Weekly Case Summaries: April 17, 2015

 

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Ex Parte Benson

No. WR-81,764-01                 4/15/15

Issue:

Are intoxication manslaughter and felony DWI the same offense for double-jeopardy purposes?

Holding:

No. Under both the Blockburger test and the multi-pronged Ervin test, it is permissible to convict a defendant under both statutes for the same criminal transaction. Read the opinion.

Dissent (Meyers, J.):

The only difference between intoxication manslaughter and felony DWI is the enhancement element of the DWI. And that element is a jurisdictional element, not a traditional element. It should not be treated as a traditional element. Read the dissent.  

Commentary:

The bottom line for this decision is that the State can prosecute a defendant for both intoxication assault and felony DWI, even if they arise out of the same transaction. But this decision does a great deal more than that. Judge Keller’s majority opinion is a very thorough explanation of how to conduct a proper double jeopardy analysis. The decision also tells us a great deal about the current court’s thinking of the nature of the offense of felony DWI. The court makes clear that the two prior convictions in a felony DWI are elements in every sense of the word and therefore should be considered as part of the “elements” approach to a double jeopardy analysis involving felony DWI. The decision also makes clear that the “units of prosecution” for the two offenses are completely different, with the “unit of prosecution” for intoxication assault (being a result-oriented offense) as the number of victims assaulted, and the “unit of prosecution” for the felony DWI (not being a result-oriented offense) as the single instance of driving or operating, regardless of the number of victims that may have been involved.

Price v. State

PD-0383-14                4/15/15

Issue:

In an assault family violence (strangulation) case, must the jury instruction attach a culpable mental state to the manner and means of strangulation, or only to the result?

Holding:

Assault family violence (strangulation) is a result-oriented offense, and the culpable mental state therefore applies to the result of the offense, not the manner and means of the offense. Read the opinion.

Concurrence (Yeary, J.):

Impeding the breath or circulation sounds a lot more like the description of a type of conduct than the description of a particular result of conduct. Read the concurrence.

Dissent:

Strangulation is clearly a gravamen of the offense and therefore a culpable mental state must apply to it. Read the dissent.

Commentary:

It stands to reason that a domestic violence offense, being an assaultive offense, is a result-oriented offense. This is a good decision that focuses on the gravamen of the offense to help determine the basic nature of the offense. The added requirement of proof of strangulation does not transform the offense into a hybrid also requiring the “nature of conduct” or “circumstances of conduct” aspects of the definition of the culpable mental state.

Miller v. State

No. PD-0038-14                     4/15/15

Issue:

Is a strict application of the corpus delicti rule required in cases where the defendant has confessed to multiple crimes that are sufficiently related as to bolster each other?

Holding:

No. The purpose of the rule is to ensure that a person would not be convicted based solely on his own false confession to a crime that never occurred. Texas law does recognize a closely related crimes exception to strict application of the corpus delicti rule, but the exception applies only when the temporal relationship between the offenses is sufficiently proximate that introduction of the extrajudicial confession does not violate the policies underlying the rule. Read the opinion.

Dissent (Meyers, J.):

While the majority does not overrule or replace corpus delicti, it has turned the rule into a game of horseshoes, where the State gets points just for getting close. Read the dissent.

Commentary:

In reading this decision, you will find out more than you ever wanted to know about the corpus delicti rule. The bottom line is that the court refused to abolish it—the State is still required to corroborate a defendant’s out-of-court confession. The unique nature of the facts of this case led the court to create an exception. When the offenses to which a defendant confesses are sufficiently tied to one another, the State need corroborate only one of those offenses to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. This decision will be very valuable in helping to prove cold-case serial murders or serial rapes where investigators have been able to get a confession out of the defendant.

Murray v. State

No. PD-1230-14                     4/15/15

Issue:

Was the defendant, who was passed out behind the wheel of a running vehicle “operating” it for the purposes of DWI?

Holding:

Yes. The ultimate question is always whether a reasonable fact-finder could find the essential elements true beyond a reasonable doubt, and the evidence was more than sufficient in this case. Read the opinion.

Dissent (Meyer, J.):

There is no evidence in this case at all that speaks to when the vehicle was driven to the location where it was found or when or where the defendant became intoxicated. Read the dissent.

Commentary:

Those who prosecute driving while intoxicated on a regular basis (and who doesn’t?), this will be yet another very valuable decision upon which prosecutors can rely to support a defendant’s conviction. The passed-out or asleep defendant will not be able to escape prosecution.

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