Weekly Case Summaries: June 1, 2012

Supreme Court of the United States

Blueford v. Arkansas

No. 10-1320 : 05/24/12                                   (6-3)

Issue 1: 

Does the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibit retrying a defendant for capital murder and first-degree murder when the trial judge grants a mistrial after the jury informs him that it unanimously agrees the defendant is not guilty of those offenses, hangs on the lesser-included offense of manslaughter, and does not reach criminally negligent homicide?

Holding 1 (Roberts, C.J.): 

No, because the defendant was not acquitted of the greater charges. The jury had not finally resolved anything and could have revisited the greater charges before rendering a verdict.
Read Opinion 

Issue 2:

Did the trial court improperly grant a mistrial?

Holding 2 (Roberts, C.J.):

No. The court has never required that, before granting a mistrial because of a hung jury, a trial court consider any particular means of breaking the impasse or to submit new verdict options.

Dissent (Sotomayor, Ginsburg, & Kagan, J.J.):

The defendant had been acquitted of the greater charges and may be retried only on the lesser offenses. Partial verdicts should be required before a mistrial is granted on grounds of a deadlock.

Commentary:

This should be consistent with Texas law concerning partial or informal verdicts.  The bottom line is that a juror (the foreman) must sign the verdict form.  Under Texas law, it is also probable that the verdict is not final for double jeopardy purposes until the verdict has been accepted in open court and the jury cannot return to the jury room to deliberate further, as contemplated by Articles 37.04 and 37.05 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Texas Court of Appeals

Ex parte Jones – 6th COA

No. 06-12-00043-CR : 05/23/12

Issue:

When a trial court rules on a CCP art. 11.072 application for writ of habeas corpus, must the order contain specific language?

Holding:

Yes, under the statute, it must either 1) enter findings of fact and conclusions of law, or 2) recite that because the applicant is manifestly entitled to no relief, the application is “frivolous.”
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

This is a rather technical holding, but it does follow the wording of the statute.  It you want to avoid delay, and the defendant has filed a “probation” writ of habeas corpus under Article 11.072, make sure that the resulting order contains the appropriate language.

Villa v. State -11th COA

No. 11-10-00363-CR : 05/24/12

Issue 1:

In an aggravated sexual assault case, is the medical-care defense one of confession and avoidance?

Holding 1:

Yes. The defense does not negate any element of an offense; instead, it excuses conduct that would otherwise be criminal, and it takes precedence over the more general issues regarding defenses in PC §2.03.
Read Opinion 

Issue 2: 

Did counsel render ineffective assistance by failing to request an instruction on the medical-care defense?

Holding 2:

Yes; the sole defensive issue was the medical-care defense, the jury could infer every element of the offense from the defendant’s conflicting evidence, and the court was unable “to conceive of any strategically plausible basis for trial counsel’s failure to ask for the medical-care defensive instruction.”

Commentary: 

The court of appeals holds that the only possible defense that the defense could have raised in this case was the medical-care defense.  That simply is not true.  In accordance with his first statement, and in accordance with his testimony at trial, the defendant’s primary defense was that he did not engage in the conduct at all.  In his second statement, he admitted to engaging in the conduct (in a fashion), but he recanted that statement.  Could it not be just as likely that defense counsel strategically chose not to raise a medical-care defense because the real defense was that the defendant did not engage in the charged conduct in the first place?  Perhaps the Court of Criminal Appeals will want to review this decision, both on the ineffective assistance of counsel question and on the medical care defense question.

In the matter of R.R. – 14th COA

No. 14-10-01233-CV : 05/24/12

Issue 1:

Is Jackson v. Virginia the only applicable standard to assess the sufficiency of the evidence in a juvenile case?

Holding 1:

Yes; with this decision, the Houston court of appeals joins the Amarillo, Eastland, El Paso, and Fort Worth intermediate courts in applying Brooks.
Read Opinion 

Issue 2:

Is the trial court’s failure to obtain a juvenile’s waiver of a jury trial subject to the non-constitutional harmless error analysis?

Holding 2:

Yes. The right to a jury trial in a juvenile case is merely statutory, so a juvenile must demonstrate that his substantial rights were affected to obtain reversal based on the erroneous denial of a jury trial.

Commentary:

This is a helpful decision, but perhaps only on the appeal of a juvenile case.  But there is extensive language and analysis in the opinion concerning the nature of a juvenile’s right to a jury trial, so it should be a very helpful decision for you to read if you handle juvenile cases.

Texas Attorney General

Opinion for Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists

Opinion No. GA-0944 : 05/30/12

Issue:

Is a mental health professional required by Family Code Ch. 261 to report abuse or neglect that occurred during the childhood of a now-adult patient?

Opinion:

No. The term “child” refers only to a person who presently satisfies the definition of FC 261.101(b) and is younger than 18 years of age. Therefore, a professional is not required to report abuse or neglect that the professional believes occurred during an adult patient's childhood.
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

This opinion could have gone either way, but this interpretation seems to be contrary to the consistent policy of this State to seek disclosure of crimes against children.   We have all seen cases in which a single incident, disclosed by a now-adult, has led to a cascade of cases against someone in a unique position to abuse children. And of course, this opinion would apply to a disclosure by a very young adult of fairly recent abuse.  That's not good policy.

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