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Arteaga v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

June 7, 2017

ROBERT MICHAEL ARTEAGA, JR., Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS

         ON APPELLANT'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM THE THIRTEENTH COURT OF APPEALS BURNET COUNTY

          Hervey, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which Keller, P.J., Alcala, Richardson, Yeary, Newell, Keel, Walker, JJ., joined. Yeary, J., filed a concurring opinion. Keasler, J., did not participate.

          OPINION

         This case presents a question of jury-charge error. The offense of sexual assault is a first-degree felony if the State proves that the victim was a person whom the defendant was "prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the [defendant] was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01 [Bigamy]." The State alleged that Appellant, Robert Michael Arteaga, Jr., committed first-degree felony sexual assault of a child because he was "prohibited from marrying" the victim, his biological daughter.[1] Without objection, the trial court included in the abstract portion of the jury charge the consanguinity statute from the Family Code, which explains when certain marriages are void due to the familial relationship between the parties. Arteaga was convicted, and on appeal he argued in part that the trial court erred to include the consanguinity statute because, pursuant to Section 22.011(f) of the Penal Code, the State could prove that he was "prohibited from marrying" his daughter only if he engaged in bigamous conduct. He also contended that he was egregiously harmed by the charge error because the jury's only guidance concerning the "prohibited from marrying" allegation was the consanguinity statute. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Arteaga now argues that the court of appeals erred and that we should reverse its judgment and remand this cause for a new trial. We granted Arteaga's petition for discretionary review to examine his contentions.

         BACKGROUND

         Trial & Appeal

         Arteaga was charged in two indictments with twenty-eight counts of sexual assault of a child and seventeen counts of possession of child pornography.[2] The charges stemmed from his multi-year long sexual assaults against his young daughter[3] (Doe) and for possessing lewd photographs of her engaging in sexual acts. There was a consolidated trial, and at that trial, Doe testified that Arteaga began molesting her when she was just four years old and that he told her that what they did was "something special that they shared" and "not to tell anyone." A few years later, Arteaga told Doe, who was between twelve and thirteen years old at the time, that he wanted to have a baby with her and that, if she became pregnant, they would get married. During the period of molestation, Arteaga was not married. The investigation and subsequent charges came about after Doe made an outcry to a high school counselor.

         In the abstract portion of the jury charge, the trial court included Section 6.201 of the Family Code, which defines when a marriage is void based on consanguinity.[4] Tex. Fam. Code § 6.201. There was, however, no mention of the consanguinity statute in the application portion of the charge, and the jury was instructed that it could convict Arteaga only under the circumstances alleged in the indictment (i.e., that Arteaga was "prohibited from marrying" his daughter).[5] The prohibited-from-marrying allegation was submitted to the jury as a special issue to be considered only if it found Arteaga guilty of one or more of the submitted sexual-assault counts.[6] The jury convicted Arteaga of twenty-one counts of sexual assault of a child, [7] and it answered the special issue in the affirmative. For each count of sexual assault of a child, Arteaga was assessed a life sentence, which the trial court stacked, and was fined $10, 000.[8]

         Arteaga appealed the convictions, arguing that based on the wording of the sexual-assault statute (Section 22.011(f)), which references the bigamy statute, the State could prove that he was "prohibited from marrying his daughter" under only the bigamy statute. Arteaga v. State, 511 S.W.3d 675, 679 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2016). He also asserted that, because the jury charge did not require the State to prove that he was "prohibited from marrying his daughter" under the bigamy statute, he was egregiously harmed. Id. The court of appeals disagreed, holding that the language of Section 22.011(f) is ambiguous and that Arteaga's interpretation would lead to absurd results. Id. at 687. It also concluded that including the consanguinity statute in the jury charge was not error, and even if it was, Arteaga was not egregiously harmed. Id. at 687-88.

         JURY CHARGES

         The first step in analyzing a claim of jury charge error is to determine whether the submitted charge was erroneous. Barrios v. State, 283 S.W.3d 348, 350 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009). If it was, then we must determine whether the defendant was harmed by that error. Id.

