You probably already know that once you are convicted in Texas, the odds are stacked against you. The system is designed to ensure "finality". Generally, that means that the courts will assume that everything was done correctly. The presumption is gone - you are now presumed guilty since you have already been convicted.

In a trial, the State has the burden of proof, and must produce evidence to establish your guilt. In the post-conviction process, it is now your burden to produce evidence. And it's not enough to argue that you shouldn't have been convicted, or that the evidence is insufficient - remember, the courts now presume you are guilty.

It's a fact that there are a lot of cases where there is simply nothing that can be done. That's hard - if not impossible - to accept. Especially if it's you, or a family member. Unfortunately, some lawyers take advantage of that and take money to handle cases where there is no real chance of success.

We are aware that by this point, you have already spent a substantial amount of money on lawyers. I don't want you to spend any more if there's no chance of success. That is why we handle cases in stages, and won't accept a case without going through a review process.

The First Stage - complete an evaluation form

The first step in the process is to complete an evaluation form. That form provides me with some basic information that will usually allow me to determine if you are wasting your time - and money. The evaluation form will give us information about the case, what has happened, and what you believe the issues are. Based on those answers, we can determine if it's worth going to the next step.

The Second Stage - formal review

If the evaluation form shows there are potential issues, the next step is to accept the case for a more thorough review.  That review generally includes reviewing all the written material that can be obtained (e.g. offense reports, transcripts, briefs, and court filings), as well as information provided by you. The purpose of this process is to determine what the issues in your case are and develop them. At the end of this stage, one of several things will happen:

  • We will tell you that you don't have a case. Sometimes, we will identify issues that are present, but tell you why they aren't issues the court will grant relief for. Sometimes we might also discover issues that cannot be a writ of habeas corpus. It's an unfortunate fact that there isn't a remedy for every violation; there are errors in almost every trial, but not every error is one that the courts will grant relief on
  • We will tell you that additional evidence is needed. This might be that more evidence can be obtained by an investigator or reviewed by an expert. As I mentioned above, the burden is on you to establish a claim. The additional review might demonstrate areas that need to be investigated to see if evidence can be obtained that will support a claim
  • We will tell you that you have valid claims that should be pursued. At that point, we can tell you what the cost will be, and whether any additional resources may be required.

What are the costs?

There is no fee for reviewing the evaluation form, and making an initial decision on the case. If we identify possible issues, there will be a non-refundable investigative fee; that fee can range from $2,500 to $5,000 to conduct the formal review. The actual amount depends on the amount of work I anticipate, and we will tell you what that is before we start. This is a "non-refundable fee", which means that if after completing the review we determine you do not have any claims that are worth pursuing, for whatever reason, this payment will not be refunded. This payment is to cover the cost and expense of working on your case, and in some cases obtaining an investigator to obtain additional information.

If we decide there are claims to pursue after the initial review, I will discuss with you the relevant issues in your case, and the relative strength of any claims you might have. I will also let you know what evidence we have found, and whether there is any additional investigation to conduct. You can then decide whether you want to pursue the matter further, and retain us to file an application for a writ of habeas corpus on your behalf. If you decide to retain us to pursue the matter, there will be an additional fee of at least $7,500.00. The actual amount depends on how complex or complicated the case is, and how much work will be required.

You need to understand the odds are against you

Before you make any decisions, you should be aware that the chances of obtaining relief in a writ case are small. Obviously, the chances in some cases are better than others. If there is no chance of obtaining relief, I will let you know when the initial investigation is concluded. Of course, I cannot guarantee success, but at least you will be able to make the decision as to whether you and your family wish to pursue the matter further.

The next step

If you want me to review this matter, please contact us, and request the evaluation form. Do not send any of your case materials at this time. At this point, we will not be responsible for returning anything you send. If I need something further to make my decision, I will let you know.

You should be aware that I now accept only a few cases each year. There are several reasons for that, but the bottom line is that I carefully screen each case to determine if it is one I might want to take, and the individual is someone I want to represent. Those cases I do accept generally involve strong claims of actual innocence, or exceptional cases where serious constitutional violations have undermined the trial process. While many people believe their cases fit this definition, only a few actually do. If you do not think you have this type of claim there is no need to complete the enclosed form.

Don't count on pro bono help

If you are unable to afford the costs of pursuing the case, please do not submit an evaluation form with the hope that I will be so interested in your case that I will handle it pro bono. I do a substantial amount of pro bono work each year but I have limited it to working with the Innocence Project of Texas. If you are actually innocent and believe you can prove it, then please go through their screening process. I realize it takes a long time, but it will be worth if  they can handle your case because of the number of volunteers they have who can work on it.

I sincerely appreciate the trust and confidence you place in me when you request assistance. I understand how important this is to you and your family, and do not take that lightly. I will do everything I can to provide you with an honest and accurate assessment of your case - good or bad.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.