Court of Criminal Appeals
No. PD-0867-18 6/10/20
- When a trial judge informs a defendant that his bond is revoked but allows him to turn himself in to the county jail later that day, is a defendant considered “a person lawfully released from custody” in contemplation of the bail-jumping statute under Penal Code §38.10(a)?
- If a defendant did not report to the jail as ordered, has a defendant “failed to appear in accordance with the terms of his release”?
- Yes. The Court concluded that the phrase “released from custody” must include incremental or incomplete releases—that is, a trial judge modifying a person’s custodial status from more restrictive to less restrictive. When a judge frees a person from a more-restrictive form of custody “on condition that he subsequently appear” but leaves some restrictions on the person’s freedom of movement, the judge can still rationally be said to have “released” that person from custody.
- Yes. The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the words “appear” and “appearance” carry a narrow, technical meaning that implicitly limits appearances to courts of law so his failure to report to the county jail did not constitute a failure to appear in contemplation of Penal Code §38.10(a). Instead, the Court agreed with the court of appeals that “appear” can be understood to mean “coming formally before an authoritative body,” and is not limited only to formal appearances in courts of law. Read Opinion.
The defendant claimed that he should have been prosecuted for escape under Penal Code §38.06, instead of bail jumping or failure to appear under §38.10. An analysis of the statutory language and the defendant’s arguments could suggest that this was a close question, but the court’s opinion was unanimous. Ultimately, this decision should be very helpful in “failure to appear” or “bail jumping” prosecutions because it gives a strong, common-sense construction to the statute’s language. The court specifically did not decide whether the defendant could have also been prosecuted for escape or whether the two offenses are mutually exclusive (as the defendant argued). But this decision gives a strong foundation for choosing §38.10 under similar facts.
No. PD-1299-18 6/10/20
Must the State disclose evidence as material that a laboratory technician—who properly analyzed a defendant’s blood for alcohol content—had been temporarily removed from casework because she had mistakenly certified a blood alcohol analysis report in an unrelated case where a police officer had mislabeled the submission form accompanying a blood sample?
No. The undisclosed evidence at issue in this case was not material. The lab technician’s analysis and testimony in the defendant’s case was proper and reliable. Her error in the unrelated case had to do with an improper certification of a report rather than her failure to catch a mislabeling of a blood sample. And there was overwhelming and uncontested evidence of the defendant’s intoxication to sustain the defendant’s conviction for Class A misdemeanor DWI. Read Opinion.
This is an issue that may arise more and more under the Michael Morton Act, Article 39.14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, because of previous errors committed in unrelated cases by witnesses who testify regularly for the State. But this is not a decision under the Michael Morton Act; instead, this is a decision under Brady v. Maryland. The Michael Morton Act is not mentioned. Regardless, do not take from this decision that all technical errors will be material. This decision is very much based upon its own particular facts, and the court makes clear that the lab technician’s previous error was not material under any construction of the word to the present case. This decision was also based very much on giving deference to the factual determinations made by the trial or habeas judge. (This was an appeal from a proceeding under Article 11.072 of the Code of Criminal Procedure).
No. WR-89,018-02 6/10/20
Does Art. 37.07 allow a defendant charged with a Class C misdemeanor to elect the court for punishment in the event of a guilty verdict by a jury after a not-guilty plea?
Yes. Art. 37.07 does not clearly prohibit a judge from assessing punishment after a jury verdict of guilty on a not-guilty plea in a Class C misdemeanor case. Judge-assessed punishment appears to be the default under Art. 37.07, §2(b), allowing jury assessment of punishment only if the defendant so elects. But jury-assessed punishment would be the default under Art. 37.07, §1(b) if Art. 37.07, §2(b) does not apply to misdemeanor cases under the jurisdiction of municipal or justice courts. Read Opinion.
Concurring (Hervey, J., joined by Keller, P.J., and Keasler, J.):
“I write separately to explain why I think Art. 37.07 prevents a municipal court judge from assessing punishment after a defendant is convicted by a jury on a not-guilty plea … [Art. 37.07] §1(b) sets up a general rule that the jury shall assess punishment in all cases when a defendant pleads not guilty and goes to the jury. The only exception is when §2 requires otherwise.” Read Opinion.
The important thing to note about this case is that it is a mandamus action. After considering the statute’s two subsections, the court’s lead opinion found that Article 37.07 does not clearly prohibit a judge from assessing punishment after a jury verdict of guilty on a not-guilty plea in a Class C misdemeanor case. Because the statute did not make the answer clear, the trial judge in this case could not have had a ministerial duty to refrain from assessing punishment. Therefore, he could not be subject to mandamus relief. But if you are “fortunate” enough to have this issue arise in a Class C misdemeanor case, read Judge Hervey’s concurring opinion. It is certainly possible that her concurrence could carry the day outside the mandamus context.
Texas Courts of Appeals
Nos. 04-19-00192-CR & -00193-CR 6/3/20
When an intellectually disabled person is convicted of capital murder and the State does not seek the death penalty, is an automatic life sentence without parole under Texas Penal Code §12.31(a)(2) unconstitutionally cruel and unusual?
No. The Court held that the Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins, Roper, Graham, and Miller do not compel the conclusion that §12.31(a)(2) is unconstitutional as applied to intellectually disabled defendants. Having been provided no objective evidence of evolving standards of decency required to analyze whether the punishment in this case is unconstitutional, the Court could not say the defendant’s sentences were unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishments.
Dissenting (Martinez, J.):
“I dissent because the Constitution requires individualized sentencing for intellectually disabled defendants who face the most serious penalty the State can impose on them—a life sentence without parole. Although this is a case of first impression, our result should follow straightforwardly from Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and the Supreme Court’s individualized sentencing cases.” Read Opinion.
The defendant attempted to draw an analogy to cases from the United States Supreme Court that deal with the punishment of juvenile offenders. All parties and justices agree that the Supreme Court has not (yet) squarely addressed this issue with regard to intellectually disabled defendants. You should fully expect the Court of Criminal Appeals to review this case. And who knows; anybody want to argue before the United States Supreme Court?