Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

by
The Court of Appeals reversed Appellant John Lee's conviction for misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. The court of appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant his motion for mistrial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review in order to address its contentions that: (1) Appellant failed to preserve error; and that, (2) in any event, any potential harm could have been forestalled by a curative instruction, which Appellant failed at any time to request before asking for a mistrial. Because an instruction to disregard the blood-draw testimony, including an admonishment not to consider the prosecutor’s opening statement assertion about the result of the BAC testing, would have been efficacious, Appellant should not have been heard to complain on appeal of the trial court’s failure to grant his motion for mistrial. For this reason, the Court of Criminal Appeals held the court of appeals should not have proceeded to its analysis of whether the trial court abused its discretion to deny the motion for mistrial. Accordingly, the court of appeals' judgment was reversed. View "Lee v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeals reversed Appellant John Lee's conviction for misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. The court of appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant his motion for mistrial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review in order to address its contentions that: (1) Appellant failed to preserve error; and that, (2) in any event, any potential harm could have been forestalled by a curative instruction, which Appellant failed at any time to request before asking for a mistrial. Because an instruction to disregard the blood-draw testimony, including an admonishment not to consider the prosecutor’s opening statement assertion about the result of the BAC testing, would have been efficacious, Appellant should not have been heard to complain on appeal of the trial court’s failure to grant his motion for mistrial. For this reason, the Court of Criminal Appeals held the court of appeals should not have proceeded to its analysis of whether the trial court abused its discretion to deny the motion for mistrial. Accordingly, the court of appeals' judgment was reversed. View "Lee v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Brian White was convicted of one count of engaging in organized criminal activity and one count of money laundering. The trial court assessed his punishment at ten years imprisonment for each count, suspended for eight years of community supervision. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently, and White was ordered to pay restitution. The issue White raised to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals involved the admission of an audio recording of a conversation between White, his co-defendant Ronald Robey, and a third party named “Brandon.” The trial court admitted the recording into evidence over White’s objection that it was inadmissible under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 38.23. White argued the State failed to prove the recording was legally obtained and not in violation of Texas Penal Code section 16.02 (illegal wiretapping). The appellate court determined the trial court was authorized in finding admission of the recording was not barred by Article 38.23. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "White v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Brian White was convicted of one count of engaging in organized criminal activity and one count of money laundering. The trial court assessed his punishment at ten years imprisonment for each count, suspended for eight years of community supervision. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently, and White was ordered to pay restitution. The issue White raised to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals involved the admission of an audio recording of a conversation between White, his co-defendant Ronald Robey, and a third party named “Brandon.” The trial court admitted the recording into evidence over White’s objection that it was inadmissible under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 38.23. White argued the State failed to prove the recording was legally obtained and not in violation of Texas Penal Code section 16.02 (illegal wiretapping). The appellate court determined the trial court was authorized in finding admission of the recording was not barred by Article 38.23. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "White v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
Scott Niles, a firefighter, was charged by information with two counts of Terroristic Threat - Class A, for threatening his fellow firefighters. He was arraigned, tried, convicted, and sentenced on the two Class A counts. But the jury charges had tracked the Class B misdemeanor version of the crime; the jury was not asked if the terroristic threats were against public servants. Niles raised an “illegal sentence” claim on direct appeal. The State conceded that the jury charges only authorized convictions for Class B Terroristic Threat. The court of appeals reformed the judgments to convictions for Class B misdemeanors and remanded for re-sentencing in the Class B range. The question before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the court of appeals erred in doing so. The Court held that the failure to include a jury instruction on an element of an offense included within the charging instrument amounted to jury charge error subject to a harm analysis. The Court reversed and remanded the case to the court of appeals to determine whether Appellant suffered any harm. View "Niles v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
Applicants James Long, James Pitts, Jr., and Michael Shelton pleaded guilty to the offense of sexual assault and testified against Applicant Richard Kussmaul at his capital murder trial. Long, Pitts, and Shelton all testified that they and Kussmaul had gang raped a female victim, and that Kussmaul had shot both the female and male victims. Post-conviction DNA test results excluded all four men as contributors to the semen collected from the crime scene, but revealed the genetic profiles of two unidentified men. Long, Pitts, and Shelton recanted their inculpatory statements to the police and their testimony at Kussmaul’s trial, and the trial court recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grant relief on Article 11.073 and actual innocence grounds. The Court agreed applicants were entitled to relief under Article 11.073 based on the discovery of new scientific evidence, but disagreed that they proved they were actually innocent. View "Ex parte James Edward Long" on Justia Law

