In this post, James Sullivan describes a recent jury trial win in Harris County juvenile court–
On July 11, 2016, I tried a felony deadly conduct case to a jury in juvenile court. My 15 year old client was falsely charged and it was blatant. I was hired in late May to replace the court-appointed attorney. Within a two week period of time, I had 3 separate detention hearings before 3 separate judges, and they all refused to release my client from detention. I was outraged at the system that kept an innocent child locked up on a false charge while the actual adult perpetrator got off easy with only 3 days in jail for a misdemeanor. So, on June 21, immediately after that third denial, I asked for a speedy jury trial and was able to secure a trial date within 3 weeks. In Harris County, this was probably the fastest juvenile case ever to get to a jury trial–only 7 weeks from the date of arrest.
There was also a surveillance video that recorded the actual shooting. It seemed clear that my client was not the shooter, but the prosecutor turned a blind eye to the obvious and chose to “believe” three biased witnesses, including the investigating officer, who claimed that they “positively identified” my client from the video as the shooter. The actual shooter was a 21 year old man who had befriended and badly influenced my client. That man was drunk and shot a stop sign twice with his .40 caliber handgun and there was an occupied house across the street behind it. That man was actually arrested that night with unlawfully carrying a weapon and only spent 3 days in jail. The only issue at trial was: who shot the stop sign?
The day after the shooting a homeowner discovered that his security camera actually captured the incident, and two other neighbors (who were on the board of the HOA) lied and claimed that it was my client on the video who did the shooting. I believe they were angry that my client was not also arrested the night before. When the police arrested my client that next night, he happened to be wearing the same colored clothing as in the video, but it was still obvious based on the body size, hair style and other characteristics that my client was not the shooter. My client is 5’5″ and 130 lbs and the shooter is 5’7″ and 160 lbs.
I told the prosecutor to dismiss the case on June 21 after viewing the videotape. By then my client had already spent over 4 weeks in juvenile detention. After he refused to dismiss it, I set it for a jury trial.
The week before trial I spent several days in that neighborhood meeting with and interviewing witnesses to what really happened that night and who could also identify the two parties. In addition to those 8 witnesses, I also filed a subpoena for the officer who arrested the actual shooter that night. Based on the video alone, I fully expected the prosecutor to dismiss the case the morning of trial. The prosecutor might have chosen to “believe” the unbelievable, but I thought he was smart enough to realize that a jury of 12 rational people would not be so easily duped. Apparently, he thought otherwise, so I got to have a great day getting justice for my client.
During cross-examination, I was able to get the arresting police officer to concede that he could not describe the shooter’s face, clothing type nor even the shooter’s race or ethnicity from a photo I made from the video. Another State’s witness (the president of the HOA), as soon as he took the witness stand, actually revealed his prejudice for all to see by calling my client a “peckerwood”. During cross-examination, I got him to even identify my client as the non-shooter in the video!
Through cross-examination of his witnesses, I showed how blatantly false his witness’ accusations were. The prosecutor actually subpoenaed the actual shooter to trial but did not call him as a witness. After the prosecutor rested his case, I then put on my 9 witnesses to tell the real story of what happened that night. I also called the shooter to the stand and among other things he admitted that he had a gun that night, pleaded guilty to the carrying a weapon charge and only spent 3 days in jail.
Right after the not guilty verdict was announced, both prosecutors hurried straight out of the courtroom.
My client’s mother wrote a kind review on Avvo—
In late May of 2016 my 15 year old son was arrested and taken to the juvenile detention center for a felony crime he did not commit, Deadly Conduct. After being falsely accused and wrongfully admitted to the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center, I met with and hired Mr. Sullivan. He walked us through the process and helped my family and son better understand what needed to be done. The day of the detention hearing in court, we had all of the proof and evidence to help get my son out of detention. The judge of the court was completely unjust. After refusing to consider the video evidence that proved my son’s innocence or to even hear from my family members who were willing to supervise my son at all times if released, the judge quickly ruled to keep my innocent son detained. Mr. Sullivan was furious at the system that caused my son to be arrested and held for a crime he did not commit while at the same time the adult who actually committed the crime was only charged with a misdemeanor and spent just a few days in jail. Mr. Sullivan immediately requested a trial by jury. We were able to get a trial setting in the next 3 weeks, which was amazing considering the fact that most cases take 3-6 months or longer to get to a trial. Mr. Sullivan explained that court-appointed attorneys such as the one first appointed to my son’s case never take cases to a jury trial, but instead only have bench trials where the judges make the final decision. If the court-appointed attorney had stayed on the case, my son would still be in detention and I believe he would probably have been found guilty by the judge. Instead, thanks to Mr. Sullivan my son was found innocent by a unanimous vote from the jury. Mr. Sullivan stopped at nothing to help our son and prove him innocent. My son walked out of detention 7 weeks later with no record. Mr. Sullivan’s knowledge of the criminal and juvenile justice systems helped in so many ways. Mr. Sullivan was not pushy, arrogant, or air-headed like most attorneys. Instead, he kept a down-to-earth low-profile, encouraged my son as if he were his own and won our case successfully and peacefully. Thank you so much Mr. Sullivan for helping my family and my son!