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hris Perri Law is a criminal defense law firm located in Austin, Texas.

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Chris' Blog

The blog of Chris Perri Law, written by Chris Perri and Shannon Perri. Read the latest in exciting cases where justice is served.

Filtering by Tag: austin criminal defense lawyer

New Study Exposes How Texas Criminal Justice System Values Finality Over Accuracy

Chris Perri

Photograph by  Stephanie Ezcurra

Photograph by Stephanie Ezcurra

In my post-conviction practice, I often feel like my clients don’t get a fair shake. Evidentiary hearings are rare, and the trial judge always seems to sign off on the State’s proposed findings of fact, which are critical when appealing an adverse ruling.

A recent study of Harris County death-penalty cases by Jim Marcus and the UT Capital Punishment Clinic confirms what I’ve suspected from experience: our criminal justice system values finality over accuracy. Judges are literally executing people without affording them the opportunity to fully present their claims. And the judges are pretty open about their bias, as they “rubber stamped” the State’s version of events in 95% of the cases studied. In fact, 34 out of the 40 judges adopted every proposed finding of fact presented by the State – that’s an astounding figure because it’s impossible for the State to be right 100% of the time.

In my practice, I’ve encountered the same difficulties in getting a hearing for my clients. Judges simply don’t want to re-open old cases, even though wrongful convictions are common. At a writ conference that I attended a few years ago, one judge described the general judicial attitude towards writs: they don’t like them. Why? Because writs open up old matters on their dockets, and judges don’t like seeing those cause numbers from a decade ago popping up. Also, due to the large number of pro se writs being filed by incarcerated inmates, the judges figure that if they start hearing every claim raised on every writ, they won’t be able to devote sufficient time to their trial docket.

For these reasons, it’s vital to have an experienced attorney present the writ in a manner that grabs the judge’s attention and shows the judge that the conviction is a gross injustice in light of the new evidence presented in the writ. However, even with a quality attorney, judges far too often deny evidentiary hearings and resolve the contested issues on the basis of affidavits. This deprives attorneys of the ability to cross-examine adverse witnesses, which is one of the only meaningful ways of uncovering the truth.

The new study is a groundbreaking because it provides the first concrete evidence of the widespread judicial bias against writ applicants in Texas’ criminal justice system, effectively denying them procedural due process. This issue can be litigated on appeal to the federal system when a defendant’s writ application is unfairly denied by Texas courts, and the study can serve as proof supporting a claim that Texas’ writ system violates the constitutional right to due process. 

All this said, awareness is the first step to change. This study brings to light an important injustice that we as a society must face. If our justice system values truth, then it must provide everyone an opportunity for a full and fair hearing. Liberty is too important for shortcuts.

If you do find yourself or a loved one wrongfully convicted, call Chris Perri Law at (512) 917-4378 for a free consultation to learn about your options. If you are my client, I will do everything in my power to zealously fight for your rights amidst a flawed system.

An update on the recent DNA testing errors

Chris Perri

Update from previous post:

Last week, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office announced that it has formed a Conviction Integrity Unit in order to facilitate the comprehensive review of all cases that might have been affected by the miscalculations of probabilities related to DNA mixtures from 1999-2015. This is definitely a step in the right direction, as many experienced criminal justice practitioners are concerned that the miscalculations could have affected thousands of cases.

If you or a loved one suffered a conviction in a case involving DNA evidence, it’s important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to review your case. Chris Perri Law can determine whether your case was potentially affected by the DNA miscalculations and then assist you in obtaining a recalculation of the DNA evidence. Depending on the results, Chris Perri Law can then file a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus seeking to overturn your conviction. Chris Perri Law offers these post-conviction services on both state and federal cases throughout Texas.

Check out Chris Perri’s video interview with Austin’s Fox 7 News for more information about these mind-blowing DNA developments.

Do you really have the right to remain silent?

Chris Perri

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In the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Salinas vs. Texas, Chris Perri Law fears that the high court has whittled away the right to remain silent.

In Salinas, the Court ruled that the prosecution can use your pre-arrest silence against you at trial, thus watering down the essence of the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination. In Salinas’ case, prior to being arrested, he voluntarily provided the police with information regarding a murder. However, when authorities asked if Salinas’ gun would match the murder weapon, Salinas refused to answer, under the assumption that he was exercising his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. However, at his trial, the prosecution used his choice to remain silent as damning evidence of his guilt.

