Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
|Texas Court of Criminal Appeals|
|Method:||Partisan election of judges|
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the court of last resort for all criminal matters in Texas, whereas the Texas Supreme Court is the court of last resort for all civil matters in the state. Texas is one of just two states (the other being Oklahoma) that has two courts of last resort.
In addition to being the high court for criminal appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals (in partnership with the Texas Supreme Court) ". . .promulgates rules of appellate procedure and rules of evidence for criminal cases. The Court of Criminal Appeals also administers public funds that are appropriated for the education of judges, prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense attorneys who regularly represent indigent defendants, clerks and other personnel of the state’s appellate, district, county-level, justice, and municipal courts. promulgates rules of appellate procedure and rules of evidence for criminal cases."
The Court is composed of a presiding judge and eight judges. Each judge serves a six-year term. They are elected in staggered partisan elections.The current justices of the court are:
|Presiding Judge Sharon Keller||1994-2018||Elected||Republican|
|Judge Lawrence Meyers||1992-2016||Elected||Democratic|
|Judge Tom Price||1996-2014||Elected||Republican|
|Judge Paul Womack||1997-2014||Elected||Republican|
|Judge Cheryl Johnson||1998-2016||Elected||Republican|
|Judge Michael Keasler||1998-2016||Elected||Republican|
|Judge Barbara Hervey||2000-2018||Elected||Republican|
|Judge Cathy Cochran||2001-2014||Gov. Rick Perry||Republican|
|Judge Elsa Alcala||2011-2018||Gov. Rick Perry||Republican|
All judges in Texas are chosen in partisan elections. The governor, subject to senate confirmation, may appoint a judge to serve out the remainder of any unexpired term until the next general election. Like the Texas Supreme Court, the justices of the Court of Criminal Appeals are currently all Republican.
A qualified candidate must be between 35 and 74 years of age, a United States Citizen and a citizen of Texas. Judicial candidates must also be licensed to practice law in the state and have practiced law for at least 10 years. Upon turning 75 years old, a judge may not serve more than another four years of their term.
The position of presiding judge is a separately designated elected seat from the others. Sharon Keller is the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Justice Keller is a Republican. She was elected as the first woman judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994. In 2000, she was elected presiding judge and re-elected in 2006.
In 2013, Keller ended her battle with the Texas Ethics Commission after the commission agreed to accept a settlement. The commission had initially fined Keller $100,000 for ethics violations she allegedly committed in 2006 and 2007. The amount is the highest ethics fine ever assessed against a public official in the state.
The Texas Supreme Court has jurisdiction over all civil cases, while the Court of Criminal Appeals exercises discretionary review over criminal cases. This means the court may choose whether or not to review a case. The only cases that the Court must hear are those that involve sentencing decisions in capital punishment cases and other cases involving liberty issues, such capital punishment cases, cases where bail has been denied and habeas cases where a prisoner or person being detained attempts to prove some constitutional right has been violated as a result of their detention. The court, which is based in the state capital Austin, includes nine judges. Article V of the Texas Constitution vests the judicial power of the state in the court, describes the court's jurisdiction. It also details the rules for judicial eligibility, elections and filling vacancies on the court between elections.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hears both mandatory and discretionary cases. "All cases that result in the death penalty are automatically directed to the Court of Criminal Appeals from the trial court level. A significant portion of the Court’s workload also involves the mandatory review of applications for post conviction habeas corpus relief in felony cases without a death penalty, over which the Court has sole authority. In addition, decisions made by the intermediate courts of appeals in criminal cases may be appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals by petition for discretionary review, which may be filed by the State, the defendant, or both. However, the Court may also review a decision on its own motion."
The chart below displays the Court's mandatory caseload from 2001 to 2010. Mandatory cases comprised 76.7 percent of the overall caseload in 2010.
"In the 2010 fiscal year, the Court of Criminal Appeals received 13 appeals in death-penalty cases. The Courts of Appeals received 4,926 appeals in other criminal cases, and in 1,520 of those appeals the Court of Criminal Appeals was asked to grant further review. The Court granted review in 85 of them. After deciding each appeal, the Court delivers a written opinion that explains the reason for its decision. The Court also has sole authority to grant the writ of habeas corpus to a person who has been convicted of a felony (which is a crime that is punishable by death or by imprisonment in the Department of Criminal Justice). In the 2010 fiscal year, the Court received 4,275 habeas-corpus petitions and 54 death penalty habeas-corpus petitions." The appeals and habeas-corpus petitions give the Court of Criminal Appeals the heaviest caseload of any appellate court in the United States.
