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State v. Meadows

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

April 28, 2005

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellant
v.
JASON MEADOWS, Appellee.

          Appeal from 168th District Court of El Paso County, Texas (TC# 20030D06220)

          Before Barajas, C.J., McClure, and Chew, JJ.

          OPINION

          ANN CRAWFORD McCLURE, JUSTICE

         The State of Texas appeals from an order dismissing the indictment for lack of jurisdiction. See Tex.R.App.P. 44.01(a)(1). We reverse and remand the cause for Meadows to answer the indictment.

         FACTUAL SUMMARY

         A grand jury indicted Meadows for assaulting Jacqueline Milton by hitting and kicking her and by throwing her into a wall. For enhancement purposes, the indictment included an allegation that Meadows had previously been convicted of an assault offense against a member of his family or household in Cause Number 20020D05960. Meadows filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for lack of jurisdiction. Meadows alleged in the motion that his assault conviction in Cause Number 20020D05960 was not a case involving family violence, and therefore, it could not be used to enhance the current assault offense to a felony. He further argued that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the primary assault because it was only a misdemeanor.

         At the hearing on the motion to dismiss, Meadows offered into evidence the judgment from Cause Number 20020D05960. The judgment reflected that Meadows entered a negotiated plea of guilty to the lesser-included offense of misdemeanor assault. It did not contain an affirmative "family violence" finding. [1] According to the reporter's record of the guilty plea hearing, Meadows testified that the victim had been his next door neighbor and he had known her for three or four months prior to the assault. At the conclusion of the hearing below, the trial court made a specificfactual finding that "[t]he judgment that has been relied upon for the enhancement for the case at bar . . . is not a family violence case." The prosecutor argued that whether the prior conviction involved family violence was a factual matter to be determined at trial, not in a pre-trial hearing, and that the court lacked authority to make the factual finding or dismiss the indictment due to claimed insufficiency of the evidence at this stage of the proceedings. The trial court disagreed and granted the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction because the State had not offered any evidence to prove that the prior assault offense involved family violence. The State timely filed its notice of appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The sufficiency of an indictment is a question of law. State v. Moff, 154 S.W.3d 599, 601 (Tex.Crim.App. 2004). When the resolution of a question of law does not turn on an evaluation of the credibility and demeanor of a witness, then the trial court is not in an appreciably better position to make the determination, and appellate courts are to conduct a de novo review. Id.; see Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997).

         IMPROPER DISMISSAL OF THE INDICTMENT

         In its sole issue on appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred by dismissing the indictment for lack of jurisdiction for two reasons: (1) proof of the enhancement allegation is an evidentiary matter to be determined at trial and is not a jurisdictional issue to be determined pre-trial; and (2) even if the State is unable to prove at trial that the prior assault conviction involved family violence, the trial court is not deprived of jurisdiction of the misdemeanor offense. We agree with both arguments.

         An assault offense may be enhanced from a class A misdemeanor to a third-degree felony if the offense is committed against:

[A] member of the defendant's family or household, if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the defendant has previously been convicted of an offense against a member of the defendant's family or household under this section. [Emphasis added].

         Tex.Penal Code Ann. §22.01(b)(2)(Vernon Supp. 2004-05). In a subsequent proceeding, the State may rely on extrinsic evidence to prove that a previous assault was committed against a family or household member. See Manning v. State, 112 S.W.3d 740, 744 (Tex.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, pet. ref'd); Mitchell v. State, 102 S.W.3d 772, 775 (Tex.App.--Austin 2003, pet. ref'd); Goodwin v. State, 91 S.W.3d 912, 919 (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 2002, no pet.); see also State v. Cagle, 77 S.W.3d 344, 348 (Tex.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, pet. ref'd)(holding notation on prior judgment that family violence was "not applicable or not available" did not amount to ...


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