Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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This case involved an appeal from a district court judge’s denial of relief in a pre-trial application for writ of habeas corpus. Appellant was under indictment for three charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, and, in a consolidated trial, a jury had found him guilty of those offenses. Having elected to go to the jury for punishment, Appellant chose to testify. When he stood to approach the witness stand, it became apparent to the jury that he was shackled. Appellant asked for a mistrial, and the trial court took that request under advisement, meanwhile allowing the punishment proceedings to continue. After Appellant had testified on direct-examination, and following brief cross-examination by the State, the trial court interrupted the proceedings to announce that it had decided to grant a mistrial, but only as to the punishment phase of trial. Before the trial court was able to empanel a new jury to assess punishment, however, Appellant filed a combined application for writ of habeas corpus and motion to reinstate his pre-trial bond. He argued that, by granting a mistrial, the trial court had necessarily restored the cases to their pre-trial status, and that he should therefore be released on bond pending trial. The trial court denied both the writ application and the motion. On appeal from denial of the writ application, the court of appeals sustained Appellant’s claim. In an unpublished opinion, it reversed the order denying habeas relief and remanded the cases to the trial court presumably to retry them from scratch, including a new guilt phase of trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review to address the question whether, under the present bifurcated system, when irremediable error or misconduct occurs during a jury trial, but not until the punishment phase, trial courts should have the authority to grant a mistrial as to the punishment phase of trial only. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Pete" on Justia Law

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Appellant was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child by sexual contact. Appellant waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded not guilty at a bench trial to the charges. Appellant filed a motion for new trial alleging ineffective assistance of counsel on the basis that his trial counsel had erroneously promised him that he would receive probation if he was found guilty by the trial court. This advice was erroneous because, under the former law that applied to appellant’s offenses that were committed in 2001, only a jury could recommend a probated sentence if he was found guilty of the offenses. The issue this case presented centered on the standard courts should employ for assessing whether a defendant was prejudiced from his attorney’s deficient performance with respect to the defendant’s decision to waive a jury trial in favor of a bench trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals found two possible alternatives for the prejudice standard in this type of case: (1) a court could consider solely how the deficient performance affected the defendant’s decision to waive the jury; or (2) a court could consider the totality of the record so that the deficient performance is gauged against how it affected the outcome of the proceedings by comparing the outcome of the bench trial that actually did occur with the probable outcome of the jury trial that did not occur. In his sole ground in his petition for discretionary review, Appellant argued the Court of Criminal Appeals should employ the first alternative. The Court concluded, however, that the second alternative appropriately applied here. The court of appeals properly determined that appellant was not prejudiced by counsel’s erroneous advice. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment. View "Miller v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Rodney Reed sought post-conviction DNA testing of over forty items collected in the course of investigating Stacey Stites’ sexual assault and murder. Ultimately, Reed was convicted and sentenced to death for the capital murder of Stites. The trial judge denied the motion. Because Reed could not establish that exculpatory DNA results would have resulted in his acquittal and his motion was not made for the purpose of unreasonable delay, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s denial. View "Reed v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Following the denial of his motion to suppress, Appellant Gareic Hankston was convicted of murder and was sentenced to twenty years in prison. The Court of Appeals affirmed Appellant’s conviction, holding that the warrantless acquisition of Appellant’s cell phone records (comprised of call logs and historical cell site location information (“CSLI”)) did not violate Appellant’s rights under the Fourth Amendment or under Article I, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution. In light of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ recent decision in “Ford v. Texas,” the Court did not grant review of Appellant’s Fourth Amendment claim. It did, however, agree to address an issue that was unresolved by “Ford” -whether Art. I, sec. 9 of the Texas Constitution afforded broader protection under these facts than the Fourth Amendment provided. The Court held that Appellant’s rights pertaining to call logs and cell site location information possessed by a third party were the same under both the Fourth Amendment and under Art. I, sec. 9. The Court also held that the State’s acquisition of Appellant’s cell phone records pursuant to a court order did not violate Art. I, sec. 9 of the Texas Constitution. Therefore, the Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Hankston v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Broussard pleaded guilty to delivery of cocaine and was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment. Laboratory tests later determined that Broussard possessed methamphetamine. In his habeas corpus application, Broussard alleged that his plea was involuntary, and as a result, violated due process because the test results show he did not possess cocaine. Because at the time of the plea Broussard had sufficient awareness of the law in relation to the facts, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that his plea was voluntary and intelligent. View "Ex parte Broussard" on Justia Law

