Casinos and Used Cars: The Criminal Justice System


Chances are, if you are reading this, you have fallen into some kind of trouble with the law. First and foremost, don't panic. Your two greatest enemies right now are fear of the authorities and ignorance of the law. Even arrested people have a host of rights, many of them given and protected by the United States Constitution, and these rights apply to ANY arrested person, even if they are NOT citizens of the U.S.

One thing is certain, it will be much easier for you to make informed, rational decisions about your legal problems if you are not in jail. So, the first thing you will want to do, if at all possible, is to make bail. THERE IS NO NEED TO SEEK OUT A BONDSMAN! If you hire me to be your attorney, you can post bond through me. Not only that, but the fees you would normally pay the bondsman apply to the cost of attorney's fees.

Making bail will help you to more easily follow the first and most important advice I will give you as your defender, and since you've come to my website, I'll give it to you for free, even though it is extremely valuable advice. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, SO... REMAIN SILENT! Now, you need to find a good lawyer.


Not every lawyer is the right lawyer for your case. When trying to find someone to represent you, experience and reputation should be your first criteria. Next, and just as important, is the type of case you're up against. In Spanish, the word for lawyer is "Abogado", which means "Advocate", and this is a better description, because when you hire a lawyer, he should be your ADVOCATE. Your advocate will speak FOR YOU to the Prosecutor and the Judge, telling them your side of the story. This means that personality match matters.

Since REPUTATION and EXPERIENCE are so important to hiring the right lawyer, It's important to ask not HOW MANY cases the lawyer has won, but how many cases LIKE YOURS the lawyer has tried. You see, experience includes even those cases a lawyer loses, and even though I HATE TO LOSE, I'll admit that every loss teaches me volumes about how to better fight for my client the next time I have a similar case. In fact, even the best lawyers sometimes have to try cases that may seem hopeless, simply because the District Attorney is making unreasonable offers for a plea bargain. The wise lawyer knows the Jury or the Judge will likely return a more lenient sentence. Sometimes, the client is just plain innocent of all charges. Other times, the client is "overcharged". For example, I've represented clients charged with murder, when the facts of the case clearly showed that they shouldn't have been charged with anything more than manslaughter.

Oddly, clients are often impressed by a lawyer's answer to how many cases they've won, but remember, if that number is large, it's a cause for worry. After all, even the best lawyer's lose, and odds are, that lawyer is due for a loss. The question the client really means to ask is, "What hope do I have?" The answer is complex, but your chances are much better with an experienced advocate of good reputation.


I tell my clients that being tried by the Criminal Justice System is like playing the odds in a casino while at the same time negotiating a used car sale. Chances are stacked against the player in the Courthouse (the Casino), while the Prosecutor (a used car salesman) has to come out ahead in the deal or he goes out of business.

To explain this, let's look at the numbers so you'll better understand how the "roulette wheel" of justice turns. There are TWENTY criminal courts in Tarrant County, Fort Worth, Texas where I practice. Ten of these are for felonies, and ten for misdemeanors. For this example, I'm excluding federal and municipal courts.

Now, let's say each court has 1000 cases pending at any given time, while EVERY DAY, more people are arrested and charged. These cases are also added to the courts' caseload. One way or another, the Courts HAVE to resolve these pending cases.

On average, a criminal court can only conduct about 25 jury trials IN A YEAR. Why? Well, besides these trials, the Court has administrative duties and many other matters that it must manage. Plus, there are holidays, vacations, and to top it all off, one week of every month, there are nonjury trials. Given these circumstances, when a Court actually DOES conduct jury trial, it is serious business, and significant resources are used to guarantee an accused gets DUE PROCESS and EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW.


This is very important: In our system of justice, the Judge of a Court doesn't see, hear or even know the facts of a case until the case goes to trial — not before. Even then, if it is a jury trial, the Judge will not normally see or hear evidence, give an opinion, or decide guilt or punishment.

As the accused, you have a constitutional right to choose between a trial by jury or letting the Judge decide the facts of the case. A Judge reviews evidence or hears testimony only when there is a legal issue to resolve in the case, for example, of a motion to suppress an accused's statement or exclude evidence obtained illegally. Ultimately, the Judge is the "referee" who decides what evidence or testimony is admissible in the trial or if the Prosecutor or the Defendant's Lawyer commit a "foul".

5. Was It a Penalty or Not?

If a Defendant loses at trial, the only thing left to do is appeal any mistake that might have been made by the Judge or the attorneys. BUT, even an appeal only works if the mistake made was so bad that it would have resulted in a different outcome in the trial. So, generally, a Judge's job is not to decide a person's guilt, innocence or punishment. Their job is to make sure both sides follow the rules and keep cases moving so the court will not become paralyzed by the caseload.


