Woodlands Criminal Defense Attorney - Case Law Update Reece v. State April 28, 2023
Woodlands Criminal Defense Attorney - Brian Foley - Board Certified in Criminal Law.
IIn the recent case of Reece v. State, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas addressed the issue of whether the State can enhance a state jail felony under §12.50 for an offense committed in a disaster area and then further enhance under Penal Code §12.42 for repeat and habitual offenders, instead of using the state jail felony enhancement statute in Penal Code §12.425.
If you're really well versed in this law of state jail felony enhancements the court basically ruled that if you don't fall under subsection (c) aggravated state jail felony then you're stuck with regular state jail felony enhancements. Here's a little more detail if that didn't make sense immediately.
The court held that the State should have enhanced under §12.425(b) and that, under that section, the defendant's prior convictions increased his punishment range to that of a second-degree felony. Because the defendant received a 45-year sentence based on §§12.50 and 12.42, his sentence was illegal. The court affirmed the defendant's conviction but remanded to the trial court for a new punishment hearing.
This decision highlights the importance of understanding the different punishment enhancement statutes in Texas. State jail felonies are a type of felony offense in Texas, which carry a punishment range of 180 days to two years in a state jail facility, and a fine of up to $10,000. Common state jail felony offenses include theft, possession of a controlled substance, and certain types of property crimes.
Penal Code §12.425 is the state jail felony enhancement statute, which allows for a sentence to be enhanced to a third-degree felony range if the defendant has one prior felony conviction, and to a second-degree felony range if the defendant has two or more prior felony convictions. Penal Code §12.50, on the other hand, provides for punishment enhancement for offenses committed in a disaster area.
The State argued that the disaster enhancement changed the character of the original offense to make it a third degree instead of increasing the punishment to the third degree range. The court disagreed, "[f]irst, Section 12.50 does not 'make the offense a third-degree felony.' Section 12.50 simply 'increase[s] . . . the punishment prescribed [to] the next higher category.' TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 12.50 (Supp.). While Section 12.50 could be used to elevate Reece’s punishment range, it did not change the degree of the underlying offense. See id.; Ford v. State, 334 S.W.3d 230, 234–35 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011); Bledsoe v. State, 480 S.W.3d 638, 642 n.11 (Tex. App.— Texarkana 2015, pet. ref’d)." Reece v. State, No. 06-22-00026-CR (Tex. Crim. App. 2023.)
It is important for criminal defense attorneys to carefully review the specific facts and circumstances of each case to determine the appropriate punishment enhancement statute to apply. Failure to do so could result in an illegal sentence, as in the case of Reece v. State
TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 12.35(a), (c).
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (c), an individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony shall be punished by confinement in a state jail for any term of not more than two years or less than 180 days. . . . . (c) An individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony shall be punished for a third[-]degree felony if it is shown on the trial of the offense that: (1) a deadly weapon as defined by Section 1.07 was used or exhibited during the commission of the offense or during immediate flight following the commission of the offense, and that the individual used or exhibited the deadly weapon or was a party to the offense and knew that a deadly weapon would be used or exhibited; or (2) the individual has previously been finally convicted of any felony: (A) under Section 20A.03 or 21.02 or listed in Article 42A.054(a), Code of Criminal Procedure; or (B) for which the judgment contains an affirmative finding under Article 42A.054(c) or (d), Code of Criminal Procedure.
TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 12.50(a)–(b) (Supp.).
The relevant part of the final section in play here, Section 12.50, states, (a) Subject to Subsection (c), the punishment for an offense described by Subsection (b) is increased to the punishment prescribed for the next higher category of offense if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the offense was committed in an area that was, at the time of the offense: (1) subject to a declaration of a state of disaster made by: . . . . (B) the governor under Section 418.014, Government Code. . . . . 8 (b) The increase in punishment authorized by this section applies only to an offense under: . . . . (8) Section 31.03.
BORING LEGAL DISCLAIMER
For litigants who do not have counsel: Reading this blog post does not create an attorney client relationship. Call to set up a free consultation.
For the general public: This Blog/Web Site is for educational purposes only and it provides general information and a general understanding of the law, but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship created. Don't just read this as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney.
For attorneys: This Blog is informational and educational in nature and is not a substitute for Westlaw or other research and consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients. As you know the law can change day to day based on recent case opinions. And unfortunately you shouldn't cite it in court as binding authority because it is not. Mention it to your friends, just seek real consultation if its something important.