Opinions Released June 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.

Matamoros v. State., No. 13-15-00284-CR (Memorandum Opinion by Justice Rodriguez; Panel members: Justice Benavides, Justice Perkes)

In this direct appeal from two felony convictions for intoxication manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals examined and affirmed the legal sufficiency of the evidence against Defendant Matamoros.

Wilson Orlando Matamoros crashed his company’s minivan into a Brownsville bus stop in early 2014, killing Ricardo Briones. Matamoros immediately ran from the scene and called his boss to report the van stolen. Concocting an elaborate tale, Matamoros told both the police and his employer that he had been hit over the head by two men who stole the company vehicle prior to the accident. However, a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test showed evidence of Matamoros’s intoxication.

A jury convicted Matamoros of intoxication manslaughter and failing to stop and render aid, sentencing him to 17 years’ confinement. Matamoros appealed, challenging the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence. Specifically, Matamoros attacked the jury’s findings that (1) he was the driver of the vehicle; (2) he was intoxicated at the time of the incident; (3) the victim’s death occurred because of his intoxication; and (4) he knew that someone at the scene required medical attention.

Held: The court held the evidence legally sufficient to convict Matamoros, affirming the trial court’s judgment.

Citing the legal sufficiency standard set forth in Jackson v. Virginia, the court of appeals analyzed the evidence for each challenged element “in a light most favorable to the verdict” to determine whether a rational factfinder could find Matamoros guilty.

1. Matamoros was the driver of the vehicle.

Matamoros was in possession of the sole set of keys to the van on the night of the incident, and admitted to his girlfriend that “something unexpected happened to him” while he was driving the van. There was no testimony presented supporting Matamoros’s concocted story about the theft of the van. Thus, the evidence was legally sufficient to support this element of the crime.

2. Matamoros was intoxicated at the time of the incident.

Officers testified that Matamoros had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and the smell of alcohol on his breach just after the incident. The HGN test indicated Matamoros had been drinking. Furthermore, Matamoros’s girlfriend testified that, earlier in the evening, Matamoros planned to go get drinks with friends. Thus, the evidence was legally sufficient to support a finding that Matamoros was intoxicated at the time of the incident.

3. The victim’s death occurred because of Matamoros’s intoxication.

Matamoros admitted to his girlfriend that he’d turned too wide and crashed into a bus stop on the night of the incident. Officers testified that such turn was navigable for someone with full command of their faculties. Although Matamoros pointed to other factors as the cause of the death—such as the slick roads—the court held that the State was not required to prove intoxication as the sole cause of the accident. Rather, the State must simply prove a “but for” connection. Under such a test, the evidence was legally sufficient to show that Matamoros’s intoxication, in combination with other factors, caused the death.

4. Matamoros realized someone at the scene needed medical attention.

The court noted that the Transportation Code does not establish a required mental state for failing to stop and render aid, but Texas courts have typically required the defendant to have knowledge of his conduct, i.e. knowledge that an accident occurred. The element does not require subjective knowledge of the injury caused. Rather, the question is whether a reasonable person would have objectively known that someone had been injured based on the circumstances.

Noting Matamoros’s admission to his girlfriend, his footprints at the site of the accident, the direct nature of his collision with the pedestrian, and his immediate flight from the scene, the court held that Matamoros had knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his conduct.

Thus, the court held each of the challenged jury findings to be factually sufficient and affirmed the trial court’s verdict.

In a footnote, the court noted that the legal and factual sufficiency standards are indistinguishable, and that a separate factual sufficiency review will only be conducted if the defendant pleads an affirmative defense. Matamoros had no such defense, and thus the court declined to review the factual sufficiency.

The judgment of the trial court was affirmed.

Read the Full Opinion Here

Bolles v. State., No. 13-14-00649-CR (Memorandum Opinion by Chief Justice Valdez; Panel members: Justice Benavides, Justice Rodriguez)

In this direct appeal from a conviction for child pornography, the Thirteenth Court of Appeals adopted the federal Dost factors for the analysis of a photo’s lewd character. Applying these factors, the court acquitted Bolles of the pornography charges.

In 2014, Defendant Bolles used a Corpus Christi public library computer to view pornographic images of children, taking photos of the computer screen with his phone. Law enforcement confiscated Bolles’s phone and charged him with two counts of child pornography, stemming from two specific images.

The first image was a copy of a photo called “Rosie,” showing a young girl in a dress with no underwear, with portions of her genitals exposed. The original photograph was taken by nationally-known photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in 1976 and hangs in the Guggenheim Museum.

The second photo was a zoomed-in, close-up image of the first, focusing on Rosie’s exposed genitals.

After a bench trial, the court convicted Bolles of one count of child pornography and acquitted him of the second, without specifying the photo underlying each ruling. Bolles was then sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Bolles appealed, challenging the sufficiency of his conviction.

Held: The evidence was legally insufficient to support Bolles’s conviction.

Citing McKay v. State and Jackson v. Virginia, the court began its analysis by enunciating the standard for sufficiency review: Considering all the evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict, could a rational trier of fact have found the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt? Here, the conviction for child pornography required evidence that Bolles possessed an image of a minor engaging in lewd exhibition of the genitals, with knowledge of the image’s contents.

Before proceeding to the lewdness analysis, the court first examined the ambiguous nature of the trial court’s verdict. Although the court did not clearly specify the basis for its conviction, comments made on the record appeared to indicate that the court was relying on the zoomed-in image for Bolles’s conviction. Defendant asked the court of appeals to hold these comments as an implied conclusion of law that the original “Rosie” image was not lewd. The court of appeals instead chose to disregard the comments, noting that an appellate court can entirely ignore the trial court’s findings and conclusions during a sufficiency review.

The court of appeals then addressed Bolles’s challenge as to “lewd” character of the photos. Noting that the word “lewd” is not defined in the Penal Code, the court reviewed dictionary definitions of the word before adopting the First Court of Appeals’ interpretation: an image “intended or designed to elicit a sexual response in the viewer.” Following in the footsteps of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, the Thirteenth Court adopted the six federal Dost factors to determine whether a pornographic image qualified under this definition of “lewd.” Although the federal pornography laws to which Dost relates center on the word “lascivious” rather than “lewd,” the court held the terms to be materially equivalent.

Applying this analysis, the court of appeals held the full Mapplethorpe image insufficiently lewd to support Bolles’s conviction. Noting that the exhibition of the genitals does not alone authorize a conviction, the court pointed to the neutral setting of the photo and non-sexual focal point as factors weighing against a finding of lewdness. Furthermore, there was no information regarding the creation of the photo, and no reason to think it was taken without the subject’s consent. Thus, a rational factfinder could not find the photo lewd.

Turning the cropped, zoomed-in image, the court examined the preliminary question of when the photo was “made.” Texas’ child pornography statute requires the subject to be under the age of 18 “at the time the image was made.” However, the court of appeals found that the image was “made” in 2014 when Bolles manipulated the photo in the Corpus Christi library. At that time, Rosie was more than 18 years old. Thus, the evidence was insufficient to support Bolles’s conviction regarding the cropped image.

Consequently, the court of appeals reversed the judgment of the trial court and acquitted Bolles of his child pornography charges.

Read the Full Opinion Here