         The Jury Charge in This Case

         In each count of the sexual-assault indictment, it was alleged that the victim was a child who was under seventeen years of age and was a person "whom [Arteaga] was prohibited from marrying . . . ." Section 22.011(f) of the sexual-assault statute states that,

(f) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree, except that an offense under this section is a felony of the first degree if the victim was a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married under Section 25.01.

Tex. Penal Code § 22.011(f) (emphasis added). Section 25.01, which governs the offense of bigamy, states that,

(a)An individual commits an offense if:
(1)he is legally married and he:
(A)purports to marry or does marry a person other than his spouse in this state, or any other state or foreign country, under circumstances that would, but for the actor's prior marriage, constitute a marriage; or
(B)lives with a person other than his spouse in this state under the appearance of being married; or
(2)he knows that a married person other than his spouse is married and he:
(A)purports to marry or does marry that person in this state, or any other state or foreign country, under circumstances that would, but for the person's prior marriage, constitute a marriage; or
(B)lives with that person in this state under the appearance of being married.
(b)For purposes of this section, "under the appearance of being married" means holding out that the parties are married with cohabitation and an intent to be married by either party.
(e) An offense under this section is a felony of the third degree, except that if at the time of the commission of the offense, the person whom the actor marries or purports to marry or with whom the actor lives under the appearance of being married is:
(1)17 years of age, the offense is a felony of the second degree; or
(2)16 years of age or younger, the offense is a felony of the first degree.

Id. § 25.01.

         To guide the jury's resolution of the prohibited-from-marrying allegation, the trial court included the consanguinity statute in the abstract portion of the charge:

A marriage is void if one party to the marriage is related to the other as:
(1)an ancestor or descendant, by blood or adoption;
(2)a brother or sister, of the whole or half blood or by adoption;
(3)a parent's brother or sister, of the whole or half blood or by adoption; or
(4)a son or daughter of a brother or sister, of the whole or half blood or by adoption.

Tex. Fam. Code § 6.201.

         Applicable Law

         It is the trial court's responsibility to deliver to the jury "a written charge distinctly setting forth the law applicable to the case . . . ." Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 36.14; Vega v. State, 394 S.W.3d 514, 518 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). As "law applicable to the case, " the definitions of words or phrases defined by statute must be included in the jury charge. Villarreal v. State, 286 S.W.3d 321, 329 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009) (the jury must be instructed regarding statutory definitions affecting the meaning of an element of the offense). If a word or phrase is not defined, the trial court may nonetheless define them in the charge if they have an established legal or technical meaning. Medford v. State, 13 S.W.3d 769, 772 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000); see Tex. Gov't Code § 311.011(b) ("Words and phrases that have acquired a technical or particular meaning, whether by legislative definition or otherwise, shall be construed accordingly.").

         Section 22.011(f)

         To determine if it was error to include the consanguinity statute in the jury charge, we must first construe Section 22.011(f) of the Texas Penal Code.

         1. Law of Statutory Construction

         We construe a statute according to its plain meaning unless such a construction would lead to absurd results that the legislature could not possibly have intended or the language is found to be ambiguous. Boykin v. State, 818 S.W.2d 782, 785 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). To determine plain meaning, we examine the wording and structure of the statute, construing the words and phrases according to the rules of grammar and usage, unless they are defined by statute or have acquired a particular meaning. Liverman v. State, 470 S.W.3d 831, 836 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). We also presume that every word has been used for a purpose and that each word, phrase, clause, and sentence should be given effect if reasonably possible. State v. Hardy, 963 S.W.2d 516, 520 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997)

         If the language of the statute is plain but effectuating that language would lead to absurd results or is ambiguous, we may consult extra-textual sources to ascertain the collective intent of the legislature. Boykin, 818 S.W.2d at 785; see Tex. Gov't Code Chp. 311 (Code Construction Act). A statute is ambiguous when it is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation. Baird v. State, 398 S.W.3d 220, 229 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). Extra-textual factors that we can consider include (1) the object sought to be attained by the legislature; (2) the circumstances under which the statute was enacted; (3) the legislative history; (4) the common law or former statutory provisions, including laws on the same or similar subjects; (5) the consequences of a particular construction; (6) the administrative construction of the statute; and (7) ...


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