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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished- Enhancement Judgment Not Final on Its Face Occasions Partial Remand

    Texarkana Texas's Sixth Court of Appeals
reversed and remanded the punishment hearing in Cornel G. Williams v. State of Texas because one of the enhancement judgments showed that it had been appealed. Justices Jack Carter (D) and Bailey C. Moseley (R) were the majority. Chief Justice Josh R. Morriss, III (R) dissented. Submitted on February 10, 2010, the Court released its opinion March 31 of that year.

Williams appealed his conviction for possessing more than four grams of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The Longview jury enhanced his punishment to life imprisonmentwhich in Texas state law is 35 years until the convict's first chance to get parole— because of his prior convictions. The State alleged his priors in the indictment. He pleaded "true" to them. The State introduced, without objection from Williams, certified copies of two prior convictions. The opinion says that Williams argued on appeal that "the State's notice" contained "no allegations regarding the sequence of the convictions" and "no mention of when the offenses occurred or when the convictions became final." The Court held that "the documentary evidence revealed that an appeal had been prosecuted from one of those convictions, yet there was no evidence presented to show that the conviction had become final." The evidence was, therefore, legally insufficient. The Court of Appeals cites Ex parte Rich, 194 S.W.3d 508 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006) (orig. proceeding) that Williams's plea of "true" and his failure to object to the judgment that did not show on its face that it was final does not waive this error. Rich's sentence had been enhanced even though one of the enhancing judgments had been proved to have been reduced to a misdemeanor. The Court of Appeals does not state unequivocally state that the judgment in Williams's case was not final— I think they would have, if that judgment had not in fact been final. In Rich, the illegality of his sentence was manifest: a misdemeanor cannot enhance a felony sentence, even if the defendant is willing to suffer such an enhancement. In the absence of perfect proof that an enhancement is final, I believe that the defendant's assent that the enhancement is final should conclude the matter under present Texas law.

The two older justices— the ones not likely facing reelection— decided that 4.83 grams of coke shouldn't turn a 180 day sentence into life.

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