JJ at the front door. Officers then traveled down a hallway to a back bedroom and looked under a bed, which did not immediately adjoin the place of arrest. It is difficult to imagine how an attack could be launched against officers by an individual presumably hiding under a bed in a back bedroom.

3. While officers may search Defendant’s person and the area within his immediate control for a weapon or contra­band, the protective sweep exceeded the area within the Defendant’s con­trol.

Courts have held officers may conduct a search incident to arrest to prevent the arrestee from accessing a weapon or destroying evidence. But the search is limited to the arrestee’s per­son and to the area within his immediate control. United States v. Green, 324 F.3d 375, 378 (5th Cir. 2003)(citing Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 763, (1969). In this case, the deputy U.S. marshall searched JJ’s person then took him outside the apartment. The space under the bed in the back bedroom was not under the JJ’s immediate control. The protective sweep for persons in the apartment and the area under the bed was a pretext to search for contraband. It was only after the baggie was found under the bed that officers asked Marcy for consent to search, and when that was refused, they sought a search warrant.

B. Sufficiency of the Search Warrant Affidavit

1. If the Court finds the “protective sweep for persons” in this case violated the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment’s rights, then the untainted information remaining in the affidavit would be insufficient to show probable cause to search the Defendant’s residence.

If it is shown that some of the information in the search affidavit presented to the magistrate was acquired in a prior illegal search, the warrant is nonetheless valid if it could have been issued upon the untainted information in the affidavit. United States v. Hearn, 563 F.3d 95, 103 (5th Cir.2009) (stating that it is sufficient that probable cause is shown by affidavit after the illegally obtained information was purged); United States v. Veillette, 778 F.2d 899, 904 (1st Cir.1985)(holding that the police should not be put in a worse position than they would have been in had they not violated the law).

In this case, the search affidavit stated: “Affiant and other officers entered the residence and conducted a protective sweep for other persons. The deputy U.S. marshall looked for persons under the bed in the right back bedroom and observed a ziplock bag containing U.S. currency an (sic) unknown quantity of crack cocaine,” and observed “marijuana residue” on the bedroom night stand.

The only other information cited in the affidavit was a “useable amount of marijuana” found in the right front pocket of JJ’s denim shorts, “which he carried in his hand” when he was searched incident to arrest at the front door. That information alone would not have been sufficient to show probable cause to search the residence. If the tainted information is removed, the court must decide whether the magistrate would have issued a warrant given only the lawfully obtained information.

“This is not a case where the tainted information which is included in an affidavit along with untainted information is trivial or insignificant or merely cumulative. It is a case where the tainted information is of such major importance that its absence creates grave doubt that the warrant would have issued without it. If we are to uphold the fundamental purposes of the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule by which it is implemented, it is my belief that the practice indulged in by the officers in this case must be condemned and the tainted evidence upon which appellants were convicted suppressed.”United States v. Nelson, 459 F.2d 884, 895 (6th Cir. 1972).

2. Information gained during the illegal, warrantless pro­tective sweep for persons prompted the officers to seek a search war­rant.

The Fifth Circuit has noted: “[U]nlike the objective test of whether the expurgated affidavit constitutes probable cause to issue the warrant, the core judicial inquiry before the district court on remand is a subjective one: whether information gained in the illegal search prompted the officers to seek a warrant to search. In the best of all possible worlds, of course, there will be statements or other evidence directly probative of motivation or effect. But in the usual case, in which direct evidence of subjective intent is absent, a court must infer motivation from the totality of facts and circumstances.” United States v. Restrepo, 966 F.2d 964, 972 (5th Cir. 1992).

The protective sweep for persons under the bed was a pretext to search for contraband. It was only after the baggie was found under the bed that officers asked Marcy for consent to search, and when that was refused, they sought a search warrant. In this case, the information obtained in the illegal search did motivate the officers to seek the warrant.

