Articles Posted in Criminal Law

by
After arresting Miguel Herrera, police officers seized his Lincoln Nagivator. An inventory search of the vehicle revealed drugs in the vehicle. The state filed a notice of seizure and intended forfeiture, asserting that the Navigator was “contraband” under Chapter 59 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The trial court denied the seizure, concluding that the vehicle search was unlawful and, therefore, the evidence should be excluded. The court of appeals affirmed, ruling (1) the stop leading up to the arrest was unlawful; (2) Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. 59.03(b) precludes the state from initiating a civil-forfeiture proceeding based on an illegal search; and (3) after the evidence found in the vehicle was excluded, the state was left with no evidence that the Navigator was contraband. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that an illegal seizure does not require exclusion in a Chapter 59 civil-forfeiture proceeding. Remanded. View "State v. One (1) 2004 Lincoln Navigator" on Justia Law

by
Steven Phillips was convicted of and pled guilty to several crimes. A DNA test conducted several years later excluded Phillips as the perpetrator. The trial court granted habeas relief. Thereafter, Phillips applied to the Comptroller for wrongful imprisonment compensation under the Tim Cole Act (“the Act”). The Comptroller found that Phillips was due $2 million for the time he was incarcerated. Phillips also requested compensation for child support he had failed to pay. A 1978 Arkansas divorce decree ordered Phillips to pay Cheryl Macumber child support. In 2013, Macumber sued Phillips in Texas to register and enforce the Arkansas divorce decree. The trial court rendered judgment (“the Enforcement Judgment”) for Macumber, finding she was entitled to $304,861. Phillips requested that the Comptroller pay child support compensation based on the amount awarded by the Enforcement Judgment. The Comptroller concluded that compensation owed under the Act was $25,125. Phillips petitioned for mandamus relief. The Supreme Court granted conditional relief, holding (1) the Comptroller is not bound by a court’s judgment in a child support enforcement proceeding; (2) the Comptroller’s determinations are subject to review by the Supreme Court; and (3) in this case, the Comptroller is directed to recalculate the compensation owed to Phillips under section 103.052(1)(2) of the Act. View "In re Phillips" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner, a state-prison inmate, filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that he was eligible for mandatory release and that three Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) officials failed to discharge their duty to release him. The trial court granted the TDCJ officials’ plea to the jurisdiction. Petitioner appealed and filed an affidavit of inability to pay costs with his notice of appeal. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal for failure to file a declaration of prior actions or a certified copy of his inmate trust account statement as required by Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 14. Petitioner then filed an amended notice of appeal, which included the required Chapter 14 filings, and a motion for rehearing, asserting that the amended notice of appeal cured the deficiency in his notice of appeal. The court of appeals denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals must give an inmate the opportunity to cure a Chapter 14 filing defect before it can dismiss the appeal. View "McLean v. Livingston" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
N.C., a state-prison inmate, filed a petition to expunge criminal records. The trial court denied the petition. N.C. appealed but failed to include two filings required by Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 14. The court of appeals dismissed the action without giving N.C. an opportunity to cure the Chapter 14 filing defects. N.C. filed a timely notice of rehearing. Thereafter, N.C. complied with the court’s instructions and corrected both Chapter 14 filing defects. The court of appeals, however, denied N.C.’s motion for rehearing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, in accordance with McLean v. Livingston, the court of appeals must give an inmate an opportunity to cure a Chapter 14 filing defect in an appellate proceeding, through an amended filing, before the court can dismiss the appeal. View "Ex Parte N.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

by
Petitioners in this case were deaf inmates housed in a unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Petitioners sued TDCJ’s executive director, asserting that he violated the Texas Human Resources Code by failing reasonably to accommodate their impairment. Petitioners relied on the ultra vires exception to sovereign immunity as a basis for showing that the trial court had jurisdiction. The trial court granted a temporary injunction ordering TDCJ to make certain accommodations. The court of appeals reversed and dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction, holding that TDCJ prison facilities are not “public facilities” under the Code, and therefore, Defendant could not have acted ultra vires by failing to comply with its provisions. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in holding that TDCJ prisons are not “public facilities” under the Code and that Petitioners failed to show Defendant acted ultra vires. View "Beeman v. Livingston" on Justia Law

