Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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A trial court entered two orders granting shock probation. The orders were identical except that the second order was styled as an “Amended Order,” containing additional findings of fact, and it was signed at a later time. Both orders suspended further implementation of Appellee Crispen Hanson's prison sentence and placed him on probation. The State appealed the second order, and the court of appeals dismissed the appeal for want of jurisdiction, concluding that only the first order granting shock probation was appealable. The issue before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the court of appeals erred when it decided that the second order was not an appealable order. Because the Court concluded that it was an appealable order under Article 44.01(a)(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, it reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for the court of appeals to consider the merits of the State’s appeal. View "Texas v. Hanson" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Appellant William Rogers of aggravated assault and burglary of a habitation with commission or attempted commission of aggravated assault. The court of appeals vacated the aggravated assault conviction on double jeopardy grounds because it was a lesser included offense of the burglary. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review of the court of appeals’ holding in the burglary case that the trial court’s refusal to instruct the jury on self-defense and necessity. The Court concluded the trial court's refusal to instruct on self-defense and necessity, if error, was harmful to the defense. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded for the court of appeals to decide whether the trial court's ruling was made in error. View "Rogers v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellants Rex Nisbett and George Delacruz were convicted of murder in unrelated trials. The cases were factually unrelated, however, there were many factual similarities between the two, including that, in each case, the victim’s body and the murder weapon were never recovered. In Nisbett’s case, the court of appeals held the evidence to be insufficient to support the conviction and rendered a judgment of acquittal. In Delacruz’s case, a different (but overlapping) panel of that court affirmed the conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review and consolidated these cases to address the appropriate analysis when the victim’s body and the murder weapon are not found. The Court ultimately held that the evidence was legally sufficient to support both convictions. Consequently, the Court reversed the court of appeals’s judgment in Nisbett’s case and affirmed the judgment in Delacruz’s case. View "Nisbett v. Texas" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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