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In re R.E.J.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

December 6, 2017


         From the 216th Judicial District Court, Kendall County, Texas Trial Court No. 16-011-JV Honorable Bill R. Palmer, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Karen Angelini, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice



         In the underlying criminal matter, a juvenile court waived its jurisdiction and transferred R.E.J.'s criminal case to district court to stand trial as an adult. The juvenile court found there was probable cause to believe R.E.J. committed the following offenses: attempted capital murder, aggravated robbery, burglary of a habitation, and aggravated assault. In three issues on appeal, R.E.J. asserts (1) there is insufficient evidence to support the probable cause finding that he committed capital murder, (2) the juvenile court abused its discretion by waiving jurisdiction and transferring the case to criminal district court, and (3) the evidence is insufficient to support the juvenile court's findings under subsection (f) of Texas Family Code section 54.02. We affirm.


         A juvenile court may waive its exclusive original jurisdiction and transfer a child to the appropriate district court for criminal proceedings if:

         (1) the child is alleged to have violated a penal law of the grade of felony;

         (2) the child was:

(A)14 years of age or older at the time he is alleged to have committed the offense, if the offense is a capital felony, an aggravated controlled substance felony, or a felony of the first degree, and no adjudication hearing has been conducted concerning that offense; or
(B)15 years of age or older at the time the child is alleged to have committed the offense, if the offense is a felony of the second or third degree or a state jail felony, and no adjudication hearing has been conducted concerning that offense; and
(3)after a full investigation and a hearing, the juvenile court determines that there is probable cause to believe that the child before the court committed the offense alleged and that because of the seriousness of the offense alleged or the background of the child the welfare of the community requires criminal proceedings.

Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 54.02(a) (West 2014) (emphasis added).

         R.E.J. was charged with several felonies; however, on appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence only on the probable cause finding as to capital murder.

         A. Findings of Fact

         As an initial matter, we address R.E.J.'s argument that the transfer order must be reversed because there are no case-specific findings of fact to support the probable cause determination.

         "If the juvenile court waives jurisdiction, it shall state specifically in the order its reasons for waiver and certify its action, including the written order and findings of the court . . . ." Tex.

         Fam. Code § 54.02(h). The Texas Court of Criminals Appeals has stated:

. . . Section 54.02(h) obviously contemplates that both the juvenile court's reasons for waiving its jurisdiction and the findings of fact that undergird those reasons should appear in the transfer order. In this way the Legislature has required that, in order to justify the broad discretion invested in the juvenile court, that court should take pains to "show its work, " as it were, by spreading its deliberative process on the record, thereby providing a sure-footed and definite basis from which an appellate court can determine that its decision was in fact appropriately guided by the statutory criteria, principled, and reasonable . . . .

Moon v. State, 451 S.W.3d 28, 49 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014); see also Rodriguez v. State, 478 S.W.3d 783, 786 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2015, pet. ref'd) (juvenile court's order must show 54.02(f) factors were considered in making determination).

         In this case, the juvenile court's Waiver of Jurisdiction and Order of Transfer stated only that there was "probable cause to believe [R.E.J.] committed the offenses alleged in the Original Petition for Discretionary Transfer to Criminal Court . . . ." However, the juvenile court later entered specific additional findings of fact on the issue of probable cause. The juvenile court found R.E.J. admitted he entered Jenks Boston's home with the intent to steal and he admitted he stabbed Boston. The court also found that a fingerprint matched to R.E.J. was found on Boston's truck; R.E.J. and another juvenile were described by Boston; R.E.J. and the other juvenile were seen driving away from Boston's house within a short time of Boston calling 911; and R.E.J. and the other juvenile fled law enforcement in a high-speed chase. We conclude these findings are sufficiently case specific with regard to the probable cause finding. See Matthews v. State, 513 S.W.3d 45, 57 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2016, pet. ref'd) (among other case-specific findings, juvenile court sufficiently stated, "There was probable cause to believe that appellant committed the felony offense of capital murder against a person"); Rodriguez, 478 S.W.3d at 789 (among other case-specific findings, juvenile court sufficiently stated, "Following a full investigation and hearing, the Court found probable cause to believe the child committed the offense . . . ."). We next address R.E.J.'s argument that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the juvenile court's probable cause finding as to capital murder.

         B. Standard of Review

         A waiver or transfer hearing is not held for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence; it is held for "the purpose of establishing whether the child's and society's best interest are met by maintaining juvenile custody of the child or by transferring the child to district court for adult proceedings." Matter of A.A., 929 S.W.2d 649, 653 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1996, no writ). "While the presumption of innocence applies to 'adjudication' proceedings, it does not apply to 'transfer' proceedings in which the issue is merely whether the juvenile should be tried as an adult." Id.

