Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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When the alleged victim of a family-violence assault failed to show up for trial, the State sought to introduce her prior out-of-court statements about the assault. Appellant Frederick Brown objected on the basis of his constitutional right to confrontation. The State claimed that the evidence was admissible under the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. The State produced evidence that Appellant had told an investigator that he did not know the alleged victim’s whereabouts, but the investigator was later able to locate her before trial. Aside from that evidence, the State offered evidence that Appellant lived with the victim shortly before or at the time of trial, that he committed the instant family violence assault offense, and that he had previously committed such an offense against the same victim. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded this evidence was not sufficient to show that an action by the defendant caused the victim’s absence. Consequently, the Court held the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing did not apply in this case. The court of appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Brown v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Zaid Najar was convicted of evading arrest in a motor vehicle. In his motion for new trial, he presented affidavits citing a conversation with a juror who stated that during deliberations the jurors heard a siren from outside, they made assumptions about the case based on that siren, and it affected their deliberations. The trial court denied the motion for new trial, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that the jurors received other evidence in violation of Rule 21.3(f), which mandated a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held the trial court was not required to believe the affidavits and that the siren was not “other evidence” under Rule 21.3(f). Therefore, the Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case for consideration of Appellant’s remaining point of error. View "Najar v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kim Ogg sought to waive his right to a jury trial and have a bench trial. By statute, the State had the authority to refuse to consent to such a waiver, and the State refused to consent here. The trial court concluded that it had the power, under the Texas Supreme Court’s Emergency Order in response to COVID-19, to suspend that statutory provision and conduct a bench trial despite the State’s refusal to consent. The State then sought a writ of mandamus or a writ of prohibition from the court of appeals, but that court declined to grant relief. The State sought mandamus relief against the court of appeals, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals conditionally granted: "It is clear and indisputable that the Emergency Order did not confer upon the trial court the authority to conduct a bench trial without the State’s consent. . . . The writ of mandamus will issue only in the event that the court of appeals fails to comply with this opinion." View "In re Texas ex. rel. Ogg" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the admission of 33 of 34 exhibits during the punishment phase of Appellant Ralph Watkins’ trial for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. The exhibits were a collection of booking records, pen packets, and judgments of prior convictions that were used to prove two prior convictions for enhancement and other extraneous offenses that Appellant had committed. Prior to trial, Appellant’s attorney timely requested disclosure of “any other tangible things not otherwise privileged that constitute or contain evidence material to any matter involved in the case” pursuant to Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The prosecutor provided notice of the State’s intent to introduce evidence of these prior convictions and extraneous offenses at punishment, but the prosecutor didn’t disclose copies of the exhibits themselves until it was time to introduce them. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined the exhibits at issue were “material” because they had a logical connection to subsidiary punishment facts. It therefore reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case so that the court of appeals could analyze whether Appellant was harmed by the lack of disclosure. View "Watkins v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In applying for a blood-alcohol search warrant, a police officer submitted an unsworn probable-cause affidavit. Finding that the affidavit articulated probable cause but not realizing that it was unsworn, a magistrate signed and returned the search warrant. The same police officer then executed that search warrant. It was undisputed the officer’s failure to take the oath and swear to his probable-cause affidavit was improper. The question before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether despite this defect, and assuming a valid warrant issued, the good-faith exception to the Texas exclusionary rule applied such that the blood-alcohol evidence was admissible. The Court held that, under the facts of this case, the good-faith exception was inapplicable and the evidence was subject to suppression. The Court agreed with the court of appeals that the officer in this case was objectively unreasonable in executing a search warrant he knew was unsupported by a sworn probable-cause affidavit, such that he could not be said to have acted in objective good-faith reliance upon the warrant. View "Wheeler v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In a subsequent application for writ of habeas corpus, Applicant Stephen Barbee sought relief under McCoy v. Louisiana, 138 S. Ct. 1500 (2018), which he claimed was a previously unavailable legal basis for his claim. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals filed and set his application to address whether he was entitled to relief under McCoy. After review, the Court concluded that the legal basis for the current claim was previously available, and even if it were not, Applicant failed to allege facts that would have entitled him to relief under McCoy. Consequently, the Court dismissed this subsequent application as an abuse of the writ. View "Ex parte Stephen Dale Barbee" on Justia Law

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Relator was John Best, the District Attorney for the 119th Judicial District, and this case involved five codefendants who were all indicted for offenses arising out of the same criminal episode, a shooting that occurred in July, 2017. Stephen Jennings, Kristen Jennings, and David Navarro were all indicted for capital murder and lesser offenses. Garry Jennings was indicted for murder and lesser offenses. And Angella Wray was indicted for aggravated kidnapping and engaging in organized criminal activity. The five cases were assigned to four district courts, with Stephen Jennings’ and Kristen Jennings’ cases assigned to Respondent’s court, the 340th Judicial District Court. The State did not waive the death penalty in the three capital murder cases. Pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 38.43, the State submitted biological evidence collected in these cases to the DPS Crime Lab for DNA testing. Stephen Jennings and Navarro moved in their respective courts to have the DNA testing halted, arguing that some of the biological samples may not have been sufficient for the State to conduct its DNA testing, and for the five defendants to be able to retest the evidence. Navarro requested that the four trial courts agree on a single DNA testing policy. Navarro’s judge, the Presiding Judge of the 51st Judicial District Court, signed an “Order to Halt DNA Testing until Further Order” that directed Relator to provide all five codefendants with notice related to the scientific testing of evidence collected in these cases. Respondent found that the State’s proposed DNA testing would not provide enough remaining DNA sample or extract for each of the five defendants to conduct their own confirmatory testing of the biological evidence. Respondent signed an order providing that “any DNA testing conducted on the biological evidence in these cases be recorded by both audio and video.” Relator filed a motion for reconsideration asking Respondent to withdraw his orders. When this motion was denied, Relator filed his petition for mandamus relief, arguing Respondent lacked judicial authority to enter his orders, which in Relator's view, contravened Article 38.43 and the Separation of Powers Doctrine. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded Respondent exceeded his discretionary authority in discovery matters by ordering the State to create evidence in the form of a digital audiovisual recording of DPS’s DNA testing in these cases. "As usual, a formal writ of mandamus and/or prohibition will not issue unless Respondent should fail to rescind its order and allow DPS to proceed with the DNA testing without memorialization beyond that contemplated by Article 38.43(k), i.e., its bench notes." View "In re State of Texas ex rel. John H. Best" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jonathan Day fled after being told that he was under arrest and that there was an active arrest warrant out for him. He was charged with and convicted of evading arrest or detention. The court of appeals found the evidence insufficient to prove that the attempted arrest or detention was “lawful.” It held that while Appellant’s initial detention might have been justified, his continued detention, during which Appellant fled after police discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for him, was not. The court of appeals reversed the conviction and ordered an acquittal. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the court of appeals' judgment because a jury could have rationally found the officer’s attempted arrest or detention was lawful in light of the outstanding warrant. View "Day v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the Confrontation Clause was violated when the trial judge allowed Suzanne DeVore, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), to testify against appellant James Haggard, from Montana, using a two-way video system. The Court concluded based on the trial court record that admitting DeVore's remote testimony violated the Confrontation clause. The Court reversed the court of appeals, and remanded the case for a new harm analysis. View "Haggard v. Texas" on Justia Law

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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