About Philip D. Ray
What’s it like to be a defense attorney in Frisco?
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I’m glad you asked because first of all, that’s my home. I live in Frisco. I live just off the tollway, halfway between the line between Collin County and McKinney courthouse and the Denton County courthouse for Denton. I live just off the tollway, right next to that line, so we’re in both counties. The thing about Frisco is you’ve got the west side of town that’s going to be reporting all those cases in the Denton County district attorney’s office. The east side of town reports all of its cases to the Collin County district attorney’s office. If you’re going to hire an attorney out of Frisco, you need somebody who knows both places.
I started my career as an assistant in the Denton County district attorney’s office way back in 2000; I was an intern there. My wife works as a probation officer in Collin County, so I have a foot firmly in both counties, and I have an emotional commitment to both counties. By living here in Frisco and having an office in Frisco, I’m in a position where that’s my neighborhood. My kids play soccer at the northeast park, and sometimes they [inaudible]. I’m there involved in everything as a part of Frisco. The reason I think that’s important is we’re a unique community. We’re a blend of people from all over the United States because we’re the kind of community people want to move to. They keep saying such nice things about us on the news; we get people from all over. We’ve got people from Maine. We’ve got people from California. We’ve got people from everywhere in between, and we’ve got a great deep connection to Texas as well.
We have a lot of people that are interacting with law enforcement on a daily basis but not in a negative way. The Frisco Police Department is actually one of the better police departments in Texas, in my opinion. I have not seen a Frisco Police Department officer’s report that ever offended me and believe it or not that’s really unusual. Typically, most police departments have somewhere between 10 and 20% of officers that are, I’m going to say, a little overzealous. It could come out in the reports where they’re trying so hard to see the bad in people. What I’ve seen in the Frisco Police Department is they’re doing the very best to see the good in people. They’re trying to keep everybody safe, but at the same time, they’re also trying to make sure that everybody at least meets them on an even footing. That is remarkable, and it’s one of the reasons my wife and I moved to Frisco in 2011 because that’s where we wanted to raise our kids.
What I like about it is I like being not far from the municipal court, which I’ve been to multiple times, helping people through some mistakes they’ve made driving their car and otherwise. Then also being able to get up on the 380 and drive right over to McKinney or right over the other way, to Denton, and know the prosecutors. To be able to walk into the felony courts and see the different people that I see every single week and know them. Know what they’re going to talk to me about. Understand the limits of what is the best thing they can do for my client, what’s the worst case scenario. Basically, walking in and knowing what the options are.
The other thing is we have two district attorney’s offices that will work with attorneys. When you have someone who has maybe only made one mistake, and it might have been a pretty big goof, say for instance, it’s your child. A lot of our representation in this area is helping parents through the idea that their kids, their adult kids, which in Texas is 17 or older, have made some kind of critical error. Whether it’s a substance abuse case or they bought something to school they shouldn’t have or something along those lines, both district attorney’s offices have programs that allow people on their first-time offense to work through the system. Learn something from the experience and then have their record cleared. I think being the kind of attorney that can target our clients in that direction, when they’ve done something and they really need to be held accountable for, then we need to put ourselves in a position where we’re helping people with who they are going to be.
You’ve got a kid who is going to college, but he did something stupid. Maybe he had some marijuana. Maybe had some marijuana but it was in THC form because you get all these things from other states now. In Texas, if it’s not the plant material itself, it’s a felony, which is crazy, but it is. We need to be in a position where we know those rules, how those things affect your future, and how we can help the district attorney’s office make sure they’re not ruining some kid’s entire career path because he bought home some gummies!
In Denton and Collin County, the district attorney’s office has those kinds of programs, but you have to know how to ask for them, and you have to know when. Both programs have deadlines, and if you don’t meet those deadlines because you’re not a hometown attorney who understands that it is responsibility of the attorney to know the programs, then you miss out. You have to make sure you have an attorney who knows what they’re doing. The joke I always make is if your lawyer doesn’t know where the restrooms are in the courthouse, get a different lawyer!
What kind of cases do you take?
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I get that question a lot. I get it from friends and family asking, well how can you be a criminal defense attorney. I also get it from people who are looking for help. The way I usually answer is I tell people that I help people out of the trouble that they have got themselves into. That can be as little as some sort of small traffic interaction all the way up to major felonies. As a prosecutor, the very first trial I ever had was, believe it or not, a speedboat case. My third day on the job as a prosecutor, I’m out in a boat with the Texas department, out there on the water trying to figure out with Parks and Wildlife was this boat going unfairly too fast on Lake Granbury. I am thinking this is the greatest job ever. That was a fun case, and that really was just a couple of Class C tickets. That was my first jury trial, all the way up to several murder cases. For a while, that was almost exclusively what I did, murder and the most serious felonies.
