Does It Help That I Have No Criminal History?

In Murfreesboro criminal cases, I am often asked “I have no criminal history, will that help my case?” The short answer is yes, having no criminal history will typically help your case.

Having no criminal history may help in negotiations with the District Attorney.
In Tennessee, prosecutors have discretion in whether to prosecute a case or to offer some sort of plea deal. Typically, when a defendant has no criminal history, that makes the District Attorney more likely to offer a favorable plea deal. However, there is no guarantee of a favorable offer.

For example, if someone is charged with possession of cocaine, the District Attorney is more likely to make an offer of reduced charges to someone with no criminal history than he is to make an offer of reduced charges to someone with an extensive criminal history.

Having no criminal history may make you eligible for Diversion.
One special process that is available to adults with no criminal history is Diversion. In Rutherford County, nearly every Diversion granted is Judicial Diversion, so I will explain the Judicial Diversion process here.

NOTE: There are two types of Diversion: Pre-Trial Diversion and Judicial Diversion.  Nashville Attorney Michael Shipman provides an excellent explanation of the two types of diversion here.

Under Judicial Diversion, a defendant can enter a conditional guilty plea; in other words, a guilty plea conditioned upon a certain agreement. If the defendant completes the terms of the agreement, he may then be able to have the charge expunged from his record forever. However, if the defendant fails to complete the terms of the agreement, then the diversion will be revoked and a guilty plea will be entered.

As mentioned before, the District Attorney has wide discretion in how to prosecute a case, and that includes whether or not to offer Judicial Diversion. A prosecutor is not required to offer Judicial Diversion.

In short, having no criminal history will help your case. You may receive a better offer than someone who has a lot of other crimes.

The Most Important Lessons from Making a Murderer (That No One Is Talking About)

The most talked about television series in the country is Netflix’s Making a Murderer. The documentary focuses on the 2007 trial of Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach. Since its release, the series has sparked international outrage at the handling of the Steven Avery murder trial, among other things.

As a criminal defense attorney, I am thrilled that Making a Murderer has made two things clear to the general public, neither of which is related to the Steven Avery murder trial.

Wrongful Convictions Exist (the Steven Avery Rape Trial).
In the first episode of Making a Murderer, the viewer learns that Steven Avery was convicted of rape in 1985, only to be proven innocent by DNA evidence after serving eighteen years in prison.

A wrongful conviction is the single most disturbing facet of the criminal justice system. If someone is wrongfully convicted, they lose the most treasured thing in life: freedom.

If nothing else, the wrongful conviction of Steven Avery provides a graphic depiction of an uncomfortable truth: wrongful convictions exist and, as a result, countless innocent men are currently sitting in jail for crimes they did not commit.

False Confessions Exist (the Brendan Dassey Interviews).
Early in the series, the viewer watches Brendan Dassey, Steven Avery’s sixteen year old nephew, sit through hours of police interrogation. In the end, Dassey confesses to the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach.

“Innocent men don’t confess,” the prosecutor in Brendan Dassey’s murder case told the jury in closing arguments. Unfortunately for Dassey, the overwhelming majority of the general public agrees that no one would confess to a crime that they did not commit.

The truth is that many people confess to crimes they did not commit. I can’t explain it, but the inconvenient truth is that false confessions exist.

Need proof? Read the case of Damon Thibodeaux. In 1996, Thibodeaux confessed in graphic detail to beating and murdering his cousin and then spent fifteen years on death row, only to be proven innocent by DNA evidence and ultimately released.

In Making a Murderer, Dassey confesses to police that he raped and stabbed Teresa Halbach and subsequently slit her throat. His next question? Whether he can make it back to school in time for sixth period. The viewer is left to conclude that this young man had no understanding of his own confession.

Conclusion
Countless news outlets, blogs, and television shows have weighed in on the Steven Avery murder trial. In my opinion, the greatest value in Making a Murderer has nothing to do with the Steven Avery murder trial.

Wrongful convictions exist.

False confessions exist.

Now the question is what society can do to prevent such devastating miscarriages of justice.

First DUI Court Date: What if the Blood Isn’t Back?

In Tennessee DUI Cases, police often get blood from people arrested for DUI offenses. In certain cases, a driver refuses to give blood. Sometimes, the officer proceeds with the arrest without blood. Other times, the officer gets a warrant and has the blood drawn by force. In summary, the state has blood from the driver in most DUI cases.

Often, people arrive at their first DUI court date to find out that the state does not know their blood alcohol level, or BAC. I am often asked what happens at my first court date if my bloodwork isn’t back and the answer is quite simple.

