Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the denial of Petitioner's petition to expunge his driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrest records pursuant to Tex. Crim. Proc. Code 55.01(a)(2)(A), holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that Petitioner's DWI arrest records were not eligible for expunction under article 55.01(a)(2).At issue was whether an arrest involving multiple offenses is divisible for purposes of expunging arrest records under article 55.01. The court of appeals applied the "arrest-based" construction of the statute, under which expunction is available only if all of the offenses comprising an arrest are eligible for expunction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) under article 55.01(a)(2)(A), misdemeanor offenses are eligible for expunction on an individual basis; and (2) Petitioner was entitled to partial expunction of his arrest records. View "Ex Parte R.P.G.P." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus and ordered that Petitioner is and shall remain discharged from custody, holding that the subject temporary restraining order's lack of specificity regarding the conduct to be restrained rendered it and the judgment of contempt and order of confinement void.Petitioner was jailed and her solely-owned business, a cosmetology salon, was fined for violating a temporary restraining order requiring them to cease and desist for operating the salon for in-person services in violation of regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial court issued a judgment holding Petitioner and her business in contempt. Petitioner filed this habeas corpus petition arguing that she was illegally restrained because the temporary restraining order was unconstitutional and void. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the temporary order was void; and (2) therefore, the contempt judgment based on that order was void as well. View "In re Luther" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing a jury's finding that Jeffery Lee Stoddard was a sexually violent predator (SVP) and civilly committing him under Tex. Health & Safety Code chapter 841, holding that the court of appeals applied an improper standard.The court of appeals described the standard governing the factual sufficiency review in which the burden of proof was beyond a reasonable doubt the court of appeals described the standard as requiring the court to weigh the evidence in a neutral light to determined whether the jury's finding was factually insufficient or so against the great weight and preponderance as to be manifestly unjust, shock the conscience, or clearly demonstrate bias. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals applied an improper standard that allowed the court to substitute its own judgment for that of a reasonable fact-finder and incorporated a statutory element that chapter 841's text did not support; and (2) a properly conducted factual-sufficiency review in an SVP case requires the appellate court to determine whether, on the entire record, a reasonable factfinder could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is an SVP. View "In re Commitment of Jeffery Lee Stoddard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally granted Alfred Brown's petition for writ of mandamus challenging the determination of the Comptroller of the State of Texas denying Brown's compensation claim brought after he was found to be wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, holding that Brown was eligible for compensation under the Time Cole Act. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 103.001-.154.Brown was wrongfully convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. After serving more than twelve years behind bars, Brown was released from prison when it was determined that the prosecuting attorney withheld and suppressed exculpatory evidence. After securing a judicial declaration of actual innocence Brown sought compensation under the Act for the time he was wrongfully imprisoned. The Comptroller denied the compensation claim, concluding that the district court had jurisdiction to issue an order declaring Brown actually innocent. The Supreme Court conditionally granted Brown's petition for writ of mandamus, holding (1) Brown was eligible for compensation under the Act; and (2) the Comptroller exceeded his authority by considering matters beyond the verified documents to make a de novo jurisdictional determination. View "In re Alfred Dewayne Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment and commitment order on the grounds that the trial court committed harmful error when it declined to submit an instruction explaining that a verdict for Defendant required only ten out of twelve votes, holding that the error was not harmful.The Supreme Court granted a motion for rehearing, withdrew its opinion and judgment of April 24, 2020, and substituted this opinion. At issue was whether a final verdict for a defendant declining to find that the defendant is a sexually violent predator (SVP) must be unanimous. Defendant requested an instruction explaining that an unanimous verdict was required to find that he was an SVP but that only ten out of twelve votes were required to find that he was not an SVP. The trial court declined to submit the requested instruction. The jury returned with a unanimous verdict finding that Defendant was a SVP. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the trial court committed harmful error in declining to submit Defendant's instruction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court erred when it denied Defendant's proffered jury instruction; but (2) the error was not harmful. View "In re Commitment of Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's judgment and commitment order and reinstated the judgment of the trial court ordering Gregory Jones civilly committed as a sexually violent predator (SVP) under Tex. Health and Safety Code chapter 841, holding that the trial court erred when it declined to submit an instruction explaining that a verdict for Jones required only ten votes out of a jury of twelve, but the error was harmless.A civil-commitment trial conducted under chapter 841 provides that a verdict may be rendered by the agreement of ten members of a twelve-person jury. By statute, however, a civil-commitment verdict finding that the defendant is a sexually violent predator must be unanimous. On appeal, Jones argued that the trial court erred when it declined to submit his instruction that a final verdict for the defendant required only ten out of twelve votes. The court of appeals agreed, held that the error was harmful, and reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court's failure to submit the requested 10-2 instruction did not probably cause the rendition of an improper judgment, and therefore, the trial court's legal error was harmless. View "In re Commitment of Gregory Jones" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief to the State seeking review of a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking enforcement of Executive Order GA-13, which changes the rules applicable to judges' decisions regarding pre-trial bail, against judges, holding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order the judges' requested relief, even temporarily.GA-13 suspends certain statutes authorizing trial judges to release jail inmates with violent histories during the state of disaster due to the threat of the novel coronavirus. Plaintiffs alleged that GA-13 is unconstitutional and exceeds the governor's statutory emergency powers. Sixteen of the plaintiffs were Texas trial judges alleging that GA-13 improperly interferes with their judicial authority to make individualized bail decisions, and the other plaintiffs were public interest organizations and lawyer associations. The trial court issued a TRO blocking enforcement of GA-13 against judges. The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief, holding that the alleged threat of a criminal prosecution in this case did not give the judges standing to seek the invalidation of GA-13, and therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to order their requested relief. View "In re Greg Abbott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, holding that the public's right to information under the Texas Public Information Act (PIA) is subject to reasonable limitations when its production may lead to physical harm.Plaintiffs sought information regarding the source of drugs used in Texas executions by lethal injection. The trial court agreed with Plaintiffs that disclosing the source's identity would not create a substantial threat of physical harm to the source's employees and others. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law that the physical safety exception to the PIA applies to protect the identity of a vulnerable retail compounding pharmacy from public disclosure. View "Texas Department of Criminal Justice v. Levin" on Justia Law

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At issue in this divorce case was whether the trial court properly divided the parties’ community home eighty percent to Wife and twenty percent to Husband where Husband had been convicted for the continuous sexual abuse of Wife’s daughter and where Husband used the family home to commit the abuse.The court of appeals affirmed the property division, concluding that “[t]he division should not be a punishment for the spouse at fault.” Wife appealed, arguing that the division was not just and right. A plurality of the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that where Husband was convicted of using community property to sexually abuse his stepdaughter, it was not “just and right,” as a matter of law, to award Husband an interest in the family home. View "Bradshaw v. Bradshaw" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court’s grant of Respondent’s petition seeking expungement for the records and files relating to the charge for which Respondent was acquitted.Respondent was arrested for two unrelated charges. Respondent pleaded guilty to one charge and was acquitted of the other. Following her acquittal, Respondent filed a petition pursuant to Tex. Code Crim. Proc. 55.01 seeking expungement of the records and files relating to the charge for which she was acquitted. In opposing the petition, the State argued that Respondent did not meet the statutory requirements because her arrest resulted in both an acquittal and a conviction. The trial court granted the petition. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 55.01(a)(1) is neither entirely arrest-based nor offense-based; and (2) partial redactions and expunctions of records are valid remedial actions. View "State v. T.S.N." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law