COLBURN v. STATE No. 72236.
966 S.W.2d 511 (1998)
James Blake COLBURN, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas.
Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, En Banc.
February 25, 1998.
Michael A. McDougal, Dist. Atty., Gail Kikawa McConnell, Asst. Dist. Atty., Conroe, Matthew Paul, State's Atty., Austin, for State.
Before the court en banc.
MEYERS, Judge, delivered the opinion of the Court in which McCORMICK, Presiding Judge, MANSFIELD, KELLER, PRICE, HOLLAND and WOMACK, Judges, joined.
Appellant was convicted of capital murder committed in Montgomery County on or
Appellant raises five points of error, but does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence at either stage of trial. Therefore, we dispense with a recitation of the facts and address the points of error in the order they are presented.
In appellant's first point of error, he contends the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing appellant to death because he has an extensive history of paranoid schizophrenia. He argues the imposition of the death sentence on a severely mentally ill person violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 13 of the Texas Constitution, and Article 1.09 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (regarding cruel or unusual punishment). In particular, appellant points to Ford v. Wainwright,
Ford, supra, and related authority proscribe the execution of an insane person, not the imposition of sentence on a mentally ill person. The fact that appellant had a mental illness when he was tried and sentenced is not determinative of whether he will be sane at the moment of his execution. The proper time to argue the issue presented in appellant's first point of error is after appellant has been sentenced to death and his execution is imminent. That would also be the proper time for this Court to articulate the applicable standard for determining a capital defendant's sanity for purposes of addressing a Ford claim. Thus, appellant's Federal Constitutional claim is not yet ripe and is not properly before this Court in the instant appeal. Further, we note that the psychiatric evaluations and other information necessary to evaluate appellant's sanity at the time of execution will not necessarily be found in the record from trial. A record of such evidence is best developed in the context of a hearing held in relation to an application for writ of habeas corpus. Cf. Ex parte Torres,
In his second point of error appellant claims the trial court abused its discretion in finding there was no valid marriage between appellant and Martha Colburn ("Martha") prior to January 11, 1990, when the couple filed a written declaration of informal marriage pursuant to Texas Family Code Section 1.92 (Vernon 1993). Appellant argues the couple had been informally married since August 4, 1988, which is the marriage date given in the informal marriage declaration. Appellant contends that because this was a
Under Rule 504 the spouse of the accused has a privilege not to be called as a witness for the State. TEX.R.CRIM. EVID. 504(2)(a). This privilege does not extend to matters occurring prior to the marriage. TEX. R.CRIM. EVID. 504(2)(b). Appellant and Martha were never ceremonially married; therefore, appellant had to prove that a common law marriage existed at the time of the events to which Martha testified. See Welch v. State,
Section 1.91 of the Texas Family Code provides in part that:
TEX. FAM.CODE ANN. § 1.91(a)(Vernon 1993)(emphasis added). Section 1.92, Declaration and Registration, requires that the written declaration referred to in subsection (a)(1) above, contain the following oath:
A properly recorded declaration of informal marriage constitutes prima facie proof of the informal marriage. TEX. FAM.CODE § 1.94(d)(Vernon 1993); Russell v. Russell,
The trial court admitted into evidence, at appellant's request, a written declaration of informal marriage that complied on its face with the requirements in section 1.92. The declaration was executed on January 11, 1990, and stated in part as follows:
To challenge appellant's prima facie showing of common law marriage based upon the declaration, the State offered Martha's testimony,
The Witness: I got married on the day that he got his time and was definitely going to be sent away, so I would know I had papers on him anyway.
The State: And after the trailer burned, you lived where you live now, with the people you live with now, didn't you?
The Witness: After the trailer burned, yes, sir.
