Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rules a Written Judgment Does Not Prevail Over an Oral Sentence Imposed by a Jury

Under Texas law, a sentence must be orally pronounced in the presence of the suspect. When an oral sentence conflicts with a written judgment, the oral sentence generally prevails. In Ette v. Texas, however, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that this general rule does not apply when the written judgment includes a sentence imposed by a jury. If you face criminal charges, you should seek the assistance of a Texas criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to analyze the facts of your case and assist you in formulating a defense.

Facts of the Case

Reportedly, a jury found the suspect guilty of misapplication of fiduciary property. The jury assessed the suspect’s penalties as ten-year confinement and a $10,000.00 fine, and recommended a suspension of the confinement but not of the fine. The trial court read the verdict aloud, after which the judge verbally sentenced the suspect to ten years of confinement, but no fine. The suspect appealed the imposition of the fine, arguing it should not be imposed because the judge did not orally pronounce it at the time of sentencing, and oral pronouncements had previously been held to override written judgments. The court of appeals rejected the suspect’s argument and held that the fine should be imposed. The court stated the oral and written pronouncement should be combined to reflect the jury’s verdict. The court of appeals further stated that the suspect had notice that the court intended to impose a fine due to the jury verdict. The suspect then petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas for review.

Ruling of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas upheld the imposition of the fine. The court noted that while an oral pronouncement is controlling over a written sentence that rule does not apply when the jury defines the punishment and the verdict is accurately read to the suspect. As such, the court found the fine could be imposed on the suspect. The court explained that an assessment of punishment was composed of a verdict, judgment, and sentence. A verdict is a written decision on the issue before the jury, the judgment is a written statement signed by the judge showing a conviction or an acquittal, and the sentence is a punishment based on the judgment. The court went on to state that while a sentence is oral, the judgment is simply the written finding of guilt or innocence that includes the sentence.

In the subject case, the court noted the fine was assessed as part of the verdict and was part of the written judgment, even though it was not pronounced in the sentence. Generally, the court stated, when the sentence and the judgment conflict, the oral sentence prevails, but none of the cases in which it is held that the oral pronouncement prevails involved a jury verdict setting forth the punishment. Rather, the court held that allowing an oral pronouncement to override a written jury verdict would defeat the purpose of the jury. As such, the court held that a jury’s verdict should be imposed as the trial court’s judgment, and affirmed the imposition of the fine.

Retain an Experienced Texas Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a crime, it is important to engage an experienced criminal defense attorney to analyze the facts of your case and ensure you do not waive any rights. Rick Davis is a skilled criminal defense attorney and will work tirelessly on your behalf to help you formulate a strong defense. Contact him at (979) 779-4357 or via the online form to set up a consultation.

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