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Lucas v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

April 2, 2018

AARON LUCAS, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          Date Submitted: January 17, 2018

          On Appeal from the 5th District Court Bowie County, Texas Trial Court No. 14F0217-005

          Before Morriss, C.J., Moseley and Burgess, JJ.

          OPINION

          Ralph K. Burgess Justice

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         On or about December 19, 2009, Aaron Lucas abducted seven-year-old Melinda[1] from the playground next to an apartment building in Texarkana where she was visiting relatives. Lucas transported Melinda to a warehouse and sexually assaulted her. Melinda testified that she was frightened, screaming, and banging on the car windows and that she could not open or unlock the car door. She also testified that Lucas threatened to kill her and struck her at least twice on the lip. After assaulting her, Lucas returned Melinda to the playground area and released her near a gate to the apartment complex. Melinda said she ran to the porch, where her brother found her. She told her brother what happened, who then told their mother, and her mother contacted police.

         The State charged Lucas with three offenses in two indictments. All of the offenses charged arose from this same transaction. In the indictment under which Lucas was convicted in this case, the State charged Lucas with aggravated kidnapping. In a second indictment, the State charged Lucas with one count of aggravated sexual assault and one count of indecency with a child. All three charges were tried together. At trial, the trial court treated the indecency with a child charge as a lesser-included offense. The jury rejected the lesser-included offense and found Lucas guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child. The trial court then dismissed the indecency count in response to the State's post-trial motion. The jury also found Lucas guilty of aggravated kidnapping as charged in the indictment in this case.

         Lucas appealed his conviction for aggravated sexual assault of a child in a companion case, our cause number 06-17-00095-CR. In that opinion, we affirmed the conviction and sentence. In the present case, Lucas appeals his conviction for aggravated kidnapping.[2] He raises two points of error in this appeal. First, Lucas argues that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the State's indictment as a result of the State's failure to comply with the terms of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA).[3] Second, he argues that the jury should have found in his favor on his affirmative defense that he released his victim in a safe place. We find no reversible error and affirm the trial court's judgment and sentence.

         II. The IADA

         In Lucas' companion case, Lucas argued that the trial court erred in granting the State's request for a continuance that resulted in his trial being held eight days after the expiration of the 180-window contemplated by the IADA. We addressed that question in our opinion in cause number 06-17-00095-CR, and concluded that the trial court's decision to grant the continuance was neither clearly erroneous nor an abuse of discretion. Lucas raises the same issue in this case, and for the same reasons explained in our opinion in cause number 06-17-00095-CR, we find that the trial court's continuance was reasonable in this case. Lucas' first point of error is overruled.

         III. Reasonable Jury Could Reject Affirmative Defense

         Lucas next challenges the jury's rejection of his affirmative defense. At the punishment phase of trial, a person who has been convicted of aggravated kidnapping may assert that he "voluntarily released the victim in a safe place." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 20.04(d). If the defendant proves this affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence, the offense is reduced from a first to a second degree felony. Id.; see also Butcher v. State, 454 S.W.3d 13, 14 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Lucas argues that the jury erred in rejecting his asserted affirmative defense because he conclusively proved that he left Melinda at a safe location. We disagree.

         The defendant bears the burden of proof when asserting an affirmative defense. Wheat v. State, 165 S.W.3d 802, 807 n.6 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2005, pet. ref'd, untimely filed). Although the Court of Criminal Appeals has eliminated factual sufficiency review of convictions in criminal cases, [4] the failure of a jury to find an affirmative defense is still reviewed for both legal and factual sufficiency. Butcher, 454 S.W.3d at 20. Thus,

[w]hen an appellant asserts that there is no evidence to support an adverse finding on which she had the burden of proof, we construe the issue as an assertion that the contrary was established as a matter of law. We first search the record for evidence favorable to the finding, disregarding all contrary evidence unless a reasonable fact[-]finder could not. If we find no evidence ...

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