TDCJ trial attorney seeks justice in defending offenders
Attorney Brian Lacour defends TDCJ offenders accused of crimes while imprisoned because the state hires him to protect the legal rights that all citizens are afforded under the U.S. Constitution, inmates included.
|State Counsel for Offenders lead trial attorney Brian Lacour works to protect his client’s rights as well as the legal system.
Photo by David Nunnelee
“Most people don’t want to see folks imprisoned for something they didn’t do,” Lacour said. “They don’t want to see people’s rights stepped on or ignored, they want them respected. The state hires me for that purpose. It expects me to zealously represent my client. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have been hired to do this.”
As the lead trial attorney with the agency’s State Counsel for Offenders (SFCO), Lacour is good at his job. He recently won three out of four jury trials by acquittal in Coryell and Brazoria counties, a rare happening that was recognized by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice.
“I think justice was served in all three cases,” said Lacour, who has been practicing law the past 16 years, the past two years as a staff attorney in the SCFO’s Trial Section prior to his promotion to chief of that section in August. “That is my ultimate concern.”
Lacour, 40, grew up mostly in Louisiana and earned his law degree from the University of Houston in 1988. Prior to joining TDCJ, he practiced criminal defense law and later worked civil litigation cases for a small firm in Houston.
“Criminal law is my first love,” Lacour said about his reason for leaving private practice. “This provided me with a place where I could indulge that love and have some stability and security at the same time. At this point in my life, I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
Still, like all criminal defense attorneys practicing inside and outside the state prison system, Lacour sports a losing record when wins are counted in acquittals alone.
“As a criminal defense lawyer, you’re going to lose most of the cases that you try,” Lacour said. “That is just the nature of the beast. But there are other ways to define winning. If a client chooses to go to a jury trial because he cannot come to an agreement on punishment being offered by the state through a plea agreement and the punishment he ultimately receives is better than what he was being offered by the state, that’s still a victory. It’s not always about winning and losing in the sense of getting a ‘not guilty’ verdict.”
As SCFO trial attorneys, Lacour and five others represent indigent offenders accused of committing felony offenses while incarcerated in TDCJ. There are more than 400 such criminal cases pending in courts around the state, which the attorneys divide up by county. Lacour covers Brazoria, Fort Bend, Coryell, Falls, Jones and Wichita counties.
Most of the cases handled by SCFO fall into four categories; inmate-on-officer assaults, inmate-on-inmate assaults, possession of illegal substances, and weapon possession. Many of the pending cases will end with plea agreements with prosecutors. Less than 5 percent normally go to trial.
“If a guy is doing 50 or 60 years, it is going to be more difficult to convince him that the plea bargain offered is in his best interest than it is for someone who is only doing five years,” Lacour said about the cases that do go before a jury.
Lacour said he sees no inconsistency in TDCJ employees defending clients who may be charged with crimes against other agency employees. Everyone, offenders included, have a constitutional right to trial, he emphasizes.
Still, Lacour said offenders often question where the loyalty of he and his colleagues lie. After all, they are TDCJ employees.
“Sometimes the challenge is to win their trust,” Lacour said. “I try to show him that I have his best interests at heart. With a lot of people, it’s impossible to satisfy them. But I would say that the vast majority of our clients are satisfied with the representation that we give them and realize that we are doing everything that we can for them.”
Lacour said an offender has a right to go to trial even if he, as the offender’s attorney, doesn’t think it’s a good idea.
“Part of the challenge (of a jury trial) is finding the people who can be fair to your client,” Lacour said. “I just want them to be fair. If the state can prove its case, that’s fine, my sense of justice is not offended by that. If the state can’t prove its case, my sense of justice is not offended by that, either.”
In the final analysis, Lacour sees State Counsel for Offenders as both a protector of a defendant’s rights and a protector of the legal system.
“Part of what makes this system work is the predictability and the stability that comes from having a written set of rules and a set of laws that everybody respects and everybody follows,” he said.
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