Articles Posted in Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

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The issue this case presented for the Court of Criminal Appeals’ review centered on whether a trial court could pay an appointed prosecutor at an hourly rate even though the fee schedule approved by the judges of the county only allowed for payment of a fixed fee. Relators (the attorneys appointed to prosecute the defendant) argued that upholding the trial court’s order for payment was appropriate because the trial court’s determination of a reasonable fee for their services was a discretionary call, not a ministerial one. The primary Real Party in Interest (the Collin County Commissioners Court) responded that vacating the trial court’s order for payment was appropriate because the trial court lacked authority to set a fee outside of the fixed rate in the fee schedule approved by the local judges. According to the Commissioners Court, the local rule authorizing the trial court to “opt out” of its own fee schedule conflicts with a statute that requires payment according to that fee schedule. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the Commissioners Court that the statute in question limited the trial court’s authority, and the Court agreed with the court of appeals that the second order for payment should be vacated. View "In re Texas ex rel. Brian Wice v. 5th Judicial District Court of Appeals" on Justia Law

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Appellant Mauricio Celis was never licensed to practice law in Texas or any other jurisdiction, but he continuously held himself out as a lawyer in Texas over a period of several years in a lucrative business. Appellant acknowledged that he did not have a "cedula," nor a certificate from Mexico's Ministry of Education. Rather, he testified that he had a diploma in judicial sciences and that he, therefore, believed that he was "considered a lawyer in Mexico." He called two witnesses who testified that every Mexican citizen who was of legal age and sound mind is a "licenciado." Appellant was charged with 23 counts of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer in violation of Texas Penal Code Section 38.122 (the "false-lawyer statute"). With respect to a culpable mental state, the trial court's instructions required the jury to determine only whether appellant intended to obtain an economic benefit for himself in holding himself out as a lawyer. The instructions did not include a culpable mental state with respect to the remaining elements that alleged that appellant had held himself out as an attorney, was not currently licensed to practice law, and was not in good standing with the State Bar of Texas and other applicable authorities. In deciding appellant's petition for discretionary review, the Supreme Court considered three issues: (1) whether the offense of falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer does not require an instruction as to a culpable mental state beyond the intent expressly prescribed by the plain language in that statute; (2) whether appellant was not entitled to an instruction on a mistake-of-fact defense because his requested instruction did not negate the culpability required for the offense; and (3) whether the appellate court properly determined that the trial court's instruction on the definition of "foreign legal consultant" was not an improper comment on the weight of the evidence. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Celis v. Texas" on Justia Law