Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017

Can an Out-of-State Conviction Be Used to Establish “Continuous” Abuse?

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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Holds That An Out-of-State Conviction Cannot Be Used to Establish “Continuous Sexual Abuse” Under Texas Law

Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017The Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion regarding the use of an out-of-state act to support a conviction in Texas. The issue faced by the Court was whether the commission of an out-of-state aggravated sexual assault could support a conviction for continuous sexual abuse of a child under Texas law.

Lee v. State (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 2017)

The Facts—The Trial Court Found Defendant Guilty of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child

In this case, Ronald Lee (Defendant) was convicted of continuous sexual assault of a child and the jury assessed a life sentence. During trial, evidence showed that Defendant committed aggravated sexual assault against his young stepdaughter twice, once in New Jersey and once in Texas. Both assaults were temporally separated by at least 30 days.

Texas Penal Code Section 21.02 prohibits the commission of two or more acts of sexual abuse over a specified time. Although committed in two separate states, the trial court permitted the evidence of both sexual assaults in New Jersey and Texas in order to convict Defendant.

The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Conviction, Holding that the Evidence was Legally Sufficient to Support the Conviction

On appeal, Defendant claimed that the evidence presented—the alleged act in New Jersey—was insufficient to support his conviction in Texas. The court of appeals held that because Defendant was charged and convicted under Texas Penal Code Section 21.01 for continuous sexual abuse, Texas has jurisdiction if part of the prohibited conduct element occurred in Texas. Further, the court determined that the location of the sexual abuse was not an element of the offense; thus, the State’s only obligation was to prove that the court of prosecution had venue—proper jurisdiction. As a result, because one of the alleged acts of sexual abuse occurred in Taylor County, the court of appeals said that the evidence was sufficient to prove venue.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reforms the Judgment to a Lesser-Included Offense Conviction, Holding the Evidence was Legally Insufficient to Support the Original Conviction

Defendant appealed the appellate court’s decision to affirm his conviction. He argued that the alleged act of abuse in New Jersey was not sufficient proof required under the Texas Penal Code, which requires two or more violations of penal code sections. Each of these required offenses must be a violation of Texas law. Texas only has jurisdiction over an offense if either an action element or result element of the offense occurs inside the state. Because “act of sexual abuse” requires an act that is a violation of Texas law, Defendant’s act in New Jersey may not be considered one of the required offenses for a conviction under Section 21.02. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Texas had jurisdiction of continuous sexual abuse of a child, but the evidence in this case was insufficient to support the conviction because one of the acts was not a violation of Texas law.

When an appellate court finds that the evidence was insufficient to support a charged offense, but the jury found the defendant guilty of a lesser offense supported by sufficient evidence, then the appellate court must reform the judgment to reflect the lesser-included offense and remand for new punishment. In this case, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the jury found Defendant guilty of aggravated sexual assault, which was the lesser-included offense, and remanded the case for a punishment hearing.

Judge Yeary’s Concurring Opinion

Fraudulent Prescription Forms Texas

Fraudulent Prescription Form Versus Alteration of Legitimate Prescription

By | Drug Crimes | No Comments

Can a Defendant Be Convicted for Using a “Fraudulent Prescription Form” When They Only Altered the Information on an Otherwise Valid Prescription?

Avery v. State, 359 S.W. 3d 230 (2012)

Fraudulent Prescription Forms TexasIn 2012, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals released an opinion concerning whether a defendant may be convicted under Texas Health and Safety Code Section 481.129(a)(5)(B) for using a “fraudulent prescription form” when the facts showed that the defendant altered the dosage information on an otherwise valid prescription that had been written by the defendant’s physician.

The Facts — The Trial Court Denied Defendant’s Motion and Defendant was Convicted for Using a Fraudulent Prescription Form

In 2009, Defendant received a prescription for forty 2.5-milligram Lortab pills from her doctor after she complained of knee and back pain. Before dropping off the prescription at the pharmacy, Defendant attempted to scribble out the “2.5” and make it look like “7.5.” The pharmacist became suspicious and called the doctor’s office to confirm the prescription. The nurse confirmed the Defendant’s prescription was for 2.5-milligram pills and the pharmacist called the store security, who then contacted police.

