Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Appellant Jennifer Wolfe presented an issue of whether expert testimony on the subject of abusive head trauma was reliable. She raised the issue in her petition for discretionary review following her conviction in a bench trial for first-degree-felony injury to a child after an infant under her care sustained serious internal head injuries. Appellant objected to the State’s experts’ testimony on the basis that it was unreliable, but the trial court overruled her objection. On discretionary review, appellant challenged the court of appeals’ ruling upholding the admissibility of this evidence on two bases: (1) the court of appeals erred by concluding that the experts’ testimony on abusive head trauma “based solely on a constellation of symptoms” was sufficiently reliable so as to render it admissible under the rules of evidence; and (2) the court of appeals incorrectly determined that her appellate challenge to the reliability of the experts’ testimony on abusive head trauma did not fairly include the issue of whether the expert testimony was unreliable “given this specific injured party’s history.” With respect to appellant’s contention challenging the reliability of the experts’ testimony of abusive head trauma based solely on a constellation of symptoms, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of appeals’ assessment that the experts’ testimony was sufficiently reliable so as to warrant a conclusion that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting that evidence, and thus overruled appellant’s complaint as to this matter. With respect to appellant’s contention that the court of appeals erred by declining to consider this particular complainant’s history in conducting its reliability analysis, the Court concluded that the court of appeals’ analysis reflects that it did consider whether the experts’ opinions were reliable in light of this complainant’s particular injuries. Further, to the extent that appellant complains that the court of appeals improperly declined to consider the complainant’s medical history of prior bleeding in the brain as a basis for rejecting the reliability of the State’s experts’ testimony, the Court concluded that appellant did not rely on the complainant’s history of prior bleeding as a basis for arguing that the experts’ opinions were unreliable, and thus the court of appeals did not err by declining to address that issue. Finding no reversible error, the court of appeals’ judgment upholding appellant’s conviction was affirmed. View "Wolfe v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A jury found appellant Rodney Lake guilty of sexual assault of a child under age seventeen and sentenced him to ten years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Upon the recommendation of the jury, sentence was suspended and appellant was placed on community supervision for ten years. The issue this case presented for the Court of Criminal Appeals' review was whether the denial of closing argument at a community-supervision revocation proceeding was the sort of error that was exempt from a harm analysis. The Court concluded that it was not, because the Supreme Court has not labeled it as structural. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for a harm analysis View "Lake v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Angel Obella entered a guilty plea to aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced by the trial court to 30 years’ imprisonment. Appellant filed a motion for new trial alleging that his plea was involuntary based on ineffective assistance of counsel, and requesting that the motion be set for a hearing. Appellant attached affidavits in support of his allegations. The State filed a response to the motion and attached an affidavit of appellant’s trial counsel. The trial court did not hold a hearing and the motion was overruled by operation of law. Appellant claimed the trial court abused its discretion by not conducting a hearing on his motion for new trial. The State filed a motion for rehearing with the court of appeals, alleging that appellant failed to preserve his new-trial claim because he did not timely “present” the motion to the trial court. The court of appeals denied the State’s motion for rehearing. The State sought review with the Court of Criminal Appeals, claiming in part that the issue of presentment involved an issue of error preservation, that issues involving preservation of error are systemic and should be addressed by the reviewing court on its own motion, and that the court of appeals erred in not deciding the issue of presentment after it was brought to the court’s attention in the State’s motion for rehearing. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and reversed. View "Obella v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The officer in this case encountered and arrested an intoxicated driver during a traffic stop he initiated to check the welfare of a passenger in the vehicle. The question this case presented for the Court of Criminal Appeals’ review was whether this particular traffic stop was a reasonable seizure under the community-caretaking doctrine. The Court held that it was. View "Byram v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jeffrey Pruett was convicted of arson, and the jury made a deadly-weapon finding. The question before the Court of criminal Appeals was whether: the fire started by appellant was a deadly weapon when the fire was started with an accelerant in a residential neighborhood; was left unattended and uncontrolled by appellant; and was ultimately extinguished through the efforts of appellant’s neighbors and the Fort Worth Fire Department. Because the record supported a finding that the fire was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, the Court held that the deadly-weapon finding was proper. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Pruett v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Henry Bullock, Jr. was convicted by a jury of theft of a furniture delivery truck, a third-degree felony. In his sole ground in his petition for discretionary review, appellant contended that the court of appeals erred by upholding the trial court’s decision that had declined his request for a lesser-included-offense jury instruction on attempted theft. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with appellant that there was more than a scintilla of evidence in the record from which a rational fact finder could have found that he was guilty only of attempted theft of the truck, rather than theft, and thus the court of appeals erred by concluding that the trial court properly declined to give the lesser-included-offense instruction. The Court reversed the court of appeals, and remanded this case to that court for it to consider in the first instance whether the trial court’s failure to give a lesser-included-offense instruction on attempted theft harmed appellant. View "Bullock v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted appellant LaJuan Bailey of felony failure to appear/bail jumping because she failed to appear as required for a pretrial court setting. The jury assessed punishment at ten years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. On appeal, appellant claimed she received ineffective assistance by her trial counsel because he violated the attorney-client privilege by questioning her prior trial counsel about confidential communications with appellant without appellant’s consent. Appellant also alleged that the trial court abused its discretion in overruling her mistrial motion, which was based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for that violation of appellant’s attorney-client privilege. The Court of Appeals overruled her claims and affirmed the judgment and sentence. Upon reconsideration of its original opinion, it withdrew that opinion and issued an en banc opinion, which also affirmed the trial court’s judgment and sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted appellant’s petition for discretionary review, which raised five grounds for review. After careful consideration of each of the grounds raised, the Court of Criminal Appeals found that the assertions made in ground one were encompassed by the other grounds. The Court therefore dismissed ground one as improvidently granted. The court of appeals did not err in holding that appellant failed to prove that her counsel provided ineffective assistance by divulging privileged communications. View "Bailey v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a plea bargain, Patrick Shay was convicted of improper photography or visual recording and sentenced to two years’ confinement, the maximum confinement permitted for the state-jail felony. In consideration for Shay’s guilty plea, the State agreed not to file aggravated sexual assault or child pornography charges surrounding the same criminal episode. Shay’s applied for habeas relief, using as grounds the Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion in "Thompson v. Texas," which held that a portion of the former improper photography or visual recording statute—specifically, Texas Penal Code section 21.15(b)(1) - was facially unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment. Section 21.15(b)(1) formed the basis of Shay’s conviction. The State and the habeas judge recommended that the Court of Criminal Appeals grant Shay relief under "Thompson." The Court, in turn, ordered Shay’s application be filed and set to determine whether an applicant, who negotiates a very favorable plea agreement resulting in a conviction for an offense later held to be unconstitutional, is estopped from challenging the conviction on the basis of its unconstitutionality. The Court held that estoppel does not bar an applicant for habeas relief from seeking habeas relief on a statute subsequently declared facially unconstitutional. The Court accordingly set aside Shay’s conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court to dismiss the indictment. View "Ex parte Patrick Taylor Shay" on Justia Law

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Appellant Stacy Cary was convicted by a jury of six counts of bribery, one count of money laundering, and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity. Her sentence was probated, but she was ordered to serve 30 days’ confinement as a condition of her probation. A split panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed her convictions. She alleged on appeal that the evidence was legally insufficient to support her convictions, and that the trial court reversibly erred when it excluded certain evidence. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals sustained her first and fourth grounds (regarding insufficiency of the evidence), the Court will reversed and rendered an acquittal on each count and did not reach the other three grounds for review. View "Cary v. Texas" on Justia Law

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David Cary was convicted by a jury of six counts of bribery, one count of money laundering, and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity. His punishment was given fourteen years’ confinement on each count to run concurrently with one day credit. He appealed the convictions, and a unanimous panel of the court of appeals found that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions, entering an acquittal on each count. The issue in this case for the Court of Criminal Appeals' review was whether the court of appeals misapplied the standard for legal sufficiency. The Court concluded that it did not, and affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Cary v. Texas" on Justia Law