Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Andrew Williams was charged with manslaughter for killing a pedestrian with his vehicle. One of the State’s theories was that Williams was intoxicated when the crash occurred. To support this theory, pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procédure Article 38.41, the State offered an analysis of Williams’ blood without calling the analyst who tested the blood as a sponsoring witness. The court of appeals decided that the trial judge properly admitted this evidence over Williams’s confrontation objection. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concurred with the appellate court’s judgment and affirmed. View "Williams v. Texas" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the State could prosecute Appellant Brandon Adams for aggravated assault for stabbing Joe Romero after Appellant was acquitted in an earlier trial of aggravated assault for stabbing Joe’s brother, Justin Romero, in the same incident. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined the issue the specific issue this case involved the doctrine of collateral estoppel within the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy clause. The Court found collateral estoppel was inapplicable to the facts of this case, and the State was not barred from prosecuting Appellant. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals which held to the contrary. View "Ex parte Brandon Adams" on Justia Law

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Shanna Lynn Hughitt was living with Kevin Sliger, a self-described drug addict and methamphetamine dealer. The Brown County, Texas Sheriff’s Office was conducting an investigation into methamphetamine distribution. In furtherance of that investigation, the Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at Hughitt and Sliger’s home. When executing the warrant, police found Sliger in the dining room with illegal drugs on his person; Hughitt was found in a bedroom with about one gram of meth and a glass pipe under her clothes. There was also an ounce of marijuana in the bedroom closet and a gallon-sized ziploc bag with meth residue under the mattress. Other items found in the house included cash, drug packaging, rolling papers, syringes, scales, a digital police scanner, and a large amount of MSN “cut.” Hughitt was charged with and convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity (“engaging”) based on the predicate offense of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The issue her case rose before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether that offense - possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver - was a valid predicate offense for the crime of engaging. The Court determined the issue turned on whether the phrase “unlawful manufacture, delivery” as it modified “controlled substance” in Section 71.02(a)(5) of the Texas Penal Code referenced the offense of “possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.” If it did, then possession with intent to deliver was a predicate offense. If not, then it was not. The court of appeals concluded that the words “manufacture, delivery” were inconsistent with the offense of “possession with intent to deliver.” Consequently, the court of appeals held that possession with intent to deliver was not a predicate offense for the crime of engaging. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Hughitt v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Two officers from the Columbus Police Department responded to a mid-morning call about people suspected of drinking alcohol inside a parked car at the Department of Public Safety driver’s license office. Appellant Lisandro Beltran De La Torre was in the driver's seat, a female in the front passenger seat, and a second female passenger in the back seat. The officers also saw a man standing outside the vehicle on the passenger’s side. That man was asked to sit down nearby, but he was not questioned and later walked away from the scene. One of the officers noticed a small plastic bag containing a powdery substance on the car’s center console while standing at the driver’s door. Appellant and his passengers were asked to step out of the car; officers noticed Appellant smelled of alcohol, had bloodshot eyes, and appeared to have not slept in a day or more. Both officers stated that Appellant had dilated pupils, which they believed based on their training and experience indicated the use of narcotics. The officers removed the bag with the white powdery substance and field tested it. The test yielded a positive result for cocaine. Appellant and the two female passengers were then arrested for possession of a controlled substance. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concerned a challenge to the trial court’s jury instructions relating to the car's occupants and their close proximity to the drugs. Appellant contended the court of appeals erred by rejecting his two complaints of jury-charge error by: (1) incorrectly upholding the trial judge’s decision to give a non-statutory instruction on “joint possession,” informing the jury that “two or more people can possess the same controlled substance at the same time;” and (2) by upholding the trial judge’s denial of his request for an instruction on “mere presence,” which would have informed the jury that a person’s mere presence at a location where drugs are found is insufficient to demonstrate possession. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined the proposed instructions would have been improper comments on the weight of the evidence, and should not have been included in the jury charge. "By upholding the trial court’s inclusion of the joint-possession instruction the court of appeals erred, but it was correct to uphold the trial court’s refusal of the mere-presence instruction." Accordingly, judgment was reversed due to error regarding the joint-possession instruction, and the case remanded to the court of appeals for a harm analysis. View "De La Torre v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Joseph Diruzzo was convicted on sixteen counts of illegally practicing medicine. On appeal, he argued the district court never acquired subject matter jurisdiction over the case because the indictment only charged him with misdemeanor offenses. He argued the trial court erred to deny his motion to quash the indictment raising this issue. The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals rejected Appellant’s claim, holding that “the indictment sufficiently alleged the third degree felony offense under [Texas Occupations Code S]ection 165.152, thereby invoking the subject-matter jurisdiction of the trial court.” On discretionary review, Appellant contended that, construing Section 165.152 in pari materia with neighboring provisions in the Texas Occupations Code, it was evident the indictment alleged no more than a misdemeanor offense under Section 165.151 of the Texas Occupations Code, and because the indictment alleged only a misdemeanor offense, the court of appeals erred to hold that the district court acquired subject matter jurisdiction over the case. And because the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, he concluded, it erred to deny his motion to quash the indictment. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed the indictment on its face alleged no more than a misdemeanor offense. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals’ judgment, vacated the trial court’s judgment, and remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Diruzzo v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Marian Fraser ran a licensed day care center out of her home. She provided care for twelve children, all typically under two years of age. During an afternoon nap at the center, one of the children, C.F., stopped breathing, vomited, and became unconscious. Emergency personnel transported C.F. to the hospital, but despite the best efforts of the doctors, she died. A toxicology report revealed that C.F. had a high level of the drug diphenhydramine in her body. In Johnson v. Texas, 4 S.W.3d 254, 258 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that any felony may serve as a predicate for felony murder as long as it is not manslaughter or a lesser-included offense of manslaughter. Furthermore, the Court held that for the purpose of serving as a predicate felony, “[t]he offense of injury to a child is not a lesser included offense of manslaughter.” Nevertheless, the court of appeals in this case concluded that certain versions of the offense of injury to a child could be lesser-included offenses of manslaughter for the purpose of the felony-murder statute. The court of appeals held that the same could be said for certain versions of the child-endangerment offense. The Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and reversed the court of appeals: “Because the victim’s status as a child is necessarily an element of the offenses of injury to a child and child endangerment, and that element is not within (or deducible from) the statutory elements of manslaughter, the offenses of injury to a child and child endangerment are never lesser-included offenses of manslaughter for the purpose of the felony-murder statute’s manslaughter exclusion.” View "Fraser v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellee Jose Ruiz was charged with felony driving while intoxicated after the State took a blood sample from him without a warrant and while he was unconscious. The trial court granted his motion to suppress his blood test results, and the court of appeals affirmed. The State sought discretionary review to determine whether: (1) implied consent to a blood draw from an unconscious driver was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) exigent circumstances justified the warrantless blood draw. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted review of the first ground, and held that implied consent was not a valid basis for a blood draw in the circumstances presented here. The Court then granted review of the second ground concerning exigent circumstances, vacated the lower court’s holding on that issue, and remanded the case to the court of appeals for reconsideration of it in light of Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4400, 139 S.Ct. 2525 (2019). View "Texas v. Ruiz" on Justia Law

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Appellee Lauro Ruiz, a former substitute teacher at a private high school, was charged with attempted production of sexual performance by a child for pictures found on his cell phone. The trial court granted his motion to suppress the pictures, but the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellee’s petition for discretionary review to consider whether the court of appeals misapplied the standard of review and failed to indulge every presumption in favor of the trial court’s ruling. The Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Ruiz v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Demond Franklin was charged with capital murder, and the State waived the death penalty. Upon conviction, he was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of life without parole. On appeal, Appellant claimed for the first time that the age of a defendant at the time of an offense was an element of the offense that had to be proven by the State. On the basis of this proposition, he argued that his sentence should be life with the possibility of parole. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and affirmed the court of appeals. View "Franklin v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Pablo Alfaro-Jimenez carried around a fake social security card in his wallet and admitted that he used it to get work. But to convict Appellant of tampering with a governmental record under the theory of liability authorized by the indictment in this case, the State had to prove that Appellant possessed or presented a real social security card. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the State did not prove that in this case. Consequently, it reversed the court of appeals’ holding that the evidence was sufficient to support Appellant’s conviction. View "Alfaro-Jimenez v. Texas" on Justia Law