Assistant District Attorney Rick Daniel has been with the Denton County District Attorney’s Office for 22 years. ADA Daniel is the Chief of the Child Abuse Unit, a specialized unit consisting of 2 attorneys, an investigator and a Child Intervention Specialist. Together, they prosecute crimes against children at the hands of adults. ADA Daniel is active member of the multidisciplinary team working child abuse cases utilizing the Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County (CACDC). Lori Nelson, Program Director for CACDC, had the pleasure of speaking with ADA Daniel and capturing his thoughts about his involvement with CACDC:
Tell me about your career before joining the Denton County District Attorney’s Office.
I was a civil attorney for a year and a half after graduating from Baylor Law School. I got my undergrad at the University of Texas majoring in Government and a minor in Speech. I started school to be an engineer, but hated the math.
What was your favorite place to eat while at UT?
That makes me think of a funny story. My dad came to visit me in my first year at UT. He asked the same question and I said Taco Bell. I was a poor college student! I ate a lot at Jamie’s Spanish Village, but I hear it’s now closed.
What positions have you had at the DA’s Office and why did you choose to move into the Child Abuse Unit?
I started at the DA’s Office in the misdemeanor division and promoted to a felony prosecutor assigned to various district courts over the years. I chose to move into the Child Abuse Unit to have a change of pace and a new challenge. When the Child Abuse Unit was just starting, I had the opportunity to assist in prosecuting child abuse cases with ADA Paige McCormick and enjoyed it.
Let’s talk numbers, how many cases cross your desk?
I see about five new cases filed a week from law enforcement agencies across the county, so roughly 250 new cases a year. The process is to review the case, write it up to have the indictment drafted which includes watching the recorded forensic interview of the child victim, talking to Child Protective Services and law enforcement investigators to address any concerns and then present the case to the grand jury. Once indicted, the case is set for arraignment and conversations with defense attorneys begin. The case either results in a plea bargain or is set for trial. The Child Abuse Unit takes about 10 cases to trial a year. A significant number of cases plea out because of the quality of the investigations.
What role does the District Attorney’s Office and the Child Abuse Unit play with CACDC?
The DA’s Office and the Child Abuse Unit has an advising role on the front end of the investigation and a resolving role on the back end. We are involved in working with law enforcement during the investigation. The relationships built at the CAC with the investigative team helps create an open dialogue. As the Chief Prosecutor of the Child Abuse Unit, I’m often asked to present to the investigative team to help educate them on current legal issues affecting child abuse investigation.
Does the CAC model effect the quality of cases you see cross your desk?
Yes. On one hand, the education, information and experience shared makes the cases better because law enforcement develops a broader knowledge base on child abuse issues. On the other, the CAC provides a variety of resources to the investigative team, such as access to trained forensic interviewers, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, therapists, etc. Together, these produce a higher quality investigation.
What do people need to know about child abuse in Denton County?
The incidents of child abuse have increased in the County as the population of the county has increased. Access to children via social media has caused an increase in online child exploitation and solicitation.
What is the best part of the job?
When the jury comes back after deliberations and the judge reads the word “guilty.” The stress before that word is read and the relief that follows is indescribable.
Having sat in the courtroom with families and teammates as the guilty verdict is read, I can agree. The relief is palpable. CACDC is proud to collaborate with the Denton County District Attorney’s Office and is so thankful the District Attorney has consistently chosen the best to lead the Child Abuse Unit from its first, ADA Paige McCormick to its current, ADA Rick Daniel.