June 5, 2020

Texas Courts of Appeals

Johnson v. State

No. 01-18-00897-CR              5/28/20


Is an attorney considered ineffective under the constitutional standards set out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687–88, 694 (1984) for failing to prepare and offer into evidence the defendant’s medical records, which were relevant to the issue of his intent to commit theft?


Yes. The defendant’s medical records provided context for why the defendant, as his trial counsel argued repeatedly to the jury, would have believed that the truck from the Truck Zone store’s parking lot was his truck. And because of trial counsel’s misunderstanding of the predicate for the introduction of the defendant’s medical records regarding his sanity, the jury did not get a full opportunity to consider the defendant’s defensive argument at trial—that the defendant did not form the requisite intent to commit the offense of theft. Thus, the Court held that the defendant’s trial attorney provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel during the guilt phase of trial. Read Opinion.

Concurring (Keyes, J.):

“The opinion misses the heart of [the defendant]’s appellate counsel’s argument: [The defendant]’s trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective not simply because he failed to lay the predicate for the admission of [the defendant]’s medical records under the business records exception to the hearsay rule but because he failed to lay the predicate for the relevancy of those records because he did not plead the insanity defense—an affirmative defense that must be pleaded. Thus, trial counsel could not show that these medical records, showing [the defendant]’s extensive history of treatment for mental illness, were evidence relevant to [the defendant]’s ability to form the intent to commit the crime with which he was charged because of his insanity.” Read Opinion.

Dissenting (Goodman, J.):

“The majority’s doubts as to [the defendant]’s mental health are understandable. I share them. But however well-intentioned, the majority’s holding is insupportable on the present record and contrary to the law. I therefore respectfully dissent.” Read Opinion.


A defendant is required to prove a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, and that is usually very difficult to do on direct appeal—even if the claim is meritorious. As pointed out by the dissenting opinion, the defendant did not make his medical records a part of the record. That may seem like a technical error, but it could prove to be crucial if the State is able to get this case reheard by the court of appeals or reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. It is not clear from this opinion how probative these medical records were regarding a lack of intent to commit the offense. But if the defendant did have a long-documented history of mental issues that included schizophrenia, as claimed, a second trial in this case would almost certainly include the defendant’s extensive medical history, as well as a plea of the affirmative defense of insanity.

Texas Attorney General

KP-0312                      6/1/20


Must a hearing on an application for court-ordered mental health services conducted pursuant to Health and Safety Code §574.031 be recorded by an official court reporter?


Yes. Health and Safety Code §574.031(g) requires that a hearing on an application for court-ordered mental health services be on the record. A court would likely conclude that §574.031(g) imposes a duty on a county court or court at law holding such a hearing in Kerr County to use its official court reporter to make a record of the proceedings. Read Opinion.


This opinion is a rather straightforward exercise in statutory construction, both of the statute dealing with these particular types of hearings, as well as the statutes and rules that deal with the requirements for court reporters.