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The issue presented in this case was whether Samuel Osvaldo Garcia’s claim that he was entitled to relief because his attorney gave him affirmative misadvice regarding his possible deportation is cognizable or whether it is barred as a non-retroactive “Padilla” claim. The court of appeals held that the claim was cognizable as an affirmative misadvice claim, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. Consequently, the Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "Ex parte Samuel Garcia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Russell Estes had an ongoing sexual relationship with K.A. when K.A. was fourteen years old. Estes was legally married to someone else. So, in addition to charging Estes with sexual assault of a child, ordinarily a second-degree felony, the State also alleged that K.A. was a person “whom the defendant was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the defendant was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married[.]”This additional fact, if proven true, would subject Estes to first-degree-felony punishment under Texas Penal Code Section 22.011(f). Estes was also charged with various counts of indecency with a child. Estes filed a pre-trial motion to quash the child-sex-assault counts within the indictment, in which he objected to what he called the “[b]igamy element of this allegation[.]”Specifically, Estes argued that Section 22.011(f) “is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to [him] because it treats married people more harshly than . . . unmarried people in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States and Texas Constitutions.” When this motion was denied, Estes asked for, and was granted, a running objection along these lines. As relevant here, Estes was ultimately found guilty of all five counts of sexual assault of a child. In a single special issue, the jury also found “that [K.A.] was a person whom [Estes] was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom [Estes] was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married,” thereby triggering the Section 22.011(f) enhancement. Within the first-degree-felony punishment range, Estes was sentenced to 12 years’ confinement on each count of sexual assault of a child. In enacting the current form of Penal Code Section 22.011(f), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the Texas Legislature apparently wished to provide higher penalties for polygamists “who sexually assault their purported spouses.” But the resulting statute had the potentially unintended effect of punishing married offenders more harshly than unmarried offenders. The Court determined the State had a rational interest in enforcing this scheme, and reversed the court of appeals’ holding that the statute was unconstitutional. View "Estes v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kelvin O’Brien was tried on one count of engaging in organized criminal activity. That count alleged that Appellant, with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination, committed second degree theft or second degree money laundering. The theory was that Appellant was part of a criminal ring that committed multiple jewelry store heists. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that in order to convict someone of “engaging,” the jury does not have to unanimously agree on the specific predicate crime committed by the defendant. “[T]he commission of each predicate crime constitutes a different manner and means of committing the single offense of engaging in organized criminal activity. We affirm the court of appeals’ holding that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury in the disjunctive regarding the predicate offenses in this case.” View "O'Brien v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Crystal Boyett contended the court of appeals erred by upholding the trial court’s denial of her request for a formal determination of her competency to stand trial for manslaughter. Appellant was speeding excessively when she caused a collision with another car that was occupied by three women. Two were killed; one was seriously injured. The State charged appellant with manslaughter for one of the deaths. Appellant pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded to trial, at which appellant was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The trial court found that there was “not sufficient evidence to support a finding of incompetence,” and it declined to undertake a formal competency trial aided by expert evaluation. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding the court of appeals improperly considered evidence of appellant’s competency rather than considering only evidence of her incompetency, and it mistakenly applied a more burdensome evidentiary standard than the “some evidence” standard required by the applicable statute. Because appellant was convicted and sentenced in this case, the case was remanded to the trial court for it to determine the feasibility of a retrospective formal competency trial and, if feasible, to conduct such an inquiry. View "Boyett v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Crystal Boyett contended the court of appeals erred by upholding the trial court’s denial of her request for a formal determination of her competency to stand trial for manslaughter. Appellant was speeding excessively when she caused a collision with another car that was occupied by three women. Two were killed; one was seriously injured. The State charged appellant with manslaughter for one of the deaths. Appellant pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded to trial, at which appellant was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The trial court found that there was “not sufficient evidence to support a finding of incompetence,” and it declined to undertake a formal competency trial aided by expert evaluation. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding the court of appeals improperly considered evidence of appellant’s competency rather than considering only evidence of her incompetency, and it mistakenly applied a more burdensome evidentiary standard than the “some evidence” standard required by the applicable statute. Because appellant was convicted and sentenced in this case, the case was remanded to the trial court for it to determine the feasibility of a retrospective formal competency trial and, if feasible, to conduct such an inquiry. View "Boyett v. Texas" on Justia Law