The Supreme Court reviewed this ruling, and although it was a close call, the Court ruled that the conviction should be upheld, stating that if individuals want to invoke the Fifth Amendment’s protection, they “must claim it”.  Although the Fifth Amendment clearly states that no one can be forced to be a witness against him or herself in a criminal matter, the Court’s ruling means that the prosecution is free to use the defendant’s pre-arrest silence as evidence of guilt.

Chris Perri Law fears that in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination has been vastly diluted.  Basically, to claim the rights of this fundamental law, individuals must explicitly inform the authorities that they are invoking their Fifth Amendment right to silence upon being questioned by law enforcement. Chris Perri worries that this requirement especially hurts less educated individuals, who may not be aware of this new ruling. “It creates a further class divide in our system,” Chris Perri says.

In order to maintain your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Chris Perri Law advises you to explicitly state that you’re invoking your Fifth Amendment right when the situation calls for it.  Otherwise, your silence could come back to bite you.

Marijuana charge dismissed

Chris Perri

The progressive Travis County Attorney’s Office dismissed my client’s possession of marijuana (POM) charge today in exchange for him pleading guilty to a lesser charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, which is a class C misdemeanor (same category as traffic offenses). All my client had to do was pay $172 in fines and court costs. In POM cases like this one, which was a class B misdemeanor because it involved less than two ounces of marijuana, the Travis County Attorney usually gives first-time offenders a break. The prosecutors recognize that a POM conviction results in the burdensome automatic suspension of an offender’s driver’s license for six months, which can often lead to someone becoming a repeat offender if they drive with the suspended license. Our prosecutors want to put these defendants in the best possible position to overcome their criminal charge, so they’ll usually dismiss the charge in exchange for the defendant completing a 15-hour drug education class and community service.

Now that police officers are permitted to issue “sign and release” citations whereby POM defendants aren’t booked into jail when they possess less than two ounces, marijuana possession could almost be said to be “decriminalized” for first-time offenders in Travis County, as they’re likely to have the charge reduced to the same grade as a traffic offense, which carries no possibility of jail time.

On the other hand, if you go up the road to Williamson County, the situation is much different. Even if you get caught with just a joint, you’re likely to be sentenced to 18 months probation, and if you violate any conditions of that probation, it’s not uncommon for one of the no-nonsense judges to slap you with a 90-day jail sentence.

Court says driving near Sixth Street at night is suspicious

Chris Perri

As most people probably know, if you’re driving home from the Sixth Street area late at night, you’re under suspicion from Austin’s DWI task force, which camps out at the heavily trafficked roads that lead away from the bar district. And now, based on a recent Court of Criminal Appeals ruling in Foster v. State, you can get pulled over even if you haven’t committed a traffic offense.

As a criminal defense attorney, one of my first questions of a client charged with DWI is: “Why did the cop pull you over?” Until recently, the answer almost always involved some type traffic offense, such as speeding, running a red light, expired inspection or registration, taillight out, etc. However, check out the facts of Foster:

A police officer was stopped at a red light in the right lane of West Sixth Street. Foster’s truck drove up very close to the back of the officer’s vehicle, and then the truck made a “revving” sound. The officer also described the truck as lurching forward, possibly to try to turn into the lane to the left of the officer. The officer then initiated a traffic stop of Foster’s truck despite the fact that Foster hadn’t violated any traffic laws. Foster then failed sobriety tests and was arrested for DWI.

The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the stop was validly supported by reasonable suspicion, which is the constitutional standard for such investigatory detentions. (Note: police officers need “probable cause” to arrest a person, but only “reasonable suspicion” to temporarily detain someone in order to investigate criminal activity). According to the court, the officer validly took into account the time of day and location in determining whether there was reasonable suspicion to detain Foster.

Here, the officer testified that based on his training and experience, people leaving the Sixth Street bar district late at night are likely to be intoxicated. When this circumstance is combined with Foster’s “erratic driving,” the Court found that was enough to pull him over. On the other hand, if Foster’s driving behavior had occurred on a residential street during the light of day, an officer would probably not have been able to validly pull him over because such driving behavior, in isolation, doesn’t amount to reasonable suspicion of a crime.

Of course, Foster’s an idiot for driving so aggressively in an area known to be patrolled by cops late at night. But until now, most attorneys would’ve agreed that he couldn’t be pulled over unless he committed a traffic offense. Now, that’s changed. And if you drive near Sixth Street at night, you’re already under suspicion; if you do anything that’s conceivably “erratic,” you’ll likely be the subject of a DWI investigation.

The best advice is to take a taxi or designate a sober driver in order to avoid an accident or police contact.

Expunging your DWI arrest just became easier

Chris Perri

Just because your criminal charge has been dismissed doesn’t mean that your arrest record goes away. If you don’t obtain a valid order of expunction, government records and online databases will continue to reflect your arrest...

