Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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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

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Police approached Appellant Braden Price at the San Antonio airport, detained him on suspicion of trafficking in drugs, and handcuffed him behind his back. They then transported both him and his rolling suitcases to a “secure office” inside the airport. After reading Appellant his rights, police searched the suitcases and discovered marijuana. Appellant argued on appeal that the trial court should have granted his motion to suppress the marijuana because the officers’ search of the suitcases was impermissible under the Fourth Amendment. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the warrantless search was not justified as a search incident to arrest. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State's petition for discretionary review of its claim the appellate court erred when it concluded the search was not valid as a search incident to arrest, because categorically, luggage is never “property immediately associated with the arrestee.” The Court held that an arrestee was in actual possession of a receptacle at the time of, or reasonably contemporaneously to, his custodial arrest, and that receptacle must inevitably accompany him into custody, a warrantless search of that receptacle at or near the time of the arrest was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment as a search incident to the arrestee’s person. "Such a search requires no greater justification than the fact of the lawful arrest itself. Application of this principle does not turn on the specific nature or character of the receptacle, as the court of appeals believed, but merely on whether it was in the arrestee’s possession at the time of arrest, and whether it would inevitably accompany him into custody." Accordingly, judgment was reversed. View "Price v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A sample of Appellant Robert Crider’s blood was lawfully extracted pursuant to a search warrant which alleged probable cause to believe he had been driving while intoxicated. However, the warrant did not also expressly authorize the chemical testing of the extracted blood to determine his blood-alcohol concentration. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether introduction of evidence of the result of the chemical testing at Appellant’s trial, in the absence of any explicit authorization for such testing in the search warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Court ruled it did not, therefore affirming the court of appeals' judgment. View "Crider v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The trial court suppressed statements made by Appellee Kevin Castanedanieto during a police interview. The court of appeals affirmed that decision on a legal theory not presented to the trial court. Appellee’s legal theories involved whether he understood warnings that were given at the beginning of the interview and whether the State interfered with his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The court of appeals’s theory was that statements in a prior interview were obtained through coercion and that caused his statements in the second interview to be involuntary. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the court of appeals’s theory was not one applicable to the case because the State was not given an opportunity to develop a complete factual record with respect to that theory. Consequently, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the court of appeals for further proceedings. View "Texas v. Castanedanieto" on Justia Law

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Appellant James Williams moved for a new trial, and filed his notice of appeal 71 days after sentence was imposed in open court, but 52 days after the trial court entered a nunc pro tunc order that Appellant later challenged on appeal. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' review was whether, if a defendant timely files a motion for a new trial and, while the motion for new trial is pending, the trial court enters a nunc pro tunc order, must a defendant seeking to challenge the nunc pro tunc order file notice of appeal within 30 days after the nunc pro tunc order or 90 days after sentence was imposed or suspended in open court? Under Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 26.2(a), the Court found a defendant's notice of appeal must be filed: (1) within 30 days after the day sentence is imposed or suspended in open court, or after the day the trial court enters an appealable order; or (2) within 90 days after the day sentence is imposed or suspended in open court if the defendant timely files a motion for new trial. Because defendant timely filed a motion for new trial, his notice of appeal was timely, and thus the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Williams v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ricky Moreno claimed the defense of duress in his prosecution for aggravated kidnapping. In connection with this defense, he sought to offer evidence that he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The trial court excluded this evidence, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that evidence of PTSD was relevant to showing duress. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, because the defense of duress applied only to the type of compulsion that a person of “reasonable firmness” could not resist and PTSD evidence would show merely that the defendant had a greater sensitivity to compulsion than a person of reasonable firmness. Consequently, the Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment. View "Moreno v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The real party in interest, Roman Bledsoe, entered a not guilty plea to a Class C misdemeanor traffic violation and requested a jury trial. Before the jury was sworn in, relator Judge John Yeager asked Bledsoe whether, in the event he was found guilty by the jury, he preferred for punishment to be assessed by the jury or by the judge. Bledsoe replied that he wanted punishment to be assessed by the judge. The State objected “to the bifurcation of the trial” and asked Judge Yeager to follow Stevenson v. Texas, Nos. C-1-CR-12-100083, C-1-CR-12-100084, C-1-CR-12-100085 (Travis County Court at Law No. 1, Tex. May 16, 2013). Judge Yeager overruled the State’s objection and said he would assess punishment if Bledsoe was found guilty by the jury. The State requested a stay and filed a writ of mandamus to prohibit Judge Yeager from assessing punishment. Respondent, Travis County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Eric Shepperd determined Bledsoe could not elect for the court for punishment in the event of a guilty verdict by a jury after pleading not guilty. Judge Shepperd issued a writ of mandamus against Judge Yeager. Judge Yeager was unsuccessful in his own application for mandamus relief from the court of appeals, thereafter petitioning the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Since it is unclear to the Court whether Article 37.07 required juries to assess punishment in Class C misdemeanor cases on pleas of not guilty, Judge Yeager did not have a ministerial duty to deny defendants the opportunity to elect the court for punishment in the event of a jury verdict of guilty following a plea of not guilty, and mandamus did not lie against him. "Thus, even if Judge Shepperd had mandamus jurisdiction over Judge Yeager and authority to order him and other municipal court judges to carry out a clear ministerial duty, there was no such duty in this case. Consequently, we conditionally grant mandamus relief." View "In re Hon. John Yeager, Relator" on Justia Law

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Andrea Gooden was a laboratory technician who properly analyzed Appellant Lesley Diamond's blood for alcohol content in this case. After Appellant’s trial, it was revealed that Gooden had - before trial - mistakenly certified a blood alcohol analysis report in an unrelated case where a police officer had mislabeled the submission form accompanying a blood sample. Due to her self-report of the erroneous certification to her supervisor, Gooden had been temporarily removed from casework at the time of Appellant’s trial so she could research and document this incident. The prosecutors in this case, unaware of the problem in the unrelated case, failed to disclose this information to Appellant prior to Gooden’s testimony in Appellant’s trial. The question before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether that evidence is material. The post-conviction habeas court concluded it was not and denied Article 11.072 relief. Based upon its review of the trial record, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and reversed the court of appeals’ holding to the contrary, and upheld the habeas court’s ruling. View "Diamond v. Texas" on Justia Law