Now, of all 1000 persons charged in the example above demanded a Jury Trial, the Courts would cease to operate in a matter of a few months. There are just not enough human or economic resources to have that many trials.

The same happens if a Prosecutor insists on unreasonable or maximum punishment in every case. This is why he becomes like a used car salesman - he has to start making deals to keep the cases moving. If he demands too much, the Defendant will have to choose to demand a Jury Trial or have the Judge decide the case. And every day spent on a Jury Trial results in more cases filed dally in the Court, which adds to its inefficiency.

Let's say 25 of the 1000 persons charged go to trial. That's just 2.5% of the whole caseload. So, what happens to the other 975 cases AND all the NEW cases of being people being arrested every day? They've got to go SOMEWHERE! And as a client once told me, "A bad deal is still better than a fight In Court." That's because, most times, with a skilled and experienced Defender, deals are reached that are good for BOTH sides, avoiding any uncertainties and risks for the Defendant while at the same time reducing the expense and inefficiency of the Court. These deals are called "Plea Bargains."


As you can see, the great majority of criminal cases are not resolved in a Jury Trial like we see on television in a one hour show. Instead, most cases are resolved through negotiations between Prosecutors and Defense Attorneys. This process is called "Plea Negotiation."

In these negotiations, both sides use facts, laws, rules, and arguments to convince the others of their position. The negotiations are sort of confidential, so each side can honestly talk about facts that help or hurt their side without having those facts used against them in Court. Most cases never see the light of day in a trial, so they are good, bad, and even ugly Plea Bargains, depending on the facts of each case. Relying solely on plea comparison can lead to favorable or harmful results. 


Every accused person has the same constitutional rights whether charged with a speeding ticket or murder in the first degree. These rights include Due Process, Equal Protection of the Law, and a Jury Trial by your "peers". Every person tried in the U.S. has these rights even if they are not citizens of the United States or do not have legal immigration status.

By design, Jury Trials and the criminal justice system are inefficient and expensive. Why? To avoid making careless mistakes with people's lives. Of course, the way criminal justice is dished out in countries governed by corrupt officials or dictators is efficient and saves loads of money. That's because a dictator simply accuses someone of committing a crime and imposes swift punishment. If there's a mistake...too bad. Of course, our system in the U.S. isn't perfect, either, but the system is designed in such a way as to avoid those mistakes as much as possible.


Because the Courts are constantly aware of their caseload, TIME is the defense lawyer's best weapon and chief currency when negotiating a case, whether their client is innocent or guilty. When a client can't make bail and is unable to get released from jail while the case is pending, the ability to negotiate is usually hurt by the client's impatience. When the client is free on bond, it is a great advantage, because the longer a case is pending, the more inefficient the Court becomes. Just like when a used car salesman's boss will pull him in and press him to make the sale by lowering the price of the car or throwing in extras like free gas or maintenance, the Prosecutor can be pressured by either the District Attorney or even the Judge to reevaluate his position if his original punishment offer is unreasonable.

When the client fully understands that TIME is the currency for negotiation, he is less likely to become frustrated about sitting through routine court appearance dockets and waiting for something to happen. Some clients have the idea that their lawyer should be loudly advocating, arguing and browbeating the Judge and Prosecutor. But, watch now, because this is very important: Even though the client may feel like they are just sitting there bored and anxious while nothing happens, THAT IS EXACTLY MY INTENTION... that nothing keeps happening.


The rule that clients must appear in person during routine dockets was in place long before I got here and will be here long after I am gone. The only reason I can think of why the Courts require clients to appear is to have them watch the Roulette Wheel spinning around and eventually accept a plea offer. It's really not an abusive rule. There is logic to having the person with the most to lose be present during all proceedings. All the reasons would easily be the subject of an entire book. For now, just understand that your Defender does not control the Court's calendar, but a good Defender can often USE the Court's calendar to your advantage.

Sometimes, a client will ask if the Court could just schedule one court date so the case could be resolved once and for all. My easy and obvious response to the client is: Do you really want all four prosecutors and the Judge putting all their focus and efforts on THIS case when normally they have between 20 to 50 cases to prepare and resolve? Hopefully, the answer is, "NO WAY!"

As the Defendant, don't ignore that a general appearance docket is an opportunity to physically make a good impression to the Court in comparison to the other charged individuals in the Court. Judges and Prosecutors may or may not look for it, but don't waste the opportunity when more than half of the others in your position will appear wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

The Attorneys
  • Francisco Hernandez
  • Daniel Hernandez
  • Phillip Hall
  • Rocio Martinez