For nearly ten years as a prosecutor, I handled everything from as little as you can get to as big as it gets, including working on a couple of death penalty cases. I don’t take death penalty cases. I think that there are times where the death penalty should be enforced, and I think that if you were facing that, you should have an attorney who ferociously believes against the death penalty. I don’t feel that it is right for me to do because I think someone deserves, what I’m going to call, a true believer against the death penalty to represent them in a death penalty case. Other than that, I handle every kind of criminal case you can imagine, anywhere from interactions with town council and questions about official oppression all the way to the worst kinds of cases.
The kind of charge, and we’re talking sexual abuse, we’re talking harming children, there are people that are accused of these charges that need my help. They need the help of someone who is capable, has tried these cases, knows how to put the case together, which, of course, helps you understand how to take the case apart. Make sure that the state is put to its standard; that it only convicts you if you deserve it. That only harms you and does these things to you and puts you in prison if you have committed the crime and can prove it. They can do it in a way that people can walk away knowing that it was the right thing to do to punish you.
The best way to do that is to have a lawyer who has put those cases together so they can take them apart. You know all the different elements of those kinds of cases and where the facts are going to turn and how the jury is going to flinch or not flinch, as they hear certain words that we don’t like to talk about in polite society. That kind of lawyer is who you need. You need someone who has tried these kinds of cases to a jury, from both sides, so that you have someone experienced enough to be able to say, he did not do this, she did not do this, not the way they’re saying, and certainly not with criminal intent the way it is described.
The majority of cases I take now are felony cases because I am board certified in criminal law. With that experience comes a level of commitment to a case. Sometimes you don’t want to hire an expert surgeon to do a traffic case, but sometimes you do. There are times where I’ll take a Class C misdemeanor. There are times where I’ll take several misdemeanors or this sort of case or that sort of case when it matters the most to you. When it’s your kid who’s in trouble for doing something grotesquely stupid, and you need someone to step in and say, do not punish my child unfairly. Punish my child in a way that makes sense and is appropriate and is measured for what he or she did. That is what I do.
This is my first crime – what now?
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For most people that come into the system, it is their first time. They have no idea what is happening. The first thing you want to do is get an attorney that can help you understand that. If your attorney doesn’t explain all that to you, that is your first red flag. You want to be in a situation where the attorney helps you understand, what are the timelines going forward because one of the hardest things for a person accused is to wait.
Once you’ve been arrested or once you’ve been accused, the police agency has the ability to take their file to the district attorney’s office and file that case. Even though you’ve been arrested, that doesn’t always happen. There are times where you have three to five, six, seven months before it ever goes to the district attorney’s office. Once it’s at the DA’s office, then a prosecutor reviews the case, makes sure that all the elements of the offense are met, and can you prove at least some of these elements, cursory glance the case. They approve or disapprove it.
There are times in certain very serious cases where the DA will talk to a defense attorney on a case. If you hire a lawyer early enough, and the lawyer gets enough information, that attorney can go to the district attorney’s office and present an argument and present information so that the DA can decide not to prosecute a case. If you get a lawyer in early enough and get your side of the story explained to the DA, that lawyer can make a presentation to the DA and sometimes even to the grand jury, so the grand jury chooses not to charge your client with a crime. You want to get your lawyer early and as soon as possible, the kind of attorney that understand all of that.
Then once you have got a case that is set and you are looking at going to court, so the case has been accepted by the district attorney’s office, and they’ve decided we at least have enough to make a person have to appear in court and answer for these charges. Then you are going to have court dates. Your first court date almost always is going to be your lawyer appearing before the court, you appearing before the court, and the prosecutor appearing before the court, and just saying, hey, we are all here.
What that typically looks like in most jurisdictions, more specifically here as a criminal defense attorney in Frisco, Texas whether you are going to the McKinney office or you’re going to Denton DA’s Office, either one of those offices what happens is you go to court, and then you stand in line. The lawyer stands and waits for the prosecutor to talk to them because there are 20 to 50 lawyers that come in that morning for the docket. The clients sit in the gallery and wait and twiddle their thumbs.
You could go to court and do nothing but sit and watch lawyers talk and not hear anything they say or wonder what just the heck happened. When you hire a lawyer, you want to hire a lawyer that is going to communicate with you, so you don’t feel like that is a waste of your time. That lawyer checks back in with you, helps you understand it and know what happened.