3. The magistrate did not consider the affidavit purged of tainted evidence.

The Fifth Circuit Court went on to find “we seriously doubt that it is appropriate to apply the deferential, substantial basis standard of review to the issuing magistrate judge’s decision when the magistrate judge never considered the warrant affidavit purged of tainted information.” Restrepo, 966 F.2d at 969.

4. Independent Source Doctrine

When announcing the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, the Supreme Court limited the exclusionary rule to evidence the police could not trace to some independent and lawful source. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 US 471, 488 (1963). The burden of proof is on the prosecution to establish an independent source. United States v. Leveringston, 397 F.3d 1112, 1115 (8th Cir.2005)(“When the government seeks to rely on the independent source doctrine in a case involving a later-obtained warrant, it should present specific evidence that officers were not prompted by allegedly unlawful activity to obtain the warrant, and should seek a finding on that point”—not done here).

My brief did not address “inevitable discovery” because the facts did not support it. The agents did not obtain consent to search after the protective sweep. Neither JJ nor Marcy made incriminating res gestae statements after the search was performed and the drugs were found—isn’t that amazing?

The Hearing

On cross, I asked the agent in charge (to the best of my recollection—this is not a transcript):

ME: Prior to entering the apartment, did you ask Marcy if there was anyone else in the apartment besides JJ?
AGENT: No.
ME: But you asked her if my client was in there?
AGENT: Yes.
ME: You testified that you’ve been doing this for 16 years, correct?
AGENT: Yes.
ME: Marcy had just left the apartment, so wouldn’t you normally ask that question before you enter the apart­ment?
AGENT: Yes.
ME: For officer safety?
AGENT: Yes.
ME: After all, she was cooperating and gave you her key and permission to enter, right?
AGENT: Yes.
ME: So odds are, she would tell you the truth if you asked her who else was in the apartment, right?
AGENT: Yes.
ME: But you didn’t ask?
AGENT: I guess I forgot.

Let me say that the Judge did not appear to be favorably impressed by his answers.

ME: You previously testified—when asked by the prosecutor—that you arrested my client at the door, didn’t you?
AGENT: It was inside the apartment.
ME: It wasn’t at the door?
AGENT: No, it wasn’t at the door. It was near the door but not at the door.
ME: How far from the door?
AGENT: Maybe 30 feet.

The Judge interrupted my cross and challenged the agent. The Judge told the agent that he had previously testified—when an­swer­ing the prosecutor’s question—that he arrested the defendant at the door.

AGENT [to the Judge]: No, I don’t think I said that, Judge. I don’t think so. It was inside the apartment.

The Judge challenged the agent again: “No that’s not what you said on your earlier testimony. You said you arrested him at the door.”

I asked a few more questions. Then Judge interrupted me to tell me he was granting my motion to suppress. Nice.

The Court’s Opinion

The Judge granted my motion to suppress and found:

After entering a residence to execute an arrest warrant, of­fi­cers may conduct a limited search for their own protection.United States v. Blevins, 755 F.3d 312, 325 (5th Cir. 2014); United States v. Jackson, 596 F.3d 236. (5th Cir.), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct.90, 178L.Ed.2d247 (2010). This “protective sweep” doctrine allows government agents, without a warrant, to conduct a quick and limited search of premises for the safety of agents and others present at the scene. U.S. v. Albarado, 555 Fed.Appx. 353, 357 (5th Cir. 2014), cert. filed No. 14-8787 (Aug. 6, 2014). Evidence found in plain view while conducting the security sweep is admissible, but evidence recovered beyond the scope of the protective sweep is not. Id.; United States v. Virgil, 444 F.3d 447, 451 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 879, 127 S.Ct. 365, 166 L.Ed.2d 138 (2006). A protective sweep may occur even after a suspect is arrested. Id.

