Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Texas
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment and commitment order on the grounds that the trial court committed harmful error when it declined to submit an instruction explaining that a verdict for Defendant required only ten out of twelve votes, holding that the error was not harmful. The Supreme Court granted a motion for rehearing, withdrew its opinion and judgment of April 24, 2020, and substituted this opinion. At issue was whether a final verdict for a defendant declining to find that the defendant is a sexually violent predator (SVP) must be unanimous. Defendant requested an instruction explaining that an unanimous verdict was required to find that he was an SVP but that only ten out of twelve votes were required to find that he was not an SVP. The trial court declined to submit the requested instruction. The jury returned with a unanimous verdict finding that Defendant was a SVP. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court committed harmful error in declining to submit Defendant's instruction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court erred when it denied Defendant's proffered jury instruction; but (2) the error was not harmful. View "In re Commitment of Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment and commitment order and reinstated the judgment of the trial court ordering Gregory Jones civilly committed as a sexually violent predator (SVP) under Tex. Health and Safety Code chapter 841, holding that the trial court erred when it declined to submit an instruction explaining that a verdict for Jones required only ten votes out of a jury of twelve, but the error was harmless. A civil-commitment trial conducted under chapter 841 provides that a verdict may be rendered by the agreement of ten members of a twelve-person jury. By statute, however, a civil-commitment verdict finding that the defendant is a sexually violent predator must be unanimous. On appeal, Jones argued that the trial court erred when it declined to submit his instruction that a final verdict for the defendant required only ten out of twelve votes. The court of appeals agreed, held that the error was harmful, and reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court's failure to submit the requested 10-2 instruction did not probably cause the rendition of an improper judgment, and therefore, the trial court's legal error was harmless. View "In re Commitment of Gregory Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief to the State seeking review of a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking enforcement of Executive Order GA-13, which changes the rules applicable to judges' decisions regarding pre-trial bail, against judges, holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order the judges' requested relief, even temporarily. GA-13 suspends certain statutes authorizing trial judges to release jail inmates with violent histories during the state of disaster due to the threat of the novel coronavirus. Plaintiffs alleged that GA-13 is unconstitutional and exceeds the governor's statutory emergency powers. Sixteen of the plaintiffs were Texas trial judges alleging that GA-13 improperly interferes with their judicial authority to make individualized bail decisions, and the other plaintiffs were public interest organizations and lawyer associations. The trial court issued a TRO blocking enforcement of GA-13 against judges. The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief, holding that the alleged threat of a criminal prosecution in this case did not give the judges standing to seek the invalidation of GA-13, and therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order their requested relief. View "In re Greg Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, holding that the public's right to information under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA) is subject to reasonable limitations when its production may lead to physical harm. Plaintiffs sought information regarding the source of drugs used in Texas executions by lethal injection. The trial court agreed with Plaintiffs that disclosing the source's identity would not create a substantial threat of physical harm to the source's employees and others. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law that the physical safety exception to the PIA applies to protect the identity of a vulnerable retail compounding pharmacy from public disclosure. View "Texas Department of Criminal Justice v. Levin" on Justia Law

