Recent Decision Clarifies Habitual Offender Laws
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently issued a ruling that could be viewed as a blow to criminal defendants in the state. The Court affirmed the ruling of an appeals court that reinstated an indictment under one of the state’s habitual offender laws. As a result, the defendant now faces a sentence of 25 to 99 years in prison for a felony charge of controlled substance possession.
The defendant had been previously convicted of two different felonies. First, the defendant was charged and convicted of murder. Then, he was charged and convicted of a non-state jail felony for forgery and engaging in organized criminal activity. The issue here is that Texas has several laws that punish repeat felony convictions. These laws are:
- Texas Penal Code § 12.425 – this law imposes enhanced sentences when the defendant has (1) two ordinary state jail felony prior convictions (2) two sequential felonies other than SJFs (3) One prior felony other than an ordinary SJF
- Texas Penal Code § 12.42(d) – this law imposes even higher penalties when a defendant has two prior non-ordinary SJF convictions
- 12.42 is the more serious of the two, and that was the basis for the original indictment. At trial, the defendant tried to argue that the strictest penalty did not apply to his facts because there was another repeat offender statute that applied, which had a lesser penalty. The trial court accepted his arguments and quashed the indictment on the repeat offender charge.
The Court Gave Meaning to Both Statutes in Ruling Against the Defendant
The Court read the plain language of the two different statutes that punished repeat offenders. The defendant argued that § 12.425 was the exclusive means of punishing repeat offenders and that this newer law effectively wrote § 12.42 out of existence. The Court disagreed with the defendant’s reading. According to the decision, the Court tries to interpret a statute to give each one meaning. The Court held that § 12.42 was a more specific statute on point. Thus, this law, instead of § 12.425, applied to the defendant. Now, the defendant may face what could effectively be a life sentence for a drug possession crime.
Defendants need to be conscious of the consequences of habitual offender statutes whenever they are facing felony charges. Even if it is a second felony charge, they may face enhanced penalties. This should be something to think about when electing to plead guilty to a felony. While each defendant has their own considerations, there may be an incentive to either fight felony charges or attempt to plead down to a misdemeanor. Otherwise, the defendant faces the prospect of potential enhanced sentences. An experienced attorney could advise you of the consequences of felony charges.
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If you have been charged with a crime, the law firm of Cofer and Luster is here to defend you. Reach out to us online or call us at (682) 777-3336 to discuss your case and begin your legal defense.