I have mentioned before that the Harris County District Attorney's Office is changing drastically next year. Administratively, many changes have already been made. Murray Newman has commented about the changes in his blog. Moreover, fellow Houston Criminal Attorney, Mark Bennett, posted the new flow chart in the comments section. Many more changes are rumored to be coming early next year. I hope that one of the newest changes that need to be made are how the Welfare Fraud division handles their cases. Carl Hobbs, one of the most tenured prosecutors at the DA's office, has been the head of this division since I have been a lawyer. While I enjoy Carl as a person I dislike how his policies have not shifted in years. During these hard financial times the DA's office needs to re-evaluate if further crippling defendants is just. Typically, the person charged with welfare fraud is as follows: single mom, three to four children, limited education, and struggling financially for years. The struggling mother is receiving welfare and finds a part time job for a while that assists her with paying the bills, but does not get her head above water. Later, when she reports to the welfare office she fails to report that she has found a new job. Finally, a random investigation by the welfare office discovers her omission and charges are filed.
While I do not condone what the single mother does, other options should be available to her. For example, the welfare fraud division has a steadfast rule that they will only offer felony deferred adjudication or a misdemeanor time served offer if the poor mother pays back the funds she was over paid, within forty days. The welfare fraud division never considers a dismissal of the charges or a misdemeanor deferred adjudication if the money is paid back sooner. They need to see that justice would be better served if they offered some other options. They should have a standard policy of contacting the potential defendant to inform them that they have thirty days to pay back the money before criminal charges are filed. If charges are filed they should give them the opportunity to get a misdemeanor deferred adjudication. The welfare fraud division needs to see that the children are the ones being hurt by having their mother receive a conviction for theft or being on deferred adjudication for a felony. The theft conviction would eliminate a lot of job opportunities for her. Moreover, a felony deferred adjudication is not a conviction, but that means that for a minimum of two years she would be on probation, and must wait longer before she is eligible for a motion for non disclosure.