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Appellant Douglas Couthren was convicted by a jury of felony driving while intoxicated. The jury also found that, during the commission of the offense, Appellant used or exhibited a deadly weapon: a motor vehicle. The court of appeals affirmed the jury’s deadly weapon finding. Appellant claimed the court of appeals erred in upholding the deadly weapon finding absent evidence that he operated his vehicle in a reckless or dangerous manner. After review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found there were no facts to support an inference that Appellant was operating his vehicle in a manner that was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. The court of appeals erred in upholding the deadly weapon finding absent evidence that Appellant operated his vehicle in a reckless or dangerous manner. Therefore, the Court held the evidence insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Appellant’s vehicle was used or exhibited as a deadly weapon during the offense of driving while intoxicated. The Court reversed only that part of the court of appeals’ judgment which affirmed the deadly weapon finding and reformed the trial court’s judgment to delete it. View "Couthren v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jesse Delafuente was convicted of evading arrest or detention with a vehicle and sentenced to ten years in prison. The trial court pronounced its sentence on October 31, 2016. On November 8, Appellant filed a notice of appeal, the later moved for “shock probation.” On February 20, 2017, the trial court granted that motion. On May 2, 2017, Appellant filed a second notice of appeal, referring to his prior notice of appeal and stated that he “maintained his pursuit of his appeal thereafter.” The notice further stated, “in the interest of clarity, the Defendant in the above cause, hereby gives additional Notice of Appeal from the Judgment and Sentence entered in the above entitled and numbered cause.” Appellant’s brief raised challenges to the original conviction, specifically the constitutionality of the statute under which he was convicted,raised a voir dire complaint, argued he was deprived of cross-examination at the guilt stage of trial, and he argued that the trial court should have granted his motion for new trial because the State had withheld exculpatory evidence. The court of appeals held the trial court had entered a new judgment when it granted shock probation, and that this new judgment rendered the original judgment of conviction moot. Because the original judgment was moot, the court of appeals found the timely filing of a notice of appeal of that judgment was of no consequence. And because Appellant’s second notice of appeal was filed more than 30 days after the judgment granting shock probation, the court of appeals found that second notice of appeal to be untimely. The issue this appeal presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was what happens to a timely filed notice of appeal from an original judgment of conviction when a trial court subsequently grants “shock probation.” The Court held the granting of shock probation, even if labeled a “judgment,” did not undermine the validity of a timely filed notice of appeal of the original conviction. View "Delafuente v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Johnnie Dunning pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault of a child under fourteen years of age pursuant to a plea bargain and was sentenced as a habitual offender to 25 years’ confinement. He appealed, but his conviction was affirmed. Later, he filed a Chapter 64 motion for post-conviction DNA testing. The trial judge held a hearing in February 2017 and entered a non-favorable finding. Appellant appealed that finding, and the court of appeals reversed and ordered the trial court to enter a favorable finding. The State filed a petition for discretionary review, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted in part. After review, the Court concluded the court of appeals erred: the court of appeals did not defer to implicit credibility and demeanor determinations made by the trial court that weighed against Appellant. “After properly deferring to those determinations, the test results are significantly less exculpatory than the lower court found.” Morever, the court of appeals gave too little weight to Appellant’s guilty plea and testimonial confession. “When the true exculpatory value of the test results are weighed against all of the inculpatory evidence, we conclude that Appellant has not shown that, had the results been available during the trial of the offense, it is reasonably probable that he would not have been convicted.” Because the court of appeals concluded otherwise, the Court reversed its judgment vacating the trial court’s non-favorable finding. View "Dunning v. Texas" on Justia Law

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During closing argument for the punishment phase of a non-violent robbery case, the State played a YouTube video of a lion at a zoo trying to eat a human baby through protective glass. Appellant was charged with robbery. In 2015, Appellant entered a CVS drug store and looked around the store for about 10 to 15 minutes. At first, Appellant acted like “any other customer:” waiting “until no one else was around” and then approached the counter with some “candy” and “soda.” The cashier scanned the items, placed them in a bag, and handed the bag to Appellant. Then, with his hands on the counter, Appellant leaned over and told the cashier: “[T]his is a stick up, give me whatever is in the register, do not try anything, or I will kill you.” Appellant also told the cashier he had a weapon, though he never displayed one. At trial, the State introduced evidence that Appellant had previously robbed the same CVS the day before the charged robbery. The facts of the extraneous robbery were nearly identical to the charged robbery and involved the same cashier. The jury found Appellant guilty. For its closing argument at punishment, the State sought the trial court’s permission to play for the jury a YouTube video “as a demonstrative.” The video was 35 seconds long. The State argued that Appellant deserved a lengthy sentence in light of his crime and criminal background. Appellant objected to playing the video, arguing that it was irrelevant and highly prejudicial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the demonstrative video went beyond the scope of the State’s argument because it encouraged the jury to make its decision upon matters outside the record by inviting a comparison between Appellant and a hungry lion. Consequently, the Court reversed the court of appeals opinion and remanded for that court to perform a harm analysis. View "Milton v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Kristopher LaLonde was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. On direct appeal, the court of appeals overruled his claims and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. LaLonde sought habeas relief. After reviewing all the evidence, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the record did not reflect that the State’s failure to disclose a witness’ perjury to LaLonde deprived him of a fair trial and resulted in a verdict unworthy of confidence. The Court further concluded the undisclosed “Brady” evidence was not material, and therefore, the State did not violate Brady regarding the witness’ aggravated perjury. Therefore, the Court denied habeas relief. View "Ex parte Kristopher LaLonde" on Justia Law

