Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Appellant Luis Hernandez was convicted of murder and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The victim, Devin Toler, was sleeping with Quionecia Barber, the wife of his neighbor, Appellant. After Appellant learned of the affair, he and Toler had several verbal confrontations. Barber turned her back to chase after her toddler, and by the time she returned, the fist-fight had ended, and Appellant had gone back to his apartment. Toler then collapsed to the ground. Barber saw blood coming from a wound on Toler’s chest and called 911. Paramedics administered first aid and transported Toler to the hospital, but he died. The issue before the Court of Criminal Appeal in this matter was whether he preserved his complaint about the State’s jury argument even though he did not pursue his objection to an adverse ruling. The Court granted the State Prosecuting Attorney’s petition for discretionary review to determine whether the right not to be subjected to improper jury argument is forfeitable and whether there was a word so inflammatory that its mention in closing argument when unsupported by the evidence incurably tainted the entire trial. The Court held that the right is forfeitable and that the mention of even a very inflammatory word that is outside the record does not dispense with error preservation requirements. Consequently, the Court reversed the court of appeals. View "Hernandez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant James Jones pled guilty to and was convicted of aggravated assault of a peace officer with a deadly weapon. In this subsequent application for a writ of habeas corpus, Applicant sought relief on the ground that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. Because the factual basis for this claim was not available when Applicant filed his previous applications for habeas corpus relief, his ineffective assistance of counsel claim was not procedurally barred. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court’s findings and conclusions that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, Applicant was granted habeas corpus relief. View "Ex parte James Douglas Jones" on Justia Law

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In Moon v. Texas, 451 S.W.3d 28 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of appeals that a juvenile court’s transfer order waiving its exclusive jurisdiction is subject to legal and factual-sufficiency appellate review. The issues in this case were whether "Moon" was retroactive, and if so, whether the transfer order in this case was legally and factually insufficient. Applicant Miguel Navarro was fifteen years old when he was charged with murder and two counts of aggravated assault. When the party got too large, the host told a group of people, including Navarro, to leave because he did not know them. An altercation ensued during which three people were stabbed, including the host, who died at the scene. Navarro fled in a car with his friends and returned to his home later that night. The next morning, detectives showed up at Navarro’s home after they were told that he may have stabbed the people at the party. Navarro was eventually taken into custody. The Court did not reach the question of "Moon" because Navarro failed to show that his subsequent writ applications satisfy the Article 11.07 Section 4 subsequent-writ bar of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. As a result, the Court dismissed his writ applications. View "Ex parte Miguel Angel Navarro" on Justia Law

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Robert Rodriguez assaulted a man, shattering the victim’s knee and causing him serious bodily injury. Rodriguez contended on appeal that, while he intended to cause some bodily injury to the victim, he did not honestly believe that his actions would result in serious bodily injury. Rodriguez claimed he should have received a jury instruction that, if his belief was reasonable under the circumstances, he should be convicted only of misdemeanor assault. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and affirmed Rodriguez's conviction. View "Rodriguez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A Houston police officer witnessed defendant Andreas Marcopoulos walk into a bar known for narcotics activity, stay for three to five minutes, and then leave. When Marcopoulos committed a traffic violation, the officer stopped him, searched his vehicle, and found cocaine. The court of appeals concluded that this search was justified under the automobile exception. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has repeatedly held that furtive gestures alone are not a sufficient basis for probable cause. Consequently, the focus of the Court's analysis in this appeal was whether Marcopoulos’s furtive gestures, when considered alongside his brief appearance at a known narcotics establishment, gave rise to probable cause. After review of the facts entered into evidence, the Court concluded they did not. View "Marcopoulos v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 746, a bill that amended several provisions within the Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act contained within the Health and Safety Code. The amendments removed a provision that had made it a criminal offense for a sexually violent predator who had been civilly committed to fail to comply with the terms of his sex offender treatment. Furthermore, the Legislature included a savings clause in S.B. 746 that made the legislation apply to anyone who had been convicted of the offense of violating the terms of his civil commitment and whose direct appeal of that criminal conviction was pending at the time the legislation became effective. When Governor Abbott signed S.B. 746 into law, it became effective immediately. Appellant Roger VanDyke's direct appeal of his criminal conviction for violating the terms of his civil commitment was pending at that time. After S.B. 746 became effective, Appellant filed a supplemental brief with the court of appeals arguing that his conviction was not a final conviction and it should, therefore, be reversed because the amendment to Section 841.085 decriminalized his conduct. The court of appeals affirmed his conviction, holding that the savings clause in S.B. 746 violated the Separation of Powers Clause of the Texas Constitution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Appellant’s petition for discretionary review on the sole issue of whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the savings clause in S.B. 746 usurped the governor’s clemency power. The Court reversed and vacated the judgment: "Both our Legislature and our governor have decided that a sexually violent predator’s failure to comply with his sex offender treatment program as part of his civil commitment should be resolved through the civil commitment program rather than give rise to a new criminal conviction. The Legislature was within its power to make this difficult legislative change and apply that change to defendants whose criminal cases were pending on appeal at the time the amendment became effective. We defer to the statute crafted by our Legislature and signed by our governor because this legislative act did not violate the Separation of Powers Clause in the Texas Constitution. Accordingly, we vacate Appellant’s judgment of conviction." View "VanDyke v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Over a period of sixteen months during 2013 and 2014, Applicant Morris Johnson, II was convicted of forgery, then possession of a controlled substance, and then delivery of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to ten years on the forgery case, then ten years on the possession case, stacked on the forgery sentence, and finally forty years on the delivery case, to run concurrently with the other sentences. The concurrent sentence with the latest parole-eligibility date was Applicant’s forty-year sentence. He claimed on appeal that the Parole Board should conduct a parole review of each sentence as it becomes eligible, as if it were the only sentence, which would result in parole review when his ten year forgery sentence would, on its own, become parole-eligible. He argued that doing so would give him a chance to be paroled on the forgery sentence earlier, and so start the running of his possession sentence earlier, than if the first review is based on his eligibility on the forty-year sentence. According to Parole Board policy, when an inmate has concurrent sentences, the Board does not consider him for release to parole until he becomes eligible under the sentence with the latest parole-eligibility date. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded Applicant’s claim was not cognizable on habeas corpus and that he did not show the violation of a ministerial duty that would warrant relief on mandamus. View "Ex parte Morris Landon Johnson, II" on Justia Law

