Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Acting on evidence that two men had been tortured and robbed at a business in Houston, police obtained a warrant to search the business. The warrant authorized the police to seize any and all "ITEMS CONSTITUTING EVIDENCE CONSTITUTING AGGRAVATED ASSAULT AND ROBBERY that may be found therein . . . including,” among other things, “audio/video surveillance video and/or video equipment.” Pursuant to this warrant, the police seized three computer hard drives from the business. Upon analysis, one hard drive — the only hard drive at issue in this appeal, was found to contain surveillance footage depicting much of the incident leading to charges against Foreman for aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. At the hearing on Foreman's motion to suppress evidence found on the hard drive, Foreman argued the warrant affidavit did not establish probable cause that audio and video surveillance equipment would even be found at the business. The trial court denied Foreman's motion; he was ultimately convicted on both offenses and sentenced to fifty years' confinement. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined the magistrate who signed the search warrant was justified in issuing the warrant authorizing police to seize the equipment from the business, thus affirming denial of Foreman's motion to suppress. View "Foreman v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals reversed Appellant Samuel Ukwuachu’s conviction for sexual assault by concluding that the State improperly used cell-phone call and location records to impeach two defense witnesses, thereby resulting in the introduction of false evidence in violation of his due process rights. Yet, the phone records at issue were never admitted into evidence nor made part of the record. Further, no expert testimony was introduced to establish that the State misled the jury regarding any particular information shown in the records. Without these phone records or such expert testimony, Appellant could not prove that the State actually elicited witness testimony that conflicted with the substance of those records. Accordingly, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined Appellant failed to make the requisite showing of falsity that must underlie any false-evidence due process claim. The Court, therefore, reversed the judgment of the court of appeals granting Appellant a new trial, and remanded this case for consideration of Appellant’s remaining issues on appeal. View "Ukwuachu v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A district attorney called a subordinate into his office to discuss a case and review the case file. Within a few weeks, the district attorney’s official status ended, he became part of a private law firm, and a member of that private law firm substituted in as defense counsel in the case. The State moved to disqualify the entire firm. The trial court denied the motion, but the court of appeals granted mandamus relief, ordering the trial court to disqualify the entire firm. The trial court sought mandamus relief from the court of appeals’s order. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that under "unequivocal, well-settled law," the former district attorney was disqualified from acting as defense counsel. But the Court also concluded that the same cannot be said for the other members of the law firm. Consequently, the Court denied mandamus in part and granted mandamus in part. View "In re Honorable Velia Meza, 226th Jud. Dist. Ct., Bexar Cty, Texas" on Justia Law

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In November 2016, a jury convicted Appellant Amos Wells, III of capital murder for the 2013 murders of Chanice and Annette Reed committed during the same criminal transaction. Pursuant to the jury’s answers to the special issues set forth in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 37.071, sections 2(b) and 2(e), the trial judge sentenced Appellant to death. Upon automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals, Appellant raised thirteen points of error. After review, the Court found no merit to any contention and affirmed the trial court's judgment and sentence. View "Wells v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kyle Kuykendall was charged in a single indictment with two separate instances of third-degree felony failure-to-appear. He was convicted on both counts and sentenced to concurrent ten-year sentences. He appealed, arguing that punishing him for both offenses violated Double Jeopardy (applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment). Appellant argued that because he had been required to appear on a single occasion to answer for both charges against him, he could have only committed one offense when he failed to appear. The Court of Appeals agreed with this argument, holding that because Appellant failed to appear only once, he could only be punished once under the Double Jeopardy Clause. It vacated his conviction on the second failure-to-appear count. The State Prosecuting Attorney petitioned for discretionary review to challenge the appellate court's judgment. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the Court of Appeals, finding that the failure to appear statute created as many actionable offenses as there were conditional releases according to the terms of which the actor failed to appear. In other words, the “allowable unit of prosecution” for the offense of failure to appear was the number of discrete conditional releases for which he was required to appear and did not: "it is not simply the number of times he failed to show up before some adjudicative body. In this case, when Appellant failed to appear at the combined setting, he committed two distinct offenses." The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment was not violated. View "Kuykendall v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Antonio Lopez confessed to killing his 11-month-old foster child. He was indicted on two counts for capital murder and murder. He filed a motion to suppress, arguing that his confession was inadmissible because it was involuntary under the Due Process Clause and Article 38.21 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. According to appellant, he confessed only after police told him that, if he did not, he and his wife might be arrested and that, if they were, Child Protective Services (CPS) might take away their other children. The trial court denied the motion and filed findings of fact and conclusions of law. A jury acquitted Lopez of capital murder, but convicted him of murder. The