Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
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Applicant Richard Rivers was serving two sentences that involved Texas’ mandatory supervision statute in both its automatic and discretionary forms. The question his appeal presented for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the Texas Department of Criminal Justice could legally decline to release an inmate to mandatory supervision on one sentence until the inmate was eligible for release on all concurrent sentences. Because Applicant was eligible for mandatory supervision release on one of his convictions, the Court granted relief as to that sentence. However, because Applicant was ineligible for mandatory supervision on his second sentence, he was not entitled to immediate release as to that sentence. View "Ex parte Richard Rivers" on Justia Law

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Appellant Vincent Stredic was tried by jury, accused of murder. During deliberations, jurors disagreed about certain testimony. By statute, testimony may be read back on a point on which the jurors disagree. But instead of merely reading back the testimony in question, the trial court gave the jury a written transcript of that testimony. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred in doing so and that Appellant was harmed by the error. To this, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the trial court erred in giving the jury a written transcript, but the Court concluded this error was harmless. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and affirmed the trial court. View "Stredic v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sholomo David was indicted for third-degree felony tampering with physical evidence. The State’s theories were that Appellant “altered,” “concealed,” or “destroyed” marijuana when he dumped it into a toilet containing water and human waste during a police raid of the motel room he was in. The jury convicted Appellant and sentenced him to 30 years’ confinement as a habitual offender. Appellant appealed, arguing (among other things) that the evidence was legally insufficient to show that he put the marijuana in the toilet and to prove that putting the marijuana into the toilet with water and human waste altered, concealed, or destroyed it. The court of appeals found the evidence legally insufficient and rendered an acquittal. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review and concluded the evidence was legally sufficient to show that Appellant altered the marijuana. Judgment was reversed and the case remanded to the court of appeals for it to address Appellant’s remaining issues. View "David v. Texas" on Justia Law

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After Appellant Mario Martell was placed on deferred adjudication community supervision for a third-degree felony drug offense, he stopped reporting to his probation officer and was considered an absconder. Nearly twenty years later, he was found and arrested. After a hearing, the trial court revoked Appellant’s community supervision, adjudicated him guilty of the drug offense, and placed him on community supervision for a period of ten years. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court erred in rejecting Appellant’s statutory due diligence defense under Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42A.109. On discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the State contended the court of appeals erred by failing to consider one of its arguments in support of the trial court’s ruling - namely, that Appellant should have been estopped from relying on the due diligence defense because he had received special permission to live in Mexico during his period of community supervision such that it would have been impossible for the State to make in-person contact with him at that location. Accordingly, the State asked the Court to remand the case to the lower court for consideration of that issue. The Court concluded the State was entitled to consideration of its estoppel argument; it reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Martell v. Texas" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Appellant Crystal Mason was convicted of illegal voting, then a second-degree felony, and sentenced to five years’ confinement. Appellant filed a petition for discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that the court of appeals erred: (1) in holding that her unawareness about her ineligibility to vote “was irrelevant to her prosecution;” (2) by interpreting the Illegal Voting statute to criminalize the good faith submission of provisional ballots where individuals turn out to be incorrect about their eligibility to vote (contrary to the federal Help America Vote Act); and (3) by holding that Appellant “voted in an election” when she submitted a provisional ballot that was never counted. In a supplemental brief, Appellant argued that Senate Bill 1’s retroactive change to the Texas Election Code nullified her conviction. As to grounds two and three, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Help America Vote Act did not preempt the Illegal Voting statute, and that the court of appeals did not err by concluding that Appellant “voted.” However, as to ground one, the court below erred by failing to require proof that the Appellant had actual knowledge that it was a crime for her to vote while on supervised release. The case was remanded for that court to evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence under the correct interpretation of the statute. View "Mason v. Texas" on Justia Law

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During a capital murder investigation, investigators obtained a search warrant for Appellee John Baldwin’s phone pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 18.0215(c)(5)(B). In a motion to suppress, Appellee objected to the search warrant’s supporting affidavit, which contained generic statements about the use of cell phones. The trial court and the court of appeals both concluded that the affidavit did not contain sufficient facts to establish a fair probability that a search of the cell phone found in Appellee’s vehicle would likely produce evidence in the investigation of the murder. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to address under what circumstances may boilerplate language about cell phones be considered in a probable cause analysis. To this, the Court held that boilerplate language may be used in an affidavit for the search of a cell phone, but to support probable cause, the language must be coupled with other facts and reasonable inferences that establish a nexus between the device and the offense. Because the affidavit in this case failed to do so, the Court found no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court and no error on the part of the court of appeals. View "Texas v. Baldwin" on Justia Law

