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Medrano v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

January 27, 2014


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On Appeal from the 439th Judicial District Court, Rockwall County, Texas. Trial Court Cause No. 2-11-418.

For appellants: Celia M. Sams, Attorney at Law, Rowlett, TX.

For appellees: Kenda L. Culpepper, Rockwall County District Attorney's Office, Rockwall, TX; Jon R. Meador, Assistant Attorney General, Austin, TX; Jessica Manojlovich, Austin, TX.

Before Justices FitzGerald, Francis, and Myers.


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Following a bench trial, suspended Dallas County Justice of the Peace Carlos Medrano was convicted of illegal voting and sentenced to five years in prison, probated for five years, and a $2,500 fine.[1] In eight issues, appellant brings complaints regarding the jurisdiction of the court, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the admission of certain documents. Because we conclude all issues are without merit, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

Appellant won the March 2010 Dallas County Democratic Party Primary Election for the office of Precinct 5, Place 1 Justice of the Peace, defeating the incumbent Luis Sepulveda by 156 votes. Shortly after the election, allegations of voter fraud surfaced and Sepulveda filed a civil lawsuit. The Dallas County Commissioners Court requested the Attorney General of the State of Texas investigate the allegations. The AG's office investigated the complaint, which included the allegation that some members of the Medrano family had registered voters to vote in the JP election who did not reside in that precinct. The AG's office presented the case to the Rockwall County grand jury, which ultimately indicted eight members of the Medrano family, including appellant. Appellant was charged in a two-count indictment with soliciting and aiding his nieces, Raquel and Veronica Medrano, to vote for him when he knew they did not reside in the precinct for which he was running.

On December 29, 2011, appellant and seven family members appeared before the trial court in Rockwall County, entered pleas of not guilty, and waived their right to a jury trial. The State and defense announced ready, and the State presented some evidence in each case. Appellant's case was recessed until February 14, 2012. The trial court noted this process facilitated the scheduling of all the cases and ensured the parties could not change their jury elections.

On that date, the joint trial of appellant and his brother, Frank Medrano III, reconvened. After hearing the evidence, the trial court acquitted appellant on the illegal voting charge involving Raquel and convicted him on the illegal voting charge involving Veronica. (Frank, who is the father of Raquel and Veronica, was acquitted of aggravated perjury.) In this appeal, we focus on the evidence relating to the charge involving Veronica.

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Veronica was granted immunity from prosecution for her testimony. She testified she was living with her parents at 2408 Boardwalk Drive in Mesquite in December 2009. On Christmas Eve, she went to a Medrano family Christmas party at her aunt's house. Appellant was at the party and told her he was running for JP. Veronica said appellant handed her a voter registration card and asked her to change her address to 2331 Douglas Avenue in Dallas, the residence of their uncle, Rolando Medrano. Unlike Veronica's Mesquite address, Rolando's address fell within the precinct for the race in which appellant was running. Veronica filled out the card listing the Douglas Avenue address and gave it to appellant. Veronica testified she never lived or intended to live at 2331 Douglas and never told anyone she intended or wanted to live there.

During early voting in February 2010, appellant called Veronica to tell her to go vote. He told her if anyone asked where she lived, she was to say she lived at the Douglas Avenue address or in Dallas. Veronica and other family members met appellant, and appellant led them to an early-voting polling place, where she voted for him for JP.

Shortly after the election, Sepulveda filed a lawsuit contesting the election results and was looking for people who may have voted illegally. Veronica's boyfriend, Austin Stark, asked her about it. Veronica told Stark she did not vote in the election, although voting records showed she did, which led Stark to believe her family had used her vote without her knowledge. At Stark's urging, Veronica met with Sepulveda and told him she did not vote in the election.

In June, during the pendency of Sepulveda's lawsuit, Sgt. Jennifer Bloodworth and another investigator with the AG's office went to the Medranos' Mesquite residence to talk to Veronica and Raquel about the circumstances of their voting. Veronica agreed to talk to Sgt. Bloodworth, but Raquel refused. Veronica initially told Sgt. Bloodworth she did not live at the Douglas Avenue address, denied signing her voter registration application form, said she did not remember signing her personal appearance form for early voting, and denied voting in the March 2010 Primary Election. By the end of the meeting, she had acknowledged signing the voter registration form and early voting form, but continued to deny voting. She said she was reluctant to tell Bloodworth the truth about the circumstances of her voting because she feared " backlash" from her family but eventually admitted that she did vote in the election.

Ultimately, Veronica was subpoenaed to testify at Sepulveda's July 2010 election contest trial. On the day before she was scheduled to testify, Veronica said her father showed up at her work and had her follow him to a meeting with appellant and two other Medrano family members. At the meeting, Veronica said they " went over" what she was " supposed to say" at the trial the next day, which, she explained, was " [b]asically, a bunch of 'I don't knows' and 'I don't remember.'" Veronica was told to testify she was living on Douglas Avenue when she voted in the election. Afterwards, Veronica told her sister, Raquel, about the meeting.

