Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017

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

By | Sex Crimes | No Comments

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

Self-Defense Jury Charge Texas

When is a Defendant Entitled to a Jury Instruction on Self-Defense?

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Self-Defense Jury Charge TexasThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently released an opinion regarding when a defendant is entitled to a self-defense charge. The issue facing the Court was whether there was some evidence, from any source, that would support the elements of self-defense and whether self-defense was authorized when a deadly weapon was used in response to verbal provocation.

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

The Facts—The Trial Court Denied Defendant’s Request for a Self-Defense Instruction and Defendant was Subsequently Convicted.

On August 11, 2013, Cesar Gamino (Defendant) and his girlfriend were leaving downtown Fort Worth as the local bars were closing. While Defendant and his girlfriend were walking back to his truck they passed by a group of men who were heard saying lewd comments. Believing the comments were directed at his girlfriend, Defendant confronted the men. Khan, one of the men, told Defendant they were not talking about his girlfriend. According to Khan, Defendant then said “I got something for you,” went to his truck, retrieved a gun, and pointed it in their direction. Two police officers working nearby heard Defendant’s comment and saw Defendant with the gun. Defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Khan was also arrested and charged with public intoxication.

During trial, Defendant testified that the men threatened him and his girlfriend by saying “grab her ass” and that they would “F her if they wanted to,” and that they would “kick [his] ass.” Defendant further testified that one of the men got up and moved towards him in an aggressive manner. This behavior, coupled with the fact that Defendant was disabled, caused him to believe he and his girlfriend were in danger. As a result, Defendant testified that he reached into his truck, grabbed his gun and told the men, “[s]top, leave us alone, get away from us.” Defendant’s girlfriend also testified that he was in fact disabled and that the men had confronted them and threatened her—causing her to fear for her life.

At the end of the trial, the defense asked for a self-defense instruction in the jury charge and the trial court denied the request.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Court’s Decision—Holding Defendant was Entitled to a Self-Defense Instruction Regardless of the Fact that he was Charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

Section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code governs self-defense. According to Section 9.31, a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree that person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against another person’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. Verbal provocation by itself is not enough.

Section 9.32 governs the use of “deadly force” in self-defense cases. In the case at hand, the lower court charged Defendant with using a deadly weapon. However, even if a defendant uses a deadly weapon, deadly force as defined in section 9.32 may not apply if it meets the requirements of Section 9.04.

Under Section 9.04, a threat to cause death or serious bodily injury by the production of a weapon as long as the actor’s purpose is limited to creating an apprehension that he will use deadly force if necessary, does not constitute the use of deadly force.

The Court of Appeals determined that Defendant reasonably believed his use of force was immediately necessary to protect against Khan’s use or attempted use of unlawful force, and Defendant produced his gun for the limited purpose of creating an apprehension. Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that under Defendant’s version of events, the use of his gun did not constitute the use of deadly force, and Defendant was not disqualified from receiving a self-defense instruction even though he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon because he met the requirement of Section 9.04.

Accordingly, the trial court erred by not submitting an instruction on self-defense to allow the jury to decide the issue of self-defense.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the COA—Holding that the Jury Should Have Been Given the Opportunity to Assess Whether Appellant’s Conduct was Justified as Self-Defense.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the trial court erred in taking away the self-defense issue from the jury. According to Texas case law, it is error for a trial court to deny a self-defense instruction if there is some evidence, from any source, that will corroborate the elements of a self-defense claim—even if the evidence is weak, contradicted or not credible.

The State argued, as well as the dissent, that Defendant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction because he did not admit to threatening the victim with imminent bodily injury. This argument was based on the idea that self-defense is a confession and avoidance justification, and the confession was missing here. The Court however disagreed, inferring a confession.

Here, Defendant testified that he displayed his gun and yelled, “stop,” “get away,” and “leave us alone.” Accordingly, the court held it to be reasonable for the jury to infer that if the men did not stop, Defendant would have used his gun for protection. As such, even though the evidence was contradicted by the State, Defendant believed the display of his gun was immediately necessary to protect himself against the use or attempted use of unlawful force, and that he displayed his weapon for the limited purpose of creating an apprehension that he would use deadly force if necessary.

