Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Kenyetta Walker lived in a house that police identified as a “a major distribution point” for drugs along with her two daughters and a man who went by the nickname “Pill.” One night, three intruders broke into the house through the front door. A gunfight ensued. One of the intruders escaped the home unscathed. Another limped away. The final intruder crawled out of the house to die on the lawn. Police were called out to the scene. Surveillance cameras around the house showed that after the shootout, but before the police arrived, Appellant made several trips outside. First, she carried a bag of more than 400 grams of dihydrocodeinone pills to an Infiniti parked outside. She gave a pistol to “Pill” who left the scene, but not before he hit the dead man on the lawn. Police arrived to find the dead body lying on the ground outside of the house and occasional guest, Brian Grant (who had also been shot), sitting near the porch. A subsequent search of the house uncovered a large amount of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. Police also recovered digital scales, re-sealable plastic bags, a drawer full of small denomination bills, and the pills from the bag Appellant had placed in the parked Infiniti. The State charged Appellant with engaging in organized criminal activity by commission of the predicate offense of possession of a controlled substance. The indictment was later amended to include the allegation that Appellant had possessed the controlled substance “with intent to deliver.” Appellant did not object to the indictment or otherwise argue to the trial court that the indictment was substantively defective for alleging a non-existent offense. The issue Appellant's appeal raised for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' review was whether a jury convicts a defendant on a "non-existent" greater offense, could a court of appeals reform the judgment to reflect conviction for an existent "lesser-included" offense? The Court answered yes, if the reformed offense was authorized, as it was in this matter, by the indictment. Appellant's case was remanded for a determination of whether the jury necessarily found each element of the offense of possession with intent to deliver beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether the evidence was legally sufficient to support the conviction for that offense. View "Walker v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Appellant Patrick Jordan of deadly conduct and sentenced him to four years in prison. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred in denying him a jury instruction on self-defense against multiple assailants. The court of appeals concluded that Appellant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction at all, and the failure to include multiple assailants language was not error. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, finding Appellant was entitled to a jury instruction on multiple assailants, and the failure to include it was indeed harmful. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Jordan v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant, James Allan Burg, II, was charged with, and convicted of driving while intoxicated with a BAC of 0.15 or more. At sentencing, the trial court ordered Appellant's driver's license be suspended for one year. Appellant did not object despite having an opportunity to do so. For the first time on appeal, he argued the license suspension was not authorized, therefore he could bring his claim as an illegal sentence. The issue his case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether he could complain for the first time on appeal about an unauthorized driver's license suspension if he did not object the suspension at his first opportunity. The Court responded - no: "even an unauthorized license suspension cannot be characterized as an 'illegal sentence.' Under these circumstances we follow ordinary preservation of error requirements. Because Appellant had the opportunity to object and did not do so, he has not preserved his appellate claim for review." View "Burg v. Texas" on Justia Law

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While on probation for child endangerment charges, Robvia Simpson struck her roommate with an ashtray. She contended she did so in self-defense. But at the hearing to determine whether her probation would be revoked, Simpson did not claim self-defense. Instead, she simply pleaded “true” to the allegation that she assaulted her roommate. The question presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether Simpson’s plea of “true” precluded her from claiming self-defense in a subsequent criminal trial. The Court concluded that it did not, and affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment. View "Simpson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Thomas Dixon, was a plastic surgeon in Amarillo, Texas. Joseph Sonnier was a physician in Lubbock. David Shepherd was a friend of Dixon’s. In 2012, David Shepard killed Joseph Sonnier. The State’s theory was that Dixon hired Shepard to kill Sonnier. Although Dixon had originally told the police that he knew nothing about Sonnier, he admitted at trial that this was untrue. Dixon testified that he had hired Shepard to track and photograph Sonnier (hoping to obtain photos that would cause Dixon’s former girlfriend to break up with Sonnier) and that he understood that Shepard would be planting a camera at Sonnier’s house for this purpose. Also, Shepard’s phone records revealed that Dixon called Shepard within minutes after the police finished speaking to Dixon. Appellant was convicted under a murder-for-hire theory. The Court of Appeals reversed Appellant’s conviction for two reasons: (1) because cell phone location information was improperly admitted; and (2) because the trial court deprived him of a public trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined neither of these reasons "appears to stand up to close scrutiny." Appellant’s whereabouts on a date other than the date of the murder were not particularly important to the case, so any error in admitting the evidence was harmless. As for the public trial complaints, two were not preserved and the other had no merit. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Dixon v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ruben Lee Allen made a facial challenge to the constitutionality of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 102.011, subsections (a)(3) and (b). That statute assessed court costs against a convicted defendant to recoup law enforcement expenses incurred in serving and summoning witnesses for the defendant’s prosecution. The statute was silent with respect to where the funds are directed once received by the district clerk. Appellant argued that because Article 102.011 did not direct the collected fees toward a specific account to be expended for legitimate criminal justice purposes, the statute operated as an impermissible tax on criminal defendants rather than as a permissible court cost, thereby violating the separation of powers provision in the Texas Constitution. The Court of Appeals rejected Appellant’s challenge, acknowledging the statute did not contain any language expressly directing that the collected fees be used for a legitimate criminal justice purpose. But, the court found that because the summoning witness/mileage fee was imposed to reimburse an expense directly incurred by the State in the prosecution of this particular case, it was “unquestionably for a legitimate criminal justice purpose,” which rendered it a constitutional court cost, as opposed to an impermissible tax. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Allen v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Freddy Garcia was indicted on one count of aggravated sexual assault, but at trial, the victim described two separate sexual assaults. When the State rested its case in chief, Garcia asked for an election between the two incidents. This request was denied. The court of appeals held that denying Garcia’s request was error of constitutional magnitude and reversed Garcia’s conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the trial judge committed constitutional error but disagreed that the error was harmful. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and affirmed Garcia’s conviction. View "Garcia v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant International Fidelity Insurance Company (Agent: Glenn Strickland) DBA A-1 Bonding, appealed the trial court’s denial of its motion for new trial in a bond forfeiture proceeding arising out of a criminal case. Appellant posted three bonds, in the amount of $30,000 each, for Defendant Israel Fernando Rivera. When Rivera failed to appear for a court hearing, the trial court entered a final judgment against Rivera, and the clerk’s office issued a bill of costs. Appellant timely filed a motion for new trial and a motion to retax costs. The trial court held a hearing on Appellant’s motion for new trial, at which the parties announced that a court reporter was needed. A court reporter was called into the courtroom and appeared to transcribe the proceedings, evidence was offered, and, believing the hearing had been transcribed, the attorneys exchanged contact information with the court reporter. After the trial court denied Appellant’s motion, Appellant timely filed a notice of appeal and timely requested a reporter’s record. But no reporter’s record was filed. At the state’s request, the court of appeals abated the appeal and remanded to the trial court to determine whether: (1) a reporter’s record was created; (2) that record was lost or destroyed; (3) that record was necessary to resolve the appeal; and (4) the parties could agree on a replacement of the lost or destroyed record. The trial court found that the hearing “was not stenographically or otherwise recorded” and was “neither lost nor destroyed.” The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, holding that Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 34.6(f) did not afford Appellant relief because Appellant could not show that the hearing had been recorded, and Appellant failed to show the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion for a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the court of appeals. View "Int'l Fidelity Ins. Co. v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Steven Curry was convicted of failure to stop and render aid after he hit a bicyclist, John Ambrose, who later died from his wounds. The jury sentenced Curry to six years’ imprisonment, but did not fine him. On appeal, Curry argued that the evidence was legally insufficient and that he was entitled to a mistake-of-fact jury instruction. The court of appeals overruled Curry’s points of error and affirmed his conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of appeals that the evidence was legally sufficient to support Curry’s conviction for failure to stop and render aid, but disagreed with its conclusion that he was not entitled to a mistake-of-fact instruction. The matter was remanded for the court of appeals to assess whether Appellant was harmed. View "Curry v. Texas" on Justia Law

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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