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At issue in this divorce case was whether the trial court properly divided the parties’ community home eighty percent to Wife and twenty percent to Husband where Husband had been convicted for the continuous sexual abuse of Wife’s daughter and where Husband used the family home to commit the abuse. The court of appeals affirmed the property division, concluding that “[t]he division should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault.” Wife appealed, arguing that the division was not just and right. A plurality of the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that where Husband was convicted of using community property to sexually abuse his stepdaughter, it was not “just and right,” as a matter of law, to award Husband an interest in the family home. View "Bradshaw v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court’s grant of Respondent’s petition seeking expungement for the records and files relating to the charge for which Respondent was acquitted. Respondent was arrested for two unrelated charges. Respondent pleaded guilty to one charge and was acquitted of the other. Following her acquittal, Respondent filed a petition pursuant to Tex. Code Crim. Proc. 55.01 seeking expungement of the records and files relating to the charge for which she was acquitted. In opposing the petition, the State argued that Respondent did not meet the statutory requirements because her arrest resulted in both an acquittal and a conviction. The trial court granted the petition. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 55.01(a)(1) is neither entirely arrest-based nor offense-based; and (2) partial redactions and expunctions of records are valid remedial actions. View "State v. T.S.N." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court dismissed as moot the City of Krum’s interlocutory appeal from Taylor Rice’s suit contesting the validity of a sex offender residency restrictions ordinance (SORRO) enacted by the City, holding that Rice’s claims were rendered moot during the pendency of this appeal. Rice pled guilty to sexual assault of a fourteen-year-old. Rice was required to register as a sex offender, and at the time, the City of Krum had in place a SORRO prohibiting certain registered sex offenders such as Rice from residing “within 2,000 feet of any premises where children commonly gather.” The SORRO barred Rice from living in his parents’ house. Rice sued Krum, arguing that Krum lacked the authority to pass the SORRO. Krum filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that Rice lacked standing to sue. The trial court denied the plea, and Krum filed an interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals affirmed. Krum filed a petition for review in the Supreme Court, reiterating its jurisdictional arguments. The Supreme Court vacated the lower courts’ judgments, holding that Rice’s claims had been rendered moot by changes in the law, and therefore the courts lacked jurisdiction over these claims. View "City of Krum, Texas v. Rice" on Justia Law

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Relator, who was designated a sexually violent predator and civilly committed pursuant to the Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act, was not entitled to appointed counsel in proceedings on the State’s motion to amend his civil commitment order to conform to the Act’s 2015 amendments. The trial court denied Relator’s request for appointed counsel on the State’s motion to modify Relator’s civil commitment order. The court of appeals granted mandamus relief to Relator, ordering the trial court to vacate its orders and appoint counsel to represent Relator in further proceedings on the State’s motion to modify. The Supreme Court conditionally granted the State’s petition for writ of mandamus, holding that Relator was not entitled to appointed counsel on the State’s motion to amend his civil commitment order to conform to the amended Act, and therefore, the court of appeals abused its discretion in granting Relator mandamus relief. View "In re State of Texas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the court of appeals and the trial court in this interlocutory appeal arising from Respondent’s lawsuit contesting the validity of a sex offender residency restrictions ordinance enacted by the City of Krum. Respondent sued the City, challenging the City’s authority to pass the ordinance. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that Respondent lacked standing to sue. The trial court denied the plea, and Respondent filed an interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals affirmed the order denying the City’s plea to the jurisdiction. The City filed a petition for review. While the petition was pending, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1111, codified at Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code 341.906, and the City amended its ordinance. The Supreme Court held that Respondent’s challenge to the ordinance was moot in light of these changes in the law. Therefore, the courts lacked jurisdiction over Respondent’s claims. The court vacated the judgments of the court of appeals and the trial court and dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. View "City of Krum, Texas v. Rice" on Justia Law

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The proceedings involving the forfeiture of two handguns pursuant to Tex. Code Crim. Proc. 18.19 are civil in nature such that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction, but, in this case, conviction for possession of a weapon did not authorize a forfeiture under article 18.19(e), which allows forfeiture based on conviction of an offense involving use of the weapon. Defendant was arrested and convicted for the unlawful carrying of two handguns. Thereafter, the State moved under section 18.19(e) for forfeiture of the guns. The trial court granted the motions. The court of appeals determined that the forfeiture proceedings were civil in nature, severed the appeals of the forfeiture orders from the appeals of the convictions, and affirmed the forfeiture orders on the basis that “use” of a weapon under article 18.19(e) includes simply possessing the weapon. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) jurisdiction was proper in the Supreme Court; but (2) the trial court’s forfeiture orders made pursuant to article 18.19(e) were not valid when they were based on Defendant’s conviction under Tex. Penal Code 46. View "Tafel v. State" on Justia Law