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What is the process for hiring Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Ed Chernoff?

My business office is located in downtown Houston, three blocks from the Harris County Criminal Justice Center. I am always available by phone or email. Most emergency phone calls are answered or returned immediately.

After speaking with me on the phone, an appointment can be set within two days. I always reserve at least one day on the weekend to allow for these appointments. During our meeting,  a discussion is had to determine the best course of action to take in your criminal case. A fee is set for the exact type of defense you are most interested in pursuing.

At the conclusion of the meeting a contract may be prepared which details your exact fee and method of payment, including any payment plan arrangements. The contract will set out the goals of your defense, and what activities will take place during the course of your representation.

Any preliminary matters will be discussed, and then I will personally accompany you to court on your court date. If it is your first court date, you may meet me at my office prior to going to court that morning. In other cases, you will meet me in the assigned courtroom. At all times, the responsibility for your case will be mine.

What type of Criminal Lawyer am I looking for to help me with my criminal case?

I have always suggested that you research criminal lawyers carefully prior to hiring. It is substantially difficult to clean up another lawyer’s mess, after he or she has already had conversations with prosecutors on your case. So its best to hire right the first time.

You should hire a criminal attorney who has extensive experience both in the type of case with which you are charged and in the court you have been assigned.  You want a lawyer that knows the proclivities of your Judge, and if possible, the prosecutors who will be making decisions in your case. Bottom line: Hire the most experienced possible.

I would strongly suggest you hire a lawyer who is Board Certified in Criminal Law. This means he or she has gone through a rigorous vetting process. You might also strongly consider an attorney who has some experience as a prosecutor. It is amazing how helpful this is during negotiations.

Some lawyers claim to limit their practice to certain types of criminal cases. For instance, some lawyers advertise their services as DWI specialists. Some of these lawyers are quite good at representing individuals in one type of case.  Some others have simply decided on a business model that works best for them, and they are no better(and sometimes worse) than the lawyer who has an expansive practice.

Ask the lawyer you are interviewing about the number of jury trials he has litigated. The greater his reputation at fighting, the better chance you have of resolving your case in the way you want. Don’t let him weasel out of an answer by giving you some general answer like, “I have a whole file cabinet filled with them!” One of the benefits of hiring a Board Certified Specialist is that he is required to have tried a certain number of cases. The more experience he has in front of a jury, the better.

Make sure you meet your lawyer personally, and determine whether he has the type of personality you can work with for an extended period of time. Many cases take several months to resolve. Finally, verify that the lawyer you are interviewing is the same lawyer who will defend you in court. Some law firms sell an experienced lawyer to you, and saddle you with an inexperienced associate.

Good Luck!

A friend told me that Ed Chernoff is the best criminal lawyer in Houston. What sets him apart?

I have tried numerous famous criminal trials, and although I appreciate the trust these clients put in me, I don’t believe that this alone demonstrates my value as a criminal lawyer.

I have spent 25 years defending those accused of crimes, and in that time I have been re-certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization four times. I have tried over 100 jury trials, and have achieved favorable results in nearly all of them. I speak at seminars and teach other lawyers how to handle their criminal cases. However, I don’t consider any of these things to be the main factor in making me the best at what I do.

It is the philosophy of my practice that puts me ahead of the pack. Dedication to results is what sets me apart from most other criminal defense attorneys. I don’t consider any person unredeemable, nor any case unwinnable. I am honest with my clients about their options, but I don’t push any particular resolution onto my client. It is his case, and his life. However, I do whatever is necessary to make sure that the best possible outcome is provided to my client.

At what point should I hire a criminal lawyer after being accused of sexual assault of a child?

Nothing is more frightening that being accused of a sexual assault or indecency with a child. There is a presumption held by law enforcement and children’s protective services that a child always tells the truth about these allegations. I don’t know if this is an actual held belief by these individuals, or a protective mechanism.

An investigator is not necessarily entrusted to determine the truth of an accusation. He is supposed to determine whether probable cause exists for a charge. I believe that many police investigators, CPS workers and prosecutors take a “better safe than sorry” approach to the investigation. Even if they have questions about the child’s story, he is likely to file charges and let the court or jury decide actual guilt.

This is why it is so vital to hire a criminal lawyer immediately after an accusation is made. Even if you think the allegation is ridiculous, it is important for the investigating officer to know that you are contesting the accusation. He needs to be made aware of contradictory evidence, and circumstances that would suggest that the child has been coached. He won’t necessarily look for this evidence himself.

Prior to filing, a police officer must obtain a charging decision from a prosecutor. If he has information in his file that leads him to question the veracity of the child, this will be provided to the reviewing prosecutor. It may be that the prosecutor withholds a decision until the police officer follows up on exculpatory information.

