Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Ruffins v. State
No. PD-0862-20 03/29/23
Does a defendant’s acceptance of a jury instruction implicate judicial estoppel, barring the defendant from arguing on appeal that the instruction was improper?
Yes. The court held that the defendant’s present claim is “inconsistent” with his “prior conduct.” The defendant stated that he was “good” with the instruction given, and because he was satisfied with the instruction at the time, he cannot now claim that it was improper. Read opinion.
Concurrence (Yeary, J.):
“Appellant did not request the faulty instruction in the first instance. At most he failed to properly object to the erroneous instruction, and that is an insufficient basis to justify estoppel.” Read concurrence.
Notably, the CCA rejected the notion that estoppel would not apply if the defendant did not instigate the error. Stated alternatively, even if the defendant does not cause the error (such as by requesting a jury instruction with specific, but wrong, verbiage), the defendant will be estopped from complaining about the error in post-conviction proceedings if the record shows that the defendant was aware of the error and affirmatively acquiesced or agreed to it. This is a sensible approach that focuses on the defendant’s conduct relative to the known error, rather than the origin of the error.
Ex Parte Lozoya
No. WR-92,475-01 03/29/23
Does acceptance of a benefit need to occur for estoppel by contract to apply in a criminal case?
No. The court held that for estoppel by contract to apply, no acceptance of benefits is necessary. The doctrine turns on whether a party took a position inconsistent with essential facts recited in the contract to the prejudice of another. The court also concluded that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to revoke the defendant’s community supervision after the lawful supervisory period expired. Read opinion.
Dissent (Yeary, J.):
“The Court grants post-conviction habeas corpus relief in this case, holding that [the defendant] is not estopped from seeking that relief and that the convicting court lacked jurisdiction to revoke his community supervision. I would deny relief on the more basic proposition that Applicant’s claim is simply not cognizable in post-conviction habeas corpus proceedings to begin with. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.” Read dissent.
In this opinion, the CCA distinguishes three types of estoppel: (1) estoppel by contract, (2) estoppel by acceptance of benefits under a contract, and (3) estoppel by judgment.
The first type—estoppel by contract—does not require a defendant to have accepted a benefit and instead applies when “a party [takes] a position inconsistent with essential facts recited in the contract to the prejudice of another.” This doctrine will most commonly apply in plea-bargain cases where the defendant challenges the terms of the plea agreement and, thus, “takes a position inconsistent with the terms of the plea bargain to the prejudice of the State.”
The second type—estoppel by acceptance of benefits under a contract—is “closely related but distinct” from estoppel by contract and, as its label suggests, turns on the acceptance of a benefit from the contract. This doctrine will most often apply in plea-bargain cases where the defendant has received a benefit from the plea agreement, e.g., a reduction to a lesser-included offense, but later seeks to challenge some aspect of that agreement, e.g., that the conviction is void because the offense was not a true, legally valid lesser-included offense.
The third type—estoppel by judgment—applies when the defendant has “accept[ed] benefits of a judgment, decree, or judicial order” and operates to bar the defendant from later “deny[ing] the validity or propriety thereof, or any part thereof, on any grounds[.]” This doctrine is similar in effect to estoppel by acceptance of benefits under a contract in that it requires the defendant to accept a benefit, but since it does not require the existence of a “contract,” it will apply outside of the plea-bargain context (like in the above case, Ruffins).