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The State alleged appellant Jason Ramjattansingh had committed the offense of driving while intoxicated. It also alleged that he had an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more “at the time the analysis was performed,” a Class A DWI. But the information went further, alleging that Ramjattansingh also had this alcohol concentration level “at or near the time of the commission of the offense,” which the statute did not require. The jury charge tracked the information, requiring the jury to find this extra element. The jury convicted Appellant, but the court of appeals reversed. The court, measuring the sufficiency of the evidence under the charge given, found the evidence insufficient to prove the extra element. Under Texas case law, when a jury instruction sets forth all the elements of the charged crime but incorrectly adds an extra element, a sufficiency challenge is assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against “the erroneously heightened command in the jury instruction.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals not only found the jury charge in this case added the extra element, the State failed to object to the erroneously heightened jury instruction. The Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Ramjattansingh v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The State alleged appellant Jason Ramjattansingh had committed the offense of driving while intoxicated. It also alleged that he had an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more “at the time the analysis was performed,” a Class A DWI. But the information went further, alleging that Ramjattansingh also had this alcohol concentration level “at or near the time of the commission of the offense,” which the statute did not require. The jury charge tracked the information, requiring the jury to find this extra element. The jury convicted Appellant, but the court of appeals reversed. The court, measuring the sufficiency of the evidence under the charge given, found the evidence insufficient to prove the extra element. Under Texas case law, when a jury instruction sets forth all the elements of the charged crime but incorrectly adds an extra element, a sufficiency challenge is assessed against the elements of the charged crime, not against “the erroneously heightened command in the jury instruction.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals not only found the jury charge in this case added the extra element, the State failed to object to the erroneously heightened jury instruction. The Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Ramjattansingh v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Michael Bien hired an undercover officer to kill his ex-wife’s brother. Based on his efforts, Appellant was charged with and convicted of two crimes: attempted capital murder and criminal solicitation of capital murder. The court of appeals found that Appellant’s convictions on both charges violated the Double Jeopardy Clause's prohibition against multiple punishments for the “same offense.” The court, deeming criminal solicitation the “most serious” offense, upheld that conviction and vacated the conviction for attempted capital murder. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of appeals that conviction for these two offenses violated double jeopardy, but disagreed with the court of appeals that these offenses each required proof of a different element. Applying the cognate-pleadings test, the Court determined the elements of the offense of attempted capital murder were functionally equivalent to the elements of solicitation of capital murder. The Court affirmed the court of appeals, agreeing that criminal solicitation was the most serious offense. View "Bien v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Ricardo Zuniga was convicted of two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity and one count of capital murder based on his participation in a shooting that caused the deaths of two individuals. On appeal, he argued that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for engaging in organized criminal activity because the record failed to show that he committed the shootings while possessing the intent to establish, maintain, or participate “as a member of a criminal street gang.” Agreeing with appellant’s argument, the court of appeals vacated his convictions and entered judgments of acquittal as to both counts of engaging in organized criminal activity. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed with the court of appeals’s analysis and holding. Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the jury’s verdict as measured against a hypothetically correct jury charge, the Court concluded a rational factfinder could have determined that appellant participated in the shootings “as a member of a criminal street gang,” in the sense that he was acting in the role, capacity, or function of a gang member in carrying out the offenses. Therefore, the Court held the evidence was sufficient to support appellant’s convictions for engaging in organized criminal activity; the trial court's judgments of conviction were reinstated. View "Zuniga v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jose Oliva was charged by information with DWI. The information contained two paragraphs: the first alleged the commission of the current DWI, and the second alleged a prior DWI conviction. The focus of the guilt stage of trial was solely on the first paragraph. The prior-conviction allegation was not read to the jury at the guilt stage, no evidence of the prior conviction was offered at the guilt stage, and there was no mention of a prior conviction in the guilt-stage jury instructions. Appellant was found guilty. At the punishment stage, the State read the prior-conviction allegation to the jury and introduced evidence of a prior DWI conviction. The jury found the prior-conviction allegation to be true and assessed punishment at 180 days’ confinement. The judgment labeled Appellant’s current conviction as a “DWI 2ND” and the degree of offense as a “Class A Misdemeanor.” The court of appeals held that the existence of a prior conviction was an element of the offense of “Class A misdemeanor DWI.” The court reasoned that a fact that elevates the degree of an offense is necessarily an element of the offense and that Penal Code Section 49.09 lacked the “shall be punished” language present in other statutes containing punishment enhancements. Because no evidence of a prior conviction was introduced at the guilt stage of trial, the court of appeals held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the prior-conviction allegation. Consequently, the court of appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to reform the judgment to reflect a conviction for Class B misdemeanor DWI and to conduct a new punishment hearing. Under Penal Code section 49.09(b), the existence of two prior convictions for DWI elevated a third DWI from a Class B misdemeanor to a third degree felony. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addressed the status of section 49.09(a), which provided that the existence of a single prior conviction elevated a second DWI offense from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. The Court held in this case that, unlike the existence of two prior convictions for felony DWI, the existence of a single prior conviction for misdemeanor DWI was a punishment issue; the litigation of the prior-conviction allegation at the punishment stage of trial was proper. The Court reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Oliva v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jose Oliva was charged by information with DWI. The information contained two paragraphs: the first alleged the commission of the current DWI, and the second alleged a prior DWI conviction. The focus of the guilt stage of trial was solely on the first paragraph. The prior-conviction allegation was not read to the jury at the guilt stage, no evidence of the prior conviction was offered at the guilt stage, and there was no mention of a prior conviction in the guilt-stage jury instructions. Appellant was found guilty. At the punishment stage, the State read the prior-conviction allegation to the jury and introduced evidence of a prior DWI conviction. The jury found the prior-conviction allegation to be true and assessed punishment at 180 days’ confinement. The judgment labeled Appellant’s current conviction as a “DWI 2ND” and the degree of offense as a “Class A Misdemeanor.” The court of appeals held that the existence of a prior conviction was an element of the offense of “Class A misdemeanor DWI.” The court reasoned that a fact that elevates the degree of an offense is necessarily an element of the offense and that Penal Code Section 49.09 lacked the “shall be punished” language present in other statutes containing punishment enhancements. Because no evidence of a prior conviction was introduced at the guilt stage of trial, the court of appeals held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the prior-conviction allegation. Consequently, the court of appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to reform the judgment to reflect a conviction for Class B misdemeanor DWI and to conduct a new punishment hearing. Under Penal Code section 49.09(b), the existence of two prior convictions for DWI elevated a third DWI from a Class B misdemeanor to a third degree felony. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addressed the status of section 49.09(a), which provided that the existence of a single prior conviction elevated a second DWI offense from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. The Court held in this case that, unlike the existence of two prior convictions for felony DWI, the existence of a single prior conviction for misdemeanor DWI was a punishment issue; the litigation of the prior-conviction allegation at the punishment stage of trial was proper. The Court reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Oliva v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this case was whether Samuel Osvaldo Garcia’s claim that he was entitled to relief because his attorney gave him affirmative misadvice regarding his possible deportation is cognizable or whether it is barred as a non-retroactive “Padilla” claim. The court of appeals held that the claim was cognizable as an affirmative misadvice claim, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. Consequently, the Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "Ex parte Samuel Garcia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Russell Estes had an ongoing sexual relationship with K.A. when K.A. was fourteen years old. Estes was legally married to someone else. So, in addition to charging Estes with sexual assault of a child, ordinarily a second-degree felony, the State also alleged that K.A. was a person “whom the defendant was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the defendant was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married[.]”This additional fact, if proven true, would subject Estes to first-degree-felony punishment under Texas Penal Code Section 22.011(f). Estes was also charged with various counts of indecency with a child. Estes filed a pre-trial motion to quash the child-sex-assault counts within the indictment, in which he objected to what he called the “[b]igamy element of this allegation[.]”Specifically, Estes argued that Section 22.011(f) “is unconstitutional both facially and as applied to [him] because it treats married people more harshly than . . . unmarried people in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States and Texas Constitutions.” When this motion was denied, Estes asked for, and was granted, a running objection along these lines. As relevant here, Estes was ultimately found guilty of all five counts of sexual assault of a child. In a single special issue, the jury also found “that [K.A.] was a person whom [Estes] was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom [Estes] was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married,” thereby triggering the Section 22.011(f) enhancement. Within the first-degree-felony punishment range, Estes was sentenced to 12 years’ confinement on each count of sexual assault of a child. In enacting the current form of Penal Code Section 22.011(f), the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found the Texas Legislature apparently wished to provide higher penalties for polygamists “who sexually assault their purported spouses.” But the resulting statute had the potentially unintended effect of punishing married offenders more harshly than unmarried offenders. The Court determined the State had a rational interest in enforcing this scheme, and reversed the court of appeals’ holding that the statute was unconstitutional. View "Estes v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Kelvin O’Brien was tried on one count of engaging in organized criminal activity. That count alleged that Appellant, with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a combination or in the profits of a combination, committed second degree theft or second degree money laundering. The theory was that Appellant was part of a criminal ring that committed multiple jewelry store heists. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that in order to convict someone of “engaging,” the jury does not have to unanimously agree on the specific predicate crime committed by the defendant. “[T]he commission of each predicate crime constitutes a different manner and means of committing the single offense of engaging in organized criminal activity. We affirm the court of appeals’ holding that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury in the disjunctive regarding the predicate offenses in this case.” View "O'Brien v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Crystal Boyett contended the court of appeals erred by upholding the trial court’s denial of her request for a formal determination of her competency to stand trial for manslaughter. Appellant was speeding excessively when she caused a collision with another car that was occupied by three women. Two were killed; one was seriously injured. The State charged appellant with manslaughter for one of the deaths. Appellant pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded to trial, at which appellant was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. The trial court found that there was “not sufficient evidence to support a finding of incompetence,” and it declined to undertake a formal competency trial aided by expert evaluation. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding the court of appeals improperly considered evidence of appellant’s competency rather than considering only evidence of her incompetency, and it mistakenly applied a more burdensome evidentiary standard than the “some evidence” standard required by the applicable statute. Because appellant was convicted and sentenced in this case, the case was remanded to the trial court for it to determine the feasibility of a retrospective formal competency trial and, if feasible, to conduct such an inquiry. View "Boyett v. Texas" on Justia Law