Justia Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Appellant Karl Stahmann was involved in an automobile accident, after which he threw a bottle of promethazine, a controlled substance, over a nearby wire fence before law enforcement arrived. The bottle landed two to three feet past the fence in plain view. He was convicted of third-degree felony tampering with physical evidence and was sentenced to 10 years’ confinement and fined $5,000. The judge suspended his sentence and placed him on community supervision for 10 years. Stahmann appealed, arguing in part that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he destroyed, altered, or concealed the prescription bottle. The court of appeals agreed that the evidence was insufficient, but instead of rendering an acquittal, it reformed the judgment to show that Stahmann was convicted of the lesser-included offense of attempted tampering with physical evidence, a state-jail felony. After review of the evidence presented at trial, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the evidence was indeed insufficient to prove that Appellant altered the prescription pill bottle when he threw it over the fence because the mere act of throwing the bottle did not change the bottle itself. "While a rational jury could have reasonably inferred that Stahmann intended to conceal the pill bottle when he threw it over the wire fence, the evidence shows that he failed to conceal it as he intended because the bottle landed short of the bush in plain view on top of some grass." The Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Stahmann v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Rodney Rodgers alleged he was illegally sentenced for a felony driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) offense when he should have been sentenced only for a misdemeanor DWI. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals filed and set this case to determine: (1) whether Applicant was estopped from claiming that his sentence was illegal; and (2) whether the harm analysis the Court has applied to claims of illegal enhancements pursuant to Ex parte Parrott, 396 S.W.3d 531 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013), should extend to enhancements that elevate an offense from a misdemeanor to a felony, also known as jurisdictional enhancements. After review, the Court held Ex parte Parrott applied and that Applicant did not show he was harmed. The Court therefore denied relief on those grounds without addressing whether he was estopped from raising the claim. View "Ex parte Rodney Rodgers" on Justia Law

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Appellant, Lydia Metcalf, was convicted as a party of second-degree felony sexualassault based on her husband's anal rape of their then 16-year-old daughter. Metcalf was sentenced to three years in prison, but no fine. On appeal, she argued the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to convict because it did not show she had intent to promote or assist her husband's sexual assault. The court of appeals agreed, and rendered an acquittal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State's petition for review, but the acquittal was affirmed. "Under the hypothetically correct jury charge, the State had to prove that Metcalf, at the time of the offense, intended to promote or assist the commission of the anal penetration alleged in the indictment. But because the evidence does not show that it was Metcalf’s conscious objective or desire for Allen to sexually assault Amber, the evidence is insufficient to show that she intended to promote or assist commission of that offense." View "Metcalf v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In 2015, while incarcerated in a penal institution, Appellant Billy Joel Tracy killed a correctional officer, for which he was convicted by jury of capital murder and sentenced to death. On automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, appellant raised fourteen points of error. Finding none of merit, the Court affirmed conviction and appellant's death sentence. View "Tracy v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Christopher Holder was charged with capital murder. During the course of the investigation, police accessed 23 days of his cell site location information (CSLI) to corroborate his alibi that he was out of town when the victim was killed. But Appellant lied. The records showed that he was near the victim’s house at the time of the murder. After he was arrested and charged, Appellant filed two motions to suppress. In one of them, he alleged that the “specific and articulable” statutory standard was not met and that the records should have been suppressed because accessing the CSLI violated Article I, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution. The trial court denied in an unpublished opinion. Upon discretionary review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Appellant argued the court of appeals was wrong on both accounts. The Court concluded that because Appellant had a reasonable expectation of privacy under Article I, Section 9 in the 23 days of his CSLI accessed by the State, it reversed the judgment of the court of appeals, but remanded for the lower court to determine whether Appellant was harmed by the erroneous admission of the CSLI records. View "Holder v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kenyetta Walker lived in a house that police identified as a “a major distribution point” for drugs along with her two daughters and a man who went by the nickname “Pill.” One night, three intruders broke into the house through the front door. A gunfight ensued. One of the intruders escaped the home unscathed. Another limped away. The final intruder crawled out of the house to die on the lawn. Police were called out to the scene. Surveillance cameras