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Does Admitting to a Possible Crime at a Probation Hearing Prevent Me from Arguing Self-Defense at Trial?

Any criminal charge is a serious matter. But if you are already on probation–or community supervision, as it is known in Texas–for another offense, you are now facing a possible two-front battle. On the one hand, prosecutors can use the new charge as grounds to revoke your probation. On the other hand, you now face a possible trial on the new charge.

Court of Criminal Appeals Reverses Aggravated Assault Conviction

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently addressed an important legal question related to such scenarios: If you plead “true” to the facts of the new charge in your probation proceeding, does that prevent you from pleading self-defense when subsequently tried on that charge? The Court of Criminal Appeals said the answer was “no.”

Here is what happened. In 2015, the defendant, in this case, entered a guilty plea in Houston County to one count of “abandoning or endangering a child.” The judge placed the defendant on a one-year term of deferred adjudication community supervision. Basically, if the defendant completed one year of probation successfully, she would avoid a conviction on the original charge.

Unfortunately, several months into her probation, police arrested and charged the defendant with assault. Specifically, prosecutors in Anderson County alleged the defendant struck her roommate with an ashtray. Based on this and other alleged violations of her probation, Houston County prosecutors moved to revoke the defendant’s probation and adjudicate her guilt on the original 2015 charge. At the revocation hearing, the defendant pleaded “true” to the allegation of assaulting her roommate.

Separately, Anderson County prosecutors tried the defendant for the assault on the roommate. The defendant testified at trial, stating she acted in self-defense. The defendant’s attorney requested the trial judge issue an instruction to the jury on self-defense. The judge declined after prosecutors objected. The prosecution maintained that since the defendant pleaded “true” to the assault allegation during the Houston County hearing, she could not now argue self-defense.

The jury found the defendant guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced her to 11 years in prison. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant argued the trial judge improperly denied her self-defense instruction. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed.

In October 2018, the Court of Criminal Appeals issued its decision in State v. Waters. In that case, the Court said that just because a criminal allegation was found to be “not true” during a probation revocation hearing, that did not prevent prosecutors from later trying the defendant outright for the same crime. Here, the Court said the reverse was also true: Just because a defendant pleads “true” to an allegation during a revocation hearing, that does not prevent her from arguing self-defense at a later criminal trial. Ultimately, the defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, and that right is not waived even if the defendant admits to certain facts in the context of a probation hearing.

Speak with a Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision is an important, common-sense victory for the rights of all criminal defendants. If you are facing any type of charges yourself and need representation from an experienced Houston, Galveston, or League City criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.