Weekly Case Summaries: March 8, 2012

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Krajcovic v. State

No. PD-1632-11     3/6/13

Issue:

Did the trial court correctly refuse the defendant’s request to give a jury instruction on the Castle Doctrine in a murder case where the date of the victim’s death was unclear?

Holding:

Yes. The defendant presented no affirmative evidence that the murder happened on or after Sept. 1, 2007, when the Castle Doctrine law went into effect. Read opinion

Concurrence (Price, J.):

The concurrence noted that the evidence established a window of time during which the homicide occurred without establishing a point that definitely determines which version of the self-defense law in Penal Code §2.03 applies. Read opinion

Commentary:

This murder apparently happened just before the effective date of the Castle Doctrine changes to the Penal Code. Had there been some evidence the murder happened after the effective date, the jury charge would have had to present alternative self-defense charges depending on when the jury believed the murder took place. That would have been a real mess.

Moulton v. State

No. PD-1889-11     3/6/13

Issue:

Does the court’s 2012 opinion on rehearing in Sanchez v. State (376 S.W.3d 767) on alleging manner and means of death unknown to the grand jury apply to any cases beyond the circumstances presented in Sanchez itself?

Holding:

Yes. “[T]he reasoning from Sanchez may apply under different circumstances.” The court concluded, however, that this murder case is distinguishable from Sanchez because there is “unlimited information that may be unknown, because the crime scene does not point to a conclusive list of possibilities.” Therefore, a jury instruction on unknown manner and means of committing the murder was appropriate. Read opinion

Concurrence (Keller, P.J.):

The concurrence would conclude that a trial judge is not required to instruct on the specific manner and means of committing murder in any case—not just those in which an instruction on unknown manner and means is appropriate. Read opinion

Concurrence (Cochran, J.):

The concurrence would find that the area of law on unknown manner and means “has become overly formalistic and divorced from its original purpose of giving notice to the defendant.” Read opinion

Dissent (Alcala, J., joined by Price and Johnson, J.J.):

The dissent would find the jury instruction erroneous but harmless in this case and would reverse and remand to the court of appeals to consider the court’s opinion on rehearing in Sanchez. Read opinion

Commentary:

I think it is unknown what direction the Court is headed with its variance and “manner and means unknown” caselaw. Here, the victim was found floating face-down in a pond. The medical examiner testified that the manner of death was asphyxiation, and means could have been strangulation, drowning, or suffocation. In Sanchez, the medical examiner testified the manner of death was asphyxiation, and the means could have been a stun gun or strangulation. But Sanchez’s victim was found in a locked hotel room with him. The Court finds this difference critical. This holding would seem to substantially limit Sanchez’s holding because most murder victims are not found in a locked room with their murderer (if only more were!). Judge Keller’s concurrence is the most intriguing—can we start dropping more language from our jury charges? And the question I’m dying to know the answer to: When we plead a manner and means we are not required to prove and our proof (as it often is) is different, what goes in our jury charge?

Spell v. State

No. AP-76,962     3/4/13

Issue:

Is evidence that a defendant was staying without permission in a mobile home for a week before theft of copper wire from that home was discovered sufficient to hold the defendant without bail for burglary?

Holding:

No. The State did not meet its burden under Texas Constitution art. I, §11a of “substantially showing” the defendant’s guilt of the burglary. Read opinion

Commentary:

The Court issued this opinion on a Monday for some reason. No evidence showed when the copper wire was stolen and thus did not show it was stolen while the defendant was there. 

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