To be constitutionally valid, (1) “the police must not have entered (or remained in) the home illegally and their pres­ence within it must be for a legitimate law enforcement purpose”; (2) “the protective sweep must be supported by a reasonable, articulable suspicion . . . that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the scene”; (3) “the legitimate protective sweep may not be a full search but may be no more than a cursory inspection of those spaces where a person may be found”; and (4) the protective sweep “may last . . . no longer than is necessary to dispel the reasonable suspicion of danger, and . . . no longer than the police are justified in remaining on the premises.” U.S. v. Roberts, 612 F.3d 306, 311 (5th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom., Booth v. U.S., __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 839, 178 L.Ed.2d 570 (2010)(quoting United States v. Gould, 364 F.3d 578, 587 (5th Cir. 2004)(en banc), abrogated in part on other grounds by Kentucky v. King, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011)). In the present case, the officers possessed no reasonable, articulable suspicion that the apartment harbored any other individuals who would pose a danger to those on the scene.

        Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion to Suppress is GRANTED as to the evidence obtained from the apartment.

The Disposition

The U.S. Attorney dismissed the case against my client.

Local lawyer named 1 of 10 best in Texas for Client Satisfaction

David A. Bryant | Herald staff writer |Posted on Mar 14, 2016

The Killeen Daily Herald, Killeen, TX

Attorney Mary Beth HarrellMary Beth Harrell has been a lawyer since just 1998, but no matter how long she has been practicing law, her attention to her clients’ needs has the criminal defense attorney winning award after award.

The latest achievement for the Gatesville resident with offices in Gatesville and Killeen comes from the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys, a national, impartial third-party attorney rating organization, which named Harrell as one of the 10 best criminal defense attorneys in the state of Texas.

“It kind of surprised me, because I didn’t ask for it — they just notified me of it,” Harrell said. “They told me it was based on client satisfaction, and I’m sure that was based on the testimonials on the Avvo website, so you never know who’s paying attention.”

Avvo is a legal website used to find lawyers for any type of case, ranging from family law to criminal cases, according to www.avvo.com.

In order to be selected for the honor of 10 Best by the institute, a lawyer must be formally nominated by the board, a client or a fellow attorney; have attained the highest degree of professional achievement in his or her field of law; and have an impeccable client satisfaction rating, according to aiocla.org.

top 10 for client satisfactionThe former military spouse didn’t start her career as a lawyer, but the desire to become a criminal defense attorney began when she was 9. She spent many years as an “Army wife,” working jobs in public relations or marketing, before following her dream to get her law degree.

“I know it’s a cliche, but sometime between when I was 9 and 11, I watched ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ with Gregory Peck and I always knew I wanted to be the defender of the underdog,” she said. “It didn’t start out that way, but I have no regrets.”

The experience of being a part of a military family really helped her with her law practice, however, as many of her clients are either active-duty military, veterans or retirees, she said.

“I understand the language, the lifestyle, the pressures, the stress and the chain of command — understanding that is kind of important,” Harrell said. “That helps me better represent my military or former military clients.”

That knowledge helps her get those clients assistance they may need in many areas, whether it is family counseling, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury treatment through either active-duty military programs or Veterans Affairs, she said.

“At some point, the criminal case will be over. But that individual still has to get on with their life,” Harrell said. “It could be a good intervention for them. Let’s get them help for that and then take care of the criminal case or find some resolution that doesn’t involve a criminal conviction. We choose to deal with those other, outside issues because you can’t just handle the criminal case alone. You have to treat the whole person and not just that one incident that occurred.”

Taking care of her clients is what makes the job worthwhile, Harrell said.

“Helping someone avoid any kind of criminal conviction on their record is huge,” she said. “There’s always collateral damage — if you take a conviction for assault and battery, injury of a family member, you can never legally own, transport or purchase a firearm. If you take a DWI conviction, you’re going to lose your license, (and) owe the state of Texas literally thousands of dollars.

Criminal Law Mary Beth Harrell“It’s getting the right resolution for your client and sparing them additional consequences. The prosecutor is always supposed to seek justice, but I think defense attorneys are looking for justice for your client,” she added. “If you can get justice for your client, that’s the best feeling in the world.”

