Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ex parte Adams

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

October 9, 2019




          WALKER, J.

         This case involves the doctrine of collateral estoppel embodied in the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. At issue is whether the State can prosecute Appellant, Brandon Joseph Adams, for aggravated assault for stabbing Joe Romero after Appellant was acquitted in an earlier trial of aggravated assault for stabbing Joe's brother, Justin Romero, in the same incident. We find that collateral estoppel is inapplicable to the facts of this case, and the State is not barred from prosecuting Appellant. We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals.

         I - Background

         The reporter's record of the first trial shows that Justin Romero and Luke Hisey became involved in a physical fight, which ended after Appellant stabbed Justin and Justin's brother, Joe, who was standing nearby. According to Alisha Graves, Joe's then-girlfriend, Justin and Hisey exchanged words and then began fighting and rolling on the ground. Graves heard Joe tell Appellant that he needed to stay out of it. She also heard Joe tell Justin and Hisey to cut it out and that the fight was already over. Joe again told Appellant that he needed to back off. Joe repeated to Justin and Hisey that it was time to cut it out because they were going to wake up the next morning and apologize to each other. The next thing Graves saw was Appellant over Justin, and she heard someone yelling that there was a knife. At that point, Justin came out of the fight, and he was bleeding. Graves added that while Justin was on the ground fighting with Hisey, she saw Appellant stab Justin several times in the back, and she also saw Joe get stabbed in the back or upper shoulder area.

         According to Joe, when Justin and Hisey began arguing, Joe initially tried to calm the two down. Because Justin and Hisey would not stop, Joe relented and told them to "go ahead and get it over with," and the two started fighting. They squared up, and it was a fair fight until Hisey was knocked down. Joe pushed Justin back to allow Hisey to get up in order for the fight to stay fair. Hisey was knocked down and let back up three different times. Eventually, Justin and Hisey started wrestling or rolling around on the ground. After Joe told the two of them "that's enough" and attempted to pull Justin off of Hisey, Joe felt hot liquid on himself not realizing that he had been stabbed. At that point, Justin yelled that someone had a knife, and then Justin began wrestling with Appellant.

         According to Justin, he was fighting and wrestling Hisey on the ground for about thirty seconds until Joe broke them up and said "that's enough." Justin stood up and was then blindsided by Appellant, who came swinging a fist at Justin. Justin and Appellant then started fighting on the ground until Graves came out and started screaming that Appellant had a knife. Graves, Joe, and Justin all said that Appellant did not speak a word during the entire incident.

         According to Hisey, he was attacked by Justin and ended up face down on the ground. Hisey covered his ears and face while Justin pummeled him about the head. He was then knocked unconscious and remembered very little else.

         According to Appellant, Justin and Hisey were on the ground. Hisey was laying on the ground and getting his head pummeled by Justin. Appellant attempted to approach and break up the fight, but Joe stood in the way and said "just let them fight." Appellant replied that "it's not even a fight, he's out," referring to Hisey. Appellant went around Joe, and when Appellant got to Justin to pull him away from Hisey, Joe hit Appellant. Appellant stepped back and started to panic, so he reached for his pocketknife. At that point, Justin came at him, and Appellant just started swinging his knife. Appellant guessed that he hit Joe, but he did not know how close Joe was to him. Justin tackled Appellant, and Appellant felt a couple of punches so he just started swinging the knife and hit Justin. Admitting that he stabbed both Justin and Joe, Appellant said that he was trying to protect himself and Hisey. Hisey was down, and with both brothers coming at Appellant, he felt overwhelmed and was afraid that, just as Justin would not stop pummeling Hisey, the brothers would not stop pummeling Appellant, either.

         Appellant was charged in two separate causes with aggravated assault against Justin and Joe Romero. The case alleging Justin as the victim went to trial first. The jury charge, instructing the jury on aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault by causing serious bodily injury, also included defensive issues of use of deadly force in defense of a third person. The jury ultimately returned a verdict of "Not Guilty," and Appellant was acquitted.

         The State then proceeded to trial on the instant case which alleged Joe as the victim. Appellant filed a pre-trial application for writ of habeas corpus claiming that the second prosecution would involve the same issue that was decided in the first trial, namely, whether Appellant was justified in using force in defense of a third person. Because of this, Appellant argued that the second trial was barred by collateral estoppel. A hearing was held, and Appellant presented the trial court with evidence including the transcript of the first trial, the jury's instructions from the first trial, and the judgment of acquittal.