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A jury found Appellant Michael Bohannan to be a sexually violent predator. The trial court thus adjudicated Appellant as a sexually violent predator and ordered him to be civilly committed for treatment. Appellant appealed the civil commitment, and while the appeal was pending, he violated the civil commitment order. The court of appeals eventually reversed the judgment of civil commitment. Appellant was charged and convicted of violating the civil commitment order, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Because Appellant was required to follow the terms of the civil commitment order while the appeal of the judgment of civil commitment was pending, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined the court of appeals correctly affirmed his conviction. View "Bohannan v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered whether a person convicted of a criminal offense could present a facial challenge to the constitutionality of a statute for the first time in an application for a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus under circumstances in which the statute at issue had never been judicially declared by any court with binding authority to be facially unconstitutional. In 2010, appellant Clinton Beck was working as a middle school teacher. Appellant formed a close relationship with one of his students, Danielle, who was in eighth grade and thirteen or fourteen years old at the time. Despite a school policy against texting between teachers and students, appellant began sending text messages to Danielle. At one point, Danielle’s mother became concerned about the frequency of the text messages between appellant and her daughter. Danielle’s mother found text conversations between appellant and Danielle pertaining to sexual topics. Danielle’s mother called the police to report appellant’s behavior, and she also brought the matter to the attention of the school principal. Appellant was arrested and charged with the offenses of online solicitation of a minor and engaging in an improper relationship with a student. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of appeals’ conclusion that appellant could not bring, in the first instance, his facial constitutional challenge to the statute in his post-conviction habeas proceedings because it was not preserved at trial. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment upholding the trial court’s denial of post-conviction habeas relief. View "Ex parte Clinton David Beck" on Justia Law

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Kenneth Jaye McClellan pled guilty to online solicitation of a minor under fourteen years of age pursuant to the pre-2015 version of the statute. He was sentenced to three years’ confinement and was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. He did not appeal his conviction, but later filed a post-conviction application for a writ of habeas corpus arguing that the statute under which he was convicted was facially unconstitutional. Since the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals filed and set this case for review, it decided Ex parte Ingram v. Texas, PD-0578-16 (Tex. Crim. App. June 28, 2017), in which the Court held the pre-2015 version of the online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute was facially constitutional. In light of that holding, the Court did not address the issue of whether McClellan could raise a facial challenge to the online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute under which he was convicted for the first time post-conviction. Even if McClellan were permitted to challenge the facial validity of the definition of “minor” and the anti-defensive provisions in the online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute for the first time on post-conviction habeas, his claims would fail. Therefore, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Kenneth Jaye McClellan" on Justia Law