Should an arrestee talk to the police?
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You see a lot of videos about this on the internet now. I think the most important thing for you to understand is honestly, no matter what you do, whether you talk to them or not, how you behave is the most important thing. Because how you come across in those first few moments is how the jury is first going to see you. Almost every trial begins with, how did law enforcement come in contact with the defendant? If you are not respectful, and the way I teach my kids is you must be respectful and kind, if you are not that sort of person, you need to turn it on immediately, get humble, and treat the police with respect.
Not because they deserve it; not because they are treating you in a manner where you feel like that you ought to, but because it is going to come out how you acted. If you can decline to speak to the police in a manner that is respectful, you are doing the very best you can. The way I would answer if it were me is: Thank you, officer. I understand your questions, but I’d rather have you ask me those when my attorney’s here. May I please call my attorney?
How can anybody argue with that? If you can put yourself in a position where you’re not combative, you’re not over-assertive, you’re simply saying, I’d like my attorney to be present, please. How is a jury going to look? Imagine you are sitting on the jury, and this guy is accused of something terrible. The first thing he says is all of the things you would expect him to say, but he reasonably says, I really would like to have my attorney here, please.
You’re not hiding behind your lawyer. You are not doing all the things that a police officer might accuse you of. You’re not doing the things that a jury or the news might accuse you of. You are saying, I really would rather have my attorney here, please.
That has an incredible impact on how a case is going to go forward, because A, you’re shutting up. Because all the videos on the internet are going to tell you, hush your mouth, but do it in a way where it’s respectful, and you have effective results that I can use to help you out of the trouble that clearly, you are already in. I want to be in a situation where I said, my guy was polite. My guy was accused of this terrible thing, and the first thing he said was, may I please have my lawyer here. Not, I want my lawyer; not, I ain’t talking to you, cop or any of those other stupid things that people do.
Be a person that a jury is watching. Be a person that a judge is watching. Be a person that simply says, I would like to have my lawyer there because then you’re a person who is asserting your rights, but not in a way where you have anything to hide because you don’t. Let me help you tell your story in a way where everyone begins to understand exactly what it is they need to know about you, about what happened to realize that maybe you’re not innocent, but you’re certainly not guilty.
Misdemeanors vs felonies
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There are a couple of different things that you have to immediately address. First, everybody gets their information from television. Television programs are written in New York or California. Most of the time, you are hearing phrases and words from one of those two states.
You hear Man One, Murder Two, all these different languages that try and designate whether or not you’re intending to do this or not intending to do this. Did you harm someone? Did you have some sort of previous mental state planning it?
Those are different words that different states use. In Texas, we make it simple because, we believe we trust our juries. In Texas, we have three degrees of felony: first-degree felony, second, and third. First-degree being the most serious.
Let’s talk murder. If you kill someone in Texas and you meant to do it, it is murder. The punishment range for that is from five to 99 years or life for any first-degree felony. A second-degree felony is manslaughter. If you kill someone, but you did it in a reckless manner that was a clear disregard for human life, you’re talking about manslaughter.
Notice we’re not talking about Man One, Man Two; we’re not talking Murder One, Murder Two. It’s either you killed them and you meant to, or you didn’t mean to, but gosh, what you did was really stupid. Then below that is criminally negligent homicide, which is actually a state jail felony or a fourth-degree felony.
In Texas, you break it up into a different layers, and it is very straightforward. As a criminal defense attorney in Frisco, Texas, you have to understand which of these layers apply and then what we do going forward. You have first-degree felony which is anywhere from five to 99 years or life. Believe it or not, on certain first-degree felonies, you can get probation. A second-degree felony is two years in prison to 20 years in prison and possibly depending on the charge, probation. A third-degree felony is two years to 10 years in prison, and you can also get probation.
On each of those depending on the charges, there are a couple of charges that I’m sure you would understand you are never eligible for probation. Below that, there is a state jail felony which is a little bit different; it is kind of a hybrid. You have enough offense that it is serious enough to consider you a convicted felon, but they punish you on a day-to-day basis. If you get from 180 days up to two years in jail, you are looking at doing those days no parole. You do those days, you get out, and you would be done.
Below that are the misdemeanors. There is a class-A, B, and C. Class-A is the most serious which is anywhere from zero to a year in jail, class-B is zero to six months in jail, and class-C is no jail time but up to a $500 fine. Class-C is something like a speeding ticket or a public intoxication ticket, things like that. Class-B is mostly going to be your marijuana cases, things like that. Then class-A is going to be very serious misdemeanors where you’re talking about harming another person. Assault family violence is a classic class-A misdemeanor. DUI is generally a class-B misdemeanor, which is why most people get probation, but then you can serve up to six months in jail on a DUI.
