Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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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

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Troy Timmins was on bond for two felony offenses. At a pretrial hearing at which Timmins was personally present, the trial judge revoked Timmins’s bond for testing positive for methamphetamine. Ordinarily, when a trial judge revokes a defendant’s bond in open court for violating a bond condition, the defendant is “immediately returned to custody.” But in this case, Timmins pleaded with the trial judge to let him escort his elderly mother home before taking him into custody. The judge graciously obliged. He revoked Timmins’s bond, but allowed Timmins to turn himself in at jail by three o’clock that afternoon. The judge warned Timmins that if he did not report to the Bandera County Jail as ordered, he would “pick[] up a new felony in each of these cases.” The warning did not work; Timmins never reported to jail. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' consideration was whether, when a trial judge informs a defendant that his bond is revoked, but allows him to report to the county jail later that day, can the defendant really be said to have been “released from custody” in contemplation of the Texas bail-jumping statute? And if the defendant does not report to the jail as ordered, has he “fail[ed] to appear in accordance with the terms of his release”? The Court answered both questions “yes,” therefore affirming the court of appeals’ judgment that held accordingly. View "Timmins v. Texas" on Justia Law

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After Appellee Cesar Ramiro Arellano was arrested for driving while intoxicated, the arresting officer, Phillip Garcia, prepared a probable cause affidavit to support a search warrant for a blood draw. Officer Garcia submitted his sworn affidavit to the on-duty magistrate. Using a cursive signature, the magistrate signed the blank signature line of a form search warrant authorizing the search and seizure of Appellee’s blood. Below the signature line appeared the words, “Magistrate, Victoria County, Texas.” Aside from the cursive signature, the magistrate’s name was not typed or handwritten anywhere on the warrant. Upon execution of the search warrant, Appellee was charged with DWI. In the trial court, Appellee filed a motion to suppress all evidence stemming from the blood draw. At the pretrial suppression hearing, Appellee argued that the search warrant to obtain the blood specimen was facially invalid because the magistrate’s signature was illegible in violation of the requirements of Code of Criminal Procedure Article 18.04(5). The trial court agreed, the court of appeals concurred, and the evidence was suppressed because of the illegible signature. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed with both lower courts, finding the court of appeals erred in holding that reliance on the statutory good-faith exception was automatically precluded based on an illegible magistrate’s signature in violation of Code of Criminal Procedure Article 18.04(5). Because the remaining issues in the case were not properly addressed by the court of appeals, judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Texas v. Arellano" on Justia Law

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review in these cases to clarify whether the State had to prove the commission of bigamy in order to enhance punishment of sexual assault. Penal Code section 22.011(f) enhanced sexual assault to a first-degree felony if the victim was a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry, or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married. The appellants in these cases (consolidated for review) were convicted or sexual assault and enhanced under Section 22.011(f). Each was married to someone other than his victim at the time of the sexual assault, but none committed bigamy with his victim. On appeal they challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to prove the enhancements because the State did not prove bigamy. After review, the Court held that the State did not have to prove commission of bigamy to trigger the enhancement under Section 22.011(f). View "Lopez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Karl Stahmann was involved in an automobile accident, after which he threw a bottle of promethazine, a controlled substance, over a nearby wire fence before law enforcement arrived. The bottle landed two to three feet past the fence in plain view. He was convicted of third-degree felony tampering with physical evidence and was sentenced to 10 years’ confinement and fined $5,000. The judge suspended his sentence and placed him on community supervision for 10 years. Stahmann appealed, arguing in part that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he destroyed, altered, or concealed the prescription bottle. The court of appeals agreed that the evidence was insufficient, but instead of rendering an acquittal, it reformed the judgment to show that Stahmann was convicted of the lesser-included offense of attempted tampering with physical evidence, a state-jail felony. After review of the evidence presented at trial, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the evidence was indeed insufficient to prove that Appellant altered the prescription pill bottle when he threw it over the fence because the mere act of throwing the bottle did not change the bottle itself. "While a rational jury could have reasonably inferred that Stahmann intended to conceal the pill bottle when he threw it over the wire fence, the evidence shows that he failed to conceal it as he intended because the bottle landed short of the bush in plain view on top of some grass." The Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Stahmann v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Rodney Rodgers alleged he was illegally sentenced for a felony driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) offense when he should have been sentenced only for a misdemeanor DWI. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals filed and set this case to determine: (1) whether Applicant was estopped from claiming that his sentence was illegal; and (2) whether the harm analysis the Court has applied to claims of illegal enhancements pursuant to Ex parte Parrott, 396 S.W.3d 531 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013), should extend to enhancements that elevate an offense from a misdemeanor to a felony, also known as jurisdictional enhancements. After review, the Court held Ex parte Parrott applied and that Applicant did not show he was harmed. The Court therefore denied relief on those grounds without addressing whether he was estopped from raising the claim. View "Ex parte Rodney Rodgers" on Justia Law

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Appellant, Lydia Metcalf, was convicted as a party of second-degree felony sexualassault based on her husband's anal rape of their then 16-year-old daughter. Metcalf was sentenced to three years in prison, but no fine. On appeal, she argued the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to convict because it did not show she had intent to promote or assist her husband's sexual assault. The court of appeals agreed, and rendered an acquittal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State's petition for review, but the acquittal was affirmed. "Under the hypothetically correct jury charge, the State had to prove that Metcalf, at the time of the offense, intended to promote or assist the commission of the anal penetration alleged in the indictment. But because the evidence does not show that it was Metcalf’s conscious objective or desire for Allen to sexually assault Amber, the evidence is insufficient to show that she intended to promote or assist commission of that offense." View "Metcalf v. Texas" on Justia Law