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Pegues v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

March 28, 2017

JASON T. PEGUES, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 434th District Court Fort Bend County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 94-DCR-026185

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Brown and Lloyd.

          OPINION

          Harvey Brown Justice

         Jason Pegues was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1995 and sentenced to 50 years' confinement. Twenty years later, he moved for postconviction DNA testing of physical evidence held by the State. The trial court denied his pro se motion. Pegues appeals. The thrust of his argument is that the trial court erred by giving undue weight to his earlier admissions of guilt in analyzing whether he met his burden to obtain postconviction DNA testing.[1] We conclude that the trial court erred by denying his motion and therefore reverse the trial court's order.

         Background

         Pegues is convicted of sexual assault

         Twenty years ago, a teenager forced his way into a house where a 16-year old girl, Mary, [2] was home alone. He threatened her with a knife and sexually assaulted her before fleeing through the backdoor of the house. During the police investigation, Pegues, a 16-year-old who lived in the neighborhood, gave a statement confessing to the offense. Pegues later moved to suppress his confession, but his motion was denied. His confession was admitted as evidence against him at trial.

         There was other evidence of guilt as well. Mary identified Pegues at trial as her attacker. She testified that she used his knife to cut his leg during the assault. There was photographic and testimonial evidence that Pegues had a corresponding wound on his leg. The jury was told that semen had been detected during a sexual-assault exam conducted the same day as the assault but that DNA tests had been "inconclusive." The sexual-assault kit was admitted into evidence. The jury convicted Pegues of aggravated sexual assault, without Pegues testifying.

         During the punishment phase of the trial, evidence of two statements of confession by Pegues were presented. First, Pegues admitted on cross-examination that he sexually assaulted Mary. Second, a clinical psychologist, Dr. Michael Cox, who testified that Pegues was a good candidate for rehabilitation through therapy, testified that Pegues had admitted to him that he sexually assaulted Mary. Cox's report referenced the same admission of guilt. The jury assessed punishment at 50 years' confinement.

         In his direct appeal, Pegues argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his pretrial confession. See Pegues v. State, 964 S.W.2d 678 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1997, pet. ref'd). Relying on what was known as the DeGarmo waiver doctrine, we held that Pegues waived any error with regard to the trial court's ruling on his motion to suppress because he admitted guilt during the punishment phase of his trial. See id. at 679-80 (relying on DeGarmo v. State, 691 S.W.2d 657 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985), overruled by Jacobson v. State, 398 S.W.3d 195 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013)).[3]

         Twenty years later, Pegues moves for DNA testing

         In 2016, Pegues filed a pro se motion, under Article 64 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, seeking to have physical evidence from his trial subjected to additional DNA forensic testing.[4] In evaluating Pegues's motion, the trial court considered various affidavits from those involved in the handling and maintenance of the evidence during and after Pegues's conviction. One affidavit was from Courtney Head, a "criminalist specialist/supervisor" at the Forensic Analysis Division of the Houston Forensic Science Center. Head testified that the State is in possession of physical evidence with the same tracking number as the one assigned to Mary's sexual-assault kit. The physical evidence includes a plastic bag containing a piece of gauze with a "reddish brown stain" in the middle and a tube containing another piece of gauze, as well as some documents.[5] According to Head, the testability of the physical evidence is unknown but "newer testing techniques may be available that provide more accurate results than previous testing . . . ." The trial court denied Pegues's motion for postconviction DNA testing.

         The trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. Regarding the physical evidence, the court found that the original DNA testing had been inconclusive, Pegues did not complain during his sexual-assault trial about the presentation of that evidence, Pegues was seeking postconviction DNA testing of the physical evidence, and the State has physical evidence in its possession but does not know whether it contains biological material capable of producing new DNA test results.

         The trial court also found that there was ample evidence of guilt, including Pegues's pretrial confession, Pegues's admission of guilt during the punishment phase of trial, Dr. Cox's testimony that Pegues had admitted guilt, Mary's identification of Pegues as her attacker, Mary's testimony about the stab wound to Pegues's leg, and photographic and testimonial evidence that Pegues had a corresponding wound on his leg. The trial court found the evidence of a corresponding leg wound to be particularly determinative in its analysis of Pegues's motion.

         The trial court ruled that Pegues "failed to establish by a preponderance of evidence that he would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing." According to the trial court, a reasonable jury could have convicted Pegues on the evidence described above, even without his confession, irrespective of DNA test results. Because the "testing or retesting of other items would still not explain away defendant being stabbed in the leg, " DNA test results would not qualify as "exculpatory results" under the trial court's analysis. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 64.03(a)(2)(A) (permitting postconviction DNA testing only if, among other requirements, "the convicted person establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that . . . the person would not have been convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained through DNA testing"). In other words, according to the trial court, the significant amount of evidence of guilt would outweigh any benefit to Pegues that might result from a DNA test result that excludes him as the source of the DNA.

         Denial of Motion for Article 64 ...


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