During the 2007 fiscal year, the court received 5,039 appeals in criminal cases, and in 1,532 of these cases, the Court of Criminal Appeals were asked to grant further review. The court granted review for 149 of these. The court has the sole authority to hear cases of habeas corpus to those convicted of felonies. In the same year, the court received 5,489 petitions and 62 death penalty habeas corpus petitions.
(See also Texas judicial elections, 2014)
The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct consists of five main sections:
You can read the code in full here.
Removal of justices
A judge may be removed by any one of four methods in the state:
- The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct may investigate allegations of misconduct. The results of the investigation determine whether a judge must face prosecution for misconduct. The commission makes recommendations to the Texas Supreme Court. The court appoints a review tribunal from court of appeals judges. The judges review the commission's recommendations and determine whether to follow their recommendations.
- The Governor can remove a judge if his action is approved by two-thirds of the Texas House and Texas Senate
- The Texas House can impeach a judge and the judge may be removed by two-thirds vote in the senate.
| • A third party informant is enough to obtain a warrant, Texas high court rules (2013)||Click for summary→|
|Police officers in Texas may now acquire search warrants "based on predictions of the commission of future crimes," wrote a dissenting judge in an opinion from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The court's December 11 ruling closed a case that began in the summer of 2010, when Parker County police walked into the home of Mark Wehrenberg without a warrant and arrested him and his associates. The police, having received a confidential tip revealing Wehrenberg's plans to cook methamphetamine, had staked out the home for a month prior to making the arrests.
Only afterwards did the police seek a warrant to confiscate the meth-making supplies, which included ammonia, rock salt, stripped lithium batteries, clear tubing, funnels and boxes of pseudoephedrine. On the warrant application, however, the police neglected to mention that they had entered Wehrenberg's home before receiving authorization to do so, noting only the testimony of the confidential informant.
During Wehrenberg's trial, his lawyer asserted that the material evidence was invalid because it was found during an illegal search. The trial court judge overruled this claim, citing a federal independent source doctrine which validates such evidence when a third party has informed police about it beforehand. Wehrenberg was sentenced to five years in prison, pleading guilty to possession and intent to manufacture.
Upon appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, but the December decision by the high court has allowed the original ruling to stand. Republican Judge Elsa Alcala penned the majority opinion, which again cited federal precedent. The opinion explained that the illegally-obtained evidence, normally not admissible in court, may be admitted through the independent source doctrine because it was later obtained lawfully.
Judge Lawrence Meyers, the only dissenter, reasoned that the police only applied for the warrant because they had previously entered the house and seen the evidence, and that the third party tip was functionally a prediction and not a confirmation. He wrote in the dissent:
The Texas Constitution of 1876 alleviated the heavy civil caseload of the Supreme Court of Texas. Article V of the constitution established a three judge Court of Appeals to hear all appellate criminal cases. In 1891, Texas voters approved an amendment to keep the Supreme Court and established the Court of Civil Appeals. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was the state's highest criminal court, and its three judges were elected to six-year terms. In 1978, a constitutional amendment increased the size of the Court of Criminal Appeals to nine judges.
- Texas Judicial Branch, "Texas Court of Criminal Appeals"
- Texas Tribune, "Texas Weekly: One-third of criminal appeals court ready to leave," September 17, 2013
- Star-Telegram, "Filing ends, ballot set for 2014 election," December 10, 2013
- Wikipedia, "Texas Court of Criminal Appeals"
- Texas Office of Court Administration, "FY 2010 Annual Report for the Texas Judiciary," December 2010
- Texas Courts, "Court of Criminal Appeals Judges," accessed October 22, 2014
- www.judicialselection.com, "Methods of judicial selection: Texas, Selection of judges," accessed January 24, 2014
- Ballotpedia.org, "Texas Proposition 14 (2007)," accessed October 22, 2014
- The Houston Chronicle, "Judge Keller settles record ethics fine," August 14, 2013
- Texas Courts Online, "Annual Reports"
- Texas Courts Online, "Annual Statistical Report for the Texas Judiciary 2007," accessed October 22, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- State Commission on Judicial Conduct, "Texas Code of Judicial Conduct," accessed October 22, 2014
- www.judicialselection.com, "Methods of judicial selection: Texas, Removal of judges," accessed January 27, 2014
- Dallas Observer, "Judge: In Texas, Search Warrants Can Now Be Based on a 'Prediction of a Future Crime'," December 17, 2013
- Texas State Historical Association, "Texas Court of Criminal Appeals," accessed October 22, 2014
- Tarlton Law Library, "Justices of Texas 1836-1986," accessed October 22, 2014