Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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Appellant Mauricio Celis was never licensed to practice law in Texas or any other jurisdiction, but he continuously held himself out as a lawyer in Texas over a period of several years in a lucrative business. Appellant acknowledged that he did not have a "cedula," nor a certificate from Mexico's Ministry of Education. Rather, he testified that he had a diploma in judicial sciences and that he, therefore, believed that he was "considered a lawyer in Mexico." He called two witnesses who testified that every Mexican citizen who was of legal age and sound mind is a "licenciado." Appellant was charged with 23 counts of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer in violation of Texas Penal Code Section 38.122 (the "false-lawyer statute"). With respect to a culpable mental state, the trial court's instructions required the jury to determine only whether appellant intended to obtain an economic benefit for himself in holding himself out as a lawyer. The instructions did not include a culpable mental state with respect to the remaining elements that alleged that appellant had held himself out as an attorney, was not currently licensed to practice law, and was not in good standing with the State Bar of Texas and other applicable authorities. In deciding appellant's petition for discretionary review, the Supreme Court considered three issues: (1) whether the offense of falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer does not require an instruction as to a culpable mental state beyond the intent expressly prescribed by the plain language in that statute; (2) whether appellant was not entitled to an instruction on a mistake-of-fact defense because his requested instruction did not negate the culpability required for the offense; and (3) whether the appellate court properly determined that the trial court's instruction on the definition of "foreign legal consultant" was not an improper comment on the weight of the evidence. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Celis v. Texas" on Justia Law