by
This mandamus proceeding related to a disciplinary proceeding against a former prosecutor Jon L. Hall, who allegedly suppressed exculpatory evidence in an aggravated robbery prosecution. The Commission for Lawyer Discipline commenced a disciplinary action against Hall, alleging prosecutorial misconduct. The Commission then filed a motion seeking access to expunged records in the aggravated robbery case. The trial court refused the Commission access to the expunged criminal records for use in the disciplinary proceeding and ordered the Commission to turn over investigative records. The grievance panel in the disciplinary proceeding construed the district court’s actions as a bar to the disciplinary proceeding and granted Hall’s motion for summary judgment. The Commission then petitioned for writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court conditionally granted the writ and directed the trial court to vacate its order, holding that the expungement order did not bar the Commission from using records from the criminal trial in the grievance proceeding. View "In re State Bar of Tex. " on Justia Law

by
The Time Cole Act (Act) entitles a person who has been wrongfully imprisoned to compensation from the State. Payments terminate, however, if, after the date the person becomes eligible for compensation, the person is convicted of a crime punishable as a felony. Michael Blair had a lengthy criminal record. Blair was first convicted in 1988. In 1993, Blair was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. In 2004, Blair pleaded guilty to four indictments of indecency with a child, for which he was given three consecutive life sentences. In 2008, the court of criminal appeals set aside Blair's murder conviction based on DNA evidence, and the State dismissed the charge. Defendant subsequently applied for compensation for having been wrongfully incarcerated from 1993 to 2004. The Comptroller denied compensation. The Supreme Court concluded that the Comptroller correctly denied Blair's claim for compensation, holding that the Act does not require payments to a felon who remains incarcerated for a conviction that occurred before he became eligible for compensation. View "In re Blair" on Justia Law

by
The State brought an action for forfeiture of a vehicle and $90,235 found in it following a traffic stop, alleging that the property was contraband. The driver of the vehicle (Driver) answered the suit, asserting that he owned the property and requesting dismissal of the forfeiture action. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Driver. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that a substantial connection existed between the property and illegal drug dealing activities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the determination of whether law enforcement officers had probable cause to seize the property, that is, a reasonable belief in a substantial connection between the property and illegal activities, must be assessed in light of the facts as the seizing officers reasonably believed them to be; and (2) Driver did not conclusively negate such a belief. Remanded. View "States v. Ninety Thousand Two Hundred Thirty-Five Dollars" on Justia Law

by
A court cannot terminate a person's rights unless the State proves by clear and convincing evidence that the parent engaged in certain proscribed conduct, as specified in the Family Code, and that termination is in the best interest of the children. In this case, an immigrant convicted in another state of unlawful conduct with a minor and given a probated sentence years before his children were born was later deported to Mexico. The State relied on these facts in petitioning to terminate this father's parental rights, yet put on no evidence concerning the offense committed years earlier, nor the circumstances of his deportation. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment in part, holding that the evidence was legally insufficient to support termination of this father's parental rights under these facts. Remanded. View "In re E.N.C." on Justia Law

by
Michael Wayne Bohannan pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated rape with a deadly weapon. Upon being released on mandatory supervision, Bohannan was thrice returned to prison for sexual crimes. After receiving a psychologist's report that Bohannan was a sexually violent predator (SVP), the State petitioned for his commitment. After a jury trial, the trial court issued an order of civil commitment. Bohannan appealed, contending that the trial court's exclusion of certain testimony on the basis that the expert was "not qualified to present an opinion" on whether someone is an SVP was error. The court of appeals determined that the exclusion of the testimony was harmful error and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, though for different reasons, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding the testimony on the grounds that the expert was not a physician or psychologist rather than examining her experience and training, and the exclusion was harmful. View "In re Commitment of Bohannan" on Justia Law