On State's Motion for Rehearing July 21, 1982.
This is an appeal from a conviction for theft of $10,000 or over. Punishment was assessed by the jury at confinement for 15 years and 1 day and a $10,000 fine.
In her first ground of error appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. The indictment alleges that appellant did:
Specifically, appellant argues that the evidence is insufficient to show that James P. Forrest was the owner of the money.
Appellant owned and operated the Dallas Weight Control Clinic, with which Dr. Robert Craig was associated. She used Dr. Craig's Medicaid number and signature stamp to submit false claims for medical services never rendered. The claims and payment checks were processed through Blue Cross-Blue Shield, which was underwriting the Medicaid program in Texas at that time. The funds appellant was prosecuted for having stolen were Blue Cross-Blue Shield Medicaid funds.
V.T.C.A., Penal Code Sec. 1.07(a)(24) and (28) provide:
Forrest gave the following testimony describing his job and responsibilities:
It is clear that Forrest's responsibilities are to coordinate the prevention of fraud abuse. Although he testified that any fraudulent payments would be without his consent, the issues of consent and ownership are not the same. It is also true that Forrest testified he had authority to order that payment not be made if he were made aware of a fraudulent claim prior to payment. There obviously was no such exercise of authority in this case, as appellant was prosecuted for claims that were paid. Further, the authority to prevent payment of fraudulent claims is like the authority of the security guard in McGee v. State, supra, to stop shoplifters. There was no evidence that Forrest had a general power of care, control, custody or management over disbursement of the stolen funds; the last question in the excerpt above accurately describes his position as "guardian" of the funds. The exercise of true care, control, custody and management of the funds appears later in his testimony, where Forrest described how funds are actually paid:
This description shows that the actual care, custody, control and management of monies used for Medicaid payments is in the hands of the claims examiners, not Forrest, the program integrity specialist. The facts in McGee v. State, supra, are clearly analogous.
The defendant in McGee was charged with theft of property, belonging to Delene Dosher. The evidence showed that Dosher was a security guard in the store where the theft was committed and that her duties were "to watch out for and apprehend shoplifters, to take care of injured people, to file complaints if a shoplifter is caught, and to recover merchandise that is shoplifted." She did not have "care, custody, control or management" of the merchandise in the store. Likewise in this case, Forrest was "guardian" of the funds, with responsibilities, like those of a security guard, to protect against theft of the property of his employer. The "care, custody, control and management" of that property, on the other hand, was the responsibility of the claims examiners.
In its reply to this issue, the State asserts that the record shows Blue Cross-Blue Shield was the program underwriter, that Forrest was responsible for coordination of the systems to prevent fraud abuse, and that if money was fraudulently obtained it would be without Forrest's consent. The record does show these facts, yet, as shown above, none of these speak to the issue of whether Forrest had care, custody, control or management of the funds. The evidence simply does not show that Forrest was the owner, as alleged.
Because the evidence is insufficient, the conviction is set aside and the judgment is reformed to show an acquittal. Burks v. U.S., 437 U.S. 1, 98 S.Ct. 2141, 57 L.Ed.2d 1; Greene v. Massey, 437 U.S. 19, 98 S.Ct. 2151, 57 L.Ed.2d 15.
Before the court en banc.
ON STATE'S MOTION FOR REHEARING
The appellant owned and operated the Dallas Weight Control Clinic with which Dr. Robert Craig was associated. Using Dr. Craig's Medicaid number and signature stamp the appellant submitted hundreds of Medicaid payment claims for medical services never rendered. These false claims were processeded and paid by Blue Cross-Blue Shield which was underwriting the Medicaid program in Texas at that time. The appellant was found guilty of theft of $10,000 or over and punishment was assessed by the jury at confinement for 15 years and 1 day and a $10,000 fine.
The indictment alleged that the appellant,
In her first ground of error, the appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence. Specifically, the appellant argues
V.T.C.A., Penal Code, Sec. 1.07(a)(24) and (28) provide:
Thus, the Code provides three separate means of establishing ownership: that the alleged owner had (1) title, (2) possession, or (3) a right to possession superior to that of the appellant. In the instant case it was undisputed that Blue Cross-Blue Shield, not Forrest, was title owner of the stolen property. The record also reflects that the trial court did not charge the jury on the third form of ownership — greater right to possession. Rather the court instructed the jury:
Therefore it was incumbent upon the State to have proved that Forrest had possession of the property in order to sustain its burden of proof upon the element of ownership.
With regard to this issue, Forrest testified as follows:
Possession may be proved by showing that the alleged owner controlled the property. Cross v. State, 590 S.W.2d 510 (Tex.Cr.App.1979). Forrest testified that he was authorized to stop payment on any Medicaid claim suspected of being fraudulent. We are of the opinion that his authority to suspend payment of Blue Cross-Blue Shield funds was sufficient control of the property to sustain the allegation of Forrest's ownership. The fact that others were also authorized to exercise control over the property in question does not preclude a finding that Forrest was an owner as that term is defined by Sec. 1.07(a)(24). See Campton v. State, 607 S.W.2d 246 (Tex. Cr.App.1980); Cross v. State, 590 S.W.2d 510 (Tex.Cr.App.1979). Exclusive control of the property need not be vested in the alleged owner. We hold that the evidence was sufficient to show that James P. Forrest was the owner of the stolen funds.