The next day, contrary to how she was told to testify at the meeting, Veronica testified she voted for appellant but did not live on Douglas Avenue and never intended to live on Douglas Avenue when she cast her vote. That night, Raquel received a Facebook message from her cousin, Nina Medrano Dominguez, asking what had happened with Veronica. Raquel replied, in part, as follows:

Hey nina! idk if you knew this, but when Carlos was running for the election he

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had asked Veronica and I to change our address currently to say that we lived with [Rolando] so we could vote for him. Well, we were told after we voted for him that if anyone question us all we had to say was that we live at the Douglas address. it's reasonable because we both go to school in Dallas and I worked around the area. idk what [Veronica's] deal is now, but she has completely gone against us since she ended up on the news along with my name . . . Well, since Carlos was in court this past week, [Veronica] got served on Monday and had to appear today. . . Veronica met with my dad, Carlos, Robert, your grandpa, and Sylvia last night to go over some questions that she would be asked and how to answer them. Apparently, she seemed okay with it, but I had known she went behind our family's back a long time ago. Her and her boyfriend went and talked to Carlos's opponent a while back, kept in touch with him up until the investigation. . . . So, today in court she told them Carlos lives with Erica at Rotan Lane and the truth, but she totally went behind our backs by NOT saying all this stuff they discussed with her last night. . . I can't believe she would do this to us, I feel completely betrayed because idk if she is still upset at me for something that happened a while back or if she's mad at the family? No one knows, I should know better than anyone yet, I have no clue why she didn't say what she was supposed to say. . . .

Veronica testified when she filled out the voter registration application with the incorrect address in December 2009, she believed it was " okay" because " nobody stepped in to say it was wrong." She testified she did not know she was ineligible to vote, although she testified she knew it was not true when she represented she lived at the Douglas Avenue address on her voter registration application, she did not reside at the Douglas Avenue address on the day she voted, she knew she was not a resident of the precinct in which appellant ran for JP, and she knew that to vote in the election, she had to lie on her voter registration card.

Bloodworth, the criminal investigator with the AG's office, testified she investigated the voter fraud allegations. She said she met with Veronica for the first time in June 2010 when she went to the Medrano residence in Mesquite. Both Raquel and Veronica were there, but only Veronica agreed to talk to her. At first, Veronica said she did not vote in the election but, at some point, admitted she did. Over the course of the investigation, Veronica told Bloodworth that her family told her it was okay to vote in appellant's race so she thought she was eligible to vote. Bloodworth testified that Veronica, who was nineteen years old at the time, " had no reason to believe she was voting illegally" and, when asked, Bloodworth agreed that Veronica did not know she was ineligible to vote.

As part of her investigation, Bloodworth obtained various documents relating to Veronica's residency and voting. Documents showed Veronica voted at the Grauwyler Park Recreation Center on February 16, 2010, with other Medrano family members, including appellant. Admitted into evidence were the certified copies of the Combination Form for Early Voting by Personal Appearance of each voter at Grauwyler on February 16. Bloodworth explained the forms were numbered in the top right-hand corner, and the number typically represented the order in which the voter arrived or was checked in at the polling place. Appellant's form was marked number 20; Veronica's and Raquel's were marked 24 and 25.

Documents also showed that, in December 2009, Veronica filled out a voter registration

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application and listed her residence as 2331 Douglas in Dallas, which fell within in JP, Precinct 5. However, Veronica's employment records, student records at El Centro College, and driver's license all showed an address of 2408 Boardwalk in Mesquite, which fell within in JP, Precinct 2. Bloodworth said she found no evidence that Veronica ever lived or stayed at the Douglas Avenue address. Bloodworth also obtained the Facebook conversation between Raquel and Nina in which Raquel related information about (1) the Christmas party and appellant's request, (2) the meeting at which appellant and other family members told Veronica how to testify at the civil trial, and (3) Veronica failing to testify as she was told.

Raquel, who was indicted for illegal voting and given immunity from prosecution, testified she had lived at 2331 Douglas Avenue since January 2009. Similar to Veronica's testimony, she said she filled out a voter registration card changing her address to Douglas Avenue at the family Christmas party. She said she believed it was at appellant's request, but was " not certain." On the day she voted, she said appellant called or texted her that it was " early voting" and she and Veronica went that day in separate cars and voted at Grauwyler Park Recreation Center. Although Veronica never lived at 2331 Douglas Avenue, Raquel testified she heard Veronica on many occasions voice her intent to move to the Medrano community in the Douglas Avenue--Knight Street area of Dallas.

Robert Edward Medrano, appellant's second cousin, was also charged with illegal voting. He testified he voted for appellant the same day appellant called him several times " to make sure" he and his wife voted. When the voter fraud investigation began, Robert said he refused to testify before the grand jury and was ultimately indicted. Since he has been under indictment, Robert said appellant has told him if they " all stick together, everything will be okay." But Robert said things continued to get worse, so instead of using the lawyers representing the other family members, he hired his own attorney and began to cooperate with the State. Until that point, he said only Veronica had cooperated. He testified other family members call Veronica " Fredo," an apparent reference to the brother in the " Godfather" movie who betrayed the family.

Finally, the State also offered appellant's grand jury testimony. Appellant denied asking Raquel or Veronica to register to vote in his precinct, denied speaking to them about registering to vote, and denied asking them to vote for him. He said that Raquel called him during early voting and asked where she was supposed to vote. He tried to give her directions, but she did not understand him, so he met her at his house. Raquel and Veronica showed up in separate cars, and they followed him to the Grauwyler polling place. He initially testified he did not go into the polling place, but when shown his voting form, said he had " forgotten" he voted early that day and acknowledged he was at the polling place at the same time as Raquel and Veronica.

Appellant acknowledged he knew it would be illegal for Raquel and Veronica to vote in his election if they lived in Mesquite and it would be illegal for them to change their registration to Dallas if they lived in Mesquite. When asked about the " family meeting" with Veronica the night before she testified in Sepulveda's lawsuit, he denied discussing her testimony with her. He suggested Veronica brought the false ...

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