Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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At his trial for the sexual assault of a minor, appellant Joshua Jacobs sought to ask during jury selection whether a potential juror whether, if they knew that he had previously been convicted of a “sexual offense,” they could remain impartial in a second (the underlying case) case. The trial judge wanted Jacobs to use the phrase “felony offense,” but agreed, on Jacobs’s request, to let him refer to prior “assaultive offenses” instead. The court of appeals held that, in so limiting Jacobs, the trial judge offended his constitutional rights. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, holding the trial judge did not abuse his discretion in determining that any marginal benefit Jacobs might gain by these added details would be outweighed by the risk of exposing the jury to the particular facts of the case before they were sworn. “Under these circumstances, we cannot say that the trial judge’s limitation “render[ed] the defendant’s trial fundamentally unfair.” View "Jacobs v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant’s ankles were shackled at trial. He claimed two jurors saw him in the shackles during the punishment stage, and this denied him due process and a fair trial. He also contended his trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective for various related reasons. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the trial court committed no error because the State proffered a legitimate, uncontested reason for shackling, the trial court ordered the placement of a barrier to block the jury from seeing the shackles, defense counsel expressed satisfaction with the trial court’s remedy, and a barrier was constructed that appeared to be effective. Furthermore, the Court concluded that given these circumstances, Applicant’s attorneys did not perform deficiently. View "Ex parte Chavez" on Justia Law

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Appellant applied for habeas relief to challenge the trial court’s modification to the conditions of her community supervision that precluded Appellant from having any access to her own minor children. The trial court denied Appellant’s writ application, and the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s writ application. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding that because the challenged modification infringed on Appellant’s fundamental constitutional right as a parent to have contact with her own children, the trial court should have held a hearing before issuing the modification. Following the trial court’s modification of her conditions that prohibited her from having contact with her own children, the Appellant was notified of those changes and refused to sign those conditions. Appellant’s attorney subsequently filed objections to those modifications and, failing to obtain relief, filed an Article 11.072 writ application. Having failed to provide the Appellant with a hearing at the time of the initial modification, under the facts of this case, the trial court could have remedied the situation by conducting a hearing before ruling on the 11.072 writ application. Since no hearing was held, Appellant had no opportunity to present evidence to support her challenge to the modification in question. Therefore, the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s claim for habeas relief. View "Ex parte Fineberg" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sandra Briggs pled no contest to intoxication manslaughter of a peace officer. She claimed in a motion for new trial that her plea was involuntary because case law decided after she pled would have changed her mind, and she would have exercised her right to a jury trial. The trial court denied Briggs’s motion for new trial, but the Court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, finding that, “having the benefit of [the 2013 Missouri v.] McNeely [opinion] and its progeny,” Briggs’s attorney, in 2012, “misrepresented the law to Briggs as it relates to the admissibility of her blood-draw evidence.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that the court of appeals erred: [w]hen a defendant waives the right to have a jury determine guilt or innocence and admits or does not contest guilt, the defendant does so under the law existing at the time of the plea. The fact that Briggs’s attorney did not anticipate subsequent changes in the law does not impugn the truth or reliability of Briggs’s plea.” View "Briggs v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant was charged in three indictments with acting as a guard company without a license. The indictments, which alleged the same conduct on three separate dates, were later amended to charge him with accepting employment as a security officer to carry a firearm without a security officer commission. The question before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the original indictments tolled the running of limitations for the amended indictments. The Court concluded they did not and affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Marks v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Fernando Smith filed a notice of appeal after he was adjudicated and sentenced in open court. While his appeal was pending (and before he filed his brief), Smith filed a motion for shock probation. When the trial court granted the motion, Smith attempted to appeal that as well, relying upon the general notice of appeal he had filed before he filed his motion for shock probation. The court of appeals dismissed Smith’s appeal because he did not file a separate notice of appeal after the order granting shock probation. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the general notice of appeal from adjudication and sentencing did not act as a place holder notice for any appealable order that comes from the trial court’s actions thereafter. In the absence of a notice of appeal from the order granting shock probation, the court of appeals properly dismissed the appeal. View "Smith v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Cynthia Wood was indicted for the attempted capital murder of her son, K.W. Wood attempted to suffocate the child twice while he laid in the hospital, brought in because he allegedly stopped breathing while at home. Wood entered into an open plea of guilty. She was sentenced to life imprisonment, and argued to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that her sentence was illegal because the indictment did not charge, and she did not plead to, attempted capital murder. Finding Appellant’s life sentence to be an illegal sentence, the court of appeals reversed Appellant’s conviction for attempted capital murder and ordered the trial court to adjudge Appellant guilty of attempted murder. The case was remanded to the trial court to hold a new sentencing hearing. The State petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals to review the decision of the court of appeals. The high court held that Appellant’s sentence was not an illegal sentence, and reversed and remanded to the court of appeals to address Appellant’s remaining points of error. View "Wood v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In his petition for discretionary review, appellant Eddie Ette challenged the court of appeals' judgment upholding the imposition of a $10,000 fine assessed as part of his punishment for misapplication of fiduciary property. The fine was lawfully assessed by a jury, included in the trial court’s written judgment, but not orally pronounced at sentencing. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reduced the issues presented by this appeal as: (1) whether a trial court has no authority to alter a jury’s lawful verdict on punishment; or (2) whether sentences, including fines, must be orally pronounced in a defendant’s presence, and, as a matter of due process and fair notice, the sentence orally pronounced by the trial judge controls if it differs from the sentence detailed in the written judgment. The Court held the latter judicially created rule giving precedence to the oral pronouncement over the written judgment could not supplant a jury’s lawful verdict on punishment that has been correctly read aloud in a defendant’s presence in court. Accordingly, the Court held the trial court’s judgment could properly impose the fine against appellant despite the failure to orally pronounce it. Imposition of the fine was affirmed. View "Ette v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Fred Earl Ingerson III was convicted of capital murder for killing Robyn Richter and Shawna Ferris. The bodies of Richter and her friend Ferris, were found in Richter’s vehicle outside of a Japanese restaurant and sushi bar. They both were shot once in the head. Almost two years later, Ingerson was arrested for capital murder and was convicted. The State did not seek the death penalty; he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Ingerson appealed, in part arguing that the evidence was legally insufficient to support his conviction. The court of appeals agreed and rendered an acquittal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the court of appeals erred in finding the evidence insufficient, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ingerson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Teodoro Hernandez was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and family-violence assault by strangulation. The evidence showed that Hernandez struck the victim on her head or body and that he strangled her, but it showed that he poured water down her throat while he was strangling her, not while he was striking her. The court of appeals held that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the aggravated-assault-with-a-deadly-weapon conviction, but on original submission, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and ordered Hernandez’s aggravated-assault-with-a-deadly-weapon conviction reinstated. After the high Court issued its opinion, Hernandez filed a timely motion for rehearing. Finding no reversible error, the Court reinstated its original opinion reversing the judgment of the court of appeals, rejecting Hernandez’s arguments on rehearing. View "Hernandez v. Texas" on Justia Law