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Mills v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

December 21, 2017


         On Appeal from the 56th District Court Galveston County, Texas Trial Court Cause Nos. 14-CR-2296 & 14-CR-2297

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Busby, and Jewell



         Appellant Adrian Paul Mills challenges the trial court's entry of findings, in connection with his convictions of intoxication manslaughter and assault, that he used a motor vehicle as a deadly weapon. Appellant contends the entry of these findings in the judgment violated his due process rights because (1) the deadly weapon allegation was not encompassed within his guilty pleas, and (2) the trial court was not the fact-finder at the punishment phase. We hold the trial court did not err by entering the deadly weapon findings because appellant pled guilty to the charges alleged in the indictments, and each indictment included a deadly weapon allegation. Further, appellant stipulated in his guilty pleas that the facts contained in the indictments were true and correct and constituted evidence in the case. Moreover, even if appellant could show he did not plead guilty to the deadly weapon allegations, the trial court could still appropriately conclude that a deadly weapon was used because a motor vehicle is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, and appellant stipulated to and was found guilty of causing both death and serious bodily injury with a motor vehicle due to his intoxication. We therefore affirm the judgments containing deadly weapon findings.


         Appellant was driving down Seawall Boulevard in Galveston and reached 80 to 90 miles per hour before driving into oncoming traffic, where he struck the vehicle of complainants Ashley Boyd and his wife, Alice Boyd. Testing revealed appellant's alcohol level was well above the legal limit. Ashley Boyd was pronounced dead at the scene. Alice Boyd survived but sustained multiple injuries.

         Appellant was indicted by a grand jury on one count of intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle for causing Ashley Boyd's death, and one count of intoxication assault with a vehicle for causing serious bodily injury to Alice Boyd. Each indictment includes two paragraphs between the traditional opening and closing language, and these paragraphs are separated by a caption reading "Notice of Intent to Seek a Deadly Weapon Finding." Below the heading is the following sentence: "And it is further presented that the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon, to-wit: a motor vehicle, during the commission of or [the] immediate flight from said offense."

         The trial court admonished appellant that intoxication manslaughter was a second-degree felony that carried a term of imprisonment between two and twenty years and a possible fine not to exceed $10, 000. Appellant was also admonished that intoxication assault was a third-degree felony that carried a term of imprisonment not less than two years or more than ten and a possible fine not to exceed $10, 000. After the admonishments, appellant signed a written plea and waiver stipulation for each charge and requested that a jury assess his punishment. Appellant was then arraigned outside of the presence of the jury and pled guilty to both charges after a reading of both indictments, including the deadly weapon language beneath the "Notice" heading. Following jury selection, the State read each indictment again in front of the jury, including the deadly weapon language beneath the "Notice" heading, and appellant again pled guilty to both charges. The State and appellant then presented their cases to the jury as to punishment.

         After the State and appellant rested their cases, appellant moved for a directed verdict on the deadly weapon finding. Appellant argued his motion should be granted and no special issue submitted to the jury because the State did not present any evidence of a deadly weapon during the punishment phase of the trial. The State asserted that appellant pled guilty to the use of a deadly weapon when he pled guilty to the indictments. The trial judge agreed with the State, saying "my understanding is that she read the indictment including the notice of a deadly weapon, and your client pled guilty on both cases. Motion for directed verdict is denied."

         Outside the presence of the jury, the trial judge asked if there were objections to the proposed jury charges, which each included (based on the deadly weapon plea) an instruction that appellant would not be eligible for parole until his time served equaled one-half of the sentence imposed. Both the State and appellant responded that they had no objections. The jury, having been instructed that appellant was guilty of both charges as alleged in the indictments, sentenced him to twelve years in prison for the offense of intoxication manslaughter, and ten years in prison with a recommendation of probation for the offense of intoxication assault.