The bottom line is, a good criminal lawyer may be able to keep you from being charged. Without a voice on your behalf, there is little chance of avoiding an accusation from becoming a full-blown criminal charge.

If I am accused of a crime, should I cooperate with the police or hire a criminal defense attorney?

What do you think I’m going to say here? Surely, you know the answer to this one!

Television portrays cops as fair-minded truth seekers, sacrificing their personal lives and personal prejudices to make sure that only the guilty face justice. The reality is substantially different. Although there exists many dedicated police officers, my experience has been that once a police investigator has developed an opinion of guilt, he will do anything possible to substantiate his position.

Many of my former clients, secure in their innocence, have cooperated with police officers, only to find that the police parsed out the information that was given to them and the only thing that wound up on the police report was either evidence of guilt or a bastardized version of the facts. They are always shocked about that.

An investigating police officer must know you have a voice on your behalf. Without some proof of push back, he will continue on in his trajectory towards presumed guilt.

On occasion I will suggest to my client that he speak with or otherwise cooperate with a police investigation. However, before any of that happens an analysis must be made to determine whether it will either have a positive effect on the officer’s decision to deliver his report to the District Attorney, or will help in court when conversations later are had about dismissing the prosecution. If cooperation will make no difference, then it is simply a bad idea to provide police any additional information.

Only an experienced, qualified criminal lawyer can usher you through this minefield. A cop may tell you that only he can help you, and you may very much want to believe it. However, this is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You need protection when you are accused of a crime. Police officers don’t consider that to be their job.

I called the police on my husband and he was charged with assault. How can I drop charges?

The impression that most people have, when they make a complaint to the police, is that they are the ones bringing a criminal charge against the accused. In some States, this is true. In those States, it is the complainant who decides whether to go forward on their criminal case. Unfortunately, Texas is not one of those States.

In Texas, the complainant does not have the power to “drop” her case, because the case is brought by the State of Texas, on behalf of the people of Texas. Despite all appearances to the contrary, the complainant in a domestic assault case is merely a witness. She can be subpoenaed and forced to take the stand. The Judge can order her to testify against her husband or boyfriend.

This is usually confusing to people. There are a couple of reasons for that. Although a complainant can be forced to testify in any criminal case, in most types of cases a complainant’s wish to terminate a prosecution will result in a dismissal. In a Burglary case, for example, if the homeowner no longer wants the prosecution to continue their case against the accused, the case is likely to be dismissed. Not so in a domestic violence case.

People remember that many years ago if a wife wanted to drop charges against her husband, all that was required was that she complete an affidavit making the request, and the prosecution would let the case go. This is no longer the case, and in all of the larger counties in Texas, an “Affidavit of Non-Prosecution” isn’t worth the paper it is written on. Why are domestic family violence cases treated differently?

There is a general belief among District Attorneys that when a wife attempts to drop charges, she is doing so simply because of pressure being placed on her by her husband.  It is true that in some familial relationships, power is displaced, and the wife may be financially and emotionally dependent on her husband. In those relationships, a wife may succumb to pressure, believing that if she does not request a dismissal, she will lose her family and suffer more than she would if she stayed in an abusive relationship. Sometimes an abused wife wants to believe her husband when he tells her that his violent act will never happen again.

The problem with this general assumption made by the prosecution is that it is a general assumption. Although all physical abusive relationships necessarily involve assault behavior, not all assault complaints are the result of abusive relationships.  Sometimes a call is made to the police because the wife wants to calm down a verbal altercation, or wants the husband out of the house. Once the police arrive, she finds out that they won’t take any action unless a physical assault is alleged. Sometimes – surprise, surprise – the wife exaggerates or outright lies.

The appropriate way for a Assistant District Attorney to handle each family violence case is to judge each one by its individual facts. However, when a wife wants the case dismissed, the typical reaction is to transfer the case to the family assault division of the DA’s office, where the complainant has to run a gauntlet of secretaries, social workers and “specially trained” prosecutors in order to get her wish for dismissal heard. In the final analysis, her request is discarded and she is informed that the District Attorney is going forth with the prosecution anyway.

I have had many domestic assault cases dismissed but it was never simply because the complainant wanted it dismissed.  This is not to say that the wife’s desire for a dismissal is irrelevant. However, the lawyer must be able to speak for the wife and fully explain why the circumstances of the case demand dismissal. It has been my experience that a lawyer with an excellent trial reputation, thereby having an ability to back up his demand, is much more persuasive.

How expensive is a good DWI lawyer in the Houston area?