         The juvenile court need only determine probable cause that the juvenile committed the offense charged. Id. "Probable cause" for this purpose is defined as sufficient facts and circumstances to warrant a prudent individual to believe the suspect committed or was committing an offense. Id. "The probable cause standard of proof embraces a practical, common sense approach rather than the more technical standards applied in the burdens of proof either beyond a reasonable doubt or a preponderance of the evidence." In re J.P.O., 904 S.W.2d 695, 700 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1995, writ denied). The State does not bear the burden to establish the juvenile's guilt, but only to present evidence that will allow the juvenile court to exercise its sound discretion in transferring the case to district court for criminal proceedings. Matter of A.A., 929 S.W.2d at 653.

         C. Factual Background

         Because no adjudication hearing had yet been conducted concerning any of the alleged offenses, the following background is taken from the hearing on the State's petition for discretionary transfer to criminal court.

         Jenks Boston testified he spent the morning of March 23, 2016, working in his yard at his home in the City of Fair Oaks Ranch. At the time, his wife and children were not at home. At about mid-morning, Boston decided to shower and prepare for a meeting he had in San Antonio. When he dressed, he placed his handgun into a holster on his belt. As he walked out of his bedroom, Boston glanced into a study/office area and noticed a three-foot long iron stake used to post real estate signs laying on the couch. Because Boston recognized the stake as one he kept in the garage, he stepped up to the couch to look at it. As he did so, he felt "a very severe blow from behind, " he went down on the couch, and someone started to "punch and stab [him] very, very violently, very rapidly from behind." As he turned to try to push his attacker away, Boston saw a knife. His attacker turned and ran. Boston saw another person in the house who also turned and ran away. Both individuals ran through the house, through the kitchen, and out to the driveway. Boston ran after the two individuals, but by the time he reached his driveway, they were in their car driving away. He said he noticed the contents of the glove compartment of his pickup truck were strewn everywhere. Boston said he drew his gun and pointed it at the two individuals as he ran after them, but he did not fire the weapon. Boston said the gun was not visible to his attacker because the gun was concealed under a long shirt that was not tucked into his pants.

         Boston said he could only identify the two individuals as two young teenage Hispanic males. As he watched the two juveniles drive away, Boston realized he was standing in a puddle of blood. He called 911 while trying to put pressure on his wounds. Dr. Vela, a physician who treated Boston, said Boston sustained "three pretty significant stab wounds to his upper right back and a less minor [sic] injury to the right side of his face." Dr. Vela agreed Boston sustained "a serious bodily injury."

         City of Boerne Police Officer Douglas Meuth testified he answered a dispatch call from someone-later identified as Jenks Boston-saying he had been stabbed and mugged in his home. When Officer Meuth arrived at the Boston house, another officer was present and administering first aid to Boston. Kendall County Sherriff's Office Investigator James Whitt testified he pulled fingerprints from Boston's truck that were later identified as belonging to R.E.J. Whitt said the bloody kitchen knife measured eleven inches long, and the metal stake measured about forty-eight inches long. Whitt also testified about R.E.J.'s possible gang affiliation.

         In the meantime, based on Boston's description of the car driven by the juveniles, police were able to locate and stop the vehicle. The driver of the car briefly stopped and then drove off again at a high speed, approaching 100 miles per hour while travelling into the on-coming lane of traffic and on the shoulder of the road. At one point, the driver of the car drove through a busy intersection at about eighty miles per hour. The driver eventually crashed into another vehicle, bringing the high-speed chase to an end. R.E.J. exited the car and ran directly toward another police officer. R.E.J. identified himself to the officer who took R.E.J. into custody and transported him to the police station.

         While at the police station, R.E.J. received the magistrate's warnings before giving his video-recorded statement to the police. In his statement, R.E.J. admitted he and his friend entered the Boston house through the open garage door to steal from the house. When he heard a man's voice, R.E.J. got a knife from the kitchen to intimidate the man. However, when R.E.J. saw the man had a gun, he stabbed the man to prevent the man from shooting him. R.E.J. said he and his friend were both afraid as they entered the house, and his friend brought the metal stake into the house to defend himself. R.E.J. agreed with the police officers interviewing him that he could have left the house instead of stabbing Boston, but at the time everything happened "so fast." R.E.J. said this was the first time he had ever been in this neighborhood.

         Lieutenant Thomas Matjeka countered R.E.J.'s version of the events by testifying R.E.J. would have had to pass the front door to get the knife from the kitchen, which was near the garage. At both points in time-passing the front door and while in the kitchen-R.E.J. could ...

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