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Ex parte Arango

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

April 18, 2017

EX PARTE MIGUEL ARANGO
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee MIGUEL ARANGO, Appellant

         On Appeal from the 185th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case Nos. 1515189, 1133642

          Panel consists of Justices Massengale, Brown, and Huddle.

          OPINION

          REBECA HUDDLE JUSTICE.

         When Miguel Arango was 16, a juvenile court concluded that because of the seriousness of the offense with which he was charged-aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon-the welfare of the community required criminal proceedings. The juvenile court therefore transferred the case to criminal district court, for him to be tried as an adult.

         Nine years later, Arango, still having not been tried, filed a pretrial habeas application in the criminal district court, contending that the juvenile court's transfer was deficient under Moon v. State, 451 S.W.3d 28 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014), and therefore failed to vest the criminal district court with jurisdiction. The trial court denied habeas relief.

         Arango appeals, contending that the trial court erred in denying pretrial habeas relief, because, if he were to be tried and convicted, the deficient transfer order will inevitably be vacated by an appellate court, making an intervening trial a needless waste of judicial resources. We agree that the juvenile court's transfer order does not pass muster under Moon, and that denying habeas relief and proceeding to trial on the basis of an invalid transfer order that failed to vest jurisdiction in the district court would be a waste of judicial resources. We therefore reverse the trial court's order denying habeas relief and render judgment granting the writ of habeas corpus and dismissing the indictment filed in the district court in cause number 1133642. We remand the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Background

         After being transferred from the juvenile court to criminal district court to be tried as an adult, Arango was indicted for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in October 2007.[1] Nearly nine years later, in June 2016, Arango filed a pretrial application for writ of habeas corpus under article 11.08 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, challenging the jurisdiction of the criminal district court.[2]Arango contended that the juvenile court's order waiving jurisdiction and transferring the case to the criminal district court was identical to the order in Moon and deficient for the same reasons. Specifically, Arango argued that the juvenile court concluded that the welfare of the community required criminal proceedings based solely on the seriousness of his offense, but failed to make sufficient case-specific findings about the offense to support that conclusion. Arango argued that any conviction obtained in the district court would be vacated based on Moon and, rather than proceed with a trial that could eventually be deemed a nullity, the trial court should find the juvenile court's transfer order invalid and dismiss the indictment.

         The State responded that the criminal district court could not conclude that Arango's transfer order was invalid in the absence of a record of the juvenile court's transfer hearing. The State also argued that Arango's claim was not cognizable on a pretrial habeas application because he could challenge the validity of the transfer order after final conviction and therefore had an adequate appellate remedy.

         The criminal district court denied habeas relief, seemingly on the basis that the legislature did not afford Arango a right to an interlocutory appeal of the juvenile court's transfer order.[3] Arango appealed.

         Discussion

         Arango contends that the criminal district court erred in denying habeas relief because the juvenile court's transfer order is facially deficient under Moon, and the district court therefore lacks jurisdiction to try him. Arango argues that habeas relief is appropriate because requiring him to stand trial before obtaining appellate review of the transfer order would constitute a significant waste of judicial resources. We consider the juvenile court's transfer order in light of Moon before addressing whether habeas relief is available under the present circumstances.

         A. Did the juvenile court's transfer order vest jurisdiction in the district court?

         1. Applicable Law

         Any person accused of committing a felony offense between his tenth and seventeenth birthdays is subject to the exclusive original jurisdiction of a juvenile court. Moon, 451 S.W.3d at 37. This means that the juvenile court has the power to hear and decide matters pertaining to the juvenile offender's case before any other court, including the criminal district court, can review them. Id. at 37-38.

         But the right of a juvenile offender to remain outside the jurisdiction of the criminal district court is not absolute. Section 54.02 of the Juvenile Justice Code permits juvenile courts, under certain conditions, to waive their exclusive original jurisdiction and transfer the child to the appropriate district court for criminal proceedings. See Tex. Fam. Code § 54.02(a).

         To waive jurisdiction and transfer a child to the criminal district court under section 54.02(a), a juvenile court must find: (1) the child was 14 years old or older at the time of the alleged offense; (2) there is probable cause to believe the child committed the offense; and (3) because of the seriousness of the alleged offense or the background of the child (or both), "the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings." Id. In deciding whether the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings, the juvenile court must consider four non-exclusive factors:

(1) whether the alleged offense was against person or property, with greater weight in favor of transfer given to ...

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