The Annual Business Meeting of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association will take place on Wednesday, September 18, at 5:00 p.m. at the Galveston Island Convention Center. (It coincides with our Annual Criminal & Civil Law Update.) This will be your chance to vote in the TDCAA leadership elections, which include the Executive Committee positions and the Regional Directors. This year, members will vote in regional caucuses for directors in Regions 3, 5, 6, and 8. You can find a map of these TDCAA regions below. The Regional Director term is two years and begins January 1. If you have any questions, just give me a call.
Thanks to Erik Nielsen
I want to say thank you to Erik Nielsen, who is leaving his position as the TDCAA Training Director after almost eight years of hard work to return to courtroom prosecution. Erik started at TDCAA as the research attorney after clerking at the Court of Criminal Appeals. He went to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office but couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to TDCAA and serve y’all as our training director. After an excellent run, he felt the pull to get back into the courtroom.
Erik’s energy and enthusiasm for our profession and his day-to-day work is unsurpassed. He will be missed here. Well, him and his man-hugs.
Welcome to our new Training Director
I would like to introduce to you to our new TDCAA Training Director, Jack Choate. Jack comes to us from Walker County, where he had recently concluded a 15-year run as the first assistant for CDA David Weeks. Jack has been an active member of TDCAA, working on the training committee and later serving as the chair of that committee, teaching at our Train the Trainers course, and acting as a frequent speaker on search and seizure and other topics. He brings a wealth of prosecution and training experience to the job.
That is all good, but you should know that we probably hired him more for his creativity than anything else. After all, don’t you want to learn how to lie down in front of the jury box and deliver a closing argument using your hands as talking puppets? Yes, he really did that, and we can all benefit by learning that type of advanced trial skill—I think. Welcome, Jack!
Mr. Garza goes to Washington
Congratulations are in order for Henry Garza, the Bell County DA, who takes over the reins as president of the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) at its summer conference in July in San Diego. In the past, Henry has served the NDAA as a state representative, vice president, and member of the executive committee. He will be the third Texan to take the helm of the NDAA, following in the footsteps of Carol Vance (former DA in Harris County), and his mentor, the late Arthur C. “Cappy” Eads (former DA in Bell County). Henry will also be the first Hispanic president. He will do a great job with the national outfit.
A prosecutor summit on domestic violence
In April the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) and TDCAA co-hosted a prosecutor summit on domestic violence. The purpose of the two-day retreat was to gather prosecutor policy-makers from a diverse cross-section of state jurisdictions and discuss the progress Texas has made when it comes to combating domestic violence. Although the final report has yet to be written, this energetic group of prosecutors identified a number of trends and issues that deserve our attention in the years to come. What we hope will emerge is a blueprint for how we as a profession, working with allied professionals such as the TCFV, can make significant progress in the future to end domestic violence.
For me, one of the best parts of the meeting was the sense of how far our profession has come in the recognition that the problem of domestic violence is a pervasive one that demands a lot of energy and creative solutions. When I first started prosecuting in the ’80s, I can’t say that I understood the dynamics of domestic violence or the need for intervention by the criminal justice system. I was fine with that affidavit to drop the charges—and I don’t think I was alone in that. What is great about today’s prosecutors is that we have an appreciation that these cases are different than most other crimes and demand a new approach.
The group that worked hard for two days made a number of important observations about the state of our work in domestic violence. First and foremost, gone are the days when the affidavit of non-prosecution is accepted, no questions asked. Participants seemed committed to finding ways to help victims of domestic violence find ways to end ongoing abuse. It is about securing a consequence for a crime, but we have come to recognize that when a victim asks to drop charges, she still wants the violence to stop but she may fear that her life will be upended entirely with a conviction. Can we find ways to hold offenders accountable, and at the same time make victims safer in the future? The challenge is to work with victims and find that right consequence, whether it be jail or prison, a suspended sentence, drug or alcohol treatment, Batterers Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPP), or other alternatives.
We recognized that the Crawford decision limiting the use of out-of-court statements concerning the crime had put a kink in our ability to prosecute domestic violence cases without the active participation of the victim. The good news is that prosecutors are developing a track record with the use of the “forfeiture by wrongdoing” exception to Crawford. (See the March-April 2013 edition of The Texas Prosecutor for a primer on the doctrine.) TDCAA will be studying this promising development.
The group also resisted the temptation to just fob off any problems in the prosecution of domestic violence cases on poor police work or uninterested judges. Many prosecutors at the summit noted that when they developed policies regarding the handling of DV cases and otherwise made such cases a priority, their leadership was rewarded with more attention and interest from other criminal justice professionals. In other words, taking a leading role on the issue has paid off with more successful prosecutions.
Even with the positives, the group recognized that challenges still exist in helping law enforcement get the training and resources necessary to efficiently and thoroughly investigate domestic violence cases in a timely manner. And the issue of resources is exacerbated in the more rural jurisdictions—places where quick referral of cases to the prosecutor may not happen and the needed counseling and intervention services just may not exist.
Look for more details on the work that the participants did at the summit in the future. And thanks to the Texas Council on Family Violence for developing the summit and hosting it. It has been a great partnership.
Do you need an intern to help with victim services?
Funding victim services is always a challenge, and as grants get harder to come by, manpower can be an issue. We recently connected with the folks at Sam Houston State University, which actually offers a degree in Victim Studies. This course of study prepares people for work in the field as victim assistance coordinators.
The degree curriculum includes a very active internship program. The university has placed many interns in prosecutor offices all over the state, so geography has not been a problem. If you would like to inquire about getting a victim services intern for your office, email or call Professor Raymond Teske at rteske @suddenlink.net or 936/295-6274.
Our sincere thanks for your support
In the wake of the tragedies in Kaufman County came support from so many within Texas and outside our boundaries. I want to take a moment to thank those who have shown their support through donations to the Kaufman County Crime Stoppers and memorial contributions to the Texas District and County Attorneys Foundation. And I’d like to thank those who wore black ribbons to honor the fallen. The support was widespread, including letters of support and donations from the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Prosecutor Coordinators, and countless individual district attorneys from Connecticut to Hawaii. Thanks, y’all!