While Harrell is in practice by herself, she said she would be nowhere without her team: paralegal Teresa Stubblefield and legal assistant Elsie Farias.

“Being a solo practitioner, sometimes my clients know Teresa or Elsie better than they know me because they speak to them all the time,” she said. “They develop close, supportive relationships with the clients. Without even having to talk to me, they can hook up the clients with whatever help they need. I can’t claim to be a success on my own — my staff is critical. It takes a team to provide good service for a client.”

Harrell recently moved into a new office at 4201 W. Stan Schlueter Loop in Killeen. She can be reached at 254-680-4655 or via email at harrellattorney@gmail.com.

Don’t be Afraid of Challenging the Show-up Id

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Like more than a few of my court-appointed felony clients, Julius was angry, offensive, demanding, and adamantly refused any plea deal. He was 43 years old but looked 60, African-American, unemployed, short, stocky, dark-skinned with very short black hair. Julius was a career felon who was bad at his job. He sat in jail on the charge of attempted burglary of a habitation. He allegedly kicked in the door of a home he may have thought was unoccupied, but ran away without entering when he discovered that someone was indeed at home. He could not make bond because he had a blue warrant for violating his parole. He was on parole for burglary of a habitation, and had four prior convictions for—you guessed it—burglary of a habitation. He told me he did not do it. He yelled at me when I tried to discuss the evidence with him. He insisted he was not guilty.

THE OFFER

The prosecutor’s offer was 9 years TDC. Not much of an offer, you might say? I agree. But of course, she threatened to use the prior convictions to enhance it and then stack it. He rejected the offer and demanded a trial.

WITNESS

The witness was a 15-year-old boy, Drew, enrolled in the sixth grade, and at home alone on a school day at the time of the alleged break-in. Just a few red flags popped up. The questions ask themselves, right?

FACTS

Drew called 911. I completed a records request for the 911 call. Drew reported that he had been asleep at home around 10:00 a.m. when someone began banging on the front door. He took his time responding. When he got to the door it flew open and then back, and the man ran off when he saw Drew. Drew said he saw a heavyset, bald, 30–40ish black man with dark skin, standing about 5’7”, wearing blue pants and an orange shirt, no hat, no eyeglasses, no facial hair. Drew did not see the shoes. One might say that was a surprisingly detailed description, right? When police arrived they observed a shoe print on the badly damaged front door, which obviously had been kicked in. They took photos of the print and later tried to match it up with my client’s shoe. When that did not work in their favor, they said the shoe print was too partial to make a match.

Meanwhile, police were also searching the neighborhood for a suspect matching the 911 dispatcher’s description. The police stopped Julius, who was walking a few blocks over from the home. Julius was wearing a white shirt and dark pants but no jacket. We requested the booking photo, which showed Julius was not bald but had very short black hair. The police would later testify that Julius was the first black man they stopped and the only black man they saw walking in the neighborhood. He did not run from the police, and he produced ID. He carried a wallet, watch, key, and cell phone. He told officers he was going home. Julius was detained in a motel parking lot and allowed officers to pat him down, but he was agitated, angry, and mouthy.

Drew clearly told the 911 dispatcher that the suspect was wearing an orange “shirt.” He said it twice. But somehow the shirt morphed into an orange “jacket” when the police wrote up their reports. The police noted that it was 50 degrees on a January morning. When asked why he was not wearing a jacket, Julius told police he did not need one. The police did not agree. The police concluded that Julius must have ditched his orange jacket on the run, so they searched the neighborhood. They found a red, black, and white jacket, and red New York Yankees baseball hat sticking out of a drainage culvert up the road. The police decided that was the jacket the suspect must have been wearing.

The police put Drew in the back of a patrol car and drove him over to the parking lot to conduct a show-up identification of the suspect. My client was the only handcuffed black man surrounded by four or five white police officers in the parking lot. The police actually conducted a drive-by show-up. They drove Drew slowly past Julius, but they did not stop the patrol car. One officer held up the red, white, and black jacket next to Julius while Drew was driven past him. Drew immediately identified Julius as the person who kicked in the door of their home.

