Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
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After a trial court denied his suppression motion, Appellant Tairon Jose Monjaras pled guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. On appeal, Appellant argued the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because his interaction with law enforcement was an investigative detention without reasonable suspicion rather than a consensual encounter. A majority of the court of appeals disagreed, finding that the interaction was a consensual encounter. After its review, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that Appellant’s interaction with law enforcement, which started as a consensual encounter, escalated into an investigative detention. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case to that court to determine whether the investigative detention was supported by reasonable suspicion. View "Monjaras v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Genovevo Salinas Salinas appealed the denial of his application for habeas relief. He argued he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel at his second murder trial. The underlying offense involved the double homicide of Juan and Hector Garza, committed in December 1992. Aware that the police suspected him of the crime, Applicant absconded and was not arrested until 2007. Applicant’s first trial, in 2008, resulted in a hung jury. A different jury found him guilty at his second trial in 2009. Applicant’s trial attorneys were the same for both trials. He argued here that they performed deficiently at his second trial, primarily by allowing the admission of evidence that he stood mute when investigating officers posed one particular question during an interview at the station house in January of 1993. Applicant, who had waived his right to silence and readily responded to their questions up to that point, would not answer. At Applicant’s second trial, in 2009, trial counsel objected to the admission of this evidence based upon Applicant’s Fifth Amendment privilege not to be compelled to be a witness against himself, arguing that his pretrial silence could not constitutionally be used against him regardless of whether he was in custody at the time of the interview. Applicant now argued that trial counsel at the second trial performed in a constitutionally deficient manner by failing to object to the use of his pre-trial silence on two other grounds: (1) counsel should have objected that admission of the evidence of his silence violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause as “fundamentally unfair” because it came after he was given his Miranda warnings; and (2) trial counsel could and should have kept the evidence of his refusal to answer out because it was elicited as part of an oral statement made while Applicant was in police custody, and such statements are inadmissible as a matter of state law unless they are electronically recorded. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded Applicant’s claims did not demonstrate deficient performance under Strickland, and that his remaining claims did not satisfy Strickland’s prejudice prong because there was no reasonable probability that they would have altered the outcome of Applicant’s trial. Accordingly, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Genovevo Salinas" on Justia Law

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A police officer stopped Shiela Hardin for committing the traffic offense of “failing to maintain a single marked lane of traffic” when he observed the right rear tire of her rented U-Haul touch and drive on the striped line marking the right side of center lane. No circumstances made this movement unsafe. Based upon evidence collected pursuant to a search of Appellee’s vehicle after the traffic stop, the State charged Appellee with fraudulent possession of identifying information and forgery of a government instrument. Appellee moved to suppress evidence obtained after that warrantless traffic stop, and the trial court granted the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concurred with the lower courts and affirmed their judgments. View "Texas v. Hardin" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Rogers was originally charged in a two-count indictment for Burglary of a Habitation predicated on either the intent to commit a felony, or attempting and having committed a felony. Count I alleged Appellant possessed the intent to commit Aggravated Assault in Paragraph A. Paragraph B alleged Appellant completed the commission of the Aggravated Assault. Count II alleged in Paragraphs A and B a similar scheme, but with the intent to Murder and the commission of Attempted Murder. From the same incident but by a second indictment, Appellant was charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. During a pretrial hearing, the State informed the trial court that they would: (1) waive and abandon Count I Paragraph A, and all of Count II; and (2) proceed solely on Count I Paragraph B (Burglary of a Habitation) based on the commission of Aggravated Assault as charged in the first indictment. The State also proceeded on the second indictment alleging Aggravated Assault and both were tried together. Appellant was convicted of both Burglary of a Habitation with the underlying commission of Aggravated Assault, and Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, for which he was sentenced to 40 years for the Burglary and 20 years for the Aggravated Assault to be served concurrently. On his first appeal, an appeals found the Burglary conviction subsumed the Aggravated Assault conviction and thus, vacated the latter. The court also held, without deciding error first, that the trial court’s failure to instruct on any defensive issues was harmless. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review and unanimously held that if error existed, it was harmful error. And it remanded for the court of appeals to decide whether the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense and necessity. The court of appeals then concluded there was no error and that Appellant failed to provide any evidence that would entitle him to a jury instruction on self-defense or necessity. The Texas Court of Appeals granted review for a second time, this time to decide whether the error analysis was flawed. After a thorough review of the case, the Court concluded the trial court erred by refusing to grant the requested defensive charge of self-defense and, as previously held, that Appellant was harmed at every stage of the process. View "Rogers v. Texas" on Justia Law

