February 15, 2019

Texas Courts of Appeals

Sandoval v. State

No. 01-17-00530-CR        2/12/19

Issue:

Is asking prospective jurors whether they would need “to hear from the victim in order to convict on a family violence case” an improper commitment question?

Holding:

Yes. A commitment question is improper if none of the possible answers would give rise to a valid challenge for cause or the question contains more than just the facts necessary to test whether a juror may be challenged for cause. The question in this case improperly asked prospective jurors to resolve the issue of guilt under a specific factual scenario: no testimony from the victim. Read opinion. 

Commentary:

This is a good decision on which prosecutors can rely to limit defense counsel’s specific question during voir dire. But be careful; it can often be a fine line as to when an attorney’s question leads to a valid challenge for cause and when it does not. In this case, defense counsel’s question sought to determine whether prospective jurors could convict the defendant of family violence assault without testimony from the victim. That was an improper commitment question. Defense counsel did not go just one step further and seek to determine whether the prospective jurors could convict the defendant in the absence of the victim’s testimony even if the State otherwise proved the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. That question could have given rise to a valid challenge for cause and would have been proper.

Attorney General Opinion

RQ-0271-KP

Request:

May pretrial intervention program funds collected under Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 102.0121 be used to supplement the salary of an attorney or staff member who assists in the administration of the program? Read request.

Commentary:

With the significant growth of pretrial diversion and intervention programs, the response to this request may be of great interest to many prosecutors. But let’s not get our hopes up.

Announcements:

TDCAA Domestic Violence Seminar

Registration is now open for TDCAA’s 2019 Domestic Violence Seminar. Whether you are new to prosecution or a seasoned hand, this course will cover practical skills you need to do your job today. From intake to advocacy, this is Domestic Violence training developed for Texas prosecutors and presented by Texas prosecutors. Join us in Georgetown Texas April 9­–12 for this exciting training opportunity. For more information, please click here.

Obtaining Backpage.com historical information

For those prosecutors who are still waiting on historical Backpage.com ads as evidence in pending cases, the federal agencies in control of that information are now accepting new requests for that ad information. Instructions for investigators and prosecutors is available here.

State Bar now taking scholarship applications for upcoming training

The Criminal Justice Section is taking applications for scholarships for various courses. You must be a current member of the Criminal Justice Section to apply. Preference will be given to lawyers licensed 5 years or less. A list of courses and the scholarship application may be accessed here.

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