Using the Court of Appeals’ analysis, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed their judgment holding that the jury should have been given the opportunity to analyze Defendant’s actions as self-defense.

See also the Gamino Dissenting Opinion

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

DWI Jury Instruction Alcohol Burnett

Error to Instruct DWI Jury on Drug Intoxication When Not Supported By Evidence

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Is it Error to Provide a Jury with Instructions When the Statutory Language is not Supported by the Evidence?

DWI Jury Instruction Alcohol BurnettThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down a case regarding the State’s ability to use the full statutory definition of “intoxicated” in a jury charge for DWI cases. The issue faced by the court was whether the trial court erred in providing the jury with portions of the statutory language that were not supported by evidence presented at trial.

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

The Facts—What Happened?

Burnett was arrested and charged with DWI after rear-ending a vehicle occupied by Bussey and Chappa. When Burnett exited his vehicle both Bussey and Chappa observed him to be intoxicated. Bussey and Chapa smelled the odor of alcohol on Burnett’s breath and noticed his speech to be slurred. Additionally, the first officer on the scene also noticed Burnett to have slurred speech and the odor of alcohol on his breath. Burnett told officers that he had not been drinking and consented to taking the standard field sobriety tests. Burnett showed signs of intoxication during the all three tests and was subsequently arrested.

In a search incident to arrest, officers found pills in Burnett’s jacket and a prescription pill bottle located in his car. The pills and prescription bottle were not photographed or admitted into evidence.

The State later charged Burnett with a Class B misdemeanor DWI and alleged that he was intoxicated “by not having the normal use of his mental and physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of the substances, and any other substance into his body . . .”

Defendant’s Motion to Suppress—The Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion then Subsequently Admitted the Excluded Evidence as Same-Transaction Evidence.

One of the officers who saw the pills at the scene thought they were hydrocodone and was going to testify regarding such. The defendant filed a motion to suppress arguing that the officers should not be able to testify to what type of pills they found because the officers were not drug recognition experts. The trial court granted the motion to suppress.

Nonetheless, the following day at trial the pill discussion was brought up again. The state advised the Court that there was video evidence from the scene showing officer Coapland, officer Allred, and Burnett talking about the pills. Specifically, it showed that “Coapland found the pills in Burnett’s jacket, he gave them to Allred, who said that the pills looked like hydrocodone. Allred asked Burnett whether he had a prescription for the medication, and Burnett responded that he did.”

The State argued that the evidence of Burnett’s pill possession should be admitted into evidence as same-transaction contextual evidence. Over Burnett’s same objection the trial court admitted the pill evidence.

Then, when the court submitted the instructions to the jury, it included in the full statutory definition of the legal term “intoxicated,” which included not only intoxication by introduction of alcohol, but also by introduction of a drug (or a combination of alcohol and drugs).  Burnett objected to this definition, arguing that the proper instruction should not include language regarding drug intoxication because there was no evidence produced at trial to indicate that he had ingested any drugs at the time of his arrest.

The Court of Appeals Agreed with the Defendant—Holding that it to be Error to Submit the Entire Statutory Language.

On appeal, Burnett argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that he was in possession of hydrocodone and further argued that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it could convict him if it found that any substance other than alcohol intoxicated him.

The court of appeals agreed and held that the charging instrument must apply the law to the facts. In support they distinguished the facts in Burnett from those in Ouellette, a 2011 court of criminal appeals case.

In Ouellette, the defendant appeared intoxicated. After her arrest, officers found a drug that she expressly identified that was known to produce the same symptoms of intoxication as alcohol. Although there was no direct evidence that she consumed the drug, there was circumstantial evidence from which a rational juror could have found that she did based on her express identification of the drug and the officer’s testimony that the drug would produce similar symptoms. Thus, the jury charge in Ouellette reflected the law as it applied to the evidence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the COA Judgment and Agreed that the Jury Charge was Erroneous Since it did not Apply the Law to the Facts Produced at Trial.

