Weekly Case Summaries: April 7, 2017

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

In re Powell v. Hocker

No. WR-85,177-01     4/5/17

Issue:

Under Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 39.14(f), does a defendant have a right to personally retain a duplicate or copy of any discovery material other than his own witness statement?

Holding:

No. Art. 39.14(f) only requires the prosecutor to turn over discovery material to the defense attorney, who may allow the client/defendant to “view” them. Even a defendant who has chosen to represent herself is not entitled to obtain copies, although she is entitled to inspect and review discovery materials on request under Art. 39.14(d). The Court also concluded that intermediate courts of appeals do not have jurisdiction to issue writs of mandamus against statutory county court (county court-at-law) judges, so the State appropriately filed its mandamus petition with the Court of Criminal Appeals rather than with the intermediate court of appeals. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is a very significant decision, and it is unanimous. This decision squarely answers the question of whether a defendant—even a pro se defendant—is entitled to his own copies of discovery material—whether from the trial judge or the defendant’s own attorney. The answer is no. This decision should encourage courts to read the Michael Morton Act according to its plain language and not attempt to read provisions into it that the Legislature has not enacted. This decision also answered the important question of whether a court of appeals has mandamus jurisdiction over a county court. It does not. Such a mandamus application must be filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals. 

Thomas v. State

No. PD-0295-16     4/5/17

Issue:

In a negotiated plea-bargain agreement for an illegal range of punishment, should the case be remanded for a new sentencing hearing or for a new trial?

Holding:

Remanded for a new trial. In this situation, the parties should be returned to their original positions prior to the plea bargain. “If we were to uphold [the] appellant’s guilty plea and permit resentencing under these circumstances, on remand the State would be deprived of the opportunity to pursue the same range of punishment as originally contemplated when it agreed to the plea bargain. Such an outcome would unfairly bind the State to its obligation to reduce the charge to a state-jail felony while releasing [the] appellant from his agreement to be sentenced within the range of a second-degree felony. This would give [the] appellant the windfall of an unenhanced state-jail felony punishment that was neither contemplated by nor agreed upon by the parties.” Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is also a very helpful decision, and it is unanimous (is that a trend?). Keep this decision handy if you have mistakenly accepted a plea of guilty involving what turns out to be an illegal sentence. This decision also discusses the difference between, and the ramifications of, a sentence bargain and a charge bargain. A background moral to this story is to be very careful when attempting to enhance state jail felonies. The law in that particular arena can be quite complicated and/or counter-intuitive. That is precisely what tripped up all the parties in this case.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Garrett v. State

No. 01-16-00162-CR     3/30/17

Issue:

Does the confrontation clause require that every analyst who worked on a DNA analysis testify at trial?

Holding:

No. Testimony from the analysts who performed the preliminary automated steps, such as extraction and amplification, is not necessary as long as there is testimony from the analyst who performed the final analysis of the DNA sample and comparison with the known DNA profile. These preliminary steps are only used to generate raw DNA data, which does not stand for anything on its own until interpreted by an analyst. Read opinion.

Commentary:

After the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in Paredes v. State, there is now a growing line of authority teaching us how to present DNA testimony and still satisfy the defendant’s confrontation rights. If you have such a case, read Paredes and the decisions that follow it, including this one.

Paroline v. State

No. 06-16-00101-CR     3/30/17

Issue:

Is testimony that a victim is unable to live independently without some supervision and is easily misled due to mental defects sufficient evidence that the victim is disabled under the pre-2015 version of Penal Code §22.04(c)(3)(B)?

Holding:

Yes. Although the victim’s mother and social worker testified that the victim is able to cook and clean and takes his own medication, lives in a separate unit on his parents’ property, and displays other signs of independence, there is still sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the victim meets the definition of disabled. Medical records showed that the victim has developmental disorders and subnormal intelligence, and the State presented evidence that his mother monitors his finances, buys his groceries, and refills his medications. The jury could also personally evaluate the victim’s testimony and demeanor during the trial. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is a good decision, but it should probably no longer be necessary. Section 22.04 was amended in 2015 to provide a much more expansive and comprehensive definition of “disabled individual.” (Section 22.04’s definition applies to more than just that offense). The Legislature’s clear intent is to make sure that all possible disabled persons will be protected by the various statutes to a greater degree than the more typical victim.

Hernandez v. State

No. 13-14-00245-CR     3/30/17

Issue:

May a trial judge order the jury to further deliberate or correct the verdict form after the jury informs the court it made a mistake in filling out the verdict form?

Holding:

Yes. Under Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 37.04, if the jury foreman tells the judge that she signed the wrong verdict form, the judge may order the jury to return to correct the verdict form. In this case, once a revised verdict of guilty was entered, the court also polled each juror, as allowed under CCP Art. 37.05, to confirm that the revised verdict was correct. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is a common-sense decision and completely in line with the few prior cases that have dealt with similar issues. This happens rarely, but if it happens in your case, this decision should help the trial judge get the error corrected easily.

TDCAA is pleased to offer these unique case summaries from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Attorney General. In addition to the basic summaries, each case will have a link to the full text opinion and will offer exclusive prosecutor commentary explaining how the case may impact you as a prosecutor. The case summaries are for the benefit of prosecutors, their staff members, and members of the law enforcement community. These summaries are NOT a source of legal advice for citizens. The commentaries expressed in these case summaries are not official statements by TDCAA and do not represent the opinions of TDCAA, its staff, or any member of the association. Please email comments, problems, or questions to [email protected]