According to the police report, Julius “kept pronouncing his innocence” and “protesting his innocence,” but Julius refused to waive his rights and make a statement—so he must be guilty.

The police recorded their interview with Drew at the police department. He did not appear, look, or sound disabled or mentally retarded. We learned he was also in alternative school and had skipped school that day. Drew told the police that he was “face to face” with the guy who kicked in the door. The police then asked him a leading question: “Was it a red coat or orange?” Drew answered: “It looked orange to me, but it turned out red.” He wrote a statement in which he now described the suspect as wearing a “bright orange coat.” This differed from what he told the 911 dispatcher. Drew wrote down, “They took me to the hotel and showed me him and his jacket and that was him.”

While the police were out of the room, Drew told his mom that he was scared when he heard the banging at the door because he thought it was Mr.______, and he thought “they were coming to get me.” His mom understood what he was referring to, but we had no idea.

During the recorded interview, Drew’s mother, Diane, calls her father, Donald, and tells him to come down to the police station to see if it is the same guy he had seen loitering outside the home a few weeks ago. Diane tells the police officer that her dad can pick the guy out of a photo lineup. The police arrange a photo lineup for Donald. We later learned that Donald had served as a police officer in the same department for 20 years and retired. The photo lineup, results, and interview with Donald were not in the discovery I received. The prosecutor told me she did not have it.

Did I ask the prosecutor why Drew, a 15-year–old, was enrolled in sixth grade? Yes, and she did not know.

I did meet with the prosecutor to discuss the conflicts and contradictions in the statements and evidence. Did the facts seem to cry out for a dismissal? I certainly thought so. She was unmoved—take it to trial and risk an enhanced, stacked sentence or take the deal.

THE SHOW-UP

Drew’s out-of-court identification of my client did not pass the smell test with me, and it was the linchpin to the state’s case. Other lawyers and case law tended to support the opinion that the show-up ID would survive my challenge on a motion to suppress. While my client had nothing to lose, I wanted to be certain that my motion had a valid legal and good-faith basis.

attorney Mary Beth HarrellCASE LAW

I almost always start my research in The Texas Criminal Lawyers Handbook, and this case was no exception. I have found it to be an invaluable tool over the years. The Handbook is authored by Robert K. Gill and Mark G. Daniel. I have heard Mark speak at many a worthwhile TCDLA seminar.

Of course, when challenging the show-up ID, the first question is, Who has the burden of proof?

The defendant has the burden to show the identification is unreliable by clear and convincing evidence. Delk v. State, 855 S.W.2d 700 (Tex. Crim. App.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 982, 114 S.Ct. 481, 126 L.Ed.2d 432 (1993); Bond v. State, 29 S.W.3d 169 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. ref’d).

If the defendant meets this burden, then the in-court identification is inadmissible unless the state can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the identification was of independent origin. Brown v. State, 64 S.W.3d 94 (Tex. App.—Austin 2001, no pet.); United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 240, 87 S.Ct. 1926, 18 L.Ed.2d 1149 (1967).

An in-court identification is inadmissible when it has been tainted by an impermissibly suggestive pretrial identification procedure. Ibarra v. State, 11 S.W.3d 189 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 828, 121 S.Ct. 79, 148 L.Ed.2d 41 (2000). The test is whether, considering the totality of the circumstances, the identification procedure was so impermissibly suggestive as to give rise to a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification. Id., citing Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 88 S.Ct. 967, 19 L.Ed.2d 1247 (1968); Lo­serth v. State, 963 S.W.2d 770 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).

The Court of Criminal Appeals has identified “five non-exclusive factors” that can be used to assess the reliability of an identification procedure: (1) the opportunity of the wit­ness to view the criminal at the time of the crime; (2) the witness’ degree of attention; (3) the accuracy of the witness’ prior description of the criminal; (4) the level of certainty demonstrated by the witness at the confrontation; and (5) the length of time between the crime and the confrontation. Loserth v. State, supra citing Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 188, 93 S.Ct. 375, 34 L.Ed.2d 401 (1972).

