Articles Posted in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

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Kenneth Jaye McClellan pled guilty to online solicitation of a minor under fourteen years of age pursuant to the pre-2015 version of the statute. He was sentenced to three years’ confinement and was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. He did not appeal his conviction, but later filed a post-conviction application for a writ of habeas corpus arguing that the statute under which he was convicted was facially unconstitutional. Since the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals filed and set this case for review, it decided Ex parte Ingram v. Texas, PD-0578-16 (Tex. Crim. App. June 28, 2017), in which the Court held the pre-2015 version of the online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute was facially constitutional. In light of that holding, the Court did not address the issue of whether McClellan could raise a facial challenge to the online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute under which he was convicted for the first time post-conviction. Even if McClellan were permitted to challenge the facial validity of the definition of “minor” and the anti-defensive provisions in the online-solicitation-of-a-minor statute for the first time on post-conviction habeas, his claims would fail. Therefore, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Kenneth Jaye McClellan" on Justia Law

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The court of appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Dan Dale Burch’s motion for new trial. Burch was indicted for sexual assault. He pled not guilty and opted for a jury to assess his guilt. The jury convicted him, and Burch was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. He was not fined. After the jury found Burch guilty, he elected to have the judge decide his punishment. At the punishment hearing, defense counsel stated in his opening argument that Burch was “probation eligible.” Burch presented two witnesses, his brother and sister, both of whom testified that he would be a good candidate for probation. At the conclusion of evidence, defense counsel asked the judge to place Burch on deferred-adjudication probation. The prosecutor conceded that Burch “may be a successful probationer” but argued that the evidence did not warrant probation. The judge said that he was “not going to give you probation, but I am not going to give you 20 years. I am going to give you seven years in prison.” Burch filed a timely motion for new trial in part arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his lawyer erroneously advised him that he was eligible for deferred-adjudication probation from the judge. Based on that advice, Burch contended, he elected to have the judge assess his punishment, when in fact the judge was prohibited by law from granting deferred-adjudication probation. The issue in this case was whether the court of appeals erred. Burch argued on appeal that the trial court should have granted the new- trial motion due to his counsel’s erroneous advice that the judge could place him on deferred-adjudication community supervision. Burch also argued that, if he had known that the trial court could not place him on deferred-adjudication community supervision, but a jury could have recommended “straight” community supervision, he would have asked a jury to sentence him. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Burch’s new-trial motion and that the court of appeals was wrong to conclude otherwise. View "Burch v. Texas" on Justia Law

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A grand jury indicted Abraham Proenza for Injury to a Child, alleging that he intentionally and knowingly caused serious bodily injury to "AJV" by, among other things, failing to seek prompt medical care for AJV. Proenza's defense at trial was that he lacked the requisite intent to harm AJV because of his genuine, though perhaps mistaken, belief that he could not obtain medical care for AJV without some documentary proof that he was AJV’s legal guardian. This belief was apparently based on a previous occurrence in which Proenza’s father-in-law brought a granddaughter to a medical clinic but was turned away due to the father-in-law’s inability to produce this very kind of documentation. Proenza did not object when the trial judge began asking pointed, substantive questions of a witness bearing crucial defensive testimony. The question presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether Proenza was barred from complaining of this error for the first time on appeal. The Court held the trial judge had an independent duty to refrain from conveying to the jury her opinion of the case, and Proenza was under no obligation to object mid-trial. View "Proenza v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jamie Hallmark and the State entered into a plea agreement. According to the plea papers, Appellant would be sentenced to three years unless she failed to show up for her sentencing hearing, in which case she would be sentenced within the full range of punishment. Appellant did not show for her sentencing hearing, and she was later sentenced to ten years. The court of appeals determined that the “full range of punishment” part of the plea agreement was added by the trial court, that the trial court did not follow the parties’ plea bargain when it assessed the full range of punishment, and that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to permit Appellant to withdraw her plea. After review, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the court of appeals erred in finding an abuse of discretion because the “full range of punishment” term was a part of the plea agreement and Appellant failed to timely complain about any participation by the trial judge in the plea-bargaining process. View "Hallmark v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Johntay Gibson was convicted of capital murder during the course of an armed robbery of a mobile phone store in which the store’s owner was shot and killed. He received a sentence of imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole. During the investigation of the offense, Appellant was observed as the driver and sole occupant of a motor vehicle which was under surveillance for having been connected to the robbery suspects. After being stopped for traffic violations, marijuana was found, and it was determined that Appellant had three outstanding warrants. It was also determined that Appellant had provided a false name in identifying himself after the stop. Appellant was taken into custody and interviewed about the offense. Appellant filed a pre-trial suppression motion seeking suppression of the interview. The written motion did not address the allegation that there was a five hour span of time between the initial interview and the continuation of the interview which was absent any additional Miranda warnings. When the officer testified at trial, Appellant objected to the last part of the recorded custodial interview. In the objection, defense counsel specified that he was asking that the second part of the interview be suppressed because Appellant was not re-warned. After conviction and sentencing, on direct appeal to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Appellant included points of error claiming that the trial court erred in denying his motion to exclude the second part of his videotaped statement because peace officers failed to re-warn and advise him of his Miranda rights and failed to provide him with the proper warnings. The court of appeals noted, “Appellant’s written motion to suppress did not raise the issue presented on appeal,” and affirmed his conviction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that Appellant’s petition did sufficiently raise the issue on appeal, and the court of appeals erred in not addressing the merits of his appellate claim by holding that he failed to preserve error. View "Gibson v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Christopher Wimberly was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to fifty years’ imprisonment. In his fifth writ application, Wimberly claimed he was actually innocent of this offense based on newly available evidence - specifically, the confession by another prison inmate. After review, the Court of Criminal Appeals found the other inmate’s confession to the crime was not persuasive and not credible. Deferring to the findings made by the trial court, which were supported by the record, the Court held Wimberly did not meet his burden to prove that he was actually innocent of this offense, and relief was denied. View "Ex parte Christopher Wimberly" on Justia Law

