What Happens When the Wrong Court Tries a Misdemeanor Offense?
September 20th, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Misdemeanor Crimes
In the Texas judicial system, different courts handle different types of cases. For example, misdemeanor crimes are tried by county courts, while felony cases are handled by district courts. And this is not a technical or superficial distinction. If you are charged solely with misdemeanor offenses, a district court lacks “subject matter jurisdiction” over your case.
Court of Criminal Appeals Tosses Conviction Due to Lack of Felony Charge
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently reversed the convictions of a man charged with 16 separate misdemeanors because he was improperly tried in a district court. Although the district court held it had jurisdiction because the defendant’s indictment supposedly alleged a felony charge, the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed.
The defendant in this case, Diruzzo v. State, was caught practicing medicine without a license. The 16 counts each related to specific patients the defendant treated on different dates. The indictment cited Section 165.152 of the Texas Occupations Code, which makes it illegal for a physician to practice medicine “in violation of” the law. That is to say, it is a third-degree felony when a licensed physician acts in a manner that harms patients.
But as the defendant pointed out, he was not a licensed physician, and the indictment never alleged he harmed any patient. The felony charge was therefore inapplicable to his case. Instead, the indictment only effectively charged him with the misdemeanor offense of practicing without a license.
The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the defendant’s reading of the law. As amended by the Texas legislature in 2003, the Court said the current version of Section 165.152 only applies to licensed physicians. The next section, 165.153, creates a separate felony charge for any person who “practices medicine without a license and causes another person” harm. But as noted above, the state never accused the defendant of this crime.
And since the defendant was only properly charged with misdemeanor crimes, the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. The Court of Criminal Appeals therefore reversed the conviction. It did not dismiss the indictment, however, noting the district court could still transfer the case to the county court–which does have jurisdiction–for a new trial.
Speak with a Houston Misdemeanor Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
Before anyone can be tried for even a misdemeanor crime, it is essential for prosecutors and judges to properly establish a court’s jurisdiction. This is not some minor technicality but an essential element of constitutional due process. And if you are the one facing the misdemeanor charge, you have every right to demand the people charging you are themselves following the law.
The best way to protect your rights in a misdemeanor case is to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who understands these procedures inside-and-out. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you live in Houston, Galveston, or League City and need advice in fighting a misdemeanor charge today. Call (713) 802-1631.