You have all these different layers, but they set the punishment ranges wide. On television you hear, he is going to get Man Two, and he will serve 10 to 20. In Texas, we don’t do that. You’re either a second-degree felony where you have a punishment range of two to 20 years, and the jury decides what is fair. Or you have a first-degree felony, and it is murder. You get as little as five years or as much as 99 or life.
We set these punishment ranges up to fit whatever offense you have committed, but we set the offenses up in a way where it is clear cut. If you killed them and you mean to, it is this. If you didn’t, but you did these things, it is this. That is true of most of the crimes in Texas; they are designed to fit into this range. Then we let juries decide what you do next. What do you do with them?
Quite honestly, that is why you need a good lawyer. It is not a question of negotiating the best deal that you can get; it is a question of approaching every single case with, how am going to tell this to a jury, so that we are closer to five years than we are 99? How am I going to tell this to a jury so they will allow my client to have his sentence suspended and be placed on probation instead of getting 20 years in prison? How am I going to explain what happened in a way where what my client did was wrong, but again, am I eloquent enough to get 12 people to say not prison if you ran someone over and harmed them? That is why you need the kind of lawyer that can speak out, speak for you, and speak in a way where when he is talking, you are nodding your head; you understand it.
How are thefts prosecuted?
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You have to understand that in Texas what we do is we break it down into not did you take somebodies stuff, but how did you do it? As an attorney in Frisco, Texas, you’re looking at whether you’re going to be in the McKinney courthouse or the Denton courthouse. You have to know that the Denton District Attorney’s Office or the Collin County District Attorney’s Office has a broad description on how they are going to charge something. For instance, if you take something out of someone else’s house, if you went in with the intent of taking something from them, you could be charged with burglary. Burglary of a habitation is a second-degree felony, burglary of a building, somebody’s storage shed or something else, well, that’s a state jail felony. If all you did was take stuff and you were legally in the building in the first place, say you walk into a store and take something, well, that’s going to be theft unless you physically confront someone.
Because see, if you walk in and you’re just shoplifting, and you pick up something, and you’re like, I’m not going to pay for this, I’m going to get out of here, and then someone confronts you, if you use physical force to stop someone from keeping you from leaving, then you just committed robbery. Because robbery is theft, the taking of someone else’s property, along with the physical threat or actual use of physical attack or power, so any kind of assault. You think theft plus assault equals robbery. Robbery is a second-degree felony. If you do it with a gun, now you’re using a deadly weapon; now, you’re talking aggravated robbery.
Every time you do something, and you are going to have to face something, whether it is in the courts of McKinney or the courts in Denton County here in Frisco, Texas, you have to understand the details of what happened, so you know how much trouble you’re in. Because quite frankly, if you’re the kind of person who has done this before and you’ve been in trouble a lot, then two prior theft convictions can make you eligible for a felony just for stealing a pack of gum. You have to know how much trouble you are in and what you have done to get yourself in a position where you can really wrap your mind around what are you facing and make sure that your lawyer understands how to put those pieces together.
Because you see, the District Attorney’s Office could charge you with burglary of a habitation. You’re looking at a second-degree felony. When really, all you did was you came over to your friend’s house, and you pocketed some of his stuff. Because if you don’t violate the sanctity of structure with the idea that you’re going to take something, meaning if you walk into the place and you didn’t actually have your mind made up to take something in the first place, then you’re really only guilty of theft.
The thing about theft is theft is not a value-adder: the more you steal, the more trouble you’re in. If you steal less than $1,500 to $2,000 in stuff, you’re looking at a misdemeanor. You steal more than that, you’re looking at a felony.
If I go into my friend’s house and I take his Xbox, well, that’s about a $499 item. I’m looking at a class-B misdemeanor. If I do it when he’s not home and he did not let me in, I’m looking at a second-degree felony.
Do you handle federal cases?
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I do. In fact, I have been handling federal cases since 2011. I’m admitted to both the Northern and Eastern District. I have handled cases from as far away as Amarillo or Lubbock. I have been in Midland as well. It was a Western District case, but I was [Non-English] for that, so I was admitted for the purpose of that one case. I handle cases frequently in Fort Worth, Dallas, Plano, and up in Sherman.
On a federal case, you are talking about a level of time commitment that is significant. In a state case, you might get a file that is, say, this thick. This is a very thick state case. In a federal case, they don’t give you a file; they give thumb drives and hard drives.
