Texas has an unusual appeals process for judicial cases. District courts, where trials on matters of fact are held, are separated into different types according to the kind of cases they hear. You may notice when you vote in county elections, there are civil courts, criminal courts, probate courts, family courts, etc.
All these cases are appealed to a court that has jurisdiction in all of those areas. The First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, which meet in Houston, hear all kinds of criminal and civil cases.
After that, however, the process splits again. Criminal cases go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Civil cases go to the Texas Supreme Court.
Go to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals website:
Read about the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, then use the “Hand Down List” to find a list of the court’s recent orders and opinions, which are organized by the date of issue. Find a decision issued on March 3, 2010, involving Ronald Lee Wilson (PD-0307-09), who was convicted of shooting Amos Gutierrez in 2006. Turns out, the detective used a fake forensic report to bluff Wilson into thinking his fingerprints were on an ammo clip found near the body, which convinced Wilson to confess to the crime.
Write a short essay about the case. Make sure your essay tells your reader:
The name of the case.
What it was basically about.
Who authored the majority opinion (don’t just put Smith, B. Use your internet skills and find the judge’s full name).
What did the court decide about the lower court of appeals opinion and why?
What is a dissenting opinion, and what were the reasons behind the one in this case?
As the majority opinion points out, courts have long held that the police may use a certain amount of “trickery and deception” during an interrogation. If you were a judge deciding this case, how would you rule? How would you balance society’s need to get bad guys convicted with our Constitution’s rights of the accused?
Now, to see the difference between the jobs of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court, go to the website of the Texas Supreme Court.
Read about the Texas Supreme Court, then click on “orders/opinions” at the bottom of the page. Go to the archive and find a case called TEXAS A & M UNIVERSITY v. PAUL A. BISHOP, which you can find under the weekly orders issued on January 21, 2005. Write one paragraph telling me what the case was about, which side won and why. Adapting the facts into an Aggie joke is optional (To any friends or relatives of Mr. Bishop – I’m sorry, I’m sure he didn’t think it was funny).
Cite your sources.
Note on state court websites
The last few semesters, both websites you need for the Texas Judiciary assignment seem to have a lot of problems. If the websites are down, which they always seem to be about the time this assignment is due, here are some alternative ways to get the information you need.
Use “FindLaw,” an online resource for lawyers. They charge for certain things, but this information is available for free.
Go to Findlaw’s Texas page:
Scroll down to the “State” section and click on “Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals Opinions.”
When you get there, you’ll see that Supreme Court opinions are listed chronologically near the top of the page, CCA opinions below. Use the dates listed in the assignment for each case to find the court opinion and proceed with the assignment.