The State appealed the appellate court reversal and argued that the jury charge should include the entire statutory definition regardless of the evidence presented at trial. More specifically, the State argued that the focus is only on whether the defendant is intoxicated, not the intoxicant itself. In support of this argument, the State referred to Judge Cochran’s dissenting opinion in Gray v. State, 152 S.W.3d 125, 136 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004) (Cochran, J., dissenting).

In response, Burnett argued that while the State only needs to allege that the defendant was “intoxicated” and is permitted to use the language of the entire statutory definition, it would be erroneous to provide the jury with a section of statutory language that is not supported by the evidence at trial. Burnett argued that ruling for the State would allow “such guessing [that] could ensnare thousands of innocent Texans, such as fatigued drivers and those with naturally bad balance, even though they never ingested any substance as required to prove intoxication.” Burnett also claimed that the State misinterpreted Judge Cochran’s dissent and would not apply.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the State misinterpreted Judge Cochran’s dissent; the dissent discussed pleadings rather than jury charges and thus, was not applicable. Furthermore, the Court declined to follow the State’s argument that in every case the full statutory language should be allowed regardless of evidence. The court reasoned that the trial court is responsible for ensuring the jury instructions set forth the law applicable to the evidence in the case. As such, the jury charge must be tailored to the facts presented during the trial.

The court also noted that a jury will still be permitted to consider whether the defendant is intoxicated by “any other substance” if there is evidence that the defendant ingested a substance that caused intoxication or there is circumstantial evidence for a rational juror to make an inference, like Ouellette.

Here, the Court determined that Burnett only showed signs of intoxication by alcohol—nothing else. The odor of alcohol was present on his breath, he had slurred speech and he failed the field sobriety tests. The fact that police later found pills that may have been hydrocodone was irrelevant because “there was no evidence as to what kind of drug hydrocodone is, whether it can cause intoxicating effects, or whether the symptoms of intoxication Burnett was experiencing were also indicative of intoxication by hydrocodone.” These criteria were the critical elements that were present in Ouellette but not in Burnett’s case. Accordingly, the court held the jury charge in Burnett’s case to be erroneous because it did not apply the law to the evidence presented at trial and it constituted harmful error.

Takeaways…

In any DWI case, if there is no evidence presented at trial that would suggest intoxication by drugs or vice versa by alcohol, then the defense should ask for the statutory language in the jury charge to be limited to only facts produced. Additionally, the mere fact that drugs are found is not enough, by itself, to have such language in the jury charge. If Burnett had not objected to the full statutory definition of intoxication, he could have been finally convicted based on evidence never presented at trial. (In Judge Richardson’s concurring opinion he also notes that there were no objections made to the evidence in Ouellette).

Judge Richardson Concurring Opinion

Presiding Judge Keller Dissenting Opinion

Judge Yeary Dissenting Opinion

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas Queeman

Auto Accident Turned Homicide Conviction Reversed by CCA

By | Criminal Negligence | No Comments

Does Failure to Control Speed and Keep a Proper Distance from other Vehicles Prove a Gross Deviation from the Standard of Care that an Ordinary Driver Would Exercise Under the Circumstances?

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas QueemanThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion in Queeman v State regarding criminally negligent homicide. The issue facing the court was whether a death, which was caused by Appellant’s failure to control the speed of his vehicle and failure to maintain a proper distance from another vehicle, proves a gross deviation from the standard of care amounting to criminally negligent homicide.

Trial Court Found Appellant Guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide.

Appellant was traveling down a two-lane highway when he drove into the back of an SUV that was waiting to make a left turn onto an intersecting road. The impact caused the SUV to be pushed into oncoming traffic where it was subsequently hit, killing one of the passengers. The accident investigator could not determine Appellant’s actual speed, and there was no other evidence to suggest a reason for his inattentiveness. However, Appellant was charged and convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to eighteen months in a state jail facility.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Conviction, Holding that the Evidence was Legally Insufficient to Support the Conviction.