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In 2017 Appellant Maurice Edwards was indicted for aggravated sexual assault alleged to have been committed in 2003. He filed an application for pretrial habeas corpus seeking dismissal of the charge as barred by the ten-year statute of limitation. The State argued that there was no limitation on the prosecution because of an exception to the general limitation period - biological matter collected during the investigation “has been subjected to forensic DNA testing and the testing results show that the matter does not match the victim or any other person whose identity is readily ascertained[.]” The trial court denied relief, but the court of appeals reversed and ordered relief to be granted, reasoning that one of the conditions for applying the exception, what the testing results showed, was not proven at the habeas hearing. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted the State’s petition for discretionary review to decide, among other things, whether Appellant’s statute-of- limitation claim was cognizable in pretrial habeas. Since the Court held that it was not cognizable, it reversed the judgment of the court of appeals without addressing the State’s other grounds for review. View "Ex parte Maurice Edwards" on Justia Law

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Appellant Leonardo Nuncio was charged with violating Texas Penal Code section 42.07(a)(1), the obscene harassment statute. Appellant filed a pre-trial application for writ of habeas corpus on the basis that the statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad under the First Amendment. The trial court denied Appellant’s habeas corpus application, and the court of appeals affirmed. The court of appeals, accepting the State’s appellate argument that section 42.07(a)(1) restricted obscenity proscribable under the First Amendment, held that the statute was not overbroad. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that section 42.07(a)(1) was a content-based regulation of speech implicating the First Amendment. The Court further found that section 42.07(a)(1) was potentially overbroad by its incorporation of the definition of “obscene” under section 42.07(b)(3). However, the Court concluded Appellant’s overbreadth challenge failed because he did not attempt to make the required showing that a substantial amount of protected speech was affected by the statute, beyond its plainly legitimate sweep. Finally, the Court held that section 42.07(a)(1) was not unconstitutionally vague under the First Amendment. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the court of appeals. View "Ex parte Leonardo Nuncio" on Justia Law

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Appellant Larry Chambers, Jr. was convicted by jury of possession of a controlled substance after a police officer found drugs during a traffic stop. The officer claimed he initiated the stop because Appellant’s truck had no license plate. However, Appellant’s truck did have a license plate. The court of appeals held that the trial judge did not err in refusing Appellant’s request for an Article 38.23 instruction. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review to determine whether Appellant was entitled to an Article 38.23 instruction when there was a factual dispute regarding the officer’s credibility, as well as a conflict between the officer’s testimony on both redirect and cross-examination, photographs, and his dashcam video. The Court held that, under these circumstances, Appellant was entitled to such an instruction. Accordingly, judgement was reversed and the matter remanded to the court of appeals for a harm analysis. View "Chambers v. Texas" on Justia Law

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Appellant Charles Barton was charged with violating Texas Penal Code section 42.07(a)(7), the electronic harassment statute. Appellant filed a motion to quash the information, arguing that the statute was unconstitutional and that the information failed to provide adequate notice because it lacked specificity. The motion was denied after a hearing. Appellant then filed a pre-trial application for habeas corpus relief again raising the constitutionality of the statute. The trial court denied relief, but the court of appeals held section 42.07(a)(7) unconstitutional and reversed. Acknowledging that other appellate courts upheld the constitutionality of section 42.07(a)(7) by applying Scott v. State. 322 S.W.3d 662 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010), the court of appeals nevertheless declined to follow Scott, finding that Scott’s reasoning was undermined by the Court of Criminal Appeals' later opinion, Wilson v. State, 448 S.W.3d 418, 423 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). The court of appeals found that section 42.07(a)(7) implicated the First Amendment and, following the precedent of its earlier opinion in Karenev v. State, held that section 42.07(a)(7) was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals clarified its holding in Wilson and its impact on its holding in Scott. Following Scott’s precedent, the Court held that section 42.07(a)(7) also failed to implicate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections because it too prohibited non-speech conduct. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Ex parte Charles Barton" on Justia Law