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Relator, Matthew Powell, District Attorney of Lubbock County, sought to have the Court of Criminal Appeals compel Respondent, Judge Hocker, a county court at law judge, to rule in a certain way in a discovery dispute arising from a misdemeanor prosecution for driving while intoxicated (DWI). A threshold issue was whether the court of appeals had concurrent jurisdiction such that Relator should have filed his application for writ of mandamus in that court under "Padilla v. McDaniel," (122 S.W.3d 805, 808 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003)). The Court held that the court of appeals did not have concurrent jurisdiction and that Relator therefore properly filed his original mandamus application with the Court of Criminal Appeals. On the merits of the mandamus issue, the Court held that Relator satisfied the criteria for obtaining mandamus relief. View "In re Powell v. Hocker" on Justia Law
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Appellant Cody Thomas agreed to enter an open plea of guilty to state-jail felony theft as a lesser-included offense of the charged offense of third-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity. Because the State sought to enhance the state-jail felony theft charge with two prior convictions, the parties believed appellant was subject to a punishment range for a second-degree felony. The trial judge sentenced appellant to twenty years’ imprisonment. On appeal, the court of appeals determined that this twenty-year sentence was illegal due to an improper application of prior-conviction enhancements resulting in a sentence outside the statutory range, and it remanded the case for a new punishment hearing. In its petition for discretionary review, the State did not challenge the court of appeals’s holding that appellant’s sentence was illegal, but it contended the court of appeals erred by remanding appellant’s case for resentencing because the proper remedy for the illegal sentence under these circumstances is setting aside appellant’s guilty plea. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the State’s position that, because this was a negotiated plea-bargain agreement for an illegal range of punishment, the parties must be returned to their original positions prior to entering into that plea bargain. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’s judgment that had remanded this case for a new punishment hearing, instead setting aside appellant’s guilty plea and remanding this case for a new trial in its entirety. View "Thomas v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Jonathan Salvador worked as a laboratory technician at the Houston Police Department's Crime Lab Division from 2006 to 2012. The Texas Forensic Science Commission (“TFSC”) published a full report in January 2013 detailing problems Salvador had throughout his employment with DPS. The investigation uncovered that there were two cases in which Salvador had made errors in the testing of substances involving marijuana, though those errors did not involve “dry-labbing.” Several reports of Salvador’s work indicated that Salvador’s tenure at DPS began with testing and reporting on marijuana substances. In this case, misconduct by Salvador has again presented questions of the falsity and materiality of the evidence tested to support a possession of a controlled substance charge. The State initially agreed that relief should be granted based upon “Ex parte Coty,” (418 S.W.3d 597 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014)). The trial court did not. The trial court rejected the State and Applicant’s proposed findings and recommended to the Court of Criminal Appeals that relief be denied. Based on an independent review of the record, the Court agreed with the habeas court and denied relief. View "Ex parte Owens" on Justia Law

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Appellant Bradley McClintock lived in an upstairs residence above a business. Access to his residence could be gained through a stairway at the back of the building. Police took a drug-sniffing dog to Appellant’s door, where the dog alerted to the presence of drugs. This fact was included in a warrant affidavit upon which a warrant to search the residence issued. Charged with possession of a felony amount of marijuana, Appellant filed a motion to suppress the contraband, contending that it had been obtained under a search warrant that was not supported by probable cause. Specifically, he argued that the police had conducted an illegal search at the door to his apartment using a drug-sniffing dog, and then incorporated that ill-gotten information into the search warrant affidavit. The trial court denied the motion, expressly holding that the police dog had not invaded the curtilage of Appellant’s home at the time it alerted to the presence of contraband, and that the use of a drug dog therefore did not constitute a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. Appellant then pled guilty to a reduced charge, preserving his right to appeal the adverse ruling on his motion to suppress The issue this case presented for the Court of Criminal Appeals’ review centered on the proper construction of Article 38.23(b) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the statutory good-faith exception to the statutory exclusionary rule. The Court reviewed this case once before on discretionary review. At that time, the Court remanded it to the court of appeals to allow that court to address, in the first instance, whether the United States Supreme Court’s recent interpretation of the court-made good-faith exception to the federal exclusionary rule in “Davis v. United States,” (564 U.S. 229 (2011)), should have any application in the construction of Texas’ statutory good-faith exception to Texas’ statutory exclusionary rule. The court of appeals issued its opinion; the State again petitioned court for discretionary review, which was granted. The Court of Criminal Appeals held the trial court did not err to overrule Appellant’s motion to suppress. The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed and the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. View "McClintock v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jamie Villa participated with gang members in a gang-related assault. The complainant testified that he was assaulted by gang members and that appellant was one of the people who assaulted him. The court of appeals held that the evidence was insufficient to show that appellant was himself a member of the gang. After review, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the court of appeals failed to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and that it therefore erred in holding the evidence to be insufficient. View "Villa v. Texas" on Justia Law