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Beavers v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

November 14, 2017

JESSICA ANNIE BEAVERS, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

         On Appeal from the 263rd District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1516008

          Panel consists of Justices Jamison, Busby and Donovan.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John Donovan Justice.

         This appeal arises from a default judgment entered against appellant Jessica Annie Beavers. We affirm.

         Background

         The State of Texas petitioned for forfeiture of gambling devices, equipment, and proceeds that were seized from a business located at 15370 S. Brentwood, Channelview, Harris County, Texas. The game room from which the property was seized was owned by Roger Boutee, who was convicted of keeping a gambling place, a Class A misdemeanor offense. See Tex. Penal Code § 47.04. The petition sought forfeiture pursuant to article 18.18(b) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and alleged the property was seized from appellant. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 18.18(b). The petition was filed on July 5, 2016, in the 263rd Criminal District Court of Harris County.

         Notice was sent by certified mail to appellant at two addresses: (1) 15370 S. Brentwood, Channelview, Texas; and (2) 16005 Cathy Lane, Channelview, Texas. The notice sent to Brentwood was signed for on July 8, 2016; the signature is illegible and no name is printed below. On July 12, 2016, appellant signed the receipt for the notice sent to her at Cathy Lane.

         On July 29, 2016, the judge of the 263rd Criminal District Court signed a default judgment of forfeiture. The judgment recites that appellant was served by certified mail on July 8, 2016, and appellant made no answer or appearance.

         On August 15, 2016, appellant filed a motion for new trial and motion to set aside judgment. Appellant contended she was entitled to a new trial pursuant to Craddock v. Sunshine Bus Line, Inc., 133 S.W.2d 125, 126 (Tex. 1939). Regarding the first requirement of Craddock - that the defendant demonstrate the failure to answer was due to mistake or accident - appellant claimed she thought the Motion to Return Seized Property filed by Boutee protected the property from forfeiture. Appellant also alleged that she relied on statements made by the assistant district attorney ("ADA") that a petition would be filed, and that her attorney contacted the District Attorney's Office on several occasions regarding return of the property. Appellant attached an affidavit to her motion to satisfy the second Craddock requirement -that the defendant set up a meritorious defense. The affidavit recites that a motion to return seized property had been filed by Boutee's attorney and on the hearing date of that motion the ADA informed Boutee's attorney that a petition would be filed. The affidavit asserts Boutee and his attorney were not aware that a petition had already been filed. Appellant states "I was not aware that I needed to appear in Court on July 29, 2016, as I thought that Roger would be properly served with notice."[1] Lastly, appellant's motion alleges the third Craddock requisite - that a defendant demonstrate that granting a new trial will not cause delay or otherwise injury the plaintiff - is satisfied because she is ready for trial.

         The State responded to the motion on September 28, 2016. The trial court denied the motion by written order on October 5, 2016. Appellant subsequently filed a motion to reconsider, on November 3, 2016, asserting "a criminal court does not have jurisdiction to hear forfeiture cases."[2] The trial court also denied that motion by written order. This appeal ensued.

         Analysis

         Appellant's sole issue claims the trial court abused its discretion "when it held a hearing and signed a Final Judgment of Forfeiture." Appellant raises two challenges to the trial court's judgment. First, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to render it. Second, that the judgment was rendered without proper notice and hearing.

         Appellant contends the trial court lacked jurisdiction to render the judgment because: (1) only the court of conviction against Boutee had jurisdiction to order the forfeiture; and (2) as a criminal court the 263rd District Court does not have statutory jurisdiction to hear a civil forfeiture. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 18.18(a), (b). Because jurisdiction may be raised for the first time on appeal, we address these arguments.

         Appellant argues that only the court that rendered the judgment of conviction has jurisdiction to order forfeiture of the seized property. Appellant relies upon article 18.18(a) ...


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