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Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas Holds Improper Jury Instructions Does Not Require an Automatic Reversal of A Conviction
In a Texas criminal trial, a jury deliberating on a suspect’s guilt is given instructions as to the elements of the crime the suspect is charged with, and advised they must find each element is satisfied to find the suspect guilty. As shown in Niles v. Texas, where a jury is not properly informed of the charges a suspect faces, a suspect can be wrongfully convicted and unjustly sentenced for a crime he or she did not commit. As such, if you are facing criminal charges, it is essential to retain a Texas criminal defense attorney who will ensure the jury is properly instructed as to the crimes alleged, to prevent an inappropriate conviction.
The suspect was a Houston firefighter. Allegedly, during a shift it was revealed that the suspect did not have a valid driver’s license, and he was ordered not to drive and directed to get a valid driver’s license before his next shift. In response, he purportedly stated he was going to start shooting people, and later stated he was going to kill everyone in the fire station. The suspect had several guns in his vehicle and explained in detail the manner and order in which he would kill people. The suspect made similar comments on other occasions, after which he was advised not to return to the fire station.
The suspect was charged with making terroristic threats against another firefighter and against the fire captain, both of whom were public servants, which made the crimes Class A misdemeanors. At the suspect’s trial, it was not noted that his alleged victims were public servants and the jury charge did not ask the jury to evaluate whether the suspect’s alleged victims were public servants. The prosecutor advised the jury of the elements of Class B terroristic threats. The suspect was convicted, and sentenced to penalties that reflected a Class A terroristic threat conviction. Additionally the judgment stated he was convicted of Class A terroristic threats.
The suspect appealed, arguing his sentence was illegal as it was beyond the punishment for a Class B offense, and he could only be sentenced for a Class A offense if the jury found his victims to be public servants. The district attorney admitted the error and asked the appeals court to reform the judgment and sentences to reflect Class B offenses and remand the case for a new punishment hearing, which the court granted. The state prosecuting attorney then filed a motion for a rehearing, arguing the sentence should have been reviewed as a harmless error charge. The motion was denied. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas granted review to determine whether the court erred in reforming the judgments to indicate the suspect was convicted for Class B misdemeanors.
Ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
On appeal, the suspect argued the State waived the right to argue the case should have undergone a harmless error analysis, by failing to raise the issue in earlier proceedings. The court noted that while normally an issue not brought up at trial is waived, as the state was not the appealing party, it did not have to raise an argument in support of the trial court ruling to preserve the issue. Additionally, the court noted that while the state attorney took a different position regarding the sentencing than the district attorney, he was permitted to do so. The court stated that the United States Supreme Court previously held that a failure to include an element of a crime is a violation, which does not require an automatic reversal but could be subject to a harm analysis. Here, the court held that the error in failing to advise the jury they must determine whether the alleged victims were public servants was an error subject to a harm analysis. As such, the court reversed the ruling of the court of appeals and remanded the case.
Retain an Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Attorney
If you face criminal charges it is important that every aspect of your case is handled properly. It is in your best interest to confer with an experienced criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts of your case and the defenses available to the charges you face. Rick Davis is a skilled criminal defense attorney and will work diligently to prevent you from being convicted. Contact him at 979-779-4357 or via the online form to setup a consultation.
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