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Johnson v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

March 27, 2018

JERMAINE EARVIN JOHNSON, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 263rd District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1444554

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Boyce and Jewell.

          OPINION

          Kem Thompson Frost Chief Justice

         Appellant Jermaine Earvin Johnson challenges his conviction for aggravated robbery, asserting that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over his case because the grand jury for a different court returned the indictment under which he was convicted. Appellant also asserts that article 102.004(a) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, which governs jury fees paid by defendants, violates the separation-of-powers provision of the Texas Constitution. We conclude the trial court had jurisdiction over the case and that under Salinas v. State, 523 S.W.3d 105, 106-10 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017), article 102.004(a) is facially unconstitutional in violation of the Texas Constitution's separation-of-powers provision. We modify the trial court's judgment to delete the jury fee and affirm the trial court's judgment as modified.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The grand jury for the 209th District Court of Harris County returned an indictment against appellant for aggravated robbery. The Harris County District Clerk assigned the case to the 263rd District Court of Harris County and that court conducted a jury trial of the charged offense in the 263rd District Court. The jury found appellant guilty as charged and assessed punishment at 27 years' confinement. The trial court ordered appellant to pay court costs. The bill of costs, which totaled $334, included a $40 "jury fee" charge.

         Issues and Analysis

         Appellant raises three issues in this court:

(1)The 263rd District Court of Harris County did not have jurisdiction over appellant's case because the grand jury for the 209th District Court of Harris County (rather than the court in which appellant was convicted) returned the indictment.
(2)The jury fee is unconstitutional because having the trial court collect the fee makes the court a tax gatherer, which violates the Texas Constitution's separation-of-powers provision.
(3)The jury fee violates the accused's right to a jury trial enshrined in the Texas Bill of Rights.

         A. Trial court's jurisdiction

         Appellant contends that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case because the indictment - returned by the grand jury for the 209th District Court of Harris County - vested jurisdiction only in the 209th District Court.

         District courts and criminal district courts hold original jurisdiction in felony criminal cases. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 4.05 (West 2015); Matthews v. State, 530 S.W.3d 744, 746 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2017, pet. ref'd). Jurisdiction vests in a trial court once a grand jury presents an indictment or information charging a person with committing an offense. Id. Presentment occurs when the grand jury delivers the indictment to either the judge or the clerk of the court. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 20.21 (West 2015). In counties with more than one district court, such as Harris County, all the district courts share the same district clerk. See Saldivar v. State, No. 14-16-00888-CR, 2017 WL 4697888, at *1 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 19, 2017, no pet. h.). All district courts within the same county have jurisdiction over the same cases. See Matthews, 530 S.W.3d at 747.

         Under Texas Government Code section 24.024, entitled "Filing and Docketing Cases, " the district courts may agree to transfer a case from one district court to another district court within the same county, even if a grand jury impaneled by a different district court returned the indictment. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. ยง ...


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