around the house showed that after the shootout, but before the police arrived, Appellant made several trips outside. First, she carried a bag of more than 400 grams of dihydrocodeinone pills to an Infiniti parked outside. She gave a pistol to “Pill” who left the scene, but not before he hit the dead man on the lawn. Police arrived to find the dead body lying on the ground outside of the house and occasional guest, Brian Grant (who had also been shot), sitting near the porch. A subsequent search of the house uncovered a large amount of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. Police also recovered digital scales, re-sealable plastic bags, a drawer full of small denomination bills, and the pills from the bag Appellant had placed in the parked Infiniti. The State charged Appellant with engaging in organized criminal activity by commission of the predicate offense of possession of a controlled substance. The indictment was later amended to include the allegation that Appellant had possessed the controlled substance “with intent to deliver.” Appellant did not object to the indictment or otherwise argue to the trial court that the indictment was substantively defective for alleging a non-existent offense. The issue Appellant's appeal raised for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' review was whether a jury convicts a defendant on a "non-existent" greater offense, could a court of appeals reform the judgment to reflect conviction for an existent "lesser-included" offense? The Court answered yes, if the reformed offense was authorized, as it was in this matter, by the indictment. Appellant's case was remanded for a determination of whether the jury necessarily found each element of the offense of possession with intent to deliver beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether the evidence was legally sufficient to support the conviction for that offense. View "Walker v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Appellant Patrick Jordan of deadly conduct and sentenced him to four years in prison. On appeal, he argued the trial court erred in denying him a jury instruction on self-defense against multiple assailants. The court of appeals concluded that Appellant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction at all, and the failure to include multiple assailants language was not error. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, finding Appellant was entitled to a jury instruction on multiple assailants, and the failure to include it was indeed harmful. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Jordan v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant, James Allan Burg, II, was charged with, and convicted of driving while intoxicated with a BAC of 0.15 or more. At sentencing, the trial court ordered Appellant's driver's license be suspended for one year. Appellant did not object despite having an opportunity to do so. For the first time on appeal, he argued the license suspension was not authorized, therefore he could bring his claim as an illegal sentence. The issue his case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether he could complain for the first time on appeal about an unauthorized driver's license suspension if he did not object the suspension at his first opportunity. The Court responded - no: "even an unauthorized license suspension cannot be characterized as an 'illegal sentence.' Under these circumstances we follow ordinary preservation of error requirements. Because Appellant had the opportunity to object and did not do so, he has not preserved his appellate claim for review." View "Burg v. Texas" on Justia Law

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While on probation for child endangerment charges, Robvia Simpson struck her roommate with an ashtray. She contended she did so in self-defense. But at the hearing to determine whether her probation would be revoked, Simpson did not claim self-defense. Instead, she simply pleaded “true” to the allegation that she assaulted her roommate. The question presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether Simpson’s plea of “true” precluded her from claiming self-defense in a subsequent criminal trial. The Court concluded that it did not, and affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment. View "Simpson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Thomas Dixon, was a plastic surgeon in Amarillo, Texas. Joseph Sonnier was a physician in Lubbock. David Shepherd was a friend of Dixon’s. In 2012, David Shepard killed Joseph Sonnier. The State’s theory was that Dixon hired Shepard to kill Sonnier. Although Dixon had originally told the police that he knew nothing about Sonnier, he admitted at trial that this was untrue. Dixon testified that he had hired Shepard to track and photograph Sonnier (hoping to obtain photos that would cause Dixon’s former girlfriend to break up with Sonnier) and that he understood that Shepard would be planting a camera at Sonnier’s house for this purpose. Also, Shepard’s phone records revealed that Dixon called Shepard within minutes after the police finished speaking to Dixon. Appellant was convicted under a murder-for-hire theory. The Court of Appeals reversed Appellant’s conviction for two reasons: (1) because cell phone location information was improperly admitted; and (2) because the trial court deprived him of a public trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined neither of these reasons "appears to stand up to close scrutiny." Appellant’s whereabouts on a date other than the date of the murder were not particularly important to the case, so any error in admitting the evidence was harmless. As for the public trial complaints, two were not preserved and the other had no merit. Consequently, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Dixon v. Texas" on Justia Law