(emphasis added). On cross-examination by the defense, Martha stated that she had lived with appellant "off and on, you know, whatever, up until we finally managed to be legally married.... January 11th, 1990." Martha also testified that she and appellant celebrated August 7th or 9th, 1988, as their "getting acquainted day" and she referred to the day they knew appellant was going away to prison for arson (in January of 1990) as the day she got married. When asked if the August date was the day she and appellant agreed to be married Martha said:
Common law marriage requires that there be some agreement presently to be married, not to marry sometime in the future. See Texas Employers' Ins. Ass'n v. Borum,
In his third point of error, appellant argues the trial court erroneously refused his
The trial court denied appellant's request and did not include an instruction informing the jury of the length of time appellant would serve before becoming eligible for parole under a life sentence. Both parties agreed to say nothing in final arguments inconsistent with the proposition that "life means life." During deliberations, the jury sent the following written question to the trial court: "[g]iven a life sentence, is there a possibility of parole in this case?" The trial court responded:
Appellant contends the trial court's actions described above violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution.
We have repeatedly held that parole eligibility is not a proper consideration at sentencing in a capital case. See, e.g., Santellan v. State,
Appellant acknowledges that precedent from this Court weighs heavily against him on all constitutional grounds (citing Smith, supra), but urges that we reconsider our prior opinions in light of the great similarity between the facts of his case and Simmons v. South Carolina,
In Simmons, the Supreme Court reversed a capital defendant's death sentence on due process grounds where future dangerousness was at issue. The Court's holding was based on the facts that the trial court did not instruct the jury about eligibility for parole, the defendant was prevented from informing the jury that he was ineligible for parole under state law, and the state led the jury to believe the defendant could be released on parole. Id. In Smith, supra, we refused to apply Simmons, based upon several critical distinctions between our sentencing scheme and that applicable in Simmons. We first noted that Simmons on its face appeared "to be limited to states which have life without parole and not to states which have life with parole eligibility." In Texas, a life sentence does not mean life without parole. Further, in Simmons, the State injected information before the jury suggesting a possibility of parole that the defendant did not have the opportunity to rebut or explain. In addition, South Carolina juries determine whether the defendant should get a life sentence or death. The Simmons jury was under a potentially mistaken belief that it had to choose between death and a limited period of incarceration. Finally, in Texas, defense counsel is permitted to question prospective jurors about their ability to obey an instruction forbidding the consideration of parole in deliberations. Smith, 898 S.W.2d at 848-53; see also Santellan, supra; Shannon v. State,
In his fourth point of error, appellant contends the trial court improperly sustained the State's challenge for cause to prospective juror J. Bishop because of his religious scruples against capital punishment, in violation of his rights under Amendments Six and Fourteen of the United States Constitution, and Witherspoon v. Illinois,
A veniremember may not be struck for cause merely because he is opposed to the death penalty. Witherspoon, 522-23, 88 S.Ct. at 1777; Rachal v. State,
In reviewing the trial court's decision to dismiss a venireperson upon a sustained challenge for cause, considerable deference is given to the trial court because it is in the best position to evaluate the venireman's demeanor and responses. Wainwright v. Witt,
In the instant case, prospective juror Bishop said his church opposed the death penalty and initially stated that his religious beliefs would substantially impair him in his ability to give the death penalty. Upon further questioning by the defense, he said that he could answer the punishment questions based on the evidence. However, when the State questioned him again about whether his personal moral opposition to the death penalty "would interfere in how you are going to answer these questions," Bishop answered:
Thus, Bishop vacillated as to whether he could follow the law and answer the punishment questions based on the facts and whether his religious and moral conviction against the death penalty would bias his answers to those questions. In such situations, we defer to the trial court's discretion. See Rachal and Chambers, supra. Appellant's fourth point of error is overruled.
While prospective juror Wertz was personally opposed to the death penalty, he nevertheless stated he would try to answer the questions fairly and in accordance with the law and his oath. Upon further questioning, however, Wertz stated, as to the mitigation special issue, "There would probably be mitigating circumstances. Personally, I feel there would always be."' (emphasis added). This position was based upon Wertz's "view about the death penalty and [his] religion."
We recently upheld a challenge for cause in a nearly identical situation. Smith v. State,
In his fifth point of error, appellant asserts the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search of appellant's residence, in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (excluding illegally obtained evidence).