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Appellant Dedric Jones was convicted of the offense of assault on a family member, and because he had previously been convicted of such an offense, this repeat offense was a third degree felony. Appellant pled true to two additional prior felony enhancement counts, and the trial court assessed his punishment at confinement for twenty-five years in the penitentiary. The court of appeals reversed the conviction, holding the trial court erred in disallowing a certain line of questioning during Appellant’s cross-examination of the principal witness against him and it was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Having reversed the conviction on this basis, the court of appeals declined to address Appellant’s second point of error. In its petition for discretionary review, the State argued the court of appeals erred on both counts: in concluding both that constitutional error occurred and that any constitutional error was not harmless. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the court of appeals’ judgment on the basis of the second, concluding that, while constitutional error did occur, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Jones v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellee Juan Martinez, Jr. was indicted for intoxication manslaughter. He moved to suppress evidence, challenging the State’s seizure and search of vials of his blood which were previously drawn at a hospital for medical purposes. The trial court granted the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that because, under the facts of this case, Appellee had a privacy interest in the private facts contained in his blood and because the State’s acquisition and subsequent testing of the blood went beyond the scope of the hospital’s blood draw, Appellee’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, and the trial court correctly granted his motion to suppress. View "Texas v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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Appellee Craig Doyal was the Montgomery County, Texas Judge, and as such, he was a member of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court. He was indicted for violating a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), which made it a crime if a member or group of members of a governmental body “knowingly conspires to circumvent this [the Act] by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations." The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that provision was unconstitutionally vague on its face. Consequently, the Court reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the trial court's judgment dismissing the prosecution. View "Texas v. Doyal" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Rhomer was convicted by jury of felony murder for causing the death of another while committing felony driving while intoxicated. He was sentenced to seventy-five years in prison. The court of appeals affirmed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition for discretionary review to decide whether an accident reconstruction expert could testify about a specific type of accident reconstruction in which he had no formal training and whether accident reconstruction should be governed by the tests announced in Kelly v. Texas (824 S.W.2d 58 (1992) or Nenno v. Texas, 970 S.W.2d 549 (1998) for evaluating the reliability of the expert testimony. The Court determined the Nenno test was applicable, and that: (1) the field of accident reconstruction was a legitimate one; (2) the subject matter of the expert's testimony was within the scope of that field; and (3) his testimony properly relied upon and utilized the principles involved in the field, i.e., examining the physical evidence in the context of the crash site to draw conclusions about the location and cause of the crash. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals. View "Rhomer v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The Office of Capital and Forensic Writs (OCFW), on behalf of Appellant Justen Hall, sought DNA testing on a power cord that was wrapped around the victim's neck. Appellant was convicted of the murder of Melanie Billhartz, whom he killed to prevent police from discovering a gang drug house. Among the details contained in Appellant’s confession was the fact that Appellant had used an “extension cord” to strangle the victim and that the cord was wrapped around the victim’s neck several times. Appellant’s confession stated that he got the extension cord from the drug house. The confession also stated that an associate used a machete to chop off fingers from the victim’s right hand. An autopsy showed that a black, three pronged power cord was wrapped around the victim’s neck three times and tied tightly. Her nasal bones were fractured, and she had multiple fractures of the lower jaw bone, fractures in her right hand, a fractured rib, cutting or sawing in the fingers area of her right hand, and fingers missing from her right hand. OCFW contended the power cord could be analyzed for touch DNA and that such an analysis could show that someone other than Appellant used the murder weapon. To meet its burden to show that an exculpatory result on such a test would make a difference in Appellant’s case, OCFW argued the evidence connecting Appellant to the murder was weak, pointing to the lack of physical or forensic evidence connecting Appellant to the murder, Appellant’s confession, and the other testimony against him as unreliable. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded OCFW did not show by a preponderance of the evidence that Appellant would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained in the testing that was being requested. The Court also concluded OCFW did not show by a preponderance of the evidence that a request for such testing was not made to unreasonably delay the execution of Appellant’s sentence. Consequently, the Court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny testing. View "Hall v. Texas" on Justia Law