In Rutherford County Criminal Cases, including DUI Cases in Murfreesboro, each side gets one “reset” from the court, which just means the court would pick another court date several weeks or months down the road. Each side gets one reset by right. Often, the state uses their reset to wait for evidence and a defendant uses his reset to find an attorney. However, there are plenty of reasons to use a reset.

The most common question about bloodwork at a first court date for DUI is whether the case will be dismissed because the bloodwork is not back from the lab. The short answer is no, based at least in part on what is said above– that each side gets to ask the court to reset the case at least once.

If you get to your first DUI court date and your bloodwork is not back, it is alright to ask the court to dismiss your case, but the court will likely just select a new court date. Use that time to your advantage! Learn more about your case, consult with an attorney, or, if you already have an attorney, let your attorney use that time to prepare.

Tennessee DUI: How do I get a SCRAM Bracelet Removed?

If you are arrested for a second or greater DUI in Tennessee and later bond out of jail, a judge can order you to wear an alcohol monitoring device, known as a SCRAM bracelet, around your ankle. We are often asked “how can I get the SCRAM bracelet removed?”

Tennessee DUI law requires that a court consider placing one of the following conditions on anyone who is arrested for a second or greater DUI and later bonds out of jail:

  1. The use of ignition interlock devices;
  2. The use of transdermal monitoring devices or other alternative alcohol monitoring devices;
  3. The use of electronic monitoring with random alcohol or drug testing; or
  4. Pretrial residency in an in-patient alcohol or drug rehabilitation center.

The most common condition given to someone who bonds out of jail for a DUI is the use of an alcohol monitoring device. However, you can have this device removed if you complete one of the other conditions that courts can apply.

For example, if you check yourself into in-patient alcohol or drug treatment, then the alcohol monitoring device can be removed. Another instance where the alcohol monitoring device can be removed is if you install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle.

In short, a criminal defense attorney can file the required Motion and Order to have your SCRAM bracelet removed, so long as you complete one of the other conditions required by law. Ask a criminal defense lawyer how they can help.

Tennessee Marijuana Laws: Is Change in the Future?

This is a guest post from Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew Deegan. Andrew is an author and frequent contributor on criminal defense topics. Read more about Andrew on his website. The views and opinions of author expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of this law office.

Like so many other issues, there is still a deep divide in the nation regarding marijuana laws. I practice law in Texas. In Tennessee, just like Texas, possession of marijuana will get you arrested and charged. In other states, including Washington and Colorado, marijuana is fully legalized.

Recent Changes
The District of Columbia just legalized marijuana, allowing anyone in the small federal brainstem of our country, where our highest levels of federal government sit, to freely consume marijuana. It’s a remarkable shift in national attitudes toward this notorious plant that was not too long ago penalized harshly on both federal and state levels.

This is part of a greater trend over the last several years that started with states such as Colorado and Washington moving toward full legalization. Oregon did the same last year, and other states are likely to follow.

There are many reasons for this shift. Proponents of marijuana believe it is not only medically beneficial, but recreationally harmless. Proponents also point out the vast resources spent on jailing and prosecuting people for simple possession of marijuana and how those resources could be used elsewhere.

Obviously, some states strongly disagree. Nebraska and Oklahoma, for instance, sued the State of Colorado in federal court to prevent their legalization on the grounds that it violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Marijuana Laws in Tennessee
Possession of marijuana is still aggressively prosecuted in Tennessee, across the South, and in other conservative states, including my home state of Texas. For residents of Middle Tennessee, simple possession of marijuana will still get you arrested and charged.

Tennessee has harsher possession penalties for marijuana crimes than Texas. In Tennessee, marijuana possession of more than half of an ounce is a felony, while marijuana possession of less than half an ounce is a misdemeanor. In Texas, you need to have more than four ounces to be charged with felony possession of marijuana.

Throughout the South, including Tennessee, Texas, and other states, there are still punitive marijuana laws that likely will not be swept up in the recent wave of change.

Despite this, economic incentives to legalizing marijuana are starting to move the needle, especially in bigger cities. In order to keep costs down, big counties like Dallas County, near where I practice, have considered no longer arresting people for amounts under two ounces to keep costs down.

Will Tennessee and Texas ultimately move toward legalization of marijuana? I think that it will happen eventually and that the economic incentives to legalize marijuana and tax it will eventually prevail. However, I don’t think it’s likely to happen anytime soon. What do you think?