Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Guest blogger: "The Assistant"

One of the delights of having a blog is reading the comments, getting feedback from readers (thanks mum!). One person who has been reading for a while and making sage and interesting remarks is a gentleman who signs his comments "Assistant County Attorney."

Well, he's now been promoted. I don't mean he's now the Actual County Attorney, no, what I'm saying is that he has been promoted from commenter to blogger. Right here, every Tuesday, he'll be giving us his perspective on criminal law from some place in Texas I've never been.

So this is what he wants you to know about him (for now!):

Like D.A. Confidential, I’m a prosecuting attorney in Texas. However, I’m an Assistant County Attorney. As in most things relating to criminal law in our state, the Texas system of dividing up prosecutions is unique, bizarre, internally inconsistent, and often nonsensical. Some D.A.’s offices prosecute both misdemeanors and felonies, and a very few County Attorney’s offices prosecute both. However, the general outline in many counties is this- the District Attorney’s office prosecutes felonies, and the County Attorney’s office prosecutes misdemeanors. I belong in that latter group. I’ve been offered the chance to write here about what life is like on my floor of the courthouse, and I hope you’ll find that it makes for an interesting compliment to what DAC writes.

So who am I? Well, I’m the lone Assistant County Attorney in a South Texas county. I grew up in Texas, went to law school on the East Coast, worked in heavy duty civil litigation for a bit, and then fled back home for more interesting work. Like DAC, I have my boss’s blessing to post, but will hold onto this nom de plume for a bit. I only speak for myself- not for my office, not for the State of Texas, not for D.A. Confidential, and not for Travis County.

There are some technical differences between what DAC does and what I do. Misdemeanors don’t get indicted by a grand jury, for instance. I’ve never seen a pre-sentence investigation report. My trials rarely have more than two or three witnesses, and sometimes not even that many. But by far the biggest difference is that every jury can sympathize with a misdemeanor defendant. When a jury looks at a defendant who’s been charged with a DWI or possession of marijuana, they can see themselves or their no good brother in law. When a jury looks at a defendant charged with child abuse or murder, that empathy is much harder to come by.

So my hope is that by writing about what I do, you the faithful reader, will have a better idea about how the criminal justice system affects “people like us.” Not bad people generally, just people that made a bad decision. As always, your questions, comments and feedback are always welcome. And yes, I know I use too many commas. I can’t help it.

His first substantive post will be next Tuesday, when he'll go into what kinds of cases he handles, and what his job entails, in a little more depth.


  1. I've already got a few ideas for the things I want to post about, but if anybody has any questions please let me know!

  2. A misdemeanor case actually can be taken to the grand jury. That's most likely to happen in a high profile case or where there's some other reason that the prosecutor doesn't want to take responsibility for filing charges or declining to prosecute.

  3. Yes, a misdemeanor case can be. The only time I've seen it happen though has been an instance of accused official misconduct. The Attorney General submitted the case to the grand jury as part of their duties as special prosecutor. I've only personally considered it in one case that both the police and my office thought was completely unfounded but the victim was very insistant about. That case was eventually resolved, but it did at least cross my mind. Both of those examples fit your categories, and I can't imagine a prosecutor wanting to bother for any other reason.

    However, with all that being said, it's a pretty exceptional misdemeanor that a grand jury hears. From what I've seen, one in a thousand or fewer. Did you ever present one?

  4. I interned in a prosecutor's office in central Illinois before coming to law school, and that county dealt with misdemeanors in front of the grand jury relatively routinely (I won't say frequently) as a way of avoiding preliminary hearings. The prosecutors as a matter of policy asked misdemeanor defendants to waive their preliminary hearings. Anyone who declined to waive had their case indicted through the grand jury instead.


Comments posted to this blog are NOT the opinion of the Travis County D.A.'s office, under any circumstances. They are only the personal, non-representative opinion of D.A. Confidential if posted under his name.
I welcome all comments, as long as they are expressed with politeness and respect. I will delete all comments that I deem to be personal attacks, or that are posted merely to antagonize or insult.