Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Syed Nawaz was convicted on two counts of injury to a child, but under different subsections of Texas Penal Code Section 22.04: 22.04(a)(1) and 22.04(a)(2). Appellant argued on appeal that his two convictions constituted the imposition of multiple punishments for the “same” offense, in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals previously concluded that, at least for purposes of a defendant’s right to a unanimous jury verdict, Sections 22.04(a)(1) and 22.04(a)(2) constituted discrete offenses. Nevertheless, the court of appeals in this case determined that convicting Appellant for both offenses constituted multiple punishments for the “same” offense, in violation of federal double-jeopardy protections. The Court concluded that punishing Appellant in the same trial for causing serious bodily injury, under Section 22.04(a)(1), and also for causing serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury, under Section 22.04(a)(2), did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. There was some evidence that, by whatever act or acts Appellant inflicted the “whip-lash-type” injuries to the victim, those injuries included both “serious bodily injury” in the form of retinal bleeding that caused her blindness, and “serious mental deficiency” in the form of diffuse brain bleeding that has caused her developmental delays. The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed insofar as it vacated Appellant’s conviction and punishment under Count II of the indictment, and the case was remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Nawaz v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Darryl Joe was charged with and convicted of cargo theft. He challenged the legal sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction, arguing that the goods were not cargo, he was never in possession of the goods, and even if he possessed the goods, he did not conduct an activity in which he possessed stolen cargo. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the goods were cargo, and Appellant possessed the goods. The case was remanded for the court of appeals to consider whether Appellant conducted an activity in which he possessed stolen cargo. View "Joe v. Texas" on Justia Law

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For his possession of a video that represented itself as a French nudist documentary, Appellant Carlos Romo, Jr. was convicted of possession of child pornography. The issue before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the video was child pornography. The court of appeals concluded that the evidence was legally insufficient to support Appellant’s conviction. But the Court of Criminal Appeals determined the court of appeals focused too heavily on the lack of sexual activity in the video and "neglected to consider the video holistically." The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the video constituted child pornography because the jury could rationally conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the video contained a lewd exhibition of child genitalia. View "Romo v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Richard Rivers was serving two sentences that involved Texas’ mandatory supervision statute in both its automatic and discretionary forms. The question his appeal presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the Texas Department of Criminal Justice could legally decline to release an inmate to mandatory supervision on one sentence until the inmate was eligible for release on all concurrent sentences. Because Applicant was eligible for mandatory supervision release on one of his convictions, the Court granted relief as to that sentence. However, because Applicant was ineligible for mandatory supervision on his second sentence, he was not entitled to immediate release as to that sentence. View "Ex parte Richard Rivers" on Justia Law

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Appellant Vincent Stredic was tried by jury, accused of murder. During deliberations, jurors disagreed about certain testimony. By statute, testimony may be read back on a point on which the jurors disagree. But instead of merely reading back the testimony in question, the trial court gave the jury a written transcript of that testimony. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred in doing so and that Appellant was harmed by the error. To this, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the trial court erred in giving the jury a written transcript, but the Court concluded this error was harmless. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and affirmed the trial court. View "Stredic v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sholomo David was indicted for third-degree felony tampering with physical evidence. The State’s theories were that Appellant “altered,” “concealed,” or “destroyed” marijuana when he dumped it into a toilet containing water and human waste during a police raid of the motel room he was in. The jury convicted Appellant and sentenced him to 30 years’ confinement as a habitual offender. Appellant appealed, arguing (among other things) that the evidence was legally insufficient to show that he put the marijuana in the toilet and to prove that putting the marijuana into the toilet with water and human waste altered, concealed, or destroyed it. The court of appeals found the evidence legally insufficient and rendered an acquittal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review and concluded the evidence was legally sufficient to show that Appellant altered the marijuana. Judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the court of appeals for it to address Appellant’s remaining issues. View "David v. Texas" on Justia Law

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After Appellant Mario Martell was placed on deferred adjudication community supervision for a third-degree felony drug offense, he stopped reporting to his probation officer and was considered an absconder. Nearly twenty years later, he was found and arrested. After a hearing, the trial court revoked Appellant’s community supervision, adjudicated him guilty of the drug offense, and placed him on community supervision for a period of ten years. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court erred in rejecting Appellant’s statutory due diligence defense under Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42A.109. On discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the State contended the court of appeals erred by failing to consider one of its arguments in support of the trial court’s ruling - namely, that Appellant should have been estopped from relying on the due diligence defense because he had received special permission to live in Mexico during his period of community supervision such that it would have been impossible for the State to make in-person contact with him at that location. Accordingly, the State asked the Court to remand the case to the lower court for consideration of that issue. The Court concluded the State was entitled to consideration of its estoppel argument; it reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Martell v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Appellant Crystal Mason was convicted of illegal voting, then a second-degree felony, and sentenced to five years’ confinement. Appellant filed a petition for discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that the court of appeals erred: (1) in holding that her unawareness about her ineligibility to vote “was irrelevant to her prosecution;” (2) by interpreting the Illegal Voting statute to criminalize the good faith submission of provisional ballots where individuals turn out to be incorrect about their eligibility to vote (contrary to the federal Help America Vote Act); and (3) by holding that Appellant “voted in an election” when she submitted a provisional ballot that was never counted. In a supplemental brief, Appellant argued that Senate Bill 1’s retroactive change to the Texas Election Code nullified her conviction. As to grounds two and three, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Help America Vote Act did not preempt the Illegal Voting statute, and that the court of appeals did not err by concluding that Appellant “voted.” However, as to ground one, the court below erred by failing to require proof that the Appellant had actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release. The case was remanded for that court to evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence under the correct interpretation of the statute. View "Mason v. Texas" on Justia Law

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During a capital murder investigation, investigators obtained a search warrant for Appellee John Baldwin’s phone pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 18.0215(c)(5)(B). In a motion to suppress, Appellee objected to the search warrant’s supporting affidavit, which contained generic statements about the use of cell phones. The trial court and the court of appeals both concluded that the affidavit did not contain sufficient facts to establish a fair probability that a search of the cell phone found in Appellee’s vehicle would likely produce evidence in the investigation of the murder. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to address under what circumstances may boilerplate language about cell phones be considered in a probable cause analysis. To this, the Court held that boilerplate language may be used in an affidavit for the search of a cell phone, but to support probable cause, the language must be coupled with other facts and reasonable inferences that establish a nexus between the device and the offense. Because the affidavit in this case failed to do so, the Court found no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court and no error on the part of the court of appeals. View "Texas v. Baldwin" on Justia Law

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In 2017 Appellant Maurice Edwards was indicted for aggravated sexual assault alleged to have been committed in 2003. He filed an application for pretrial habeas corpus seeking dismissal of the charge as barred by the ten-year statute of limitation. The State argued that there was no limitation on the prosecution because of an exception to the general limitation period - biological matter collected during the investigation “has been subjected to forensic DNA testing and the testing results show that the matter does not match the victim or any other person whose identity is readily ascertained[.]” The trial court denied relief, but the court of appeals reversed and ordered relief to be granted, reasoning that one of the conditions for applying the exception, what the testing results showed, was not proven at the habeas hearing. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review to decide, among other things, whether Appellant’s statute-of- limitation claim was cognizable in pretrial habeas. Since the Court held that it was not cognizable, it reversed the judgment of the court of appeals without addressing the State’s other grounds for review. View "Ex parte Maurice Edwards" on Justia Law