During trial in which the defendant had been charged with using a fraudulent prescription form, Defendant moved for a directed verdict of acquittal. Defendant argued that, while there was evidence of forgery, there was no evidence that she used a “fraudulent prescription form” as alleged in the indictment. Defendant further argued that the prescription form was not fraudulent, but only that what the doctor wrote was altered. Therefore, there was no evidence that Defendant committed fraud by using a fraudulent prescription form.

However, the State responded that even by altering an otherwise legitimate prescription form, as Defendant did when attempting to change the dosage, Defendant had created a fraudulent prescription form. The trial court denied Defendant’s motion and the jury found Defendant guilty. Defendant was sentenced of 25 years’ confinement and a $1,500 fine.

The Court of Appeals Vacated the Trial Court’s Judgment and Entered a Verdict of Acquittal, Holding Defendant’s Actions More Closely Resembled Actions in a Different Subsection of Statute Instead of that Listed in the Indictment

Section 481.129 of the Texas Health and Safety Code governs the offense of fraud under the Texas Controlled Substances Act. According to Section 481.129(a)(5)(A), a person commits an offense if they possesses, obtains, or attempts to possess a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge.

Section 481.129(a)(5)(B) differs slightly in that a person commits the offense if they possess or attempt to possess a controlled substance through the use of a fraudulent prescription form.

Section 481.075 of the Texas Health and Safety Code governs the “Official Prescription Program,” which prescribers must follow in order to prescribe Schedule II Controlled Substances. This section describes the elements of an “official prescription form” as the controlled substance prescribed as well as the quantity of that controlled substance. The State argued that since the prescriber’s written words are part of the “official prescription form,” the Defendant turned the entire document into a “fraudulent prescription form” when she altered the written words.

The Court of Appeals, however, accepted neither party’s argument in full and believed its job was to determine whether Defendant’s actions were “more” like the “misrepresentation, fraud, [or] forgery” or like the “use of a fraudulent prescription form.” The Court of Appeals determined that the action may fall under either description, but cannot fall under both. Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that Defendant’s actions—altering the writing—more closely resembled “forgery” than the “use of a fraudulent prescription form.”

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s judgment and entered a verdict of acquittal.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the COA, Holding that Defendant’s Alteration of Information on the Legitimate Prescription Violated a Different Statute than that for which Indicted

The Court of Criminal Appeals first addressed factual matters in the Court of Appeals’s opinion. Beginning with discussing the original indictment, it did not specify which Schedule of controlled substance Lortab is on. The Court of Appeals identified it is a Schedule II controlled substance, but also cited to definitions that describe Lortab as a combination drug that may be Schedule III. The pharmacist’s testimony identified Defendant’s Lortab as a Schedule III controlled substance mixture.

Secondly, as a result of a different schedule drug, Section 481.075 would not be applicable as it only applies to Schedule II controlled substances and does not mention Schedule III substances. Further, there was nothing in the record that led the Court of Criminal Appeals to believe that Defendant used an “official prescription form.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals analyzed how the Court of Appeals discussed the history and intent of the statutes, and determined that, based on statutory inferences and common language, “prescription form” refers to a pre-printed form that is used to write information on it. Further, the Legislature intended to create a legal distinction between completed prescriptions and the prescription forms.

After analyzing the statute applied in the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Subsection (B) of Section 481.129(a)(5) only governs the use of a fraudulent prescription form. Further, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the writing on the form is not an element of that offense.

In the case at hand, the State originally charged Defendant with attempting to obtain a controlled substance “through use of a fraudulent prescription form.” The evidence presented by the State adduced that Defendant fraudulently altered the information written on the legitimate prescription form. Although the evidence would have supported a conviction had Defendant been charged under another statute, the evidence does not support a conviction for the offense Defefndant was charged with.

Although the Court of Criminal Appeals disagrees with the reasoning of the Court of Appeals, it agrees in its judgment and affirms the Court of Appeals’s judgment of acquittal.

Shoplifting Before Leaving the Store

Can Police Arrest a Person for Shoplifting Before They Leave the Store?