When applying those factors to our case, the prosecutor could argue that Drew was paying serious attention to the person who had been banging on the door of his home and then kicked it in, had sufficient time to view him, made a fairly detailed description, was certain it was my client, and less than a half-hour lapsed between the incident and the identification. Unfortunately, the police officers mangled Drew’s detailed description to match their conclusion that Julius had to be the culprit.

As we all know, appellate courts love to throw in a “bal­ancing test.” The Houston appellate court concluded that some suggestiveness is always present in a show-up identification but must be balanced against: (1) the desirability of allowing the witness to view the suspect immediately after the commission of the offense while his memory is fresh and accurate; (2) the fact that the quick confirmation or denial of identification leads to the release of innocent suspects (but not in my client’s case); and (3) the fact that the release of innocent suspects frees the police to continue the search for the perpetrator of the offense (ditto). Louis v. State, 825 S.W.2d 752 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1992, pet.ref’d).

And then there is the time-worn favorite “totality of circumstances” analysis using the following factors: (1) the opportunity to view; (2) the degree of attention; (3) the accuracy of the description; (4) the witness’ level of certainty; and (5) the time between the crime and the confrontation. Id.

And finally, there is always the Texas “two-step” analysis used to determine the admissibility of an in-court identification: (1) whether the identification procedure was impermissibly suggestive; and (2) if the identification was the result of a suggestive procedure, whether or not it gives rise to a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification, examining the totality of the circumstances. Delk v. State, supra.

PRETRIAL MOTIONS

When viewing the facts in light of the case law analysis, I felt we had a shot. So I filed a plain vanilla Motion to Suppress Identification and a Motion to Suppress Evidence Obtained by Illegal Detention and/or Illegal Arrest of the Defendant. The odds on a district judge granting a suppression motion and letting a career offender walk are slim to none, but we had nothing to lose. As is often preached at TCDLA seminars, pretrial hearings offer the opportunity for additional discovery—and the witnesses’ answers can be used against them at trial.

Mary Beth Harrell

THE HEARING

Despite my best efforts, I could not discover why 15-year-old Drew was still in the sixth grade, so I issued a subpoena duces tecum for school records to be brought to the hearing. The responding school official told me that Drew had serious disciplinary problems for fighting with other students, banging his fists on desks and walls, and violated his probation multiple times with positive UAs and refusing to attend class. Drew liked to smoke weed. Drew was not retarded. Drew was an unrepentant truant of average intelligence. He was in alternative school and would age out of the school system at age 18.

The prosecutor and I were both surprised when Drew showed up to the hearing in orange scrubs and shackles. He had been transported from the juvenile detention facility. His mom, Diane, and grandfather, Donald, were not happy with me because they believed I was forcing him to testify.

I had subpoenaed almost every officer who wrote a report in the case. The shift supervisor was not happy with me. She was there too. My paralegal overheard the supervisor complaining: “She’s court-appointed. Why is she doing this?”

I did issue a subpoena duces tecum to the officer who presented the photo array to Donald. I had not received a copy of the photo-array or report. During the police interview, Donald verified that just a couple of weeks earlier he had seen a black man standing outside the front door of Drew’s house. When Donald approached the man, he claimed he had the wrong house and left. Donald believed that the man was casing the house for a break-in. Donald did not identify my client in the photo array. In fact, he identified someone else.

The prosecutor asked me if she could take Drew on direct examination and I agreed. She spoke to Drew very carefully and very slowly—as if he were retarded. She navigated him through the events of that day. She tried to reconcile a red, white, and black jacket with an orange shirt. She sought to characterize the red in the jacket as tomato red because apparently tomato red is the new orange. She sought to show that though Drew may have had enough time to see the person at the door, he may have missed the other colors in his jacket. The hat could have been in his pocket.

