Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

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A jury convicted appellant Samantha Britain of manslaughter and injury to a child for recklessly causing the death of her step-daughter. The Court of Appeals held that there was insufficient evidence that appellant was "aware of but consciously disregard[ed] a substantial and unjustifiable risk" as required to prove recklessness. Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court and entered a judgment of acquittal on both counts. The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for review of whether the Court of Appeals should have reformed the verdict to the lesser-included offense of criminally negligent homicide rather than rendering a verdict of acquittal. The Supreme Court concluded there was no evidence concerning the standard of care an ordinary person should be held to or that showed the appellant should have been aware of the risk to the child. Given this lack of evidence and the conflicting testimony of the medical experts concerning the ease with which such a serious risk was identified, the Court could not say that the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the appellant acted with negligence. The Court of Appeals did not err in rendering a judgment of acquittal, and the Supreme Court affirmed that decision. View "Britain v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In his initial application for habeas relief, applicant Erick Alberto Oranday-Garcia alleged his guilty for possession of cocaine was involuntary because trial counsel rendered deficient performance by advising him that conviction for that offense would not result in deportation. Applicant was deported as a result of his offense. He contended that had he understood the effect that the guilty plea would have on his immigration status, he would not have pled guilty but insisted on going to trial. Applicant's trial counsel filed an affidavit with the convicting court specifically refuting the applicant's allegations and maintaining that he had informed the applicant that his conviction would result in deportation. Based on the affidavit, the convicting court recommended denying relief. In a subsequent writ application, applicant argued that the same circumstances in support of his claim that his plea was given involuntarily due to ineffective assistance of trial counsel was supported under the United States Supreme Court's decision in "Padilla v. Kentucky." Applying the requirement of an allegation of prima facie facts to this petition, the Supreme Court dismissed it as non-compliant with Article 11.07, Section 4. The new law that applicant invoked was Padilla, but the Court concluded he did not establish that Padilla applied to the facts of his case because of Texas precedent "Ex parte De Los Reyes," and the United States Supreme Court's opinion in "Chaidez v. United States." Because the applicant's conviction was final before the Supreme Court announced the rule in Padilla, it could not apply to him in any event. View "Ex parte Oranday-Garcia" on Justia Law

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The trial court found appellant was indigent and appointed trial counsel for him. Subsequently, the court accepted appellant's guilty plea for hindering apprehension and sentenced him to eight years' confinement in the penitentiary. Thereafter, the trial court suspended the appellant's sentence and imposed eight years' community supervision. Without making a finding that the appellant had the present resources to repay the county for his court appointed trial attorney, the trial court ordered the appellant to pay court costs, which, according to a bill of costs attached to the written judgment, included attorney fees. Appellant did not appeal at the time of the imposition of community supervision. But when the appellant's community supervision was later revoked and he was sentenced to eight years' incarceration, that's when appellant raised the issue of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the trial court's order to repay attorney fees. The court of appeals acknowledged that the evidence was insufficient to order the repayment of those initial attorney fees, but held that the appellant procedurally defaulted this claim by failing to raise an objection in the trial court at the time that community supervision was imposed. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded appellant procedurally defaulted his claim. View "Wiley v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant was convicted of second-degree felony possession of marijuana. She initially preserved error by way of a motion to suppress the evidence, which she claimed had been seized during the course of an illegally prolonged roadside detention. But when the evidence was later proffered by the State during the punishment portion of the unitary proceeding following her non-negotiated plea of guilty to the charge, her attorney expressly declared that he had "no objection" to the admission of the evidence. The trial court nevertheless manifested its understanding that the appellant persisted in her wish to appeal the denial of her pretrial motion to suppress and expressly granted her permission to do so. The court of appeals refused to reach the merits of her claim, relying upon longstanding precedent that her attorney had "waived" the previously preserved objection to the evidence for purposes of appeal when he declared that he had "no objection" to its admission. Given the record as a whole, the Supreme Court concluded court of appeals erred by stating that when appellant stated she had "no objection" to the introduction of certain evidence during the punishment portion of the proceedings in this case, she "waived" appellate review of the propriety of the trial court's ruling on her pretrial motion to suppress. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Thomas v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Vaughn Bell contended the court of appeals erred in finding the trial judge's error that ordered him shackled during trial was harmless. Over a lunch break during the guilt phase of Bell's trial for the offense of possession of a controlled substance, the judge ordered Bell shackled. Accordingly, Bell was shackled with cuffs and "a chain that is linked between his two ankles." Bell objected to the shackling, arguing that using the device in front of the jury, if seen, would deprive him a presumption of innocence, fair trial, "and his rights under United States and Texas Constitution." The State responded by asking the judge to have the court's bailiff sit in various seats in the jury box to see if jurors would be able to see Bell's shackles. Complying, the bailiff told the judge that he could not see the chain or ankle cuffs. Bell countered that the jury would be able to hear the chains rattle if Bell moved during the trial. The judge overruled Bell's objection. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in shackling Bell, but that the error was not constitutional error because there was no evidence the jury saw his restraints. Despite the court of appeals' erroneous application of a constitutional-error harm analysis, the Court affirmed its judgment. View "Bell v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Paul Pawlak was convicted of various counts of prohibited sexual activities including sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, and attempted sexual assault. The court of appeals held that the trial court properly admitted thousands of digital pornographic images at Appellant's trial, including images of child and homosexual pornography. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court found that the trial court abused its discretion when it improperly admitted thousands of extraneous-offense pornographic images over Appellant's objection under Rule 403 of the Texas Rules of Evidence. Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court's judgment and remanded the case for a harm analysis in the first instance. View "Pawlak v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted appellant of murder for killing his friend, Jeromie Jackson. At trial, appellant admitted that he stabbed Jeromie, but claimed he did so in self-defense. The trial judge instructed the jury on the issue of self-defense, but over appellant's objection, he also instructed the jury on provocation as a qualification on the self-defense issue. The jury rejected appellant's self-defense claim, found him guilty of murder, and sentenced him to eighteen years' imprisonment. On appeal, appellant raised one claim: whether the trial court erred in including the provocation instruction over his objection. The court of appeals found appellant had suffered some harm, reversed appellant's conviction, and ordered a new trial. The Supreme Court granted the SPA's petition to review only the court of appeals' determination that appellant suffered harm from the inclusion of the provocation instruction. After its review, the Court agreed with the appellate court that appellant did suffer actual harm when his self-defense claim was improperly limited by the inclusion of an unwarranted provocation instruction. View "Reeves v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant was observed taking photographs of patrons at a municipal swimming pool at a public park. The subjects of these photographs included women and children who were wearing swimming suits. Police were notified, and patrol officers responded. In the statement, appellant acknowledged taking photos of women and a girl in bathing suits, but asserted that the photos were taken "just to see if the pictures come out good." Appellant was charged with multiple offenses of improper photography, a state-jail felony. The trial court denied his motions to suppress, and appellant then plead nolo contendere to both indictments. After a punishment hearing, the trial court sentenced him to twenty months' confinement in state jail and imposed a $2,500 fine in each case, with the sentences to run concurrently. On direct appeal, appellant raised one issue: "Does merely taking photographs at a public pool give police reasonable suspicion to stop appellant's vehicle?" The court of appeals overruled that single issue and affirmed the trial court's judgments. The issues before the Supreme Court on appeal of that order was whether a crime "is afoot" when a person takes pictures at a public pool permitting a police officer to conduct an investigative detention?" The Supreme Court responded in the negative, and reversed the court of appeals' judgments. View "Arguellez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Raul Parra was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child and was sentenced to lifetime confinement and a one-dollar fine. The El Paso Court of Appeals affirmed Parra's conviction, finding that Parra did not preserve any error stemming from the judge's jury admonishment and no juror misconduct occurred. Parra sought habeas relief on the grounds that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the trial judge's response to a jury note and for failing to adequately question the venire to reveal one juror's alleged experience as the victim of both domestic violence and sexual assault of a child. Because Parra failed to satisfy the requirements of "Strickland v. Washington," the Supreme Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Parra" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted appellant of fraudulent possession of identifying information, found two enhancement paragraphs in the indictment to be true, and assessed appellant's punishment at 50 years' incarceration. Appellant appealed, but the record that was transmitted to the court of appeals did not contain a certification of the defendant's right of appeal. Because of the absence of the certification, the court of appeals dismissed the appeal. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that instead of dismissing the appeal, the court of appeals should have ordered the trial court to supplement the trial record with a certification of the defendant's right of appeal. Therefore, the Court reversed the court of appeals' dismissal and remanded this case to that court so that it may order the trial court to submit a supplemental record that contains the certification. View "Cortez v. Texas" on Justia Law