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Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas Rules a Jury Note Regarding a Unanimous Finding of Not Guilty on One of Two Charges Does Not Constitute an Acquittal
Under the laws of Texas and the United States Constitution, a person cannot be tried more than once for the same offense. While the court can hold a second trial if the first trial results in a mistrial, the state cannot re-try a defendant who has been acquitted during a trial on the charges for which he or she was acquitted. In Traylor v. Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas clarified that a jury note stating the jury unanimously agreed the defendant was not guilty on a charged offense did not constitute an acquittal, and therefore, it found a second trial was permissible. If you are accused of a crime, it is vital to retain a Texas criminal defense attorney to advise you of your rights and potential defenses for the charges against you.
Reportedly, the defendant was charged with first-degree burglary of a habitation. His indictment alleged that he intentionally entered the home of his ex-mother-in-law and assaulted her. During his trial, the jury was charged on both first-degree burglary and the lesser offense of second-degree burglary. A conviction for first-degree burglary required a finding that the defendant used a deadly weapon, while a conviction for second-degree burglary did not. After some deliberation, the jury advised the court via a note that the votes were unanimous for a finding of not guilty on the first-degree burglary charge and that there were five votes for guilty and seven for not guilty on the lesser charge. The court asked the jury to continue deliberating.
Allegedly, after further deliberation the jury advised the court there were eight jurors in favor of a not guilty verdict and four in favor of a guilty verdict for the lesser charge, and that four of the jurors advised they would not change their position. The state requested a mistrial, and the defendant objected, arguing that a mistrial could only be granted for manifest necessity. The court granted the mistrial, and the defendant was subsequently re-tried and convicted of first-degree burglary. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, finding that the jury vote in the first trial constituted an informal acquittal of the first-degree burglary charge and the second trial constituted double jeopardy. The state then appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.
Ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reversed. The court noted that while the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution prohibits more than one prosecution for the same offense when the circumstances manifest a necessity, a court can declare a mistrial without preventing a second trial. The court stated a jury’s inability to reach a verdict is one example of circumstances requiring a mistrial. Regarding the defendant’s argument that the jury note in the first trial constituted an acquittal, the court disagreed, citing the recent United States Supreme Court case of Blueford v. Arkansas. Specifically, the court stated that for the jury note to constitute an acquittal, it must show that the jury definitively decided to acquit the defendant. Here, the court noted there was no indication during the first trial that the jury had come to a final decision regarding either of the charges. Further, the court noted that because the members of the jury continued to deliberate it gave them the opportunity to change their votes.
The court went on to state that while Texas Law allowed for informal verdicts, this did not conflict with the Blueford holding, noting that an informal verdict as contemplated by the Texas legislature does not have to be written but must still show a clear intent to acquit. As the court found there was no plain intent to acquit the defendant on the first-degree burglary charge, it reversed the Court of Appeal’s holding.
Confer with a Knowledgeable Texas Criminal Defense Attorney
If you face criminal charges, it is essential to consult a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts of your case and ensure you do not waive any rights. Attorney Rick Davis has the skills and experience needed to assist you in obtaining a favorable outcome. Contact his team at 979-779-4357 or via the online form to schedule a consultation.
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