By the way, Drew was slow to answer the door because he was afraid that it was the truancy officer. He did not want to return to juvenile detention.

Finally, the prosecutor asked him if the person he saw at the door was in the courtroom.

His answer: “No.”

I was very busy writing but stopped as his answer registered. I looked up at the judge. She looked at me. We looked at Drew then at the prosecutor then at the courtroom deputies.

It was a long pause.

The prosecutor repeated her question.

He repeated his answer.

The prosecutor informed the court that she would not ask Drew to make an in-court identification. After additional testimony from police officers, the judge denied my motion to suppress the evidence obtained by illegal detention or arrest.

After the hearing, the prosecutor informed me that she was going to send the hat and coat to the DPS lab for DNA analysis. If it came back with my client’s DNA, she would enhance and not waive a trial. I told her that I had already warned my client that she would do just that. In fact, I had anticipated that the prosecutor would threaten to take that action. I did warn my client prior to the hearing, and he still rejected the plea offer. He insisted he had not worn the jacket or hat—they were not his.

The DPS lab did not obtain any DNA samples from the hat or coat.

The prosecutor filed her dismissal.

Motion to Quash 3 Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum

I just won my Motion to Quash three (3) Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum in lampasas county court houseLampasas District Court.  My client had not been arrested or indicted and the Lampasas County DA was trying to force him to produce evidence that might be used against him.  You can only win these motions if you file them and they are critically important to the client.

A Subpoena Duces Tecum, is a court summons ordering the recipient to appear before the court and produce documents or other tangible evidence for use at a hearing or trial.

Is this inmate being held illegally at TDCJ?

Legal Question: Is this inmate being held illegally at TDCJ? He entered a plea of no contest to aggravated assault – bodily injury.

Stay out of jail with Mary Beth HarrellThe caption on the indictment reflects states that the charged offense was “aggravated assault-bodily injury.” In the body of the indictment, it says “alleged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.” However, the appellant waived the reading of the indictment and the trial court, both orally and in writing, admonished appellant that the offense with which he was charged was “aggravated assault-serious bodily injury.”

There is no mention in any of the documents contained in the clerk’s record-except the body of the indictment-or any discussion in any of the reporter’s records of a deadly weapon until the State filed its motion for judgment Nunc pro tunc. The 14th Court of Appeals vacated and set aside the Nunc pro tunc judgment and reinstated and affirmed the original judgment and sentence of 15 years.

Answer:

No, the inmate is not being held illegally. The appellate court defeated the prosecutor’s attempt to add a “deadly weapon” to the original judgment when it vacated and set aside the Nunc Pro Tunc.  That’s a good thing because adding the deadly weapon finding to the judgment would have seriously hurt his ability to make parole.

As it is, he will probably have to serve close to 50% of his time before he’s eligible for parole. Recommend he stays out of trouble, takes lots of education classes, bible study, and goes to drug or alcohol treatment or 12 step meetings while in prison to help his chances of making parole sooner rather than later.

What type of attorney do I need for a child abuse case?

Legal Question: What type of attorney do I need for a child abuse case?

Mary Beth Harrell protects your legal rightsMy wife was accused of child abuse 4 years ago and they placed her on probation. Yet, she has not seeing her probation officer in a long time. Now her probation has been revoked and the case has been reopened and a hearing is scheduled.

Does she need a criminal or family lawyer? There are things that our lawyer needs to know in order to understand my wife’s case. First, the detective that charge her with abuse took her statement without a lawyer present and switch things around in her statement. Second, the probation office had her urine test twice a month knowing that she already had weed in her system and threaten to put her in jail.

Weed doesn’t leave your system for 30 days and we tried to tell the probation that but she did not want to hear it. My wife is a good person. What should we do?

Answer:

Your wife has already pled guilty or no contest to the charge of injury to a child, and waived a trial and waived appeal — so she does NOT get a new trial or hearing on the facts concerning the original case.