On appeal, Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence from which his conviction was based upon. The accident investigator admitted that he had no way of knowing Appellants actual speed, nor did he know the amount of time or reason the Appellant was inattentive. The court of appeals determined that the evidence at hand provided no reasonable basis for the jury to prove that Appellant was traveling at excessively high speeds or was distracted for a certain reason—such as texting. As such, an inference would only amount to mere speculation. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial courts decision.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the Court of Appeals’ Decision—Holding the Evidence did not demonstrate that Appellant’s conduct rose to the Level of “Criminal Negligence.”

To demonstrate that Appellant was criminally negligent, the State must prove:

  • The defendant’s conduct caused the death of the individual;
  • The defendant should have been aware that there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death from his conduct; and,
  • The defendant’s failure to perceive such risk constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care and ordinary person would have exercised under similar circumstances.

However, the Court notes that the amount of carelessness for criminally negligent homicide is much higher than for civil negligence. Here, the Court agreed that Appellant’s conduct was negligent, however it held that the conduct did not rise to gross negligence. While the evidence was sufficient to prove that the defendant was speeding, it was not sufficient to prove that he was excessively speeding, and the State presented no evidence concerning the reason or length of time for which Appellant was inattentive. Absent any other evidence to show a failure to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk caused by the defendant’s conduct, no reasonable jury could have found that Appellant’s conduct constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care of an ordinary person under the circumstances. Therefore, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Appellant’s acquittal.

Co Defendant Suppression New Trial Arizmendi

When a Co-Defendant’s Wins a Suppression but You Already Pled Guilty

By | Criminal Appeals | No Comments

“Buyer’s Remorse”—Rolling the Dice on Plea Deals

Co Defendant Suppression New Trial ArizmendiThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion concerning a motion for a new trial based on evidence obtained from a co-defendant’s motion to suppress hearing. The issues facing the Court were whether the defendant, who had recently entered into a plea deal, satisfied the requirements for granting a new trial on the basis of such evidence; and, whether the defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim was properly brought before the court.

State of Texas v. Arizmendi (Court of Criminal Appeals, 2017)

The Facts — Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion for New Trial in the “Interest of Justice.”

Rosa Arizmendi, Defendant, was convicted (after pleading guilty) for being in possession of more than 400 grams of methamphetamine with intent to deliver after officers stopped her co-defendant’s vehicle, of which she was a passenger. Both Defendant and Co-defendant were arrested as a result of the stop. On April 28, 2015, Defendant entered into a plea deal, receiving twenty-five years confinement and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, Defendant voluntarily waived her right to appeal.

Six days later, a hearing for a motion to suppress was held regarding Co-defendant’s case. The video of the stop was introduced into evidence, and the arresting officer testified, noting that he initially noticed the vehicle because it looked clean and subsequently stopped the vehicle for crossing over the while line delineating the roadway from the improved shoulder. However, the trial court concluded that Co-defendant’s vehicle was not in any violation of Texas law. The Court explained that the vehicle only came in close proximity of and possibly touched the inside portion of the white line, which is not a violation of Texas law. Thus, granting Co-defendant’s motion. See, State v. Cortez, 501 S.W.3d 606 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

Based on this information, Defendant filed a motion for new trial, “in the interest of justice,” alleging the verdict in her case was contrary to the law and evidence. Defendant’s motion referred to Co-defendant’s hearing alleging a lack of probable cause or other lawful reasons for the stop. Furthermore, Defendant asserted the officer’s testimony was new evidence not available at the time of Defendant’s guilty plea. Defendant’s counsel further asserted that because she failed to tell Defendant that a motion to suppress was an option, Defendant received ineffective assistance.

The State argued that Defendant waived her right to appeal as a result of the plea deal and had not presented any new evidence likely to result in a different ruling. Noting, all evidence could have been discovered had Defendant been diligent. The State further asserted that Defendant was merely suffering from “buyers remorse.” Moreover, the State contended Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim was not apart of the original motion for new trial and, therefore, was untimely. However, the trial court rejected these arguments and granted Defendant’s motion for new trial “in the interest of justice,” and the State appealed.

The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Trial Court’s Decision — Holding Defendant Satisfied the Requirements for Granting a New Trial Based on Newly Discovered Evidence.