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The trial court granted a motion to suppress evidence, and the State appealed. Appellant Hector Macias was charged with committing family-violence assault. The State filed a motion to stay further trial court proceedings, which the court of appeals granted. Then on October 16, 2013, the court of appeals handed down an opinion reversing the trial court. The opinion made no explicit statement about the stay that the court of appeals had earlier granted. The trial court called the case for trial on January 16, 2014. The jury was chosen and sworn, the parties presented their evidence, and the guilt-phase jury charge was read to the jury. At that point, a prosecutor in the appellate section of the district attorney’s office approached the trial court with the information that the appellate mandate had not yet issued. Concluding that trial proceedings were a nullity and that it could not even declare a mistrial, the trial court dismissed the jury. The appellate mandate issued on January 30, 2014. Appellant subsequently filed a pretrial habeas application, alleging that any future trial on the charged offense would violate double jeopardy. The trial court denied the application, and Appellant appealed. The court of appeals determined that the question before it was whether jeopardy had attached to the trial proceedings that occurred. The court concluded that, if it had, then, absent manifest necessity to terminate that trial, any future trial would violate Appellant’s constitutional right against double jeopardy. The court of appeals further decided that jeopardy had attached unless the trial court lacked jurisdiction to conduct the trial. The question before the Court of Criminal Appeals was: Did the trial court have jurisdiction to conduct the trial? The Court answered that question “no,” because the appellate mandate had not yet issued. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Ex parte Hector Macias" on Justia Law

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Appellant Richard Owings, Jr. was convicted by a jury of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to thirty years in prison. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “the trial court committed harmful constitutional error in failing to require the State to make an election of the incident upon which it relied for conviction.” The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed the trial court committed constitutional error by failing to require the State to make an election of the incident upon which it relied for conviction. However, the Court disagreed with the appellate court’s harm analysis, holding that, under the particular facts of this case, the trial court’s erroneous failure to require the State to make an election was harmless. The Court reversed and remanded this case to the appellate court to address Appellant’s remaining point of error. View "Owings v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In December 2014, a jury convicted Eric Williams of capital murder, for which he was sentenced to death. Direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was automatic. Williams was tried for the shooting deaths of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia in what was described as a “torrent of lead.” Williams was also accused of killing McLelland’s assistant, Mark Hasse. Hasse was shot as he arrived for work; the McLellands were shot in their home. Williams was alleged to have planned the shootings because Mr. McLelland prosecuted Williams in 2012 for allegedly stealing government property (two computer monitors), for which Williams lost his elected position as a justice of the peace. A licensed attorney, Williams was also disbarred. Williams raised forty points of error; the Court found no merit any. Consequently, it affirmed the trial court’s judgment and sentence of death. View "Williams v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellee Gordon Elrod was charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and with two offenses of tampering with a governmental record. Appellee filed a motion to suppress evidence seized by police officers after they executed a search warrant at his hotel room. The trial court granted Appellee’s motion to suppress, finding that the affidavit in support of the search warrant did not establish probable cause. The Fifth Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed the trial court’s order. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the affidavit at issue contained enough particularized facts given by a named informant to allow the magistrate to correctly determine that there was probable cause to issue a search warrant. The court of appeals erred by affirming the trial court’s order granting Appellee’s pretrial motion to suppress. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Fifth Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court’s order granting the motion to suppress, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Texas v. Elrod" on Justia Law