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Sirls v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 23, 2019

MARQUS SIRLS, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 338th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1541904 & 1542051

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Hassan, and Poissant.

          OPINION

          MEAGAN HASSAN, JUSTICE

         Appellant Marqus Sirls was charged with two felony offenses: aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and aggravated sexual assault. Appellant pleaded guilty to both offenses and the trial court sentenced him to 35-years' confinement. On appeal, Appellant asserts (1) the trial court erred when it denied his request to unseal certain documents, and (2) the trial court's judgments erroneously state Appellant does not have the right to appeal. For the reasons below, we affirm as modified.

         Background

         In March 2017, a Harris County grand jury returned two indictments charging Appellant with the felony offenses of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and aggravated sexual assault. Appellant was arrested for the charged offenses and proceeded under two separate cause numbers.

         Appellant filed in both cases a combined "Motion to Suppress Evidence and Unseal Court Documents Under Art. 18.21, Tex. Code Crim. Proc." In his motion, Appellant stated he was arrested and "certain items of evidence" were obtained after police officers initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle occupied by Appellant and three other individuals. According to Appellant, "[t]he vehicle had been tracked by the use of a tracking device planted pursuant to a sealed court order obtained under the provisions of Art. 18.21(1)(6), Tex. Code Crim. Proc." Appellant asked the trial court to unseal the documents related to the tracking device order "so the adequacy of probable cause for the order, if any, can be tested." Appellant also requested that any evidence obtained as a result of the search be suppressed.

         The State responded to Appellant's combined motion to suppress and unseal, asserting the applicable statute provided no mechanism to unseal the requested documents. The State asked that the documents remain sealed or, in the alternative, that the trial court conduct an in camera inspection of the documents to evaluate Appellant's arguments.

         Although Appellant requested a hearing on his combined motion, there is no record of the oral discussion, if any, that occurred.[1] An identical order denying Appellant's motion was filed in both cases. The order is dated but is not signed.

         Appellant pleaded guilty to both offenses. Following the State's sentencing recommendation, the trial court sentenced Appellants to 35-years' confinement. Appellant timely appealed.

         Analysis

         Appellant asserts two issues on appeal and argues (1) the trial court erroneously denied his request to unseal certain documents, and (2) the trial court's final judgments erroneously state Appellant does not have the right to appeal. We begin by addressing Appellant's second issue regarding his right to appeal before turning to the trial court's denial of his motion to unseal.

         I. Appellant's Right to Appeal

         Appellant requests the trial court's final judgment in both cases be modified to reflect that he has the right to appeal. Arguing against Appellant's requested relief, the State contends the record shows Appellant knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to appeal.

         The record is inconsistent on this issue and contains conflicting documentation with respect to Appellant's right to appeal: [2]

• Included among his plea papers, Appellant signed a two-page document entitled, "Waiver of Constitutional Rights, Agreement to Stipulate, and Judicial Confession." The standardized, pre-printed document tracks the language of the indictment. According to the document's pre-printed statements, Appellant understands the allegations against him; confesses they are true; consents to the oral and written stipulation of evidence; agrees that the attorney representing him has properly represented him; intends to plead guilty; agrees to the sentence recommendations; and waives "any right of appeal which I may have should the court accept the foregoing plea bargain agreement between myself and the prosecutor."
• Appellant signed a standard, pre-printed document entitled, "Advice of Defendant's Right to Appeal," which includes five numbered paragraphs informing Appellant of his rights regarding appeal. The second paragraph states: "If you pled guilty or no contest and accepted the punishment recommended by the prosecutor, however, you cannot appeal your conviction unless this Court gives you permission. If you waived or gave up your right to appeal, you cannot appeal your conviction."
• The trial court's final judgment contains a section entitled "special findings or orders." This section states, "APPEAL WAIVED. NO PERMISSION TO APPEAL GRANTED."
• The trial court signed a certification of Appellant's right to appeal and, of the five boxes available to check, checked the box stating that Appellant's case was "a plea-bargain case, but matters were raised by written motion filed and ruled on before trial, and not ...

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