Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Appellant Bryant Dulin was convicted of twelve offenses. Court costs were assessed in two of the cases at the time of judgment. Those costs totaled $589 and $639. A bill of cost for each judgment showed that the costs assessed included $25 for time payment fees. The judgments were rendered and entered on June 19, 2018; the clerk’s bills of costs were signed and filed the same day. Appellant’s notices of appeal were filed July 13, 2018. The issue presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' review centered on the “time payment fee,” assessed if a defendant pays some or all of his fine, court costs, or restitution “on or after the 31st day after the date on which a judgment is entered assessing the fine, court costs, or restitution.” The State's petition contended the time payment fee must be struck in its entirety here because it was assessed prematurely. The Court concurred with the State because a defendant’s appeal suspends the duty to pay court costs and therefore suspends the running of the clock for the purposes of the time payment fee. "As a consequence, even now, assessment of the time payment fee in this case would be premature because appellate proceedings are still pending." View "Dulin v. Texas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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Applicant Steven Thomas was 16 when he committed capital murder. When he was 19, the juvenile court waived its exclusive jurisdiction and transferred Applicant’s case to district court, where Applicant pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of murder. Decades passed. Applicant did not appeal his transfer or his case or file a writ of habeas corpus. Then, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided Moon v. Texas, 451 S.W.3d 28 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014), which held that if an order waiving juvenile jurisdiction did not contain factually-supported, case-specific findings, then the order is invalid, and the district court never acquires jurisdiction. Based upon Moon, Applicant argued that because the order waiving juvenile jurisdiction did not contain factually-supported, case-specific findings, it was invalid, and thus the district court never acquired jurisdiction. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the type of findings Moon required were neither grounded in the text of the transfer statute, nor in Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966), the Supreme Court precedent that it purportedly relied upon in Moon. "Requiring them may be good policy, but the lack of case-specific findings has nothing to do with jurisdiction, fundamental constitutional rights, or even the transfer statute itself. The juvenile court’s transfer order in this case may have lacked factually-supported, case-specific findings, but that did not make that order invalid or deprive the district court of jurisdiction." Consequently, the Court determined Applicant was not entitled to habeas corpus relief. View "Ex parte Steven Thomas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Anthony Carter was convicted by jury of possession of a Penalty Group 2-A controlled substance, with intent to deliver. He was subsequently sentenced to 90 years in prison and received a $100,000 fine. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition for discretionary review to determine whether, in a legal sufficiency analysis, a reviewing court could uphold a conviction if expert testimony as to certain technical elements of an offense was merely conclusory. Having concluded that the testimony in this case was not merely conclusory, the Court affirmed. View "Carter v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Harold Holoman was convicted by jury of misdemeanor assault. The trial judge allowed the State, at the punishment phase of trial, to prove an otherwise-elemental prior conviction that caused Appellant to be convicted of a third degree felony and subject to that felony range of punishment. Appellant argued on appeal that, because the jury found him guilty of a misdemeanor, it was too late for the State to prove that kind of a fact at the punishment phase. The court of appeals agreed, vacated Appellant’s sentence, and remanded for resentencing within the misdemeanor range. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concurred with the court of appeals and affirmed its judgment. View "Holoman v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Juan Carlos Flores robbed a convenience store, pretending he had a gun. The “gun,” however, was an electric drill covered in plastic bags with a black sleeve over the drill bit. Believing the drill was a gun, the store owner gave Appellant the money from the register. The issue presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' review was whether the evidence was legally sufficient to support the finding that the drill was a deadly weapon within the meaning of that term as defined in the Texas Penal Code, when Appellant never attempted to strike, stab, or “drill” anyone, nor did he threaten to do so. The Court concluded there was insufficient evidence to permit a jury to rationally conclude that Appellant used or intended to use the drill in a manner that was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. The trial court's judgment was reversed, as was the court of appeals' judgment which upheld Appellant’s conviction for aggravated robbery based on his use or exhibition of a deadly weapon. The matter was remanded to the trial court for reformation of Appellant’s judgment to reflect a conviction for the second-degree felony offense of robbery, and for a new trial on punishment. View "Flores v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals reversed a trial court's second punishment hearing granted pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus. Appellant James Harbin, II was eighteen years old when he shot and killed his father in 1991. The issue at the time of his first trial was whether appellant killed under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from adequate cause. In the guilt phase of appellant's first trial, the jury charge defined "sudden passion" and "adequate cause," and instructed the jury if it had a reasonable doubt about murder, it would "next consider whether the defendant is guilty of the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter," which was in accordance with the statute then in effect. Twenty-three years later, appellant sought a new punishment hearing for the State's failure to disclose favorable information about the father's psychiatric history and for defense counsel's ineffective investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence. In the pendency of the new punishment hearing, the law changed. At the second hearing, appellant request a jury instruction on sudden passion under the 1994 law. The trial court denied the request. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for a third punishment hearing. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State's petition for discretionary review to determine whether the court of appeals erred in applying the 1994 statute to the offense committed in 1991. The Court concluded the court of appeals erred and reversed its judgment. View "Harbin v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The appellants in consolidated cases were charged with occlusion assault under Texas Penal Code Section 22.01(b)(2)(B). At their respective trials, they each requested an instruction on bodily-injury assault as a lesser-included offense of occlusion. Their requests were denied, and they were convicted of occlusion assault. On appeal their cases diverged: The court of appeals in Orlando Ortiz's case held the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on bodily-injury assault, but Dewey Barrett's held that there was no error in refusing the instruction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to decide whether appellants were entitled to an instruction on bodily-injury assault as a lesser included of occlusion. The Court also granted review in Barrett's case to consider whether Irving v. Texas, 176 S.W.3d 842 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005), should have been overruled, and whether multiple injuries from a single attack constituted separate prosecutable assaults. The Court held that bodily-injury assault was not a lesser-included offense of occlusion assault when the disputed element is the injury because the statutorily specified injury of impeding normal breathing or blood circulation is exclusive of other bodily injuries. Consequently, the judgment of the court of appeals in Ortiz was reversed, and the judgment in Barrett was affirmed. Furthermore, the Court held that overruling Irving would have made no difference in Barrett’s case because Irving was inapplicable here. And because the Court could resolve Barrett without addressing whether multiple injuries inflicted in a single attack could be separately prosecuted, it did not reach that ground for review. View "Ortiz v. Texas" on Justia Law

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When the alleged victim of a family-violence assault failed to show up for trial, the State sought to introduce her prior out-of-court statements about the assault. Appellant Frederick Brown objected on the basis of his constitutional right to confrontation. The State claimed that the evidence was admissible under the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. The State produced evidence that Appellant had told an investigator that he did not know the alleged victim’s whereabouts, but the investigator was later able to locate her before trial. Aside from that evidence, the State offered evidence that Appellant lived with the victim shortly before or at the time of trial, that he committed the instant family violence assault offense, and that he had previously committed such an offense against the same victim. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded this evidence was not sufficient to show that an action by the defendant caused the victim’s absence. Consequently, the Court held the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing did not apply in this case. The court of appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Brown v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Zaid Najar was convicted of evading arrest in a motor vehicle. In his motion for new trial, he presented affidavits citing a conversation with a juror who stated that during deliberations the jurors heard a siren from outside, they made assumptions about the case based on that siren, and it affected their deliberations. The trial court denied the motion for new trial, but the court of appeals reversed, holding that the jurors received other evidence in violation of Rule 21.3(f), which mandated a new trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held the trial court was not required to believe the affidavits and that the siren was not “other evidence” under Rule 21.3(f). Therefore, the Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case for consideration of Appellant’s remaining point of error. View "Najar v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Defendant Kim Ogg sought to waive his right to a jury trial and have a bench trial. By statute, the State had the authority to refuse to consent to such a waiver, and the State refused to consent here. The trial court concluded that it had the power, under the Texas Supreme Court’s Emergency Order in response to COVID-19, to suspend that statutory provision and conduct a bench trial despite the State’s refusal to consent. The State then sought a writ of mandamus or a writ of prohibition from the court of appeals, but that court declined to grant relief. The State sought mandamus relief against the court of appeals, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals conditionally granted: "It is clear and indisputable that the Emergency Order did not confer upon the trial court the authority to conduct a bench trial without the State’s consent. . . . The writ of mandamus will issue only in the event that the court of appeals fails to comply with this opinion." View "In re Texas ex. rel. Ogg" on Justia Law