On appeal the State contended that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Defendant’s motion and further reiterated its previous assertions.

The Court of Appeals, however, rejected the State’s arguments. The Court held Defendant’s motion was not barred because the trial court implicitly granted Defendant permission to appeal when it set Defendant’s motion for hearing. The Court also determined Defendant did, in fact, present new evidence. The video of the stop did not contain audio and, therefore, the testimony was new because it was not available at the time of Defendant’s plea. Accordingly, since the Court found there was new evidence they declined to rule on the ineffective assistance claim and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed and Remanded — Holding Defendant did not Satisfy the Requirements for Relief.

The State appealed again and the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower courts’ decisions. Here, Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea deal and after learning of her co-defendant’s favorable outcome Defendant filed a motion for new trial. The Court concluded that Defendant’s assertions were without merit because her failure to discover “new evidence” was a result of her own lack of due diligence. Furthermore, the “new evidence” Defendant asserts was either cumulative, collateral, or would not have brought about a different result.

To obtain relief the Court noted Defendant must satisfy the following four-prong test:
• The newly discovered evidence was unknown or unavailable to Defendant at the time of trial;
• Defendant’s failure to discover or obtain the new evidence was not due to the defendant’s lack of due diligence;
• The new evidence is admissible and not merely cumulative, corroborative, collateral, or impeaching; and,
• The new evidence is probably true and will probably bring about a different result in a new trial.

Defendant asserted the following as newly discovered evidence:
• The trial court’s ruling on Co-defendant’s motion to suppress;
• The testimony of the arresting officer at Co-defendant’s suppression hearing; and,
• The arresting officer’s statement about Defendant’s vehicle being a clean vehicle.

First, the Court explained that the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress was not evidence; it was only a legal determination. And, furthermore, even if it was considered evidence Defendant’s failure to discover was due to her own lack of due diligence. Second, the officer’s testimony was evidence, but aside from the testimony regarding the clean vehicle, it was merely cumulative and Defendant had access to the video, which conveyed the very same facts as the testimony. Furthermore, the Court determined the officer’s testimony regarding the clean vehicle was collateral, at best. The Court explained that the officer’s subjective intent was irrelevant to the ruling. Moreover, Defendant could have sought a police report or even filed her own motion to suppress to obtain such evidence—just as her co-defendant did. Finally, the Court concluded that Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim was not properly before the court because it was not made within thirty days of the judgment and, therefore, was untimely.

Thus, all evidence Defendant asserts as “new” was either cumulative, collateral, or would not have brought about a different result. As such, the Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions and remanded with instructions to reinstate Defendant’s judgment and sentence.

This case prompted two concurring opinions and a dissent. See below.

Arizmendi Hervey Concurrence
Arizmendi Newell Concurrence
Arizmendi Alcala Dissent

Takeaways

It is paramount that defense attorneys review all evidence and timely seek any additional evidence that may be relevant to a client’s case. Moreover, it is crucial for attorneys to provide clients with all possible options and outcomes before entering into a plea deal. Here, Defendant had all the same options as her co-defendant; however, Defendant was not properly counseled and, consequently, Defendant will spend twenty-five years in prison while her co-defendant remains free.

Michael Morton Act In Re Powell

Court Rules on Discovery to Clients under the Michael Morton Act (39.14)

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May a Court Order that an Attorney Can Provide Copies of Discovery to a Client Pursuant to the Michael Morton Act?

Michael Morton Act In Re PowellThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion on a petition for writ of mandamus in regard to a discovery dispute arising out of Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure —otherwise known as the Michael Morton Act. The central issue facing the Court was whether the relator (a party who has standing and on whose behalf a writ of mandamus is petitioned for by the state as plaintiff) satisfied the criteria to justify mandamus relief.

See the full opinion in In re Powell v. Hocker (NO. WR-85,177-01)

The Facts—Trial Judge Granted Defendant’s Motion to Release Discovery.

