One of the most important principles of criminal defense law in Texas is that every defendant has the right to trial by jury. The jury is expected to weigh the evidence presented and reach an impartial verdict according to the law. Among other things, this means the jury cannot consider any outside evidence–including their own personal knowledge–when assessing the prosecution’s case against the defendant.
Houston Court Tosses Guilty Verdict After Jury Relies on Outside Siren to Convict Defendant
The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals here in Houston recently reversed a criminal conviction because the jury failed to follow this principle. The case, Najar v. State, involved a defendant charged with evading the police. One evening in March 2016, a Houston Police Department officer observed a car traveling over 100 miles per hour on I-610.
The officer activated his siren and lights and followed the vehicle “for approximately two miles” before it pulled over. The officer said during this pursuit, he observed the vehicle cutting across lanes of traffic multiple times without signaling. Eventually, the vehicle stopped and the officer identified the defendant as the driver.
Prosecutors charged the defendant with “evading arrest or detention,” which is a third-degree felony under Section 38.04 of the Texas Penal Code. At trial, the arresting officer was the only witness. But during closing arguments, defense counsel told the jury that her client “did not realize” the officer was attempting to pull him over until the police vehicle was “within close range.”
The jury briefly deliberated and returned a guilty verdict. The trial court imposed a 10-year prison sentence on the felony charge. After the end of the trial, however, the attorneys for both sides interviewed the jury. One juror said that during deliberations, the jury “heard a siren coming from outside on the street 15 floors below.” From this, they reasoned “that if they could hear a siren while inside the building, [the defendant] should have been able to hear the officer’s siren while in his vehicle.”
Armed with this new information, the defense asked for a new trial, pointing out the jury ignored the trial judge’s instructions to “not consider nor mention any personal knowledge or information … which is not shown by the evidence.” The trial court denied the motion and upheld the verdict.
But the 14th District reversed. It explained that under Texas court rules, a defendant is entitled to a new trial when “after retiring to deliberate, the jury has received other evidence.” Here, the prosecution did not dispute the jury received such evidence in the form of its observations of the outside siren. And there was no question such evidence was “detrimental” to the defendant’s case. By rule, a new trial was therefore required.
Get Help from a Galveston or League City Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
As this case illustrates, a criminal trial does not always end with the jury’s verdict. An experienced Houston criminal defense attorney can assist you in making sure the jury acted according to the law. If you have been charged with a serious crime and need advice, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates right away. Call (281) 280-0100.