Court Considers if Tom Green County DAs "Have Declared War Against the Rule of Law in Texas" on Thursday
SAN ANGELO, TX — A San Angelo defense attorney will have a judge hear arguments that the 119th and 51st District Attorneys offices abused their power, rendering justice in their jurisdictions meaningless, on Thursday.
At issue is what San Angelo attorney John D. Stone claims in a 53-page motion that accuses both 51st DA Allison Palmer and 119th DA John Best and the prosecutors working for them of retaliation against defense attorney Patricia Stone, John’s wife and law partner, because Patricia Stone is arguing that plea bargaining is unconstitutional as applied in a case she is appealing to the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals.
The voluminous motion, filed July 15 in the 340th Judicial District, demands sanctions against the State of Texas because “[t]he Tom Green County District Attorneys have declared war against the ‘Rule of Law’ in Texas.”
The defendants that Patricia currently represents are not allowed to plea bargain, John argued, because both elected DAs and any assistant DA demand Patricia first sign what husband John labels a “Confession.” The Confession will undermine the appeal, Carpenter vs. The State of Texas. In that appeal, Patricia argued that plea bargains in Texas are unconstitutional. The Confession, as reprinted at the end of the 53-page motion as an appendix, demanded in the first sentence that Patricia admit, “I do not believe that entry into this plea bargain agreement is or has been unconstitutional in any way.”
Signing such an admonishment would undermine Patricia’s argument in front of the appellate court and will likely end in defeat for her client there, the motion argued. The prosecutor at the district court level in the Carpenter case was a Tom Green County DA.
The Stones argued this is retaliation and the court should sanction both DAs and their assistants. The motion alleges the DAs are engaged in a felony Conspiracy Against Rights of her client, Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law, Abuse of Capacity, and Official Oppression.
“The prosecutors in this case are literally breaking the law, and the appropriate remedy for such egregious prosecutorial misconduct is the immediate acquittal of Ms. Mendoza [one of many clients whose case the Stones chose to file the motion], or alternatively, the dismissal of the indictment against her with prejudice; and a referral by this court of this matter to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State Bar of Texas,” the motion states.
The Stones claim Patricia is the only defense attorney working at the courthouse who is forced to sign the retaliatory Confession before any county prosecutor will negotiate a plea bargain for any of her clients. So far, she has refused to sign it.
In a routine Motion to Revoke Probation pre-trial hearing for one client this year, Patricia said she approached assistant DA Jason Ferguson and asked him for the State’s position on a plea bargain. “I asked Mr. Ferguson if he cared to negotiate the disposition of the case. Mr. Ferguson abruptly stated that ‘plea bargains are illegal’ and we should tell the Court the case would take two hours to try,” Patricia Stone states in a signed affidavit.
The Stones claim Patricia sent a certified letter to 119th DA John Best asking him if it was true she was not allowed to plea bargain unless she signed the Confession. Best never answered her letter, she claimed.
Patricia Stone’s case at the 3rd Court of Appeals could be a lethal dagger into the heart of how justice is rendered in Tom Green County. Specifically, it questions how both DAs use high bails, lengthy incarceration without trial, and incompetent and unresponsive court-appointed defense attorneys to shake down defendants into signing plea deals that in some cases force defendants to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to gain their freedom from the Tom Green County Jail.
Patricia Stone was appointed to represent Austin Carpenter who was described in court proceedings as an 18-year-old member of the gang called the Latin Kings. Carpenter was accused on December 15, 2015 of aggravated assault in an incident in a San Angelo hotel room. An accomplice fired a weapon. Carpenter was just a bystander, Stone argued in her appellate brief. Yet, despite being represented by four court-appointed defense attorneys in succession, Carpenter was never really represented by or saw an attorney as he sat in jail for 11 months. During that time, it was Carpenter, not any of the defense attorneys appointed for him, who filed a motion for a bond reduction, a motion for discovery, and motions to get a new lawyer appointed.
Above: Austin Ray Carpenter Mugshot
In November 2016, Carpenter signed a plea bargain, “in order to escape pre-trial confinement,” the appellate brief states. Carpenter had a clean record up and until the hotel room scuffle with the gunshots he claims he had no part.
In the United States Constitution Bill of Rights, the Sixth Amendment, the accused is guaranteed the right to a speedy trial. By the 11th month of confinement, Carpenter had no attorney, and had continuously been confined in the Tom Green County Jail when the DA presented a plea bargain facilitated by a hastily appointed brand new defense attorney. The plea bargain offered Carpenter his long sought freedom, albeit on deferred adjudication probation. He pleaded guilty and took the bargain.
A few months later, while on probation, Carpenter was arrested again for possession of marijuana and between 2 and 4 grams of methamphetamines. He was sentenced to prison for 13 years on his previous plea of guilty to aggravated assault.
Despite the probation revocation for drug possession, Patricia Stone argued that he was mistreated by the State with excessive bail, bad appointed lawyers, and 11 months of continuous incarceration without a speedy trial. Then, Carpenter, a mere boy with no previous convictions, was “sent to prison for an unconstitutionally excessive 13 years for a crime he never committed,” Patricia Stone argued in her brief.
Carpenter’s story isn’t unique in Tom Green County. What was written about his case above, based on the defendant’s appellate brief, is but a taste of Patricia Stone’s argument as to why plea bargains in Texas are unconstitutional.
Plea deals make up a vast majority of the caseloads of both DAs and allow them to work thousands of cases a year with small staffs. In the motion to be considered Thursday, the Stones pondered what would become of the district attorneys offices if every case went to trial? That, they argued, is why Tom Green County DAs are engaged in illegal retaliatory action against Patricia Stone because she is doing her job.
A fiery court hearing on the motion is pending and the repercussions for both Tom Green County DAs are up in the air if the motion is granted. The motion states that both DAs, elected officials, could be removed from office for official misconduct.
“Here, the government has engaged in knowing, intentional, deliberate actions to intimidate, threaten, and coerce Mrs. Patricia Stone, by attacking her criminal defense clients and her right to practice law, all in order to stifle and quash Austin Carpenter’s appellate arguments - in violation of the First, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, and their corresponding state constitutional provisions,” the motion states.
“If the misconduct engaged in by the prosecutors in this case is not met with the most severe sanctions available, then our Texas judicial system will become meaningless. If state government can wield its power to destroy a lawyer’s ability to make reasonable arguments on behalf of her client without fear of reprisal and loss of the ability to earn a living, then no one is safe in Texas, and the entire constitution will be reduced to a hollow, inconsequential wall ornament for the local library,” reads the motion.
According to court documents, visiting Judge Robert H. Moore, III, will hear arguments on the motion during the pre-trial hearing for April Jo Mendoza on Thursday, August 22 at 10 a.m. Mendoza, represented by Patricia Stone on a court appointment, is accused of possessing less than one gram of meth in her make-up bag when she was stopped in the 5700 block of Sherwood Way by the San Angelo Police Department back in March. She has been out on a $15,000 bond since her arrest. During this time, prosecutor Richard Villarreal has not offered her a plea bargain. He can’t offer one; Mendoza’s defense attorney refused to sign the Confession, the motion to be considered Thursday morning argues.
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