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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beaumont Passes Along to Seiler what SCOTX Told Them

Under Texas law, a person convicted of a sex crime or sexually motivated murder, who has a behavioral abnormality: a paraphilia, a sexual weirdness, can be civilly committed and held interminably. The State was unsuccessful in committing the first person it tried to commit. After that, though, every respondent was either committed or there was a hung jury, and on retrial the person was committed. In the first few years, I knew of one case that had been reversed and remanded. That was the only one , except for one case that got sent to the Corpus Christi court of appeals instead of Beaumont's and was judged by a visiting justice instead of a regular justice (and which was reversed in favor of the trial court by the Texas Supremes). Other than that,
the appeals court always affirmed.
Last March I wrote about a string of reversals of the SVP trial court in Conroe by the Beaumont COA. There was another reversal in May that I wrote of here.
Now there's another--In re Commitment of James Anthony Miller, No. 09-11-00450-CV (Tex. App.--Beaumont (July 26, 2012, no pet. h.)   The trial judge appears to have been Michael Seiler. After the State and the defense had each taken a turn at questioning the panel from which the jury would be selected, the defense wanted to ask either: (1) “Can you set aside any bias if you find there’s an offense against a child?  Can you listen to all the evidence and follow the law?” or (2) “Is anyone unable to hear topics about children?  Can you listen to the evidence and follow the law?”  The trial court  refused Miller’s request to pose such questions to the jury panel.
Chief Justice McKeithen joined by Justice Charles Kreger held that a trial court’s refusal to allow proper questions during voir dire denies a party’s constitutional right to trial by a fair and impartial jury and is harmful, i.e., probably caused the rendition of an improper judgment, following In re Commitment of Hill, 334 S.W.3d 226 (Tex. 2011) (per curiam) and Babcock v. Nw. Mem’l Hosp., 767 S.W.2d 705 (Tex. 1989). The third panelist, Justice David Gaultney, argued in dissent that the trial judge was in his sound discretion not to allow additional questions after voir dire had been closed once, and that there was no indication that the trial judge's failure to allow the question or questions caused any biased veniremember to get on the jury. That is, the trial judge's action was either not error or was harmless error.

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