Weekly Case Summaries: January 18, 2013

Fifth Circuit

United States v. Gutierrez

No. 12-50028        01/11/13

Issue:

Can a district court order the Bureau of Prisons to administer psychiatric medicine to a non-compliant defendant for the purpose of restoring his competency to stand trial?

Holding:

Yes, the district court’s order satisfied the four criteria of Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003).
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Commentary:

This defendant has anger issues that manifest themselves as a desire to kill current presidents, former presidents, the governor, “all lawyers,” and a federal agent sent to investigate these desires. He claimed he was not mentally ill but rather that the government is “broken.” Reading about the tortured federal process for handling competency claims might lead one to believe that it is the system, rather than the defendant, that is crazy. Texas lacks enough beds in our mental health facilities, but our process is superior.

Court of Criminal Appeals

In re State ex rel. David P. Weeks

Nos. AP-76,953 & 76,954        1/16/13

Issue:

Is the State entitled to mandamus relief when a trial judge has 1) refused a jury instruction on a theory of party liability alleged by the State, and 2) increased the State’s burden of proof with regard to the conspiracy theory of party liability?

Holding:

Yes. The State has no other remedy at law because both the judge’s offer to reconsider his ruling and the possibility of a cross-appeal on the issue are too uncertain and speculative to constitute adequate remedies for mandamus purposes. The judge has a ministerial duty to submit the requested instructions on party liability if they are applicable to the offense as charged and supported by the evidence.
Read opinion 

Dissent (Price):

Granting mandamus relief encourages prosecutors to seek what amounts to an interlocutory appeal of a trial court ruling and allows the State to circumvent the legislative will with respect to what rulings the State may challenge at all on appeal.
Read dissent

Commentary:

Wow. What a tremendous job by David Weeks and his team to make sure the jury gets to consider the legally proper options for this capital murder. Mandamus is the prosecutor’s nuclear option, and it should not be taken lightly. This case authorizes prosecutors to seek mandamus relief if a trial court prevents submission of a charge to the jury that is supported by the evidence or improperly increases the State’s burden of proof.

Ex parte Sledge

No. AP-76,947        1/16/13

Issue:

May a defendant challenge the trial court’s lack of jurisdiction in a subsequent habeas application if none of the CCP art. 11.07, §4 exceptions to the abuse of the writ doctrine apply?

Holding:

No. The legislature explicitly prescribed the only circumstances in which the court may reach the merits of a subsequent post-conviction writ application in CCP art. 11.07, §4. The proposition that lack of jurisdiction “may always be collaterally attacked” does not create an additional, extra-statutory exception.
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Dissent (Alcala):

Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction, no conviction exists, and the provisions of CCP art. 11.07 do not apply. Even if they did, the habeas applicant is entitled to relief because he satisfied the statutory exception of actual innocence because the trial court, as fact finder, could not have found him guilty.
Read dissent

Commentary:

The court could have resolved this some other way but instead sets out an important policy statement for writs—the subsequent writ bar is real, and the court will not write its own exceptions to the bar into the statute. I found this decision much more inspiring than if it had been a scholarly discussion of void versus voidable.

Hacker v. State

No. PD-0438-12        1/16/13

Issue:

Was the State’s evidence legally sufficient to show violation of a “no contact” condition as the basis for revocation of community service when the defendant admitted to being in his wife’s home, but denied that she was ever present at the same time?

Holding:

No. Considering the combined weight of the evidence, the State failed to show that the prohibited contact occurred because occupying the wife’s home when she was not there is not “contact” or prohibited communication. No rational inference of prohibited contact could be made from the State’s evidence.
Read opinion

Commentary:

The testimony did not show that the defendant actually contacted the victim, but the trial court disbelieved certain aspects of the testimony and inferred that the defendant contacted the victim (and probably lived with her). The court relies on civil rules regarding sufficiency of the evidence review and finds the evidence insufficient. But the court has previously rejected those same civil rules when examining the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction. So, in light of this decision, the same evidence that might convict a person could be insufficient to revoke that person’s probation. This holding continues to confuse me even after a stiff drink.

Temple v. State

No. PD-0888-11        1/16/13

Issue:

Were the State’s circumstantial evidence of motive and opportunity and the nature of the defendant’s actions after the murder of his wife legally sufficient to support his murder conviction?

Holding:

Yes. Applying the legal sufficiency of the evidence review established by Hooper v. State and Brooks v. State, the cumulative effect of all the incriminating circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support the conviction. It was the province of the jury to assess credibility and demeanor of the witnesses and make inferences from the circumstantial evidence, and considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, the jury’s verdict was rational.
Read opinion

Commentary:

A staged crime scene, an impossible timeline, inconsistent statements, and evidence of motive prove the defendant shot his pregnant wife in the head with a shotgun. This will be your new standard of review case for circumstantial evidence cases on appeal. It will also be a standard reference for how to build these kinds of cases during the investigation and trial stages.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Kihega v. State

No. 06-12-0078-CR        01/11/13

Issue:

Does a trial court’s acknowledgment that it “recognized” a witness as an expert constitute an improper comment on the weight of the evidence?

Holding:

No, not under CCP art. 38.05. Also, Sixth Circuit federal precedent is merely persuasive, not binding, and there is no state court opinion on the issue.
Read opinion

Commentary:

This is a really interesting objection by the defense. The court rejects it, but I wonder if it might go up. Rule 702 does not require the court tell the jury a witness is an expert before admitting the expert’s testimony.

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