X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In accordance with a plea bargain agreement, Randall Lee Laster pleaded no contest to the offense of aggravated robbery. At the plea hearing on March 3, 2003, trial counsel stated that he believed Laster was mentally competent. Fifteen days later, trial counsel filed a motion questioning Laster’s competency. On Aug. 12, 2003, a jury found Laster incompetent, but with a substantial probability that Laster would attain competency within the foreseeable future. The trial court ordered Laster committed to the state hospital. Approximately three months later, on Nov. 20, 2003, the state hospital informed the trial court that Laster had regained competency. On Feb. 18, 2004, the trial court conducted a hearing, and trial counsel agreed that Laster was then competent to stand trial. The matter was set for a sentencing hearing on June 21, 2004. At the hearing, the trial court sentenced Laster to seven years’ confinement based on the original plea Laster entered in March of 2003. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. At the time of Laster’s plea, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 46.02, �4(c) provided that the trial court “shall declare a mistrial in the trial on the merits” if an incompetency determination is made “after the beginning of the trial on the merits.” The use of the term “shall,” and the absence of any reference to the “request of a party,” arguably suggests that the Legislature intended to impose on the trial court a duty that operates independent from the defendant’s request for that right. Therefore, the right to a mistrial in these circumstances is not a forfeitable right; it must be implemented by the trial court absent an effective waiver by the defendant. Marin v. State, 851 S.W.2d 275 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993). Alternatively, by acknowledging that an incompetent person cannot, by definition, intelligently waive his rights, the Legislature may have intended Article 46.02, �4(c) to create a systemic right one that the trial court has a duty to follow even if the parties wish otherwise. Mendez v. State, 138 S.W.3d 334 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). Furthermore, the record clearly shows that Laster never plainly, freely and intelligently waived his right, either in writing or on the record, to have a mistrial declared. In fact, nothing in the record reveals that Laster, his trial counsel, the prosecutor, or the trial court was even aware that Laster had the right to have a mistrial declared. “This is not surprising since the sentencing hearing occurred after Article 46.02, � 4(c) was repealed,” the court states. Because the record does not reflect an intentional relinquishment of a known right to have a mistrial declared, the right was not waived; therefore, the court does not decide whether the right is systemic or waivable. No objection was required to preserve Laster’s complaint. “Although trial counsel believed Laster to be competent at the time of the plea, we cannot know for certain that Laster was, in fact, competent since shortly thereafter a jury determined he was incompetent. More importantly, we cannot know what actions Laster would have taken if he had known that he had the right to have a mistrial declared. As such, we have grave doubt that the outcome would have been the same. Accordingly, we cannot conclude from the record before us that the trial court’s failure to declare a mistrial is harmless.” OPINION:Simmons, J.; Stone, Duncan and Simmons, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.