The appellant also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence that she filled out the claim forms, and endorsed the checks, which were admitted in evidence. A handwriting expert identified those questioned writings as the appellant's. He compared each of the questioned writings to one or more of four specimens: a signature which was stipulated to be the appellant's, two letters which the appellant had written in the presence of a witness, and an application for a bank loan.
The evidence that the appellant had written the other information on the loan application would not be insufficient simply because it was circumstantial. See J. Wigmore, 3 Evidence, Section 709(2)(a)(3) (J. Chadbourn rev. 1970) (genuineness of handwriting specimen may be proved by testimony directed to the jury like all ordinary evidence). In view of the facts that the loan application was signed by the applicant, that it was completed with information personal to her,
We also think that the genuineness of the loan application was not so crucial to the sufficiency of the evidence as the appellant would have us believe. The loan application was unique among the four specimens in that it contained numerals. There were many numerals on the hundreds of questioned claim forms and checks, but there also were many written words which the expert could (and did) compare with the concededly genuine specimens. The jury having been free to have made its comparisons among all these writings as well,
The appellant challenges in several ways the theory on which this prosecution was brought. She argues that this case could have been prosecuted as a felony of
The appellant also says that the proof was at variance with the indictment and insufficient to prove that she stole over $10,000 on the date alleged.
The State denies that it relied on Section 31.09 or that it aggregated amounts. "The State's theory of the case then," says its brief at 3, "was that at a particular point in time Appellant unlawfully exercised control over at least $10,000 belonging to special owner James P. Forrest. Specifically, the State proved that Appellant had exercised control over $74,321 worth of checks from Blue Cross-Blue Shield by that date." No authority is cited for this theory.
While we agree with the State that the evidence was sufficient,
Over the course of nearly a year, the appellant submitted hundreds of false claims that medical services had been rendered to as many patients on as many occasions, and Blue Cross-Blue Shield paid each claim. Many of these checks were for misdemeanor amounts (less than $200),
The law which applied to such a state of facts before and after the enactment of Section 31.09 of the Penal Code has been explained well:
The State effectively asks us to ignore both the prior law and the effect of Section 31.09 when it asks us to accept its theory of the case. It was settled long ago that a felony conviction could not be supported by proof that a defendant committed several misdemeanor thefts, even though he ultimately accumulated property of "felony value." Lacey v. State, 22 Tex.App. 657, 3 S.W. 343 (1887) (defendant committed "a series of constantly recurring thefts" of lumber, which aggregated more than the felony value; there was no proof that the felony value was taken on any occasion). There is no merit in the State's theory that, without relying on Section 31.09, it could support a conviction for a second-degree felony by proof that the appellant committed a series of misdemeanor and third-degree felony thefts at the conclusion of which she, at one time or another, "had exercised control over" more than the second-degree felony value. It is only by Section 31.09 that such an aggregation is allowed. This being so, was it necessary to have pleaded each theft and to have charged the jury on the law of Section 31.09? The answer is, Yes, as it was to two closely analogous questions.
The first question was whether it was necessary to plead, and to charge the jury on, Section 31.03(d)(4)(C) of the Penal Code, which prescribes third-degree felony punishment for theft that would otherwise be a misdemeanor if "the defendant has been previously convicted two or more times of any grade of theft...." This is a jurisdictional element of the offense which must be pleaded in the indictment. Gant v. State, 606 S.W.2d 867, 871-872 n. 9 (Tex.Cr.App.1980). The defendant is entitled to have the jury charged on this element. Id. at 871.
Section 31.09 is similar to Section 31.03(d)(4)(C) in that it prescribes a higher punishment for certain conduct, namely, obtaining amounts in violation of Chapter 31 "pursuant to one scheme or continuing course of conduct, whether from the same or several sources...." Only when it satisfies that condition may "the conduct... be considered as one offense and the amounts aggregated in determining the grade of offense." Even more clearly than in Gant, supra, this condition is an element of the offense which the defendant may require the State to plead and the court to charge the jury.
The second analogous question arose under the exception to the rule that restricted the scope of a theft to a single time. That exception, mentioned in S. Searcy & J. Patterson, supra, is when "several articles or things in bulk are taken by continuous acts, there being but one purpose, one impulse...." Cody v. State, 31 Tex.Cr.R. 183, 184, 20 S.W. 398, 398 (1892).
The trial court erred in overruling the appellant's "exception" to the charge for its failure to instruct the jury on the law of Section 31.09, which was an essential element of the offense. The State's motion for rehearing is granted. The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded.
ONION, P. J., and TOM G. DAVIS, W.C. DAVIS, CLINTON and TEAGUE, JJ., join this opinion.
DALLY and McCORMICK, JJ., join in Parts I and II, but dissent from Part III.
ODOM, Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I concur in the reversal of appellant's conviction, but dissent to the remand of the cause. The judgment should be reformed to reflect an acquittal for reasons stated in the opinion on original submission. The evidence is insufficient to show James Forrest
The appellant did not deny her signature under oath.