Lawyers, like plumbers, are business minded. They will charge just about as much as they can for their service. Luckily, the laws of supply and demand apply in every profession, and ultimately the price settles in at a certain level. However, to determine what that fair level is you first make sure you aren’t comparing apples to orangutans.

Not all lawyers are the same and misdemeanor DWI cases are unique, in that a special type of criminal lawyer is needed. Unlike most other types of cases, it is almost impossible to get a real plea bargain in a misdemeanor DWI case. Let me explain. A plea bargain is a result offered by a prosecutor for pleading guilty that you would not likely get if you tried your case to a jury.  For instance, an individual charged with Burglary of a Habitation might be offered deferred adjudication probation. Assuming the facts of the case are strong enough for a conviction, the individual may determine that this is a “bargain”, since a jury filled with homeowners might decide he needs to go to prison.

In a typical misdemeanor DWI case, a prosecutor is limited in what he can offer an accused. The standard offer for a first time DWI defendant is a term of probation. The law doesn’t allow deferred adjudication. Probation is not really a “bargain” for the accused, because if a jury convicts him, the Judge will sentence him to probation anyway. The only thing different about a conviction at trial is that the Judge may add some conditions to the probation that could theoretically be negotiated away in a plea. However, the most onerous of these conditions are typically taken out of the prosecutions hands anyway. For example, an ignition interlock device is required to be placed on the defendant’s vehicle if he registers a blood or breath alcohol concentration in excess of .15%. The Judge will do this at plea or trial.

Trial, however, provides the accused something that a plea bargain never can. It gives him the distinct possibility of an acquittal. This is true, irrespective of the strength of the case. The only charged crime in the penal code where a jury automatically understands the importance of presuming the defendant innocent is Driving While Intoxicated.  Half of the jurors have likely committed the offense themselves, and are loath to Judge the accused. An acquittal is a very real possibility in a DWI case, and the downside to a conviction by jury would be the very same result that would have occurred with a plea bargain.

So why would anyone accept a plea bargain in a DWI case? There are some cases that are not typical. A repeat DWI is not going to be guaranteed probation at trial, so a prosecutor’s offer of probation may be enticing. If the facts of the DWI include an accident, then it might not be wise to ask the jury to decide the case. Usually, however, the decision to take a plea offer comes down to money. And this is where we begin to talk about legal fees.

If you want the very best result in your DWI case, either a dismissal or an acquittal, you will need to hire a lawyer who has the talent, experience, knowledge and reputation necessary to try your case to a jury. You will be asking this lawyer to do substantial work on your case. He will need to prepare for your trial. This will include preparation of witnesses and a review of the scientific evidence that will be used in your prosecution. This is difficult and complicated science, and your lawyer needs to have spent substantial time learning the scientific process used in your blood or breath test. The bottom line is this: An orangutan can plead a first time DWI to probation. If you want the best result in your Driving While Intoxicated case, you need an apple!

So lets go back to the original question. How expensive is a good DWI attorney in the Houston area? If I were to generalize, I would guess no less than $5000 for representation through the conclusion of a jury trial.  Some lawyers charge more. Make sure you call around, and limit your choice to the attorneys who can actually get the job done.

What constitutes a harassment charge in Texas?

Harassment is limited to activity that is designed to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass another. It is rare, however, for a charge to result from oral face-to-face communication, no matter how rude an individual is.

These days, most harassment charges results from cell phone activity. Annoying activity on telephones, such as frequent calling and hang ups, and repeated electronic communications through vehicles such as email, Facebook, Twitter, text messages and the like make up the majority of harassment complaints.

It is awful easy to be charged with harassment. For instance, it is an offense to send electronic communications in a manner reasonably likely to annoy or abuse another. But what the hell does that mean? Who determines what is annoying? The language of the statute is far too vague and almost any activity is arguably chargeable.

Harassment is often used as a bludgeon by ex-spouses or spurned significant others. It is not uncommon for ex-lovers or ex-spouses to have text arguments that go on for hours, especially when children are involved. After the fact, a cunning ex could egg on further conversation, but not respond when the other party texts her. It is only these later texts that are shown to the police officer. He won’t be given the opportunity to learn the full breadth of the parties’ relationship and he and the DA might very well consider these texts to be harassing.

Some discerning police officers contact the alleged harassing party and warn them to cease activity before they file charges. If the harassing party continues at that point, the cop has no choice but to charge. However, the problem with this approach is that some individuals, such as those who share possession of children, have to sometimes communicate.

It is sometimes frustrating to be charged with harassment, but my experience has been that the case can be resolved in your favor once you get to court. If you have a good lawyer, he can provide the information to the DA or the jury that will allow them to see the bigger picture.