By | Theft | No Comments

Shoplifting Before Leaving the StoreThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down a case regarding a police officer’s findings of reasonable suspicion and probable cause. The issue was whether an officer had probable cause to arrest a customer for theft from a store before she actually exited the store and when she claimed, after being confronted by the officer, that she was going to pay for the items shad had placed in her purse.

State v. Ford, Court of Criminal Appeals (2017)

The Facts—What Happened?

A Corpus Christi Police Department Officer responded to a report regarding a customer in a Dollar General Store concealing store merchandise in her purse and jacket. Upon arriving at the store, the responding officer met with the employee and was given a description of the customer.

The police officer approached a customer matching the employee’s description, identified later as Ford, and informed her that she had been seen concealing merchandise in her purse. Ford replied that she was not done shopping and had intended to pay for the items. However, the officer noticed that Ford had a shopping cart with store items that were not in her purse. The purse was covered by a jacket, which the officer picked up, and discovered that the purse was fully zipped up and full of merchandise. Upon removing the store items from her purse, the officer discovered six small baggies of methamphetamine and two pills.

The State charged Ford with theft over $50 and possession of controlled substances. Ford was subsequently indicted for possession of methamphetamine.

Defendant’s Motion to Suppress—The Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion and Determined No Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause

The drugs found on the defendant were discovered during a theft investigation. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs. The trial court granted the motion to suppress.

At the suppression hearing, the trial court acknowledged that a theft could be complete without the physical removal of the property; however, the court also observed that the defendant never tried to leave the store with the merchandise and “was still shopping.” Further, the court determined that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant intended to steal the merchandise because she did not attempt to leave the store, she did not run or try to conceal anything when approached by the officer, and she stated that she intended to pay for the merchandise.

The trial court concluded that the “officer acted prematurely” in approaching the defendant and asking questions about the merchandise and that inferring an intent to steal was “too big a leap at [that] point.” The trail court questioned the reliability of the information provided during the suppression hearing as it all came from reports by the store employee and the police officer, both of whom were not at the suppression hearing to substantiate the information.

The Court of Appeals Agreed with the Defendant and the State—Holding that the Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion, but Not Probable Cause

On appeal, the State argued that the conversation between the police officer and the defendant was part of a consensual encounter and that the totality of the circumstances gave rise to probable cause to arrest the defendant.

The court of appeals rejected the State’s first claim that the conversation was part of a consensual encounter, but agreed with the State that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant to ask her questions. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred in concluding that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct a stop.

The court of appeals held that the trial court was within its discretion when it concluded that the State failed to meet its burden of proof establishing probable cause to arrest. This discretion was used when determining that the evidence used by the State was “questionable” with no one able to corroborate the information provided.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed the COA Judgment and Determined that an Officer has Probable Cause to Arrest for Theft Even Before the Defendant Exits the Store

The Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that both the trial court and the court of appeals recognized that it was not necessary for the defendant to take the merchandise out of the store for her to commit theft. Nevertheless, both of the lower courts erred in concluding that the officer did not have probable cause to believe that the defendant intended to steal the items.

The court explained that the officer had knowledge of at least four undisputed facts supporting the idea that the defendant intended to steal: (1) the store employee reported that the defendant was concealing items in her purse; (2) the defendant admitted to the officer that she had concealed items in her purse; (3) the shopping cart had items from the store that were not in her purse; and (4) the defendant’s jacket was covering her purse. The fact that the defendant placed some items in her shopping cart but concealed others in her purse caused the arresting officer to believe the defendant was intending to steal the concealed items.

The court supported this argument by referring to Groomes v. United States, 155 A.2d 73, 75 (D.C. App. 1959), in which the District of Columbia Court of Appeals heard a case—similar to this one—and concluded that once items are removed from the shelf and concealed or put in a convenient place for removal, the elements of a taking and appropriation are satisfied. Further, the police officer could reasonably believe that the placement of the jacket on top of the bag was used to further conceal items.

The court also addressed the lower courts’ concern of reliability of the reports by the employee and the officer. The court notes that the employee’s report was then corroborated by the admission of the defendant, and further, that the employee served as a citizen informant who the officer could reasonably rely on as one of several factors for determining probable cause.