I had one case recently involving the gas pipe where we were given 11 gigabits of discovery to begin with. Then we started having multiple terabit hard drives we had to provide to the government for them to come back and say here are all the things we found. Because it was a case involving everything that ever happened at the gas pipe industry, that means all their records, all their bank records, all of the computer records, and all the sales records. You can imagine how voluminous that gets.
I handled that case. I handled the largest online pharmacy case that the United States has ever prosecuted. What was happening was people in China were manufacturing a substance, shipping it through directors in Pakistan and Dubai, sending these pills to the United States in bulk where people in the United States would then package them in a little orange bottle with a little white cap and putting it in a padded manila envelope so that when college students logged online and said I’d like to order Adderall, I’d like to order a little Xanax for fun, they could order on this online pharmacy. It would look like it was delivered from somewhere here in the United States. The website itself was actually being manufactured and handled by some people in Russia believe it or not.
They would put these cookies, which is why the federal investigation was called Operation Cookie Cutter. The cookie would go on the student’s computer if the student was logged into a university. As long as the student was a student at the university, the cookie would allow you access to the order form. Without that cookie on your computer, you’d never see the order form. You and me, a regular person on the internet, you’d look at this website, nothing. A college student looks at the website logging in at UNT, logging in at Texas Tech, logging all over the United States actually because this conspiracy was anywhere all the way from California to Florida all the way up to New York, they can log in and just order medicine.
The terrible thing was it wasn’t always the medicine you ordered. Most of the stuff had been produced to look like Xanax, but it was just Valium, or to look like some other downer and it’s just Valium, or to look like Adderall and it’s another controlled substance. I was appointed by the courts to represent one of the primary people in that case and went to trial on the case.
Yes, I handle federal cases. I’ve been to trial on federal cases. I’ve stood in federal court with some of the most interesting, and convoluted, and complicated cases and stood up with my clients to make sure that the government didn’t over prosecute them.
Do you handle controlled substance cases?
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I do. In fact, as a prosecutor in Amarillo, that is almost the exclusive type of case I had. I had all of the sex, violence, and drug cases in the 108th District Court. Over three years, I tried nothing but those kinds of cases.
The thing about a controlled substance case is that you have to understand a couple of different pieces of code to understand how the cases all work. In Texas and a lot of states, the controlled substance code, the Texas Health and Safety Act, lays out what substances are dangerous. They do it by putting them into penalty groups and listing them. There is a Penalty Group One, Two, Three, and Four. They are designed to say how dangerous, how addictive, and whether the substance can be used for any medical reason.
You lay those substances out and then it depends on the quantity you have. A charge might be possession of a controlled substance, Penalty Group One, but less than a gram. That is a state jail felony. From one gram to four grams, it is a third-degree felony. From four grams to 200, it is a second-degree felony, and above that is a first-degree felony. In fact, if you have over 400 grams, it is an enhanced first-degree felony where you have, not a minimum of 5 years, but a minimum of 10 years or 15 years depending on all the information.
Controlled substances are anything from cocaine and heroin (the things we think of as hard drugs) all the way down to prescription pills. Some prescription pills are Penalty Group Three or Four. Some of them are just listed as a dangerous drug, and those are misdemeanors depending on the quantity. If you have a whole bunch of them, then you are talking about a felony as well.
Some medicines that people use for treatment are now abused. We are talking about the opioid issue. You end up with a person who has a lot of hydrocodone, but it depends on how concentrated the hydrocodone is. Certain pills are going to be Penalty Group Three. The really serious stuff, it could be Penalty Group Two. It could be treated just as harshly as cocaine.
It is really important to have an attorney that understands the distinction and the chemistry of the drugs to know where you are going to fall on the chart, what you are facing, and how bad it is going to be. For instance, most people think of marijuana as a misdemeanor and not a big issue. In Texas, if it is marijuana extract, the law specifically is written to address hashish or hash oil. Marijuana extract is a penalty group, not a misdemeanor because marijuana is possession of marijuana; hashish is possession of a controlled substance.
Guess what all the THC stuff coming from other states is? It is treated just like an extract from the plant. You have marijuana gummies, or wax, or any of that other stuff, any edibles, those are treated as a control substance. The worst part of that is that the code allows any adulterants or diluents to be included in the weight.
You take one pot brownie and depending on how thick the pot brownie is, it could be a second-degree felony just based on the number of grams. Now, do you want to take a lawyer who understands that, or do you want to have a lawyer that says all possession cases are alike? You need to have an attorney who understands how these things break down, how these things apply, and how they all apply to you.