Ellen Wilson, the real party of interest, was charged with misdemeanor DWI in the County Court at Law in Lubbock, Texas. Wilson’s attorney obtained discovery pursuant to Article 39.14 and filed a motion to “release” Wilson from the prohibition contained in subsection (f) of the statute. Subsection (f) of Article 39.14 permits a defense attorney to “allow a defendant . . . to view the [discovery] information provided under this article,” but the defense attorney “may not allow” the defendant “to have copies of the information provided[.]

In the brief filed in support of the motion, Wilson’s attorney prayed that the County Court at Law would “permit defense counsel to give her a properly redacted copy of the requested items of the State’s evidence.” The brief did not maintain that Wilson had been unable to “view” the discovery in the attorney’s possession, as the statute expressly permits. Rather, it asserted that it was important for Wilson to be able to obtain her own copies in order to effectively help counsel prepare her defense. The trial judge granted Wilson’s motion, but stayed the effect of his ruling pending the State’s application for writ of mandamus.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Conditionally Granted Mandamus Relief—Directing the County Court at law to Rescind its Order Permitting Defense Counsel to Provide Defendant a Copy of the Discovery Materials that were Provided by the State Pursuant to Article 39.14.

In order for a court to determine whether mandamus relief is appropriate, the relator must establish two criteria. State ex rel. Young v. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Dist., 236 S.W.3d 207, 210 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). The relator must demonstrate that he has no adequate remedy at law to rectify the alleged harm. Id. Additionally, the relator must have a clear right to the relief sought. Id. In other words, the relator must show that what he seeks to compel is a ministerial act, not involving a discretionary or judicial decision. Id.

The Court determined that the State had no right to appeal Respondent’s order, which permitted trial counsel to provide the real party of interest with a copy of the discovery materials. More notably, Respondent did not seriously contest this issue. As such, the Court held the first criteria to be satisfied for mandamus relief.

Next, the Court determined the act was ministerial in nature. An act may be deemed “ministerial” when “the facts are undisputed and, given those undisputed facts, the law clearly spells out the duty to be performed … with such certainty that nothing is left to the exercise of discretion or judgment[,]”—even if a judicial decision is involved. State ex rel. Healey v. McMeans, 884 S.W.2d 772, 774 (Tex.Crim.App.1994) (citations omitted). Furthermore, the Court determined this rule extends to cases of first impression.

The Court found Article 39.14 to be clear, unambiguous, and indisputable. Subsection (f) of the statute expressly and unequivocally prohibits the attorney, or her agent, to “allow” the defendant “to have copies of the information provided[.]” Respondent argued that Subsection (f) only speaks to whether the defendant’s attorney may supply him with copies of the discovery materials; it does not prohibit a trial court itself from providing copies. The Court rejected this argument because not doing so would circumvent the unqualified prohibition in subsection (f).

Next, Respondent argued that subsection (e) contemplates scenarios when a trial court may order disclosure of such materials. Subsection (e) expressly prohibits “the defendant” from personally disclosing discovery material to a third party. Respondent argued that this prohibition seems to assume that the defendant would have copies of those materials in the first place to disclose. The Court rejected this argument explaining that a defendant could “disclose” the substance of discovery materials to a third party by memory, having been allowed to “view” them pursuant to Subsection (f).

Rejecting all of Respondent’s arguments, the Court determined that the trial court lacked authority to enter an order that effectively abrogated Article 39.14. As such, the Court conditionally granted mandamus relief directing the County Court at Law to rescind its order.

This opinion solidifies what we already knew about Article 39.14 and have been telling clients all along – defense attorneys MAY NOT provide discovery materials to our clients.  And now, not even if the trial court orders it.

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest Texas

May a Person Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

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Resisting Arrest: How is it defined under Texas law?

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest TexasIn general, resisting arrest occurs when a person attempts to interfere with a peace officer’s duties. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code defines resisting arrest as: a person who intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from:

  • Effectuating an arrest;
  • Carrying out a search; or
  • Transporting a person accused of a crime.

