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Smith v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

January 10, 2018

MELIK RALAH SMITH, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS

         ON APPELLANT'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM THE FIFTH COURT OF APPEALS DALLAS COUNTY

         DISSENTING OPINION

          Walker, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which Hervey, J., joined.

         Appellant Melik Ralah Smith was convicted of murder and sentenced to ninety-nine years imprisonment. At trial, he sought to have three doctors give testimony about his mental illness, which was excluded by the trial court. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court's exclusion was not an abuse of discretion. Appellant now seeks discretionary review with this Court. Because I would grant Appellant's petition for discretionary review, I respectfully dissent from the Court's decision today to refuse the petition.

         Background

         Appellant lived in an apartment together with his mother, Onkuli Morris, who is the decedent in this case. The night of Sunday, September 14, 2014, Dana Morris, who is Appellant's sister, telephoned Onkuli, but there was no answer. Dana called again the following day, September 15, but there was still no answer. On Tuesday, September 16, Dana called Jennifer Smith, a friend of Onkuli, and asked Jennifer to check on Onkuli. Jennifer was met by Appellant, who did not let her into the apartment. Appellant also told Jennifer that Onkuli was not at home. On the next morning, September 17, Dana called the police.

         The responding officers knocked, to no response, and entered the apartment after finding that the front door was unlocked. Inside, they found blood splattered throughout the apartment, a wooden rod with blood and hair on it, and, in the master bedroom, Onkuli's body wrapped in a blanket. A crime scene detective later found Appellant hiding in a closet, and Appellant was arrested after refusing to come out of the closet.

         At trial, Dana testified that Appellant had suffered from mental illness since the age of nineteen or twenty and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Dana also testified that Appellant had been committed to mental hospitals multiple times. She added that when Appellant failed to take his medications, he would hear voices which he would speak to. He would also act out violently toward her and their mother, Onkuli. Regarding Onkuli's murder, Dana believed that Appellant was not on his medication at the time. However, Dana believed that Appellant did not intend to kill his mother.

         The defense brought forth three doctors as expert witnesses to also testify about Appellant's mental illness. Outside the presence of the jury, the trial court heard testimony from the doctors but ultimately decided to exclude them from testifying to the jury. The jury eventually convicted Appellant of murder, and he was sentenced to ninety-nine years imprisonment. On appeal, Appellant raised four issues claiming abuse of discretion by the trial court. The first three issues related to the trial court's exclusion of Appellant's mental illness evidence.[1] The fourth issue claimed error in failing to give a lesser-included offense instruction. The court of appeals held that there was no abuse of discretion and affirmed the conviction. Appellant now petitions this Court for discretionary review.

         The Court of Appeals's Opinion Below

         Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, "[i]n all prosecutions for murder, the state or the defendant shall be permitted to offer testimony as to all relevant facts and circumstances surrounding the killing . . . together with all relevant facts and circumstances going to show the condition of the mind of the accused at the time of the offense." Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.36(a) (West 2005 & Supp. 2016). Expert testimony concerning mental illness may be relevant, reliable, and admissible to rebut proof of a defendant's mens rea. Ruffin v. State, 270 S.W.3d 586, 595 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). However, that mental illness evidence may be excluded if it does not truly negate the required mens rea of the offense. Ruffin, 270 S.W.3d at 596.

         The court of appeals found and held that the evidence Appellant sought to introduce through the doctors did not truly negate the mens rea of murder, [2] because none of the evidence established Appellant's mental state at the time of the offense. However, a plain reading of the court of appeals's opinion below reveals not only that two of the doctors provided evidence of Appellant's mental state at the time of the offense, but also that the court of appeals recognized it from the record. Specifically, the "FACTUAL BACKGROUND" section of the court of appeals's opinion states:

Dr. Mitchell Dunn examined appellant on November 17, 2015, approximately fifteen months after Onkuli's death, and concluded appellant suffered from schizophrenia. Dunn testified appellant was mentally ill at the time of the incident, but he could not affirmatively state appellant was insane. He also stated a person who is mentally ill can differentiate between right and wrong. Dunn did not know whether, at the time of the offense, appellant intended to cause the death of his mother or did so knowingly or intentionally. The third witness, Dr. Antoinette McGarahan, evaluated appellant on December 11, 2015. She reviewed the police report and believed that appellant hiding in the closet after the incident showed he was experiencing symptoms of mental illness and not functioning normally at the time of the offense. After examining the interrogation video, she concluded that at the time of the interrogation, appellant was mentally ill, psychotic, experiencing delusions and hallucinations, and had lost touch with reality. McGarahan stated that although appellant could have been insane at the time of the incident, she was not providing testimony about whether he was inane or whether he intentionally or knowingly caused his mother's death.

Smith v. State, No. 05-16-00102-CR, 2017 WL 462349, at *2 (Tex. App.-Dallas, Feb. 1, 2017, mem. op., not designated for publication) (emphasis added).

         Yet the court of appeals, in the "LAW & ANALYSIS" section of its opinion, seems oblivious to what it had just described in the "FACTUAL BACKGROUND" section. In the "LAW & ANALYSIS" section, the court of ...


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