Here, the Court determined that the lower courts erred in concluding that the police officer lacked probable cause to arrest the defendant. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgments of the courts below.

See Judge Walker’s Dissenting Opinion

Compelled Testimony Conti Allen

Use of Compelled Testimony from Foreign Trial Violates Fifth Amendment

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Is Use of Compelled Testimony of a Defendant in Trial a Violation of the Fifth Amendment Right Against Self Incrimination?

Compelled Testimony Conti AllenThe Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently handed down an opinion concerning the use of compelled testimony in an American trial. In Allen and Conti, the Court was asked to determine whether previous compelled testimony by a foreign government, which was later used against the defendant in a criminal prosecution in the United States, violated the Fifth Amendment.

United States v. Allen, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 12942 (2d Cir. July 19, 2017)

The Facts—District Court Found that a Witness’s Review of the Defendant’s Compelled Testimony Did Not Taint the Evidence

In 2013, both U.K. and U.S. law enforcement agencies began investigating wire fraud and bank fraud at the London office of Coöperative Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank B.A. (“Rabobank”). Anthony Conti and Anthony Allen, previous employees of Rabobank in London as well as U.K. citizens and residents, were compelled to provide testimony during interviews with the U.K. agency, the Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”). Although Conti and Allen were provided limited immunity from criminal prosecution, pursuant to U.K. law, refusing to testify would have resulted in imprisonment.

The FCA pursued Conti and Allen’s coworker, Robson; however, without reason, the FCA dropped its case against Robson. Soon thereafter, the Fraud Section of the United States Department of Justice pursued criminal prosecution of Robson. Soon after Robson pled guilty, he became an integral cooperator of the investigation and a grand jury indicted Allen and Conti.

During the 2015 trial, the government used the prior compelled testimony that Conti and Allen had given in the U.K. against them in the American trial. This resulted in convictions for both Conti and Allen with a year-and-a-day’s imprisonment and two years’ imprisonment respectively.

Pursuant to Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441 (1972), the United States Government may compel testimony from an unwilling witness, who invokes the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, by providing the witness immunity from use of the compelled testimony in subsequent criminal proceedings, as well as immunity from use of evidence derived from the testimony.

During the FCA’s investigation of Robson, the FCA permitted Robson to review and take notes of Allen and Conti’s compelled testimony. Robson’s review of such testimony impacted his personal testimony, which was the sole source of Agent Weeks’ testimony. The District Court concluded looking to Second Circuit precedent, that Robson’s review of the defendants’ compelled testimony did not taint the evidence he later provided.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the District Court’s Decision—Holding the Prosecution Violated the Fifth Amendment Right When it Used a Tainted Witness Against the Defendants

On appeal, the defendant’s argued that the Government violated their Fifth Amendment rights when it used their own compelled testimony against them in the form of tainted evidence by Robson. The defendants specifically alleged that the Government applied the wrong legal standard in analyzing whether the evidence was tainted by Robson’s review of their compelled testimony.

Every individual accused in an American criminal prosecution has a personal trial right to be free from self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Use of compelled testimony against the accused during trial is a violation of this right, including when a foreign government, pursuant to its own law, compels such testimony. The Court exemplified that precedent shows that inculpatory statements obtained overseas must be made voluntarily. The Court explains that even if the testimony was lawfully compelled pursuant to the laws of a foreign power, the Fifth Amendment flatly prohibits the use of compelled testimony to secure a conviction, as it would be a violation of the right against self-incrimination.

Further, when the government uses a witness who has been exposed to the compelled testimony of a defendant, it is required under Kastigar to prove, at a minimum, that this review did not alter or affect the evidence used by the government. Here, the prosecution used evidence of the defendant’s compelled testimony through a tainted witness who acted as an integral part of the prosecution’s investigation.

Here, the court found that law enforcement officers in the U.K. undoubtedly compelled the defendant’s testimony. As a result, the court held that the Fifth Amendment prohibited the government from using the defendants’ compelled testimony—in any way—against them at trial in the United States.