Arraignments, Texas Style

The saying 'the grass is always greener on the other side' has proven moot today.  Well, at least for use here in California.  If you live in Harris County, Texas you may actually feel that the grass is in fact greener here in California.


It is being reported that a judge in Harris County, Texas is being accused of unconstitutional and unethical conduct in relation to how he conducts his arraignment hearings.  Arraignment hearings are often the first appearance made by a criminal defendant, and at the hearing the defendant usually makes their initial plea of not guilty.  That is, the arraignment hearing is the hearing where the defendant denies all charges.  At least that is what happens if you are not in Judge Michael Fields's courtroom at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.

According to the ABA journal: "More than a dozen criminal defense lawyers converged Friday outside a Texas courtroom and handed out informational cards to misdemeanor defendants in an attempt to counteract what they say is an unconstitutional arraignment procedure being used by" Judge Fields. The lawyers claim that Judge Fields coerces defendants to plead guilty on their first appearance and without an attorney present to represent them.  Judge Fields responds that he advises each defendant of their right to have an attorney present and their right to a trial and that the defendants knowingly and voluntarily give up those rights.

What Judge Fields fails to understand is that simply because a defendant says they understand their rights does not mean they actually do. First time defendants are new to the criminal justice process and being pressured by a judge to speed things up is actually quite unfair and likely unethical.  There is practically no benefit ever to not having an attorney present when you enter your plea.  Additionally, there is seldom very little reason to plead guilty on your first court appearance.

Don't make the mistake and give into pressure.  Contact an attorney before going to court or ask that one be appointed for you if you cannot afford one.