Texas Court Discusses Collateral Estoppel in Criminal Cases

Under the protections against double jeopardy provided by the State and Federal Constitutions, a defendant cannot be tried more than once for the same crime. While the concept of double jeopardy is widely understood, the application of the rule is often unclear. For example, collateral estoppel, which is a component of double jeopardy, prevents the government from re-litigating specific facts in criminal cases. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas recently discussed the application of collateral estoppel in a case in which the defendant was tried twice for aggravated assault arising out of the same act. If you reside in Texas and are charged with assault or any other violent crime, it is prudent to speak with a trusted Texas assault defense attorney regarding your case.

Factual and Procedural Background of the Case

It is alleged that the two men became involved in a physical argument during which they were rolling on the ground wrestling. At some point, the defendant was advised to stay out of the fight. The defendant ultimately involved himself in the fight, however, and stabbed the first man involved in the fight and the man’s brother, who was standing nearby. The defendant was charged with two separate counts of aggravated assault for stabbing the first man and his brother. The defendant was tried for the assault of the first man in front of a jury. The jury found the defendant not guilty, and he was acquitted.

It is reported that the defendant was then tried on the second assault charge involving the brother. The defendant filed a writ of habeas corpus arguing that because the issues were the same as in the earlier trial, namely whether the defendant was justified in using defending a third party, the second trial was barred by collateral estoppel. The State argued that collateral estoppel did not apply because the issue of whether the use of force was justified against the brother was discrete from the issue of whether it was justified against the first man. The court denied the defendant’s motion. The jury could not reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared. The defendant appealed, and the court of appeals reversed, after which the State petitioned the court for review.

Double Jeopardy and Collateral Estoppel

The constitutional protections against double jeopardy also embody the principle of collateral estoppel, which is defined as the principle that when an issue of ultimate fact has been determined by a final judgment, the issue cannot be litigated again between the same parties in any subsequent lawsuit. Thus, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, the government cannot litigate a specific fact to a judge or jury, obtain an adverse finding on that fact, and then re-litigate the issue. For collateral estoppel to apply, however, the fact must have been decided in favor of the defendant in the initial trial.

In the subject case, the court found that collateral estoppel did not apply to prohibit the second trial. Specifically, the court found that the issue in the first trial related solely to the first man, and not to the brother. As such, the court found that the first verdict was not a final determination that the defendant was justified in using force against the brother.

Speak with a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The law affords criminal defendants numerous rights, including the right to be free from double jeopardy. If you are charged with assault in Texas, it is in your best interest to speak with a skilled Texas assault defense attorney to discuss your case and your potential defenses. Rick Davis is a diligent criminal defense attorney who will work tirelessly to help you seek the most favorable result available under the circumstances surrounding your charges. You can reach Mr. Davis via the online form or at (979) 779-4357 to schedule a confidential and free meeting.

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