Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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After Appellant Joseph Gomez was charged with two felonies, a magistrate set his bonds at a combined total of $40,000. The trial court revoked and raised them to $150,000. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling on grounds that the original bonds were not insufficient, and there was no “good and sufficient cause” to revoke them under Article 17.09. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to answer whether a bond could be revoked as insufficient in amount under Article 17.09 once bond has been posted, and held that it could. “It was undisputed that the original bail amount was set at $40,000 and that Appellant posted bail in accordance with that amount, but the issue is whether the trial court abused its discretion raising it to $150,000. Because the court of appeals did not answer that question, we remand the case to it to conduct that analysis and to address Appellant’s remaining points of error, if necessary.” View "Ex parte Joseph Gomez" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Appellant Kedreen Pugh was arrested pursuant to a warrant. At the time he was arrested, he was the driver and sole occupant of a car registered to his wife. On the way to the police station, he volunteered to an officer he was going to be “honest” and had “stuff” in the car. When asked what he had in the car, Appellant responded that he had drugs and a handgun. Heroin and a loaded gun were found together in a shopping bag on the front passenger floorboard. Assuming, without deciding, that the police officer’s question about what was in the car constituted custodial interrogation and elicited an inadmissible answer, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that any error in admitting this answer was harmless. View "Pugh v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Issac Williams was convicted by jury of continuous trafficking of persons and was sentenced to fifty years in prison. Williams testified that he committed no offense at all. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of human trafficking of persons, reversed the trial court, and remanded for a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has held previously that a trial court has no duty to sua sponte instruct on a lesser-included offense. “Requests for such instructions are matters of trial strategy that are treated like defensive instructions.” Here, the Court found Williams failed to preserve error in this case because he failed to point to the specific evidence in the record that raised the lesser-included offense, even after he was asked to do so by the trial court. The Court of Appeals was reversed and the matter remanded. View "Williams v. Texas" on Justia Law

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This case was remanded to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals from the United States Supreme Court. Regarding one of Applicant Terence Andrus’ ineffective-assistance claims, the federal Court held Applicant satisfied the deficient-performance prong of Strickland v. Washington, but the Court remanded to the Texas Court for further proceedings because it perceived that the Texas Court might not have engaged in a prejudice inquiry. In addition, the Supreme Court criticized the concurring opinion by the Texas Court for unduly relying upon Wiggins v. Smith in its prejudice analysis. The Court of Criminal Appeals reiterated, to the extent its holding was not clear, that it decided the issue of prejudice when the case was originally before it. In an abundance of caution, the Court set forth its reasoning on the issue of prejudice and did so based on an independent review of the circumstances to determine whether there was a reasonable probability that the outcome of Applicant’s sentencing proceeding would have been different. “Although the concurrence did use Wiggins as a guide, that opinion nevertheless made some valid points with respect to the mitigating and aggravating evidence, and our prior order outlined some of the evidence consistent with those points. The mitigating evidence is not particularly compelling, and the aggravating evidence is extensive.” Based on its independent review, the Court of Criminal Appeals reaffirmed its earlier conclusion that Applicant failed to show prejudice, and denied relief. View "Ex parte Terence Andrus" on Justia Law

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In 2018, a school counselor contacted the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“the Department” or “TDFPS”) regarding her concerns about potential child abuse involving Appellant Michael Hammack’s sixteen-year-old daughter. Department Investigator Amber Davidson opened a case and called Appellant, telling him about the investigation. Later that day, Davidson went to Appellant’s home to investigate, but Appellant told her to get off his property and to come back with a court order. Davidson did obtain: (1) an Order of Protection of a Child in an Emergency (“the Order”) that awarded custody of Appellant’s child to the Department; and (2) a Writ of Attachment that commanded any sheriff or constable in Texas to take the child and deliver her to the Department’s possession. This order granted sole managing conservatorship of the child to TDFPS as well as sole right of possession and custody of the child. That same day, Davidson returned to Appellant’s residence, accompanied by another investigator, to serve Appellant the Order. The investigators identified themselves and explained to Appellant that, pursuant to the Order, they were there to take custody of the child. Appellant immediately became aggressive and ordered them off his property. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ review centered on whether the State had to prove that a defendant was served with a copy of an emergency protection order to establish that a person “Interfere[s] with Child Custody.” The Court held no: the plain terms of the statute only required proof that the person who takes or retains a child in violation of a judgment or order, including a temporary one, knows that he or she is doing so in violation of such an order. “Proof that the person has been served with a temporary order may satisfy the State’s burden to prove such knowledge, but it is not required if knowledge can be proven through other means.” In this case, the State presented sufficient evidence that Appellant knew about the existence and relevant terms of the emergency protection order even though the evidence showed he had successfully avoided service. View "Hammack v. Texas" on Justia Law