         In response, the State argued to the trial court that collateral estoppel did not apply because Appellant was tried for allegedly committing aggravated assault against Justin, and Appellant's defensive theory-defense of a third party-related to whether Appellant was justified in his use of force specifically against Justin. The instant case, the State argued, involved a different issue because the alleged victim, and the person against whom Appellant's use of force was directed, was Joe, a completely different person; thus, a jury decision that Appellant was justified in using force against Justin was not a decision that Appellant was justified in using force against Joe. Deciding the matter on the arguments of counsel, the trial court agreed with the State and denied Appellant's pre-trial application for writ of habeas corpus. The case proceeded to trial, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared.

         Appellant appealed the denial of his pre-trial habeas application, and the court of appeals held that Appellant's prosecution for aggravated assault as to Joe was collaterally estopped. Ex parte Adams, ___S.W.3d___, No. 11-17-00332-CR, 2018 WL 2994360 at *4 (Tex. App.-Eastland June 14, 2018). The court of appeals reversed the trial court's denial of Appellant's pre-trial habeas application and remanded with instructions to the trial court to grant habeas relief. Id. at *4. The State petitioned this Court for discretionary review, asking:

When a defendant is acquitted on a defense of a third person theory after stabbing a person engaged in a fight with a friend, does the collateral estoppel component of the Double Jeopardy Clause as articulated in Ashe v. Swenson and this Court's opinions bar his subsequent prosecution for stabbing another person who was not fighting?

         We find that Appellant's subsequent prosecution is not barred by collateral estoppel. Appellant's acquittal in the first trial was based on a defense specific to Justin Romero, and the issue of whether Appellant was justified in his use of force against Joe Romero, who was not fighting Hisey, was not necessarily decided by the jury in the first trial such that it is now subject to collateral estoppel.

         II - Double Jeopardy and Collateral Estoppel

         The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall be "subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb." U.S. Const. amend. V. This clause protects against: (1) a second prosecution for the same offense after acquittal; (2) a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction; and (3) multiple punishments for the same offense. North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711, 717 (1969); Aekins v. State, 447 S.W.3d 270, 274 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

         In Ashe v. Swenson, the Supreme Court recognized that the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy also embodies the principle of collateral estoppel as a constitutional requirement. Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 445 (1970). In Ashe, the evidence showed that three or four masked men robbed six men playing poker. Id. at 437. Ashe was put on trial for robbing one of the poker players, but the jury found Ashe "not guilty due to insufficient evidence." Id. at 439. The State of Missouri then put Ashe on trial a second time for the robbery of one of the other poker players, and the second jury found Ashe guilty. Id. at 439-40. The Supreme Court determined that, at the first trial, the "single rationally conceivable issue in dispute before the jury was whether [Ashe] had been one of the robbers." Id. at 445. This was so because the first jury could not have rationally found, from the record of the first trial, that the robbery did not occur or that the victim named in the first trial was not a victim of that robbery. Id.; see also id. at 438 ("The proof that an armed robbery had occurred . . . was unassailable."). Missouri was therefore barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel from trying Ashe for the robbery of any of the other poker players, because identity would be an ultimate issue in each such trial and Ashe had already been acquitted of being one of the robbers. Id. at 446.

         In holding that Missouri was barred from prosecuting Ashe a second time, the Supreme Court stated that "[f]or whatever else that constitutional guarantee [against double jeopardy] may embrace, it surely protects a man who has been acquitted from having to 'run the gauntlet' a second time." Id. at 445-46. Collateral estoppel "stands for an extremely important principle . . . when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." Id. at 443.

Thus, as we explained in Rollerson:
[U]nder the collateral-estoppel component of double jeopardy, the government may not litigate a specific elemental fact to a competent factfinder (judge or jury), receive an adverse finding by that factfinder on the specific fact, learn from its mistakes, hone its prosecutorial performance, and relitigate that same factual element that the original factfinder had already decided against the government.

Rollerson v. State, 227 S.W.3d 718, 730 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007); Ashe, 397 U.S. at 447 ("'No doubt the prosecutor felt the state had a provable case on the first charge and, when he lost, he did what every good attorney would do-he refined his presentation in light of the turn of events at the first trial.' But this is precisely what the constitutional guarantee forbids.").

In applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel, courts must first determine whether the jury determined a specific fact, and if so, how broad-in terms of time, space and content-was the scope of its finding. Before collateral estoppel will apply to bar relitigation of a discrete fact, that fact must necessarily have been decided in favor of the defendant in the first trial.

Ex parte Watkins, 73 S.W.3d 264, 268 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002) (emphasis added); see also Rollerson, 227 S.W.3d at 731 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.