Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Appellant Orlando Salinas challenged the assessment of a consolidated fee (or court costs, the payment of which is statutorily mandated when a defendant is convicted in a criminal case). The fees at issue were to be distributed to two accounts: an account for “abused children’s counseling” and an account for “comprehensive rehabilitation.” Appellant claimed that the unconstitutionality of these two statutory provisions rendered the entire consolidated fee statute unconstitutional. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that, with respect to the collection and allocation of funds for these two accounts, the statute was facially unconstitutional in violation of separation of powers. The Court also held, however, that the invalidity of these two statutory provisions did not render the statute as a whole unconstitutional. As a result, the Court held that any fee assessed pursuant to the consolidated fee statute had to be reduced pro rata to eliminate the percentage of the fee associated with these two accounts. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment modifying the court costs in appellant’s case. View "Salinas v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Us Carnell Petetan, Jr. was charged with the capital murder of his wife, Kimberly Petetan. The indictment alleged that he intentionally caused her death during the course of committing or attempting to commit the offenses of burglary, kidnapping (of Kimberly or her daughter A.W.), and retaliation. A jury found him guilty, for which he was ultimately sentenced to death. Appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic; he raised thirty points of alleged error at trial. The Court noted that appellant was convicted of a capital felony, but otherwise found no reversible error and affirmed appellant’s conviction and sentence. View "Petetan v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A police officer pulled appellee Mary Zuniga over after she ran a stop sign in front of her home. During the stop, the officer observed a bottle of medicine in Zuniga’s vehicle. When Zuniga was unable to produce a valid prescription for the syrup, the officer arrested her and placed her in the back of his police car. Soon after, the officer observed Zuniga reach into her groin area and pull something out with her hands cupped. The officer then observed Zuniga move her hands towards her mouth and lean her head down as if to swallow “something.” The officer took Zuniga to the hospital where medical professionals pumped Appellee’s stomach and performed an x-ray. They did not find any illegal substance or a baggie. The State neither tested the results of Appellee’s stomach purge for an illegal substance nor requested any testing of her blood. The State indicted Zuniga on tampering with physical evidence. The issue this case presented for review was when the State charges someone with tampering with physical evidence, was the specific identity of the tampered-with evidence an essential element of the offense? The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the State and the court of appeals that it was not. However, the court of appeals did not appear to have addressed whether the language in the indictment provided adequate notice of the charged conduct, so the Court remanded the case to give the lower court an opportunity to do so. View "Texas v. Zuniga" on Justia Law

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Appellee was charged with delivery of a dangerous drug under Texas Health and Safety Code Section 483.042(a). The trial court granted his motion to quash the indictment. The State appealed, and the court of appeals affirmed the order quashing the indictment. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State Prosecuting Attorney’s petition for discretionary review to consider whether a charging instrument alleging delivery of a named dangerous drug must also specify whether it is a device or drug. Concluding that it need not, the Court remanded to the court of appeals for consideration of the State’s remaining points of error. View "Texas v. Jarreau" on Justia Law

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Appellant Eric Baumgart acted as a security guard but had no license for doing so. He was charged with committing violations of the Private Security Act, in the Occupations Code. Appellant filed motions to quash and to dismiss these indictments. One of his allegations was that each of the indictments failed to contain language negating statutory exceptions to the offense. The primary exception that appellant relied upon was that he was a law enforcement officer, but there were a dozen statutory provisions that he claimed created exceptions that the State was required to negate in the indictment. The trial court denied appellant’s motions, and appellant was subsequently convicted. On appeal, appellant again raised his claim that the indictments failed to negate applicable statutory exceptions. The court of appeals focused on the law enforcement provision and stated that the exception was contained within a separate section from the section that stated the offense and, in fact, was contained within a separate subchapter titled “Exceptions.” Further, the court concluded that a prima facie case of acting as a security services contractor without a license could be made without proof that negated the law enforcement exception. Consequently, the court of appeals rejected appellant’s contention, and it ultimately affirmed his conviction. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court’s judgment, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. View "Baumgart v. Texas" on Justia Law

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After being released from the penitentiary earlier than permitted by the statutory minimum sentence for his crime, Appellant was convicted of another crime, and his sentence was enhanced by his prior conviction. He argued on appeal that his prior judgment of conviction was void because it imposed confinement for less time than the statutory minimum and that, because it was void, it should not have been used to enhance his sentence for a subsequent offense. After review, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that an appellant may not reap the benefit of an illegally lenient sentence and then, once he has discharged that sentence, invoke the illegal lenity in an attempt to prohibit the use of that conviction to enhance the sentence for a subsequent offense. View "Deen v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Kelvin Roy was convicted of murder and sentenced to seventy-five years’ imprisonment. The trial judge denied his request for a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of manslaughter. Because there was “more than a scintilla” of evidence that would allow a jury to rationally find that if Roy was guilty, he was guilty of only manslaughter, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the trial judge’s ruling and remanded for a harm analysis. View "Roy v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The issue in this case was whether there was sufficient evidence to affirm the jury’s deadly-weapon finding elevating robbery to aggravated robbery. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that there was and that the court of appeals erred to hold otherwise, it reversed the lower court’s judgment and remanded this case for consideration of Appellant’s remaining points of error. View "Johnson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant William White was convicted for delivery of less than a gram of methamphetamine in a drug free zone, a third degree felony. His punishment was enhanced with a prior felony to a second degree felony, and the trial court assessed his sentence at fifteen years’ confinement in the penitentiary. On appeal, he argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because it failed to establish that he knew he was in a drug free zone when he sold the methamphetamine. The court of appeals rejected this contention, holding that the statute did not require proof that a defendant had such an awareness. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition for discretionary review in order to examine this construction of the statutes in question, and finding no reversible error in the court of appeals’ judgment, affirmed. View "White v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Pleading guilty to the offense of sexual assault in 1984, Appellant Milton Crawford was convicted and later required to register as a sex offender. Twice after that, in 2007 and then again in 2009, he was convicted of the felony offense of failing to comply with sex-offender-registration requirements. In 2013, he was once again indicted for failing to comply with sex-offender- registration requirements, a third degree felony. Moreover, the 2013 indictment alleged the two previous felony sex-offender-registration offenses in enhancement paragraphs, to bring Appellant within the ambit of Section 12.42(d) of the Penal Code and thereby raise his exposure to a term of life, or not more than 99 years or less than 25 years, in the penitentiary. Appellant objected to the application of Section 12.42(d) to enhance his punishment, but nevertheless pled true to the enhancement paragraphs. A jury found them to be true and assessed his punishment at a term of 85 years in the penitentiary. On appeal, Appellant again challenged the legality of his enhanced sentence. He argued that the State could not use prior felony offenses for failure to comply with sex offender-registration requirements to punish him as a habitual felony offender for a subsequent sex-offender-registration offense under Section 12.42(d) of the Penal Code. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition for discretionary review in order to review his contention that the court of appeals erred to hold that the State could invoke Section 12.42(d) to punish him as a habitual offender. After review, the Court disagreed with Appellant’s contentions and affirmed the court of appeals. View "Crawford v. Texas" on Justia Law