Resisting arrest requires the person to have used force against the arrest, but it does not require the officer to be acting lawfully in making the arrest. To be guilty of resisting arrest, the force need not only be directed at or toward the officer but is also met with any force exerted in opposition to, but away from the officer, such as a simple pulling away. Thus, even small uses of force can give rise to a charge of resisting arrest. However, non-threatening statements of disagreement with the officer’s actions usually are not enough to qualify as resisting arrest.

Some examples of resisting arrest include:

  • Preventing a cop from handcuffing you;
  • Struggling against an officer who is trying to arrest you; and
  • Engaging in violent action against the officer, like punching, kicking or inflicting harm with a weapon

Can You Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

One of the most important cases on this point is Ford v. State, 538 S.W.2d 633 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976).

What Ford provides, in short, is that you may not resist an arrest—whether lawful or unlawful. Historically, American citizens were legally entitled to use reasonable force to resist an unlawful arrest. Several states have now eliminated – either by statute or by judicial decision – the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code eliminated this right. Furthermore, subsection (b) of Section 38.03 specifically states it is no defense to prosecution that the arrest or search was unlawful.

In Ford, the Court held “the elimination of the common law right to resist arrest reflects a growing realization that the use of self-help to prevent an unlawful arrest presents too great a threat to the safety of individuals and society to be sanctioned.” The Court reasoned that the line between an illegal and legal arrest is too fine to be determined in a street confrontation; it is a question to be decided by the courts. Furthermore, the Court has concluded that by limiting the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest, the Legislature has not limited the remedies available to the person arrested, and thus, there is not a violation of the person’s constitutional rights.

Potential Consequences

Regardless of whether a person is guilty of the underlying charge that prompted the attempted apprehension, resisting arrest is a serious charge in Texas (many time more serious than the underlying offense). A person can face a significant fine and jail time.

Typically, resisting arrest, search, or transportation is prosecuted as a Class A Misdemeanor. An individual convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor may be sentenced to up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.

However, the charge may be enhanced to a felony of the 3rd degree if you use a deadly weapon, such as a gun or a knife, to resist the arrest or search. An individual convicted of a felony of the 3rd degree may be sentenced to 2-10 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a fine up to $10,000.

Our advice is to comply with the officer’s demands calmly and politely and let us work out the legality of the arrest later.

Texas Improper Photography Unconstitutional

Probation Revoked for Violating an Unconstitutional Law…CCA Overturns

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Punishment for a Man Convicted of Child Pornography Held Facially Unconstitutional

Ex Parte Lea (Tex. Crim.App. 2016)

Texas Improper Photography UnconstitutionalWhat happens when an old criminal law is rendered null and void? Do people convicted of such crimes get to walk free, or, are the convictions upheld in the interests of justice? The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) filed an ex parte case (the court filed the case on its own volition) to determine whether David Lea’s punishment for his 2008 child pornography conviction should be set aside on constitutional grounds. The case was met with a dissent by Judge Yeary and the CCA reached a very interesting conclusion.

In 2008, David Lea pled guilty to three counts of possession of child pornography. As a result, he was sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment, ten of which were probated by way of community supervision. In 2012, Lea pled guilty to one count of improper visual photography and received a state-jail felony sentence of two years confinement. During sentencing, the State filed a motion to revoke Lea’s community supervision from the 2008 conviction because, the State argued, Lea violated the terms of his supervision by committing a new criminal offense. Accordingly, the court revoked Lea’ s probation and Lea was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

The Offense of “Improper Photography” Held Unconstitutional

In 2014, the CCA held that the offense of improper photography was “facially unconstitutional” because it infringed upon individuals’ First Amendment rights, as propounded by the Constitution of the United States. The main issue? The improper photography statute, once found in Section 21.15(b)(1) of the Texas Penal Code was overbroad. Ex Parte Thompson, 442 S.W.3d 325 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

Lea Files Writ to Overturn His Conviction for the Stricken Law

Lea filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus, arguing that because the offense of improper photography was found unconstitutional, (1) his sentence for improper visual photography should be vacated and (2) his original probation via community supervision should be reinstated.