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On August 5, 2011, some time after 2 A.M., Adrian Mendez and several friends arrived at Big Man Diesel Repair. The group had spent the evening socializing and consuming a variety of drugs. They were later joined by Roger Guzman and Jacob Castillo, who had also been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. Soon thereafter, Mendez and Castillo got into a fight. The men exchanged blows until Mendez drew a knife and stabbed Castillo several times. Castillo was hospitalized and, although his initial prognosis was good, he died two months later due to complications from his stab wounds. The State charged Mendez with murder. The jury acquitted Mendez of murder, but convicted him of the lesser-included offense of aggravated assault. Mendez was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and assessed a $10,000 fine. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sought to resolve a conflict among the lower courts, with some holding that, when a trial court sua sponte issues a defensive jury instruction but fails to apply it to a lesser-included offense, the court commits no error unless the defendant objects. Other courts have held that is error, even if the defendant doesn't object. The Court of Appeals determined the trial court in this case erred in sua sponte charging the jury on the issue of self-defense, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed: "[w]hen the trial court charged the jury on the issue of self-defense in the abstract, it thereby declared that issue to be law applicable to the case. The jury was informed under what circumstances it should convict Mendez of aggravated assault. Self-defense being law applicable to the case meant that the trial court should also have informed the jury under what circumstances it should acquit him of that offense." View "Mendez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jamel Fowler was convicted of stealing a Kawasaki Mule all-terrain vehicle (ATV) (valued at $1,500 or more but less than $20,000) from complainant Paul Blassingame. The jury assessed his punishment at confinement for two years. Fowler appealed; the Court of Appeals found the evidence sufficient to support Fowler’s conviction; however, it reversed the conviction, holding that the trial court committed reversible error by admitting an unauthenticated videotape exhibit into evidence. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the video. View "Fowler v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Juan Gonzalez was charged with capital murder of a police officer. The jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of murder and sentenced him to fifty years’ imprisonment. During the trial, the State introduced evidence that Appellant had taken ecstasy earlier in the day while at school and that he had additional ecstasy pills in his possession when he committed the offense. The court of appeals reversed, holding the admission of the drug evidence was erroneous and harmful. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to determine whether the court of appeals erred in its analysis regarding the admission of the drug evidence and its harm. While the Court agreed that the evidence was erroneously admitted, it disagreed the admission of the evidence was harmful. "The low probative value of Appellant’s Facebook messages concerning his drug use six-to-seven hours prior to the offense was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Consequently, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting these Facebook messages. However, given the nature of the evidence of guilt and the State’s lack of emphasis on the evidence, we have fair assurance that the admission of this evidence did not affect Appellant’s substantial rights. The judgment of the court of appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for consideration of Appellant’s remaining grounds of error." View "Gonzalez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Juan Gonzalez was charged with capital murder of a police officer. The jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of murder and sentenced him to fifty years’ imprisonment. During the trial, the State introduced evidence that Appellant had taken ecstasy earlier in the day while at school and that he had additional ecstasy pills in his possession when he committed the offense. The court of appeals reversed, holding the admission of the drug evidence was erroneous and harmful. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to determine whether the court of appeals erred in its analysis regarding the admission of the drug evidence and its harm. While the Court agreed that the evidence was erroneously admitted, it disagreed the admission of the evidence was harmful. "The low probative value of Appellant’s Facebook messages concerning his drug use six-to-seven hours prior to the offense was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Consequently, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting these Facebook messages. However, given the nature of the evidence of guilt and the State’s lack of emphasis on the evidence, we have fair assurance that the admission of this evidence did not affect Appellant’s substantial rights. The judgment of the court of appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for consideration of Appellant’s remaining grounds of error." View "Gonzalez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Vera Guthrie-Nail pled guilty to conspiracy to commit capital murder. A judgment was entered against her in 2012. Without giving notice to Appellant or conducting a hearing, the trial court issued a Nunc Pro Tunc Judgment on December 4, 2012, changing the “Findings on Deadly Weapon” entry from “N/A” to “Yes, a Firearm.” Appellant appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the Nunc Pro Tunc Judgment in an opinion on January 8, 2014. After review, in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' opinion delivered September 16, 2015, it held Appellant’s right to due process was violated because the trial court issued an unfavorable nunc pro tunc judgment without notice and a hearing, and reversed the January 2014 judgment. The matter was remanded the case to the trial court “for proceedings consistent with [our] opinion.” In accordance with that opinion, the trial court conducted a hearing on December 16, 2016, and the trial court judge orally confirmed that it had been his intent to make an affirmative finding of a deadly weapon on the original September 12, 2012, judgment. Appellant appealed the trial court’s December 16, 2016 oral ruling and docket entry. On March 28, 2017, the Court of Appeals dismissed Appellant’s appeal because the trial court had not entered an appealable order. Appellant petitioned for discretionary review to contest the court of appeals’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. The State agreed Appellant was entitled to appellate review of the December 4, 2012 Nunc Pro Tunc Judgment and therefore joined Appellant’s request to overturn the court of appeals’s dismissal. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined the court of appeals’s dismissal was proper: "to date, the only valid judgment against Appellant is the original judgment dated September 12, 2012. If the trial court wishes to make a correction to the September 12, 2012, judgment based on what transpired at the December 16, 2016, hearing, the trial court must enter a new nunc pro tunc judgment, which would then be an appealable order." View "Guthrie-Nail v. Texas" on Justia Law