Remarkably, "The policy is so unpopular that attorney Damon Reed, Reyna’s former law partner, asked a judge last week to order the district attorney’s office into mediation with Reed’s 23-year-old DWI client because of Reed’s perception that the district attorney’s office won’t negotiate or treat defendants fairly." A judge denied the motion, but attorney Damon Reed, who is Reyna's former law partner, criticized new DA's approach as a "one size fits all" policy. Reported the Trib:
Reed said the result of the new policy is not justice and only will force defendants to plead “open to the court” seeking a better deal with a judge. In “open” pleas, offenders plead guilty and ask judges to set punishments without the benefit of plea agreements.Regular readers know, of course, those only include the criminal penalties. There is also a civil surcharge, which for DWI defendants can be quite high and have caused a decline in the DWI conviction rate statewide.
The other option is to go to trial, further clogging court dockets and costing taxpayers more to operate the judicial system, Reed said.
“Abel is clearly doing all this for political purposes,” Reed said. “I don’t understand why he has a budget for so many assistant prosecutors when they are not allowed to do their jobs. I’ll buy him a rubber stamp and he can lay a half-dozen prosecutors off and save the county a whole lot of money.
“The point of it is so the district attorney can look like he is tough on crime and the judges will artificially appear that they are being soft on criminals if they take into consideration any of the circumstances of the individual in shaping justice for that individual.”
Reyna said he has set a standard offer of 15 months probation and $1,000 fines for those charged with their first DWI. Offers are higher if there are aggravating factors, such as an unusually high breath or blood-alcohol test, causing a wreck or being belligerent to the arresting officer.
The maximum penalty for a first-time DWI is two years in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The issue is, at what point do penalties become so severe that defendants would prefer to just sit out their sentence in the county jail than agree to probation, which is what happened in Harris County when the previous DA, Chuck Rosenthal, tried to turn up the screws. And as attorneys in the story pointed out, a big part of the problem is expensive DWI "surcharges," as well as probation fees, costs for treatment, urinalysis, any required classes, etc.:
Reed and other attorneys say a typical DWI defendant placed on probation will incur fines, probation fees, state surcharges and possibly other charges that easily can total $500 or more a month.Will defendants in McLennan County pay through the nose, or will this result in clogged dockets, demands for trials, or even pleas to jail sentences? I suppose, looking at it through the prism of local politics, at least that last option would provide some extra bed days for these guys, which a cynic might imagine could even be the point.
“If I slap a poor man 20 times to get his attention, I guarantee you I had his attention after the first time,” Waco attorney Mike Roberts said. “If I give him a fine he can’t pay, it is not in the best interest of justice because he is not going to be able to pay it, you are setting him up to fail and the taxpayers will have to pay to keep him in jail and to pay for more jury trials. It is nothing more than political posturing.”