War Story: Burglary Charged Dropped
Actually Investigating Made All of the Difference
I am a Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorney representing people accused of crimes in Tarrant and surrounding counties. Our client was charged with burglary of a habitation. His neighbors (husband and wife) accused him of breaking into their house. The neighbors did not live in the house full-time. The wife said she drove by the house saw our client climbing out of the window with a TV. She called the police. Our client was quickly arrested at his home, a few houses down. So, the State had eye-witness testimony saying our client was climbing out of a window with stolen property in his arms.
What made matters worse was that our client had been convicted of burglarizing the same house several years before. He was not our client then, but he pled guilty to that charge and went to prison. This time we have someone saying that they actually saw our client committing the burglary, and he had already been convicted of doing the same thing. The prosecutor thought they had an airtight case. Then we began our investigation…
We Investigate Every Case Thoroughly
A good criminal defense attorney never takes the evidence in a case at face value. Of course, we consider the information that our clients give us, but in this case, the only thing that our client could tell us is that he did not commit this burglary. He did not have a good “alibi,” because at the time our client was at home. His home was only a few houses down from the “scene of the crime.” No credible witness could vouch for his whereabouts at the time of the burglary.
This case was a little earlier in our criminal defense practice, and our investigation routine was not nearly as developed. So, we went fishing… Not literally, but we started fishing for information that could lead us to some helpful evidence. This started with an “open records request” for the house that was supposedly burglarized.
We do open records requests as a part of every criminal investigation now, but at the time it didn’t seem like there was a specific reason. We were just searching. As it turns out, the burglarized house backed up to the lot where an automotive service shop was located. Several weeks before the wife “saw the burglary” a worker at the auto-shop had called the police. This autoworker had seen two black men passing a television through the back window of the house. Our client was a light-skinned Hispanic male. The police did not catch the two black males that were passing the television out of the window, but they did make a report of the call.
So, with this information we sent our investigator out to find the guy that saw the suspicious activity. We received collected a statement from the autoworker. Then we compared what he saw with the “inventory” of items allegedly stolen by our client. And our client was accused of stealing all of the televisions in the house. The owners of the house (wife and husband) had not reported those items stolen until the wife said she saw our client committing burglary.
If you investigate well, don’t be afraid of trial.
We provided the information to the prosecutor, and she talked to the husband and wife about it. The wife still insisted that she saw our client climbing out of the house, but now she couldn’t be sure whether she saw him with any stolen items. The prosecutor was not willing to dismiss the burglary charge.
The case was set for trial. We had court the day before trial was supposed to start. So, we issued a subpoena requiring the autoworker to attend court. We told the court we were ready to go to trial on our client’s case. However, having this witness in the hall gave the prosecutor the chance to see that we were serious. We invited the prosecutor to go into the hall and speak with our “star witness.” As it turned out, he was just a random autoworker. He didn’t know our client, and he didn’t know the neighbors. He was annoyed that we required him to take a morning off of work. But he was a good man and willing to come to court to tell the truth. After speaking with our witness, the prosecutor walked back into the courtroom and dismissed the burglary charge against our client.
Our client was looking at a minimum of 5 years in prison and a possible life-sentence. With his criminal history, if a jury found him guilty he could have expected a very harsh sentence. Instead, with a little bit of investigation, and the boldness to push the case, our client’s burglary charge was dismissed.