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An officer activated his emergency lights and approached a parked vehicle at a “park and ride” lot. The main use of the park-and-ride was “during the daytime for people that go into plant traffic and park,” but it was open twenty-four hours. The park-and-ride was close to a bar, and because the bar’s own parking lot was small, patrons often parked at the park-and-ride and walked over. Sergeant Robert Cox knew that the park-and-ride was a place where “a variety of criminal activity” took place, including burglaries of motor vehicles, public lewdness, and illicit drugs. In his ten years of patrolling the area. When patrolling the park-and-ride, the sergeant’s general practice was to drive around the lot and shine a spotlight on the vehicles. Sergeant Cox saw a vehicle parked by itself away from where other vehicles were parked. This solitary vehicle’s headlights and other outside lights were off, and there were no lights on inside the vehicle. When he shined his spotlight on the vehicle, Sergeant Cox could tell that there were two occupants and that there was movement inside the vehicle. He approached the vehicle on foot, made contact on the driver’s side using caution, and identified himself. At some point, the driver’s side window was rolled down, and once that occurred, Sergeant Cox smelled marijuana. Appellant Jacob Johnson appealed the charges against him (presumably for drug possession) and the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained after his encounter with Sergeant Cox, arguing the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to detain him, making the whole encounter unconstitutional. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative detention because the parking lot had a significant association with criminal activity and because the occupants of the vehicle engaged in activity that appeared secretive and was unusual for the time and place. Consequently, the judgment of the court of appeals was reversed, and the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. View "Johnson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Alberto Montelongo was charged with one count of attempted capital murder of Jesus Rodriguez and Angelica Parra, five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and one count of continuous family violence against Parra. Appellant was tried on the attempted capital murder count and the continuous family violence count, and the jury found him guilty of both charges. The jury assessed punishment at 99 years on the attempted capital murder charge and 10 years on the continuous family violence charge. The trial court entered the judgment of conviction and imposed the sentence in open court on September 30, 2015. Appellant timely filed and presented a motion for new trial in which he requested a hearing. The trial court initially scheduled a hearing, but it later sua sponte cancelled the hearing without rescheduling. No hearing was held, the trial court made no rulings on the motion, and the motion was overruled by operation of law. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that timely filing and presenting a motion for new trial that requests a hearing preserves, for appellate review, the issue of whether the trial court abuses its discretion in failing to hold such a hearing. The judgment of the court of appeals was reversed, and the case was remanded to the court of appeals to consider Appellant’s first issue. View "Montelongo v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Us Carnell Petetan, Jr. was convicted of the capital murder of his wife, Kimberly Petetan. The jury rejected, in a special issue, Appellant's claim that he was intellectually disabled and therefore categorically ineligible for the death penalty. And the jury answered the statutory special issues in such a manner that Appellant was sentenced to death. Appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic, and the Court affirmed. Among the points of error the Court rejected were three relating to Appellant’s claim that he was intellectually disabled: that the jury’s answer to the intellectual disability special issue was against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence (claim 10); that he was ineligible for the death penalty due to intellectual disability (claim 11); and that he was entitled to a pre-trial determination of his intellectual disability (claim 27). At that time, Texas’s standard for evaluating claims of intellectual disability was being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court; the question before the Supreme Court was whether Texas’s legal standard for determining intellectual disability violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against the execution of intellectually disabled people. Before the Court of Criminal Appeals issued its mandate in Appellant Petetan’s case, the Supreme Court decided that it did. The Texas Court thereafter granted rehearing on its own motion to consider Appellant’s tenth, eleventh, and twenty-seventh claims in light of Moore. The Court substituted this opinion on rehearing for resolution of those three issues, but left the resolution of the other issues in the original opinion intact. Here, the Court again rejected the claim that Appellant was entitled to a pre-trial determination of his intellectual disability. Concerning the sufficiency of the evidence regarding the jury’s rejection of his intellectual disability claims, the Court held that, although legally sufficient, the evidence was factually insufficient to support the jury’s rejection of the intellectual disability special issue. Appellant was therefore entitled to a new punishment hearing. Accordingly, Appellant’s death sentence was vacated, and this case remanded for a new punishment hearing. View "Petetan v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The veniremembers summoned for Appellant Jeffrey Spielbauer’s non-death, capital-murder trial were required to answer a questionnaire that asked, among other things, whether they had heard about Appellant’s case and formed an opinion about his guilt or innocence. Six veniremembers answered these questions yes, and the trial court, over Appellant’s objection, questioned them individually about their answers. Ultimately the trial court denied Appellant’s for-cause challenges to two of these veniremembers, and Appellant complained about those rulings on appeal. The court of appeals reversed, finding that Article 35.16(a)(10) required dismissal of the veniremembers based on their questionnaires. The State petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal, which reversed, finding the parties here agreed the questionnaires were answered before voir dire began. Thus, they were not part of formal voir dire, and the answers they prompted would not by themselves support a challenge for cause or compel Article 35.16(a)(10)’s injunction against further interrogation. Therefore, the Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in personally questioning the veniremembers who answered yes to the two questions at issue here. View "Spielbauer v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Juan Raul Navarro Ramirez appealed a trial court’s denial of his motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Appellant was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 for intentionally and knowingly causing the deaths of Jimmy Almendarez, Juan Delgado III, Jerry Hildalgo, Juan Delgado Jr., Ruben Castillo, and Ray Hidalgo by shooting them with a firearm during the same criminal transaction. Appellant argued the trial court erred in denying the motion. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded Appellant had not establish by a preponderance of the evidence he would not have been convicted in exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing. “Given the number of accomplices, murdered victims, party liability, testimony of the Aunt, admitted physical evidence, and Appellant’s confession, the hats could not have produced true exculpatory evidence in this case.” Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the motion for forensic DNA testing. View "Ramirez v. Texas" on Justia Law