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State v. Ojiaku

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

December 23, 2013

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellant
v.
CHINEDU GODWIN OJIAKU, Appellee

On Appeal from the 291st Judicial District Court, Dallas County, Texas. Trial Court Cause No. F13-00108-U.

For Appellants: Allan Fishburn, Attorney at Law, Dallas, TX.

For Appellees: Michael R. Casillas, Assistant District Attorney--Chief Prosecutor, Dallas, TX; Craig Watkins, Dallas, TX.

Before Justices FitzGerald, Francis, and Myers. Opinion by Justice FitzGerald.

OPINION

Page 634

KERRY P. FITZGERALD, JUSTICE

The State appeals the trial court's order granting Chinedu Godwin Ojiaku's pretrial application for writ of habeas corpus and dismissing the case with prejudice. In two issues, the State contends this Court has jurisdiction to consider the State's appeal and the trial court erred in granting appellee's application because limitations had not run. We affirm the trial court's order.

Background

The facts are undisputed. Appellee was indicted in 2003 for indecency with a child. Appellee was admitted to bail and ordered to appear in the trial court on September 26, 2003. Appellee failed to appear and was not apprehended until November 3, 2012. On February 22, 2013, the State indicted appellee for bail jumping and failure to appear (" bail jumping" hereinafter). The face of the indictment indicates the offense occurred between September 26, 2003, and November 3, 2012. The indecency offense was dismissed on February 27, 2013.

Appellee filed a pretrial application for writ of habeas corpus contending the applicable three-year statute of limitations had run on the bail jumping case. During the hearing on the writ application, the State contended limitations had not expired because appellee's failure to appear constituted a continuous offense occurring from September 26, 2003, through November 3, 2012, and, thus, the indictment was timely.

Page 635

The trial court granted appellee's writ application and signed an order dismissing the case with prejudice. The trial court subsequently filed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The trial court concluded that the offense of bail jumping is complete when the defendant fails to appear in accordance with the terms of his release, bail jumping is not a continuous offense, and the statute of limitations is three years. The trial court concluded prosecution of the bail jumping case is barred by the statute of limitations because no indictment was filed within three years of when appellee first failed to appear, and thus limitations expired prior to the presentment of the indictment. The trial court entered a final order dismissing the prosecution with prejudice.

Applicable Law

We review the trial court's determination on an application for writ of habeas corpus under an abuse of discretion standard. See Ex parte Peterson, 117 S.W.3d 804, 819 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003) (per curiam), overruled on other grounds by Ex parte Lewis, 219 S.W.3d 335 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). In reviewing the trial court's order, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling. Kniatt v. State, 206 S.W.3d 657, 664 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006). We afford almost total deference to the trial court's determination of the historical facts that the record supports. See Peterson, 117 S.W.3d at 819. We likewise defer to the trial court's application of the law to the facts, if the resolution of the ultimate question turns on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. See id . If the resolution of the ultimate question turns on an application of legal standards, we review the determination de novo. See id .

" A person lawfully released from custody, with or without bail, on condition that he subsequently appear commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly fails to appear in accordance with the terms of his release." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 38.10(a) (West 2011). The applicable statute of limitations for bail jumping is three years. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 12.01(7) (West Supp. 2013). Statutes of limitations should be " liberally interpreted in favor of repose" as they are intended to:

limit exposure to criminal prosecution to a certain fixed period of time following the occurrence of those acts the legislature has decided to punish by criminal sanctions. Such a limitation is designed to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time and to minimize the danger of official punishment because of acts in the far-distant past. Such a time limit may also ...

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