trial court sentenced him to 35 years’ confinement based on the agreement of the parties. On appeal, Lopez argued the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress, but the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the appellate court that Lopez’s confession was voluntary, but not based on the probable-cause analysis used by the court of appeals. Rather, the Court reached that result by examining the totality of the circumstances surrounding the confession: "The existence of probable cause is only a factor in the analysis." View "Lopez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In October 2015, appellant Mark Gonzalez pled not guilty, but a jury convicted him of capital murder for the 2011 murder of a police officer, for which he was sentenced to death. Appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. Appellant raised twenty-eight points of error. The Court addressed point number four: the trial court's juror substitution procedure, which was an issue of first impression. The remaining points of error were addressed in the unpublished portion of the Court's opinion. Finding none of his points to have merit, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment and sentence of death. View "Gonzalez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In the middle of a weekday in August 2017, Sergeant Ryan Gardiner of the Houston Police Department was patrolling Memorial Park on horseback. While on the lookout for suspicious activity, he positioned himself near bushes and trees where he was mainly concealed. From this location, Gardiner had a good vantage point and line of sight towards an empty parking lot in an area of the park called the Picnic Loop. According to Gardiner, Appellant Ricardo Romano parked his vehicle in the empty parking lot, exited, and walked around to the passenger side, where he opened the door. He then walked to the back of the vehicle, where he pulled the top of his shorts down with one hand and began masturbating with the other. Gardiner radioed his partner, who was in a nearby location of the park, and told him that Appellant was masturbating. Gardiner’s partner rode out of the bushes, which were about fifteen to twenty feet from Appellant to Appellant’s location and arrested him for indecent exposure. Appellant denied masturbating, saying that he was “trying to use the bathroom” because he had drunk a lot of water from a large jug inside the vehicle. Gardiner did not see urine on the ground, and there was a public restroom directly across the street from Appellant’s location. When asked why he did not use the public restroom, Appellant said he did not like those restrooms. Gardiner testified that he was sure that Appellant was masturbating. As far as Gardiner knew, he was the only person who saw Appellant touch himself, but said that there was a risk that other people in the park could have seen Appellant, and Appellant disregarded that risk. Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him, stating it was insufficient to show he was reckless as to the presence of others. Appellant contended he parked his car in an empty lot in order to review some business papers before proceeding downtown. After parking, he got out of the car in order to urinate. As soon as he pulled out his penis, he heard branches move. He said he did not actually urinate because Gardiner emerged on horseback before he could. Appellant said that he did not expect to see anyone because he believed there was no one else in that area of the park, and he did not believe it was reckless to urinate there. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined the officer's testimony plus body camera footage was sufficient to support Appellant's arrest, and reversed the court of appeals whose judgment held to the contrary. View "Romano v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Several officers were dispatched to locate a vehicle carrying stolen merchandise. The merchandise had been equipped with a tracking device and placed in a “bait” car before being stolen. Using the tracking device, the officers traced the merchandise to a Hummer driven by Appellant Victor Gonzalez. After observing the Hummer commit a traffic violation, the officers initiated a traffic stop. Appellant attempted to flee but ran into a dead end in an apartment complex’s parking lot. Two police cars pulled up closely on either side of the Hummer to prevent Appellant from getting out. As Officer Taylor Rogers got out of his patrol car to arrest Appellant, Appellant reversed and accelerated. The Hummer collided with the side of a patrol car and injured Officer Rogers. After successfully reversing away from the officers, Appellant sped off, crashed the Hummer into a nearby structure, and then fled on foot. Appellant was eventually arrested and charged with aggravated assault of a public servant with a deadly weapon. The issue this appeal presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether a defendant was harmed by an erroneous jury charge if the error at issue effectively amounted to nothing more than a formatting defect. Relevant here, the unobjected-to jury instructions tracked the statutory language and allowed for conviction for an intentional, knowing, or reckless aggravated assault on a public servant. The indictment, however, alleged only an intentional or knowing aggravated assault on a public servant. The Court concluded that erroneously including recklessness in the jury charge application paragraph was, under the facts of this case, a mere formatting defect that did not cause egregious harm. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals which held to the contrary, and remanded this case to that court for further proceedings. View "Gonzalez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Manyiel Philmon was convicted of and sentenced for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and family-violence assault. On appeal, Appellant argued that a conviction and sentence for both offenses violated his right against double jeopardy. The court of appeals disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s judgment on this issue. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition to determine whether the court of appeals was correct in ruling that Appellant was properly convicted of and sentenced for both counts. Because each offense required proof of an element the other offense did not and a showing cannot be made that the Legislature clearly intended only one punishment for these two offenses, the Court affirmed the court of appeals on this issue. View "Philmon v. Texas" on Justia Law