Criminal Mischief Conviction Affirmed Despite Lack of Evidence of Any Intentional Act by Defendant

Nails.jpgThe Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a criminal mischief conviction in Carrizales v. State, No. PD-0320-13, slip op. (Tex. Crim. App., Dec. 11, 2013). The defendant argued that the state did not produce enough evidence to establish the corpus delicti of criminal mischief. Corpus delicti is a common-law legal theory holding that the factual elements of a crime must be in evidence in order to charge someone with the offense. In this case, the defendant argued, that state had produced evidence of property damage, but not of any intentional act by the defendant. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument, holding that the U.S. Supreme Court and Texas have limited corpus delicti to cases involving confessions.

The defendant lives on a country road in Bee County. His cousin, Ramona Gomez, and her family live further down the road. No one else lived on the road during 2009 and 2010. Gomez and her husband have to drive past the defendant’s property to get to and from their own property. The defendant reportedly believed that they were driving too fast, and in 2009 he alleged placed tree stumps on the road between his property and Gomez’s property. He allegedly did not admit placing the tree stumps in the road to Gomez, but did tell her they needed to drive slower.

In late 2009 and early 2010, Gomez and her husband started getting flat tires while driving on the road, all caused by the same type of metal roofing screw. After Gomez had to replace two tires and her husband had to replace four, they began to suspect the defendant. They called the sheriff’s department. A deputy got a flat tire in the same area while driving to Gomez’s property. The defendant denied putting screws in the road, but admitted putting the tree stumps there. The defendant was charged with criminal mischief, a class B misdemeanor. A judge found him guilty and sentenced him to thirty days in jail with a one-year suspension.

The defendant appealed, claiming in part that no evidence showed that he or anyone else put the screws in the road, and that evidence of an intentional act was required to establish the corpus delicti for criminal mischief. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Carrizales v. State, 397 S.W.3d 251 (Tex. App. – Corpus Christi 2013). It found that the state had produced enough circumstantial evidence to allow the finder of fact to infer motive, such as the defendant’s ongoing conflict with Gomez and his placement of the tree stumps in the road. This, combined with the physical evidence, supported the conviction.

The Court of Criminal Appeals took the case to review the applicability of the corpus delicti rule. The U.S. Supreme Court held in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979), that only a “sufficiency of the evidence” review is required to uphold a conviction. If enough evidence exists, even if only circumstantial, to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find proof of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the verdict must be affirmed. Texas has only retained the common-law corpus delicti rule for cases involving confessions. Salazar v. State, 86 S.W.3d 640 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009).

Board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has spent more than twenty years fighting for the rights of west Texas defendants in criminal cases. To schedule a confidential consultation regarding your legal matter, contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157.

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Photo credit: W.J.Pilsak at the German language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.