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Another theft charge dismissed

Chris Perri

Today, the prosecutors dismissed my client’s pending charge of class B misdemeanor theft (the value of the stolen goods was between $50 and $500).  To obtain this dismissal, I worked out a deal where my client entered into a deferred disposition agreement on a class C misdemeanor theft charge (the value of stolen goods were less than $50).  If my client completes 20 hours of community service and stays out of trouble, that charge will be dismissed in six months.  She would then be eligible to expunge all records of her theft arrest two years from the date of the offense.  After expunction, she will be able to deny that any theft arrest ever occurred.

City of Austin vs. Chris Perri

Chris Perri

A few weeks ago, I drove to Town Lake for one of my longer runs.  Despite being around 11 am on a weekday, all of the parking spaces were full.  I saw that some cars had driven onto a dirt area to park their cars, and I followed suit.  After returning from my run, I found a $50 parking ticket on my windshield for parking in a “Tow Away Zone,” despite there being no sign that indicated it was such a zone.  Needless to say, I was upset. Because I’d parked in this area on previous occasions, along with seeing other people regularly park there, I decided to contest the ticket.  According to the City of Austin procedure, violators are entitled to a hearing if they come to the Municipal Court within 30 days of receiving a ticket.  Also, being a criminal defense attorney, I figured it was my duty to fight the seemingly unfair ticket, rather than just pay it off.  At the very least, I could receive valuable information on whether I had illegally parked at Town Lake.

Today, I prepared my evidence and got in line.  After about a 15 minute wait, a “hearing officer” was ready to judge my case.  The hearing is very informal, as it takes place in a small office with an audio recorder.  After being sworn in, the officer asked me a few basic questions about the circumstances of me receiving the ticket.  Then, she allowed me to present my side of the story.  Using my three photographs as exhibits, I presented my case.

The first picture shows that there is a “No Parking” sign, but the arrows point to the left and right.  To a reasonable person, this sign indicates that there is to be no parking in the roadway.  To demonstrate that there was a roadway (and that I was not on this roadway), I showed this picture:

Finally, I pointed out that cars often park in this dirt area, as demonstrated by the minivan, along with the tire marks in the following photograph:

The hearing officer informed me that I was incorrect.  She pointed out that there was a curb that I had to drive over in order to park in the dirt.  I responded that it was a very low curb and functioned similar to a ramp, but she asked me whether it was indeed a curb.  On this point, I agreed.  She also questioned me whether there were any signs that indicated this was a legal parking area.  I answered that there were none.  Plus, the hearing officer pointed out that there are “2-hour parking” signs next to the legal spots.  For these reasons, I was parking in an illegal area.  She then proceeded to educate me regarding why the area consisted entirely of dirt: people like me park there, ruining the lush grass that had formerly been enjoyed by Austinites!

At this point, I was ready to leave, tail between my legs.  This criminal defense attorney had been whipped, and I knew it.  But, she stated that she was dismissing my ticket because I was correct when I initially pointed out that I was not in a “Tow Away Zone.”  Instead, the ticket-writer should have indicated that I had parked in a “Right of Way” area.   Due to the fact that my ticket had been improperly marked, I was relieved of any obligation to pay.  Ah, a technicality – a defense attorney’s best friend.

That’s right, City of Austin, don’t mess with the baddest lawyer in town!

Theft charge dismissed

Chris Perri

One of my young clients was caught stealing from a local department store.  Despite the evidence against her, she was approved for a pretrial diversion program, and the charges were dismissed today.  As long as she succeeds in performing the conditions of the program (community service and avoiding further trouble with the law), she will be able to expunge the arrest two years from the date of the offense. For young clients, expunctions are extremely important, as they allow clients to deny that their arrest occurred when prospective employers or educational institutions question them about their criminal histories.

An expunction victory

Chris Perri

After two years of considering the case, the Third Court of Appeals in Austin decided in my client’s favor on an important expunction issue.  Prosecutors had been trying to prevent defendants from expunging their DWI arrests when they took probation on lesser charges (Reckless Driving or Obstruction of a Highway).  This was due to a strained reading of the expunction statute that I discuss more thoroughly in my blog.  The Third Court of Appeals accepted my argument that an expunction analysis should proceed by looking at each charge in isolation; as a result, a dismissed DWI is eligible for expunction regardless of what happens on another charge that stems from the same arrest.  This is a great victory for any defendant who uses plea bargaining to get rid of an unfair DWI charge. Remember, if you don’t get your charge expunged, potential employers can still see the arrest!