When an old law is found to be unconstitutional on its face, it is considered to be “void from its inception and should be treated as if it never existed.” Smith v. State, 463 S.W. 3d 890, 895. The due process right to not be convicted under a statute that has been declared void cannot be forfeited. Ex Parte Fournier, 473 S.W.3d 789, 796 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015).

CCA Overturns Lea’s Prior Conviction and Revocation

When Lea was originally sentenced in 2008, the CCA had not yet determined the fate of the improper photography statute. And while it’s true that courts may revoke community supervision based upon a violation of community supervision conditions—committing any future crimes in this case—the Court finds that Lea’s conviction must be set aside. “The harm here flows from his void conviction, namely, the revocation of his community supervision based solely on an offense that [in theory] never existed.”

Accordingly, the CCA set aside the revocation of Lea’s community supervision, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine reinstatement of his probation. It is important to note that Justice Yeary dissented in this case, referring to Fournier, “I do not believe the applicant should be able to obtain retroactive post-conviction collateral relief based upon an overbroad statute unless he can show that the statute was unconstitutional as to his own conduct. 473 S.W. 3d 789, 805 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Yeary believes that post-conviction relief should only be granted to those defendant-applicants who can show that the conduct in question did not fall within the “plainly legitimate sweep of the overbroad statute.”

Cell Phone Text Message Search Love 2016

Police Must Obtain Search Warrant to See Content of Text Messages

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Cell Phone Text Message Search Love 2016From call logs, to cell tower info, to sent and received text messages, many criminal investigations involve the contents of a defendant’s cell phone.  Under the Stored Communications Act, cell phone providers can provide a users cell phone data to police during an active criminal investigation with a simple court order (like a subpoena).  But what about the actual content of text messages?  Can the police or the prosecutor get the actual content from those text messages with the same court order?

Capital Murder Conviction Gained After Judge Admits Content of Text Messages

Recently, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered a capital murder (death penalty) case in which the State relied on text message evidence during trial. During the trial, the state admitted (over defense objection) the contents of text messages sent and received by the defendant. The messages established the defendant’s presence at the scene of the murder and implied his direct involvement. The state leaned on this evidence during both its opening and closing statements in the case. The defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.

The Content of Text Messages are Not Covered by the Stored Communications Act

The appellant argued on appeal that while the Stored Communications Act allows the state to gain evidence of text messages sent and received, it does not allow the dissemination of the content of those messages. The appellant argued that the State should have obtained a search warrant backed by probable cause in order to get these records. The CCA agreed, drawing comparisons to the contents of letters sent in the mail and email stored on a server. Text message enjoy the same reasonable expectation of privacy and should be protected.

The Question in Love v. State is Whether Appellant had an Expectation of Privacy in his Service Provider’s Records

LOVE v. STATE (Tex. Crim. App – 2016), Majority Opinion

Judge Yeary penned the majority opinion in Love. The following excerpts are taken from the opinion:

Many courts have treated text messages as analogous to the content of an envelope conveyed through the United States mail…Admittedly, the analogy is not a perfect one…A letter remains in its sealed envelope until it arrives at its destination, and the telephone company does not routinely record private telephone conversations. But internet and cell phone service providers do routinely store the content of emails and text messages, even if they do not necessarily take the time to read them…[E]mpirical data seem to support the proposition that society recognizes the propriety of assigning Fourth Amendment protection to the content of text messages…All of this leads us to conclude that the content of appellant’s text messages could not be obtained without a probable cause–based warrant. Text messages are analogous to regular mail and email communications. Like regular mail and email, a text message has an “outside address ‘visible’ to the third-party carriers that transmit it to its intended location, and also a package of content that the sender presumes will be read only by the intended recipient…Consequently, the State was prohibited from compelling Metro PCS to turn over appellant’s content-based communications without first obtaining a warrant supported by probable cause.

Finding that “the probable impact of the improperly-admitted text messages was great,” the CCA then reversed the conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court for a new trial.

TAKEAWAY: Not all records can be gained so easily through a court order. Some require a probably cause warrant.  Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in the message? It might take a new analysis as our media is changing daily, but it can be worth the fight.

Note: Presiding Judge Keller dissented. She did not believe that the appellant preserved this issue for appeal.