One way the criminal justice system breaks defendants into pleading is by wasting their time. Nowhere is this more evident than in making a defendant appear for a misdemeanor announcement PNC (plea negotiation conference), or first setting.
In Kaufman and Rockwall County (think the counties east of Dallas), the judges require defendants to attend all misdemeanor settings. What’s wrong with that? Let’s talk about the first setting in a misdemeanor case.
90% of the time at the first setting I have not received discovery yet. We usually pick this up in court and sign for it at the first setting. Not having discovery means I haven’t reviewed discovery. If I haven’t reviewed the discovery, then I can’t do anything on your case. If I can’t do anything on your case then we have to reset it (also called a pass). Which means you, the defendant is going to sit there for an hour while all this happens. We used to be able to appear for our clients on first settings in Kaufman County, but that’s gone away as a thing.
What about other settings? We have two other settings in criminal cases, which are the same thing- announcements, and plea negotiation conferences (PNC). Announcements used to mean something back in ye olden of days of law when we all talked in Latin and judges wore giant white wigs and smoked fitlerless Camels on the bench. Today no one remembers what we are supposed to be “announcing” other than “hey look I’m here with a suit on and my client is in the hallway.”
Plea negotiation conferences are what they sound like; we try to work this thing out or see where we are at. At a PNC we (the prosecutor and defense) exchange information, request more discovery, check up on forensic tests that might not be in yet (DWI blood results for example) or talk about how to resolve the case.
So why do defendants have to appear on misdemeanors in Kaufman County?
The idea is that we will work out the case with our defendant in the hallway, with a little back-and-forth negotiating. That does happen sometimes, but it’s nothing we can’t usually resolve with a phone call to our client or even a text message if they are up to speed.
However, a lot of settings we can’t do anything on and there is no reason for the client to appear. Beyond first settings, there are times when we don’t have test results in DWI or drug cases. I’m not nearly shitty enough at defense lawyering to plea a guy to possession if there isn’t proof of what was possessed. Or cases in which their is a companion felony we are waiting on. For example, you catch a 1st-degree felony dope charge along with some bullshit case like marijuana possession or driving on a bad license. Well, guess what? If you are looking at life in prison, we aren’t going to try or plea the misdemeanors first (probably not, maybe we will, but usually hell no).
Wasting defendants time in court means they aren’t out working or taking their kids to school. People get fired for coming to court. And since Texas has been ruled by idiot politicians for so long we actually send 17 years to real adult court. Which means you have to give Timmy a note from the court so he can miss school.
It’s just another way the criminal justice system is a huge drain on society. It waste millions of otherwise productive hours that defendants could spend doing anything better than waiting in a hallway. But it’s the rule in Kaufman County and Rockwall County, so you have to appear. Not my rule, I don’t give a shit, but if you don’t then you will forfeit your bond and get arrested again.
In Dallas County, your lawyer can appear for you on almost every setting. So it’s not like there isn’t a way to do this without the defendant appearing all the time.