By Gregg Cox
Former TDCAA Assistant Training Director in Austin, now First Assistant Criminal District Attorney in Hays County
TDCAA provides high-quality, live training around the state on a variety of topics. Recognizing that it can sometimes be difficult to attend a live training, we have been working to build a library of online courses for our members to provide relevant, on-demand training. By the end of January 2023, we will have approximately 22.5 hours of online CLE available on the TDCAA training page, and over 17 of those hours will be available to you at no cost.
If you have not been on TDCAA’s website recently, you should check it out at tdcaa.com. You will find useful information for Texas prosecutors and staff including training opportunities, case summaries, legislative updates, current and past editions of The Texas Prosecutor journal, a catalog of books TDCAA publishes, the job bank, and a resource tab with information related to Brady, DWI, and victim services. The prosecutor forum that allows you to post questions on a message board is also located on the resource tab in case you have wondered whether that still exists.
Once you are on the website, clicking on the “Training” tab will take you to the catalog of live conferences that are available for registration and those that are coming soon. If you dig a little deeper and click on “Online Training,” you will find the catalog of online courses currently available and coming soon. This article describes the current online offerings and some of what is on the horizon for online training. You will be able to register for any of the following courses on the website.
What’s currently available
Mandatory Brady Training. Government Code §41.111 mandates that all Texas prosecutors representing the State in the prosecution of felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses (other than Class C misdemeanors), including special prosecutors, must complete a course relating to the duty to disclose exculpatory and mitigating evidence. That statute, and rules adopted by the Court of Criminal Appeals in accordance with the law, require each prosecutor to complete a one-hour course within 180 days of assuming duties as a prosecutor. It also requires prosecutors to stay up-to-date on developments in the law by taking the training again every four years thereafter. TDCAA’s Mandatory Brady Training course was created to fulfill this obligation and is offered at no cost. To stay current and in keeping with this law and CCA rules, TDCAA produces a new version of this training every four years. The newest version was approved by the Court of Criminal Appeals and was released in late September 2022.
The course is free and provides 1.25 hours of MCLE, all of which counts as ethics. It addresses the different and overlapping obligations under Brady, the Michael Morton Act, and Rule 3.09. It features video clips from interviews of elected prosecutors from across Texas and includes a mix of written materials and quizzes to test the user’s understanding of the content. It includes optional access to information about conviction integrity units. The Brady resource page on the website provides copies of the underlying caselaw and sample documents.
Mental Health Video Series Part I: What Every Prosecutor Should Know About Mental Illness. This 3.5-hour course is designed to provide prosecutors and other criminal justice professionals with an understanding of how mental illness can impact a criminal case and what tools are available when handling a case where the defendant’s mental health is an issue. Presentations include:
1) Mental Health 101, covering common mental illnesses seen in criminal defendants and presented by Dr. Maureen Burrows, a forensic psychiatrist in Central Texas,
2) Mental Health Legal Basics, presented by Jeff Matovich of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office,
3) Case Assessment and Intake of MH Cases, presented by Lee Pierson of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, and
4) Connecting with Local Resources, presented by Sarah Moore of the Dawson County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.
This course is free of charge.
Mental Health Video Series Part Two: Litigation in MH Cases: Insanity, Competency, and Restoration. This 4.25-hour course focuses on the most common types of litigation in mental health cases and provides detailed information about what happens when a defendant is sent to the state hospital system. Presentations include:
1) Competency and Restoration, presented by Lee Pierson and Kendall McKimmey of the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office,
2) Sanity, presented by Jeff Matovich and Bradford Crockard of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office,
3) Mental Health Defenses, presented by Gilbert Sawtelle of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and
4) The Texas State Hospital System and the Continuum of Care, presented by Dr. Felix Torres and Meghan Kempf of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
This course is free of charge.
Mental Health Video Series Part III: Alternatives to Traditional Prosecution for MH Cases. This 3.0-hour course focuses on alternatives to traditional prosecution for mental health cases. It includes presentations on:
1) how to set up and run a specialty docket or specialty court for MH cases, presented by Erica Winsor of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office,
2) diversion options for mental health cases, presented by Michele Oncken of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Audrey Garnett of the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, and
3) a discussion of how to develop diversion options with limited resources, presented by Comal County Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Tharp.
This course is free of charge.
Fundamentals of Child Welfare Law. This six-part course is designed to provide the fundamentals for any prosecutor assigned to take on the important responsibility of representing the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in legal proceedings related to child welfare. Topics include an overview of DFPS, the removal decision, pleadings and parties, preparing for contested hearings, required filings, and closing the case. This course is taught by highly experienced attorneys in this field and provides 5.25 hours of CLE; it costs $100.
What’s coming soon
Mental Health Video Series Part IV: Using the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) to Decriminalize Mental Illness. This 2.5-hour course for criminal justice practitioners consists of a panel discussion about how the sequential intercept model can be used in a community to reduce the number of mental ill people who end up in the criminal justice system. Each intercept point is discussed in detail, and useful information about how a community may request an assessment is included. The panel is moderated by TDCAA Executive Director Rob Kepple, and the panel of experts includes Travis Parker, Program Area Director for Policy Research Associates; Dr. Jennie Simpson, State Forensic Director from Texas Health & Human Services Commission; and Jason Steans, Assistant County Attorney in Williamson County. The course will be free of charge.
Prosecuting an Intoxication Manslaughter Case: A Panel Discussion. This 3.0-hour course covers the essentials of trying an intoxication manslaughter or intoxication assault case and includes discussion of charging decisions and the grand jury, common defenses, crash reconstruction, toxicology evidence, jury selection, trial preparation, and working with victims and their families. The panel includes prosecutors with a great deal of experience with these cases and is moderated by TDCAA DWI Resource Prosecutor W. Clay Abbott. The panelists are Andrew James of the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, Jessica Frazier of the Comal County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, and Alison Baimbridge of the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office. The course will be free of charge.
More future topics
TDCAA will continually refresh and expand the library of available online training. We are planning to produce a Juvenile Prosecution video series in 2023. The course will include topics such as juvenile statements, determinate sentencing, progressive sanctions, certification hearings, confidentiality of juvenile records, and more. Additional details will be published as this project moves forward.
We plan to work with the Department of Public Safety’s DNA section to produce a course on the science of DNA, an explanation of how to read and understand a DNA report, tips on how to present the testimony of a DNA analyst, and detailed information about interacting with the DNA lab.
We will provide some free online ethics training in 2023 as a benefit for paid TDCAA members only.
We will produce a series of “pro tips”-style instructive videos that will be available at no cost for our members. These will be short (10- to 15-minute) videos with no CLE attached. The idea is to provide clear instruction for prosecutors who are preparing for court and need a refresher or help for how to perform a particular skill correctly. These videos will feature experienced prosecutors explaining and possibly demonstrating specific skills. Topics may include how to properly impeach a witness with an inconsistent statement, how to impeach a witness with a prior offense, Daubert hearings, handling a motion to suppress, motions to revoke, and forfeiture by wrongdoing.