The record reveals that appellant went to his neighbor's apartment and asked the neighbor to call the police because appellant had just killed "that girl." The neighbor initially did not believe appellant, then relented and called the police when appellant continued to insist that he had killed a girl. Deputy Larry Demanche responded to a "welfare check" or "welfare concern" call and spoke with appellant's neighbor. Appellant's neighbor directed him to appellant's apartment, where the door was standing open. Deputy Demanche made an immediate, warrantless entry into appellant's apartment based on this information. He discovered the dead body of the victim in the bedroom, then exited without searching further. At this point, Demanche went to appellant's
Although the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution generally prohibits warrantless searches, both the Supreme Court and this Court have recognized that in limited situations an immediate search without a warrant is reasonable where a risk of injury or death exists. Brimage v. State,
In this case, Demanche received a call to perform a "welfare check" on a reported homicide. He was informed that appellant claimed he had just killed a girl in his apartment and had requested his neighbor call the police. Appellant also told the neighbor the girl was still in the apartment. Although there was reason to believe that the victim was already dead, a reasonable officer under the circumstances might have thought there was a possibility that the victim might still be alive, but seriously injured. Thus, we hold Demanche's search of the apartment was justified under the Emergency Doctrine. Appellant's fifth point of error is overruled.
In his first supplemental point of error, appellant contends the trial court erred in failing to grant his motion for mistrial based on allegations of "patent juror misconduct," during the sentencing phase of trial.
During deliberations the jury sent out a note which read, "Given a life sentence, is there a possibility of parole in this case?" The trial court's reply read:
Appellant objected to the trial court's response as indirectly informing the jury that appellant would be eligible for parole. Appellant further moved for a mistrial on the ground that the jury was considering parole in deliberation. Appellant's objection and motion for mistrial were overruled.
Under Texas law, parole is not a proper topic for jury deliberation. See, e.g., Smith v. State,
The trial court's reply or supplemental jury instruction was a correct statement of the law. Contrary to appellant's assertion, it did not inform the jury that appellant "will be eligible for parole." The jury was simply told "not [to] consider parole in any manner." There is no implication in this statement as to the applicability of parole to appellant.
We generally presume the jury follows the trial court's instructions in the manner presented. See Williams v. State,
Appellant says the jury's consideration of parole deprived him of a "fair trial." In light of the court's proper instruction, we presume the jury did not consider parole. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in its supplemental instructions to the jury and in its denial of appellant's motion for mistrial. Appellant's first supplemental point of error is overruled.
Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
BAIRD, J., dissents to the decision to publish this opinion believing it adds nothing to the jurisprudence of this State.
OVERSTREET, Judge, concurring and dissenting.
I dissent to the majority's holding on point three, which avers error by the trial court in refusing to submit appellant's requested punishment jury charge instruction regarding parole law, i.e. that he would not become eligible for parole on a life sentence until he had served 40 years. In view of his age, he would not have become parole eligible until he was over 70 years old. Surely such a fact would be relevant to the jury's determination of the future dangerousness special issue. And as the majority notes in its discussion of appellant's supplemental point of error, the jury expressed just such concern during deliberations by asking the trial court whether parole was a possibility in this case. Such is proof positive of the acuteness of this error.
I continue to dissent to the majority's treatment of this issue. See, e.g., Smith v. State,
I also note that four members of the United States Supreme Court have recently commented upon the "[p]erverse[ness]" of our death penalty scheme not letting the jury know when the defendant will become eligible for parole if he is not sentenced to death. Brown v. Texas, ___ U.S. ___, 118 S.Ct. 355, 139 L.Ed.2d 276 (1997). I likewise find rather perverse this Court's continued approval of keeping jurors ignorant and uninformed of such a critical legal fact when making life and death decisions as to whether the death penalty will be assessed. Capital jurors deserve to be so informed so that they can make an informed decision. Hopefully a majority of this Court will soon realize this; before the
I respectfully dissent to the majority's discussion and holding as to point of error number three. Otherwise, I concur in the disposition of all the other points.
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