         After the jury was dismissed, appellant raised an objection to the proposed judgments, which included deadly weapon findings. Appellant argued that the fact finder on that special issue would have been the jury, and because no affirmative finding was made by the jury, it would be inappropriate for the trial court to make the findings. The State responded that appellant had pled guilty to the indictments, which included deadly weapon allegations, and thus the trial court could properly enter deadly weapon findings into the judgments. The trial court considered the issue and relevant case law presented by both parties and stated, "the court is granting or making the deadly weapon finding in the judgment." Shortly thereafter, while reading the judgment into the record, the trial court stated, "I have entered a deadly weapon finding on this based on the indictment and the plea."


         In a single issue on appeal, appellant contends he did not plead guilty to using a deadly weapon, and therefore the issue should have gone to the jury for a factual finding because he elected to have a jury determine his punishment. In appellant's view, the trial court's deadly weapon findings violate his right to due process.

         I. Standard of review and applicable law

         The trial court entered deadly weapon findings based on appellant's guilty pleas. A guilty plea is valid when it "represents a voluntary and intelligent choice among the alternative courses of action open to the defendant." State v. Guerrero, 400 S.W.3d 576, 588 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). To enter a voluntary plea, a defendant must possess "an understanding of the law in relation to the facts." McCarthy v. United States, 394 U.S. 459, 466 (1969). To enter an intelligent plea, a defendant must have "sufficient awareness of the consequences." Ex Parte Palmberg, 491 S.W.3d 804, 807 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). A guilty plea does not violate due process even when a defendant enters it while "operating under various misapprehensions about the nature or strength of the State's case against him-for example, misestimating the likely penalty. . . ." Id. Moreover, when a "defendant waives his state court remedies and admits his guilt, he does so under the law then existing; further, he assumes the risk of ordinary error in either his or his attorney's assessment of the law and facts." Id. at 808 (quoting McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759, 774 (1970)).

         In Texas criminal proceedings, a defendant must be found guilty by a jury unless the defendant has entered a guilty plea and effectively waived his right to a jury trial. Tex. Code Crim. Pro. Ann. art. 1.15 (West 2005). For the trial court to accept the guilty plea, the State must introduce evidence into the record showing the guilt of the defendant, and that evidence must be accepted by the trial court as the basis for its judgment. Id. The State's burden to present evidence may be waived by the defendant, pursuant to a stipulation and waiver that is approved by the trial court. Id.

         A deadly weapon is defined as a firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury; or "anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. " Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1.07(a)(17) (West Supp. 2016). If "a deadly weapon . . . was used or exhibited during the commission of a felony offense or during immediate flight therefrom, " then "[o]n an affirmative finding under this subdivision, the trial court shall enter the finding in the judgment of the court."[1]

         As the Court of Criminal Appeals explained in Polk v. State, an affirmative finding can be made in several circumstances. 693 S.W.2d 391, 394 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985). First, the fact-finder's verdict on the indictment may constitute an affirmative finding if the indictment by allegation specifically places the deadly weapon issue before the trier of fact and the defendant is found guilty as charged in the indictment. Id. Second, an affirmative finding can occur as a matter of law if the trier of fact finds that a deadly weapon per se (such as a firearm) has been used in the commission of the offense. Id. Third, a finding may be made if the trier of fact responds affirmatively to a special issue submitted during the punishment stage of trial. Id. More recently, the Court of Criminal Appeals has added a fourth circumstance, holding that an affirmative deadly weapon finding can be made when the jury finds the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment and the indictment alleges the defendant caused death or serious bodily injury with a weapon. Crumpton v. State, 301 S.W.3d 663, 664 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009) (holding jury necessarily found defendant used a deadly weapon because a deadly weapon is something that, in the manner of its use, is capable of causing death, and jury found defendant did, in fact, cause death).

         The Court of Criminal Appeals has held that an applicant is "entitled to notice that the State would pursue an affirmative finding . . . ." Ex parte Patterson, 740 S.W.2d 766, 775 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987), overruled on other grounds by Ex parte Beck, 769 S.W.2d 525 (Tex. Crim. App. 1989). The notice need not appear in the indictment; however, "it may, and probably should appear there, preferably in a separate paragraph . . . ." Id. at 776.

         II. The trial court properly entered deadly weapon findings based on appellant's guilty pleas and ...

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