by
In this habeas proceeding, Applicant Bobby Moore sought to be exempted from the death penalty on the ground that he was intellectually disabled. The habeas court agreed with Moore, citing what it considered to be the contemporary standards for an intellectual disability diagnosis. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed with the habeas court for a variety of reasons falling within two overarching categories: (1) because the habeas court failed to follow standards set out in Texas caselaw, and (2) because the habeas court failed to consider, or unreasonably disregarded, “a vast array of evidence in this lengthy record that cannot rationally be squared with a finding of intellectual disability.” The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' decision, concluding that some of the standards in Texas caselaw did not comport with the Eighth Amendment’s requirements regarding an intellectual disability determination. Having received guidance from the Supreme Court on the appropriate framework for assessing claims of intellectual disability, the Court of Criminal Appeals adopted the framework set forth in the American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, 5th Ed. "Although the Supreme Court has vindicated some of the habeas court’s analysis with respect to the proper framework to apply to intellectual disability claims, it remains true under our newly adopted framework that a vast array of evidence in this record is inconsistent with a finding of intellectual disability. Reviewing Applicant’s claims under the DSM-5 framework, we conclude that he has failed to demonstrate adaptive deficits sufficient to support a diagnosis of intellectual disability. Consequently, we disagree with the habeas court’s conclusion that Applicant has demonstrated intellectual disability, and we deny relief." View "Ex parte Bobby James Moore" on Justia Law

by
The State alleged appellant Jason Ramjattansingh had committed the offense of driving while intoxicated. It also alleged that he had an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more “at the time the analysis was performed,” a Class A DWI. But the information went further, alleging that Ramjattansingh also had this alcohol concentration level “at or near the time of the commission of the offense,” which the statute did not require. The jury charge tracked the information, requiring the jury to find this extra element. The jury convicted Appellant, but the court of appeals reversed. The court, measuring the sufficiency of the evidence under the charge given, found the evidence insufficient to prove the extra element. Under Texas case law, when a jury instruction sets forth all the elements of the charged crime but incorrectly adds an extra element, a sufficiency challenge is assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against “the erroneously heightened command in the jury instruction.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals not only found the jury charge in this case added the extra element, the State failed to object to the erroneously heightened jury instruction. The Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Ramjattansingh v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
The State alleged appellant Jason Ramjattansingh had committed the offense of driving while intoxicated. It also alleged that he had an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more “at the time the analysis was performed,” a Class A DWI. But the information went further, alleging that Ramjattansingh also had this alcohol concentration level “at or near the time of the commission of the offense,” which the statute did not require. The jury charge tracked the information, requiring the jury to find this extra element. The jury convicted Appellant, but the court of appeals reversed. The court, measuring the sufficiency of the evidence under the charge given, found the evidence insufficient to prove the extra element. Under Texas case law, when a jury instruction sets forth all the elements of the charged crime but incorrectly adds an extra element, a sufficiency challenge is assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against “the erroneously heightened command in the jury instruction.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals not only found the jury charge in this case added the extra element, the State failed to object to the erroneously heightened jury instruction. The Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Ramjattansingh v. Texas" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Michael Bien hired an undercover officer to kill his ex-wife’s brother. Based on his efforts, Appellant was charged with and convicted of two crimes: attempted capital murder and criminal solicitation of capital murder. The court of appeals found that Appellant’s convictions on both charges violated the Double Jeopardy Clause's prohibition against multiple punishments for the “same offense.” The court, deeming criminal solicitation the “most serious” offense, upheld that conviction and vacated the conviction for attempted capital murder. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of appeals that conviction for these two offenses violated double jeopardy, but disagreed with the court of appeals that these offenses each required proof of a different element. Applying the cognate-pleadings test, the Court determined the elements of the offense of attempted capital murder were functionally equivalent to the elements of solicitation of capital murder. The Court affirmed the court of appeals, agreeing that criminal solicitation was the most serious offense. View "Bien v. Texas" on Justia Law