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The trial court’s certification form in this case displayed five checkboxes detailing five options regarding the right of appeal. Two options were checked, saying that the case “is a plea bargain case and the defendant has NO right of appeal” and that “the defendant has waived the right of appeal.” Left blank were: the case “is not a plea-bargain case, and the defendant has the right of appeal,” the case “is a plea-bargain case, but matters were raised by written motion filed and ruled on before trial and not withdrawn or waived, and the defendant has the right of appeal,” and the case “is a plea-bargain case, but the trial court has given permission to appeal, and the defendant has the right of appeal.” Applicant and his trial attorney signed the certification form. No notice of appeal was filed. In this habeas application, Applicant contended, as pertinent here, that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a notice of appeal. Trial counsel responded that on the day of Applicant’s plea, Applicant’s mother sent a message saying that Applicant wanted to appeal; counsel requested the trial court appoint appellate counsel because trial counsel did not handle appeals. The habeas court found that though appellate counsel was appointed, not appeal was filed. The court also found that Applicant would have timely filed a notice of appeal but for counsel’s mistaken belief that his email notification to the trial court would suffice to protect Applicant’s right to appeal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals concluded Applicant "extinguished every possible appellate claim." The trial court’s certification said there was no right to appeal because the conviction was the result of a plea agreement; because a defendant in that situation had no right to appeal, he suffers no prejudice even if counsel performed deficiently in failing to file a notice of appeal. View "Ex parte Dennis Castillo" on Justia Law

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In separate indictments, a grand jury charged Appellant Stoyan Anastassov with two instances of second-degree-felony indecency with a child by sexual contact. The indictments alleged that Appellant, a professional tennis coach, unlawfully engaged in sexual contact with one of his female students, a child younger than seventeen years old, with the intent to arouse and gratify his sexual desire by contacting her genitalia and her breast with his hand. Appellant pleaded not guilty to both charges, and the two cases were tried together in a single proceeding. The jury found Appellant guilty of the offenses alleged and assessed his punishment at confinement for nine years on one charge, three years on the other, and a $10,000 fine in each case. The trial court accepted the jury’s verdicts and sentenced Appellant accordingly. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether, if a defendant is convicted of multiple offenses stemming from the same criminal episode in a single proceeding, the trial court imposes fines as part of the sentence for each offense, and the sentences are to be discharged concurrently, should each judgment include the fine actually imposed, or should only one of the judgments include a fine to ensure that the defendant pays only once? The Court concluded each judgment must include the fine actually imposed. The court of appeals erred here by deleting one of Appellant’s two lawfully-assessed concurrent fines of $10,000 for his indecency-with-a-child convictions under the mistaken belief that including both fines in the judgments would improperly indicate that they were to be stacked. Accordingly, the Court reversed the portion of the court of appeals’ judgment deleting the fine in case number F-1550350-V, and reinstated the $10,000 fine that the trial court originally included in the written judgment for that offense. The Court otherwise affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment. View "Anastassov v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Henry Skinner was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. He filed numerous Chapter 64 motions seeking post-conviction DNA testing. Most recently, the convicting court found that he did not show ti was reasonably probable that he would not have been convicted had the results been available during his trial. Appellant appealed that finding to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. While Appellant’s appeal was pending, he asked the Court to remand the case so that prior DNA test results obtained by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) could be reanalyzed using a new protocol for interpretations of DNA mixtures.The Court agreed and remanded the case. After the reanalysis was complete, the convicting court again found against Appellant. After reviewing the record, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the convicting court that Appellant failed to satisfy his Article 64.04 burden. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Skinner v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Police organized a “controlled buy” of drugs wherein a confidential informant purchased crack cocaine from Appellant April Williams. Based on her sale of drugs to the informant, Appellant was indicted for delivery of a controlled substance, Penalty Group 1, in an amount of four grams or more but less than 200 grams. At Appellant’s jury trial, the State first called Detective Jaime Diaz as a witness. Following Diaz’s testimony, the State planned to call the informant as a witness. But before the informant, the State requested that a spectator, Appellant’s brother Jerry Williams, be temporarily excluded from the courtroom during the testimony. The State contended that it had “credible and reliable information” that Williams’s presence would intimidate the informant, which would affect his testimony. The State also provided caselaw to the court “supporting closing the courtroom because of the intimidation factor.” To minimize the effects of the closure, the State offered to set up a live video feed in another room of the courthouse so that Williams could watch the informant's testimony in real time. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the temporary physical exclusion from a courtroom of a defendant’s family member for the testimony of one witness at trial violate the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial when the excluded individual was virtually included by permitting him to observe the witness’s testimony via a live video feed from a neighboring courtroom. Under the specific facts of this case, the Court held it did not, but cautioned that trial courts should rarely exclude any member of the public from a courtroom during criminal case proceedings: "under the narrow circumstances presented here...even assuming that the trial court’s actions resulted in a partial closure of the courtroom, any such closure was so trivial or de minimis that it did not infringe on the values served by the Sixth Amendment." View "Williams v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Applicant Floyd Woods was charged by two indictments with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. Each indictment alleged possession of a different firearm. The indictments alleged the same date for the offenses and the same underlying conviction that made Applicant a felon. The indictments also included two enhancement paragraphs, with the second enhancement paragraph alleging sequence to confer habitual status. This resulted in a punishment range of 25 to 99 years or life for each offense. In exchange for Applicant’s open pleas of guilty, the State abandoned one enhancement paragraph in each indictment, dropping the punishment range for each offense to 2 to 20 years. The trial court sentenced Applicant to 18 years on each offense, to run concurrently. In the plea papers, Applicant waived his right to appeal. The issue this case presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was the proper unit of prosecution: for the offense of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, if a person possesses two firearms, has he committed one offense or two? To this, the Court responded "one" and found Appellant was entitled to relief. The conviction was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Ex parte Woods" on Justia Law

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In 2002, a grand jury returned two indictments in two separate cases, each charging Applicant Jonathan Kibler with three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Applicant pleaded guilty to two charges of indecency with a child by exposure as alleged in Count three in each case. Count three of both indictments alleged conduct that was committed on the same day, but against different victims. The trial court accepted the plea agreements and placed Applicant on deferred adjudication community supervision for a concurrent period of eight years. One of the conditions of Applicant’s probation required him to comply with the Sex Offender Registration Program. In 2006, the State filed motions to adjudicate Applicant’s guilt in both cases. In 2007, Applicant entered negotiated pleas of “true” to the allegations contained in each of the State’s motions to adjudicate. During the same proceeding, the trial court adjudicated Applicant guilty and sentenced him to two years confinement in each case, with the sentences to run concurrently. Applicant did not appeal his convictions. After discharging his sentences in 2008, Applicant received conflicting information regarding the duration of his duty to register as a sex offender. In 2013, an attorney with the Texas Department of Public Safety and a field representative with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s “Sex Offender Registration Unit” separately advised Applicant by email that he was required to register for life based on his two convictions for indecency with a child. Applicant filed this application for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was being improperly required to register for life based on an erroneous interpretation of Article 62.101(a)(4) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The issue presented to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether a person convicted of multiple charges of indecency with a child in the same proceeding received one reportable conviction or adjudication “before or after” another, such that the person has a duty to register as a sex offender for life. The Court held yes: Article 62.101(a)(4) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which established when the duty to register as a sex offender expires, did not require that one conviction be final before the second conviction was received. Thus, a sex offender could be required to register for life if he or she receives two separate convictions for the offense of indecency with a child, even if they are adjudicated in the same proceeding. View "Ex parte Kibler" on Justia Law