Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Appellant Demond Franklin was charged with capital murder, and the State waived the death penalty. Upon conviction, he was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of life without parole. On appeal, Appellant claimed for the first time that the age of a defendant at the time of an offense was an element of the offense that had to be proven by the State. On the basis of this proposition, he argued that his sentence should be life with the possibility of parole. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and affirmed the court of appeals. View "Franklin v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Pablo Alfaro-Jimenez carried around a fake social security card in his wallet and admitted that he used it to get work. But to convict Appellant of tampering with a governmental record under the theory of liability authorized by the indictment in this case, the State had to prove that Appellant possessed or presented a real social security card. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the State did not prove that in this case. Consequently, it reversed the court of appeals’ holding that the evidence was sufficient to support Appellant’s conviction. View "Alfaro-Jimenez v. Texas" on Justia Law

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At the punishment-phase of trial for aggravated robbery, Appellant Joseph Smith presented evidence he suffered from a severe drug addiction. The State asked for, and received, an instruction stating that “[v]oluntary intoxication does not constitute a defense to the commission of a crime.” Smith argues that such an instruction is never appropriate in the punishment phase of trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that although it is within a trial judge’s discretion to give a voluntary-intoxication instruction in the punishment phase, its application must be expressly limited to extraneous offenses. The Court "defined with greater particularity" the way in which it thought the charge was erroneous, the Court remanded this case to the court of appeals to decide whether that error was preserved, which of "Almanza’s" harm analyses ought to apply, and ultimately whether the error was harmful. Smith’s remaining issues were dismissed as improvidently granted. View "Smith v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement audited the Indian Lake Police Department and found what it believed to be deficiencies in firearms-proficiency records for several volunteer reserve officers. To cure the deficiencies, Appellant John Chambers, then-Police Chief John Chambers, directed a subordinate to falsify the records. The jury found Appellant guilty of 14 courts of tampering with a governmental record with the intent to defraud or harm. On discretionary review, Appellant challenged the denial of a requested jury instruction on whether the records were required to be kept and the sufficiency of the evidence to show his intent to defraud or harm the government. He also claimed the court of appeals did not address his argument about the sufficiency of the evidence to overcome a statutory defense that applied when the falsification of the record has no effect on the governmental purpose for the record. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held: (1) Appellant was not harmed by the denial of the requested jury instruction; (2) the evidence was insufficient to show intent to defraud or harm; and (3) the court of appeals should be given the opportunity to address his argument about the sufficiency of the evidence to overcome his statutory defense. The Court therefore reversed and remanded for the court of appeals to evaluate Appellant’s statutory defense. View "Chambers v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Texas Penal Code Section 12.42(c)(2) mandates a life sentence for defendants who are convicted of a listed sex offense and have been previously convicted of an enumerated sex offense. The question this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ review centered on whether the elements of sodomy with a child as defined by Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) were substantially similar to the elements of sexual assault as defined by the Texas Penal Code. The Court granted review to determine whether the two-pronged test for substantial similarity should be amended and, if not, whether the lower court correctly applied it. The Court held the first prong of the test should be applied to the elements of the previous conviction, if proven, and that the second prong of the test should be abandoned View "Fisk v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Richard Hyland was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured him seriously and killed his wife. An investigating officer subsequently obtained a search warrant for and then obtained a sample of Appellant’s blood, which demonstrated that he was intoxicated. Appellant was convicted of the intoxication manslaughter of his wife, but the Court of Appeals reversed Appellant’s conviction. The court of appeals held that, in light of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in McClintock I, and the Eleventh Court of Appeals’ unpublished decision in Texas v. Lollar, the excised affidavit did not “clearly” establish probable cause. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review to determine: (1) whether a sustained Franks motion and the consequent purging of false statements from a search warrant affidavit triggered a heightened probable cause standard, namely, that the affidavit must “clearly” establish probable cause; and (2) whether a police officer’s detection of the strong smell of alcohol emanating from the driver of a motor vehicle that was involved in a serious, single-vehicle accident supports a finding of probable cause that evidence of driving while intoxicated would be found in the driver’s blood. The Court reversed: “Appellant was known to be the driver of a motorcycle that had recently been involved in a serious, single-vehicle accident that resulted in a fatality and serious injuries to himself. Also, [the officer] detected the strong odor of alcohol emanating from Appellant’s person. Taken together, these were ‘reasonably trustworthy facts and circumstances within the knowledge of’ [the officer] that ‘would lead a man of reasonable prudence to believe that . . . evidence pertaining to a crime [would] be found’ in a search of Appellant’s blood.” View "Hyland v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellee Dai’Vonte Ross was accused of committing disorderly conduct for “intentionally or knowingly . . . display[ing] a firearm . . . in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm. The information charging him with this offense largely tracked the relevant penal statute. Both the trial judge and the Court of Appeals held that this information did not provide Ross with sufficient notice. Concluding that the information was completely descriptive of a criminal offense, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed their decisions. View "Texas v. Ross" on Justia Law

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Appellant Joseph Colone convicted of capital murder for killing two individuals during the same criminal transaction, for which a jury sentenced him to death. Direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal was automatic. Appellant raised twelve points of error, but finding none, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment and sentence. View "Colone v. Texas" on Justia Law

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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