She is entitled to a hearing on whether or not she did in fact violate her probation and why she did it.

You should hire an attorney who will assist your wife in preparing for the hearing. The attorney will also talk with prosecutor to try to work out an agreement to continue her on probation. It is possible for her to remain on probation but she needs an attorney to help make that happen.

 

NTL Announces Mary Beth Harrell Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers

Mary Beth Harrell 2015 Top Trial Lawyer

The National Trial Lawyers Announces Mary Beth Harrell as One of Its Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers in Central and South Texas

For Immediate Release

The National Trial Lawyers is pleased to announce that Mary Beth Harrell, with the Harrell Law Firm in Killeen, Texas has been selected for inclusion into its Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers in Central and South Texas, an honor given to only a select group of lawyers for their superior skills and qualifications in the field. Membership in this exclusive organization is by invitation only, and is limited to the top 100 attorneys in each state or region who have demonstrated excellence and have achieved outstanding results in their careers in either civil plaintiff or criminal defense law.

The National Trial Lawyers is a professional organization comprised of the premier trial lawyers from across the country who have demonstrated exceptional qualifications in their area of the law, specifically criminal defense or civil plaintiff law. The National Trial Lawyers provides accreditation to these distinguished attorneys and also provides essential legal news, information, and continuing education to trial lawyers across the United States.

With the selection of Mary Beth Harrell by The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, Ms. Harrell has shown that she exemplifies superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results as a trial lawyer. The selection process for this elite honor is based on a multi-phase process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research. As The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an essential source of networking and information for trial attorneys throughout the nation, the final result of the selection process is a credible and comprehensive list of the most outstanding trial lawyers chosen to represent their state or region.

Contact: Andrew Findley  AFindley@TheNationalTrialLawyers.org 866-665-2852

To learn more about The National Trial Lawyers, please visit: http://thenationaltriallawyers.org/

Can you get two for one days for POSS CS PG 1 <1G

Criminal lawyer Marry Beth HarrellLegal Question: I have to do 180 days in the state jail I was wondering if I can get 2 for 1 days or if I can get work release?

Answer: You cannot get 2 for 1 credit in state jail and work release is not offered in state jail. However, if you served anytime in county jail before bonding out or being sentenced and transported to state jail then that time will be deducted from the 6 months. Otherwise it’s day for day while you’re in state jail.

You can apply for early release from state jail after you’ve served 80% of your time.  You must take a class and make a written application to be considered for early release. You will not be on parole or probation when you’re finally released.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony before? If not, then you should have been placed on a mandatory probation for possession of a controlled substance under a gram and you would not have gone to state jail. You could been placed on deferred adjudication probation and avoided a drug conviction too.

How, if even, would a retail store contact me if they have video of me stealing?

Mary Beth Harrell dismisses videoLegal Question: I have no excuse, nor do I know why I did, but, I stole a $3 item from a store. I told a friend about it (who worked for the retail store, he was not involved) about it. I had no idea why I stole it and just wanted at least one person to tell me something good.

A week later he called me and said he had heard that the store had become aware the object was missing (a wrapper). He doesn’t know how lost preventions handles such things, if at all. I could say what retail store, but this is a public forum so I will not.

However, I know there is probably video of me stealing the object. If they do come after me, would it be by police, certified mail…how would I get notified? This retail store has almost all my information. Address, name, date of birth, etc. because I worked for them year or so before this event.

Answer: If you’re convicted of Theft under $50, then the court can order you to pay a fine up to $500 plus court costs – but you cannot be sentenced to jail. However any type of theft conviction is considered a crime of “moral turpitude” branding you as a thief and a liar. The theft conviction is permanent and can never be erased. It will follow you the rest of your life and can make it very difficult to get a job or student loan. So if you’re charged with theft then hire a lawyer. And if you really don’t know why you shoplifted then consider enrolling in counseling now. The counseling may help you to correct your poor judgment so you don’t risk ruining your life again.