United States Supreme Court
Hall v. Florida
No. 12-10882 5/27/14
May a state treat an IQ score above 70 as dispositive evidence that the defendant is not intellectually disabled and therefore eligible to be executed?
No. An IQ score is an approximation, not a final assessment of intellectual functioning. When a defendant’s IQ score falls within the test’s acknowledged and inherent margin of error, the defendant must be allowed to present additional evidence of intellectual disability. Read the opinion.
Dissent (Alito, J.):
The majority opinion now establishes that an Eighth Amendment analysis does not turn on society’s continuously evolving standards of decency, but rather the standards of a professional association, in this instance, the American Psychiatric Association. Read the dissent.
This result was fairly easy to predict. Florida seemed to end the mental retardation (now called “intellectual disability” by the Court) inquiry if the IQ score was above 70, without regard to what would commonly be called a margin of error. The Court of Criminal Appeals has treated IQ scores in a matter consistent with Hall, but of course received no credit for that in the Hall opinion. The problem is, as noted by the dissent, that the majority seems to have blurred the distinction between the first prong—significantly subaverage intellectual function—and the second prong—deficits in adaptive function. Will this case require review not only of objectively administered tests but also the testimony of 27 relatives, teachers, and neighbors who all say, “Little Johnny just wasn’t right and everyone knew he was intellectually disabled”? Indeed, can the weight of this type of testimony override those tests, no matter how many times Johnny takes them? Stay tuned. And expect some subsequent writs on cases you thought were done.
Martinez v. Illinois
No. 13-5967 5/27/14
When the State refused to participate in a trial after the jury had been sworn, resulting in a directed verdict acquitting the defendant, did Double Jeopardy prevent the State from trying the defendant again?
Yes. The Illinois Supreme Court had ruled that the traditional rule of attaching jeopardy upon swearing in the jury was impermissibly rigid and mechanical, and instead held that the analysis turned on whether the State actually attempted to prosecute the defendant. The Supreme Court emphatically rejected this reasoning and reiterated that jeopardy attaches when the jury is sworn, and an acquittal cannot be reviewed by appellate courts. Read the opinion.
This appears to be a logical follow-up to recent Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals cases where even wrongful acquittals are considered acquittals for double jeopardy purposes. The takeaway from this is that if a trial court forces you to a trial you cannot win and jeopardy attaches, that case is done.
Texas Courts of Appeals
Green v. State
No. 04-12-00830-CR 5/28/14
Did a jury charge that defined terms not defined in statute amount to an improper comment on the weight of the evidence?
Yes. When a term is undefined in the Penal Code, the jury is to construe its meaning according to the rules of grammar and common usage. Defining terms that are not defined in statute focuses the jury’s attention on the specific type of evidence that would support the contested finding. Read the opinion.
Concurrence (Chapa, J.):
The opinion is correct in light of Kirsch v. State, 357 S.W.3d 645 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012), but the legislature needs to adopt statutory definitions of the terms in this case, including “female sexual organ” and “penetration.” Read the concurrence.
If it is not in the Penal Code or Code of Criminal Procedure, it does not go in a jury charge. Repeat to yourself as necessary.
Rodgers v. State
No. 05-12-01472-CR 5/22/14
When a jury returned a guilty verdict on an indecency charge but told the judge during the punishment phase the foreman had signed the wrong form and the jury had intended to convict on a continuous sexual abuse charge, was the judge allowed to bring the jury back to enter the correct verdict?
Yes. A verdict is not complete until it has been rendered as to both guilt/innocence and punishment. Accordingly, a jury may correct its guilt/innocence verdict during the punishment phase. Read the opinion.
A very interesting case. This has probably happened in the past but was resolved against the State in the trial court. Put this one in your notebook under “screwed up verdicts, correcting them.”
Hoopes v. State
No. 07-12-00201-CR 5/22/14
When the State charged the defendant with violation of a protective order under §25.07(a) of the Penal Code but did not allege or prove which of the five enumerated statutes provided the authority for the protective order, was the defendant entitled to an acquittal?
Yes. The statutory authority for the protective order is an element of the offense. Read the opinion.
The Court relies on CCA caselaw stating that the statutory basis for the protective order is an element of the offense. But the Legislature has defined “element of the offense” more narrowly in Penal Code §1.07(22). Perhaps this issue should be addressed by the CCA, or maybe the Legislature should be less specific in its definition of the offense in §25.07.
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