Opinion Released November 22 & 23, 2016

In this weekly blog, the Law Offices of Brandy Wingate Voss, PLLC will summarize recent decisions from the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and provide links to decisions on the court’s website.

State v. Tippin, No. 13-16-00144-CR (Memorandum Opinion by Justice Longoria; Panel Members: Justices Perkes and Garza)

In this appeal from an order setting aside the jury’s sentence, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals held that the trial court could not effectively grant a new trial without an affirmative motion for a new trial from the defendant.

Tiphanie Raquel Tippin was charged with possession of marijuana over four ounces. When the case was called for trial, Tippin pleaded guilty and asked the court to place her on deferred adjudication community supervision. The State however, insisted that it was not waiving its right to jury trial. The jury was thus selected and sworn. The court then asked Tippin to confirm that she was pleading guilty and waiving her right to trial. Tippin confirmed, and the jury was instructed accordingly. The court proceeded to conduct a punishment trial, and the jury returned a suspended sentence of one year in jail and a fine of $5,000.

The trial court then set aside the jury verdict, accepted Tippin’s plea and deferred adjudication for five years. The State appealed.

Held: The trial court effectively granted a new trial without a motion from the defendant to do so. Such an order was void, as was the subsequent order placing Tippin on deferred adjudication. The case is reversed and the verdict reinstated.

First, the Thirteenth Court analyzed whether it had jurisdiction over the case. The court noted that the State is only permitted to appeal a criminal case in limited circumstances. The court held that the order setting aside the verdict was essentially an order granting a motion for new trial because it restored the case to its pre-trial position. An order granting a motion for new trial is appealable under article 44.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Thus, the appellate court had jurisdiction to review the case.

The court then proceeded to the merits of the appeal, holding that the trial court erred by setting aside the verdict and sentencing Tippin to deferred adjudication. The Thirteenth Court noted that the trial court cannot grant a new trial except on the motion of a defendant. Here, Tippin did not file a motion for new trial. Thus, the trial court’s order effectively granting a new trial by setting aside the judgment was void. Consequently, the order placing Tippin on deferred adjudication was also void. The case was thus reversed and the jury’s verdict reinstated.

Tippin also filed a cross-appeal challenging the trial court’s failure to grant her motion to suppress. However, the Thirteenth Court held that it did not have jurisdiction over Tippin’s appeal without a final, oral pronouncement of the sentence. Having held that the trial court’s order putting Tippin on deferred adjudication was void, there was no basis for jurisdiction over Tippin’s appeal. Tippin was free to appeal again after the trial court orally pronounced her judgment in line with the jury’s verdict.

Read the Full Opinion Here

 

Ditto v. Campos, No. 13-15-00517-CV and 13-15-00523-CV (Memorandum Opinion by Justice Benavides; Panel Members: Justices Perkes and Longoria)

In this appeal from the trial court’s denial of a plea to the jurisdiction, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals held that defendants were immune from suit.  

Judith and Jessy Campos filed suit regarding Jessy’s son. The Camposes suspected that the child was being abused while in the mother’s—Castaneda’s—care. The Camposes thus put a recording device in the child’s shoe. Castaneda discovered the device and filed suit against Jessy. Castaneda was a police officer with the Weslaco Police Department, and allegedly used her position to have Jessy arrested.

The Camposes sued Castaneda and two of her fellow police officers for malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The officers responded by asserting governmental, sovereign, and official immunity defenses. The officers proceeded to file a motion to dismiss as well as a plea to the jurisdiction. Both motions were denied, and the officers appealed.

Held: The Camposes’ charges could only be asserted against the officers in their official capacity, and the officers were immune from the alleged intentional torts.

Under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code section 101.106(f), a suit against a governmental employee for conduct within the scope of employment that could be brought against the governmental entity itself may not be brought against the employee in his individual capacity. Castaneda and her fellow officers thus claimed that the Camposes’ suit could not be brought against them in their individual capacities. The Camposes’ petition claimed on its face that Castaneda and her fellow officers misused their positions in the police department. Furthermore, a notice of suit mailed by the Camposes’ attorney to the Weslaco Mayor described the alleged offenses in terms of the abuse of title under color of law. The officers also attached an affidavit to their plea, in which Weslaco assistant police chief Ted Walensky averred that the case involved an investigation and arrest conducted wholly in the officers’ course and scope of their employment at the direction of the Weslaco Police Department. Thus, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals held that the case could only be brought against the officers in their official capacities.

The court then proceeded to analyze the officers’ immunity from the claims. The court noted that the Texas Tort Claims Act does not waive immunity for intentional torts. Yet, here, the Camposes’ causes of action were intentional torts: malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Thus, the officers were immune, and the trial court erred in denying the plea to the jurisdiction. The case was reversed and remanded for dismissal.

Read the Full Opinion Here