Weekly Case Summaries: August 9, 2013

Texas Courts of Appeals

Rodriguez v. State

No. 03-10-00715-CR        7/31/13

Issue:

Was the evidence sufficient to support a conviction for felony murder with the underlying felony of injury to a child even though the alleged “acts clearly dangerous to human life” were omissions, rather than acts?

Holding:

Yes. The only felony excluded from the felony murder statute is manslaughter, so injury to a child by omission may support a felony murder conviction. The jury could have inferred from the evidence that the defendant committed acts – such as feeding her son far less than he needed – that were clearly dangerous to human life.
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Commentary:

It will be interesting to see if the Court of Criminal Appeals reviews this decision because it presents an interesting issue: whether injury to a child by omission can be the underlying felony for felony murder in light of the fact that felony murder requires an “act” clearly dangerous to human life and an “omission” excludes an “act,” by definition. In the meantime, if you must make injury to a child by omission the underlying felony for a felony murder charge, it would be best to allege an omission that can also be construed as some sort of affirmative act, as was done in this case.

Ex parte Torres

No. 01-11-00599-CR        7/31/13 (not design. for pub.)

Issue:

Was the defendant entitled to habeas relief in his felony DWI case because his guilty plea in one of the underlying misdemeanor DWI cases was involuntary and based upon an invalid and inadmissible breath test?

Holding:

No. Although he argued that had he known a state contractor had falsified breath test results he would not have pled guilty, the strength of the State’s other evidence in the case indicates the defendant’s guilty plea was not a result of the inadmissible breath test.
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Commentary:

This is a very helpful decision, showing clearly that just because there is key invalid evidence in your case, that does not mean that you necessarily must throw in the towel. The conviction may still be valid if you can show that there was other valid evidence in the case.

Harris v. State

No. 13-11-00702-CR        8/1/13

Issue:

Should the trial court have allowed the defendant’s expert witness to testify regarding dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder?

Holding:

No. The defense expert presented no evidence, other than testimony regarding his training and experience, to show that DID was a valid diagnosis and not merely “junk science.”
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Commentary:

It is always very dangerous to urge a trial judge to exclude expert testimony offered by the defendant.  Nevertheless, in this particular case, that appears to be the correct call, although you should watch to see if the Court of Criminal Appeals wishes to review this decision. The defendant offered this expert testimony in support of an insanity defense in an aggravated sexual assault prosecution. In addition to the “junk science” or controversial nature of the expert’s opinion, there does not appear to be any indication that the defense expert’s proffered testimony would have related to the defendant’s knowledge of right and wrong when he committed the charged offense.

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