Friday, June 08, 2007

CCA: New trial because jurors didn't know murder confession was disputed

Perhaps the rash of innocent Texans exonerated with DNA evidence is edging Texas courts toward installing more protections against wrongful convictions, even if the Legislature failed to address the problem.

In a rare, unanimous pro-defense ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week tossed out a 50-year prison sentence and ordered a new trial for Guadalupe Vasquez, ruling that the trial court improperly failed to instruct the jury that the "voluntariness" of a written confession in the case was disputed. Said the court:
Appellant, Guadalupe Vasquez, signed a written confession after seven hours of interrogation at the police station. He filed a pretrial motion to suppress the videotape of the interrogation and the written statements. The trial court held a hearing on the issue. After hearing the testimony of one of the interrogating officers, the trial court recessed the hearing to watch the seven-hour videotape of the interrogation. The trial court reconvened the hearing several days later, denied the motion to suppress, and dictated findings of law and fact into the record. Appellant was tried by a jury. At the close of the guilt phase of trial, Appellant requested a jury instruction on voluntariness, and the State objected to its inclusion. The court refused Appellant's request to submit the issue of voluntariness to the jury. The jury found Appellant guilty of murder and sentenced him to 50 years' imprisonment. The court of appeals reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the trial court had erred by refusing to submit Appellant's issue of voluntariness to the jury. We affirm the decision of the court of appeals.
Some Texas prosecutors are up in arms over the ruling, claiming the court's position is muddled and unclear, but if you read the opinion it seems pretty clear to me. If a defendant disputes the voluntariness of a confession and a judge admits it anyway, a jury should be instructed as to the dispute if the defendant requests it. Vasquez's attorney did.

Nationally, 25% of DNA exonerations of innocent people have come in cases where juries heard what turned out to be a false confession, so in the scheme of things this is a minimal safeguard. Even better would be a requirement that interrogations be recorded, a move implemented recently in New Jersey for all violent crimes.


Jaime Kenedeño said...

Google Yourself Corpus Christi: When Carlos Valdez Confesses Error Does Not The Same Rule Apply?

First, in seeking the death penalty, prosecutors sometimes overlook glaring illegalities.

"courts, especially state courts, are too often willing to overlook even obvious constitutional flaws when reviewing death penalty cases."

And if they are "willing to overlook even obvious constitutional flaws and glaring illegalities when Prosecuting & reviewing death penalty cases."

WATT about all of the other cases?

How many "overlooks" of "constitutional flaws" glaring illegalities" have become tools of Cheating Prosecutors who have forgotten "Prosecutors, despite striking hard blows, must never lose sight of their ultimate obligation to do justice in every case.

How many Prosecutors deliberately commit the error of failing to file a reply brief in an Appeal Process because it deprives the appellant of exculpatory testimony, evidence, and confessions of error or witness tampering by the State Prosecuting Attorney?

Anonymous said...

This change of heart on the CCA is from self interest. Not concern for defendants.

It seems the CCA is getting tired of being overruled by the Federal Appellate Courts. This is most apparent in Death Penalty cases.

I always joked as a DA than any appeal I had to write would be two sentences- All error was waived. Any error not waived was harmless.

Maybe those days are past.

Anonymous said...

This decision has issues. If there was no admissible evidence as to the voluntariness of the confession, then no instruction. The defendant should have had to testify to that fact or some other evidence needed to be in the trial record.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No evidence? They had an entire pretrial hearing on it - the judge just ruled against them. The CCA said that ruling should have come with an admonishment to the jury that the confession's voluntariness was disputed, which the defendant requested at trial. The "problems" with this ruling seem overstated to me, at least as framed here and on the DAs site, though IANAL.

Anonymous said...

Go to law school and you will understand. Defendant has to take the stand, under most circumstances, during the trial (NOT DURING PRETRIAL) to raise an issue for the jury.

No testimony usually = no instruction required.

Unknown said...


"I always joked as a DA than any appeal I had to write would be two sentences- All error was waived. Any error not waived was harmless."

What about when the State convicts the defendant and the defendant appeals; did you file a reply brief?

With the State as appellee what are the consequences if the state files no reply brief?

What about when the defendant is acquitted and the State appeals; Does the Acquitted Defendant need to file a reply brief?

With the State as appellee what are the consequences if the Acquitted Defendant files no reply brief?

Unknown said...

With the State as appellee (error) what are the consequences if the Acquitted Defendant files no reply brief?

I meant:
With the State as appellant what are the consequences if the Acquitted Defendant files no reply brief?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon @ 4:50 - I didn't go to law school, but the judges on the 3rd appeals court and the CCA did, so I'm not sure I see your point. They raised the issue during sentencing, the appellate courts said that was adequate, so henceforth it shall be. Right?

dannoynted1 said...

On writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court,
however, the Attorney General of Texas (“Attorney General”) took
over the representation of the State. The Attorney General
confessed error
and declined to raise the procedural bar defense
previously argued by the District Attorney.1 The Supreme Court
thereafter vacated the judgment of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and remanded to the court for further disposition in light
of the confession of error by the State.

Saldano v. Texas, 530
U.S. 1212 (2000).

Anonymous said...

Did the defendant (or someone) testify at trial (NOT just during the pre-trial hearing) on the issue of voluntariness? If not, it's difficult to see how the issue was "raised before the jury"...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, "difficult to see" or not, I bet judges will be more likely to give the jury instructions after this case, which anyway is the whole point.

Anonymous said...

Not relating to this particular case, but something I am wondering about and would love an answer:
Can anyone tell me the reason why 3 inmates (Ronald Chambers, Raymond Riles and Harvey Earvin) have all been on DR in Texas for 30 years now? How can they still be there, when other inmates are executed so much quicker, some after only a couple of years, even when they go through the appeals system. Did someone forget about these guys?

Anonymous said...

What about prosecutors who teach 12 year olds how to lie and get away with it. Also, this prosecutor was overheard rehersing this young girl on her testimony and praising her for studying what he had sent home with her to study.

Most prosecutors are only there to score a victory and not find the truth. I even heard one prosecutor call the defendent a child killer and monester and this defendent and his son had both fallen in an accident in another country and the mother called the DA and stated the father had murdered the son by throwing him from the building. So, I have no faith in prosecutors or the law at all anymore.

Our Judicial System in Texas has gone to hell in a hand basket lead by crooked judges and prosecutores and some defense attorneys who decide the outcome before the trial.