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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:On June 8, 2004, Lufkin police received a tip that Curtis Brown, a fugitive, was staying at Wilbert James Teal’s house. When police officers arrived at his house, Teal was sitting on the front porch with his front door open. Officer Burfine told Teal that they were looking for Brown, a fugitive with outstanding parole violator and sex offender warrants. Burfine informed Teal that both of Brown’s warrants were felony warrants. Burfine told Teal that they had information that Brown was in the house. Teal said that he had seen Brown the night before but that he had not seen Brown that day. He repeatedly denied that Brown was in the house, and he refused to allow the police to enter his house. Meanwhile, Officer Smith heard noises from the rear of the house, so he went to check and discovered Brown attempting to flee. Smith arrested Brown. The officers also found another man who had an outstanding sexual assault warrant when they searched Teal’s house. The state indicted Teal for the offense of hindering apprehension. The indictment alleged that Teal: “then and there intentionally, with intent to hinder the arrest, prosecution, or punishment of Curtis Brown for the offense of Failure to Comply with Registration as a Sex Offender, did harbor or conceal Curtis Brown by stating to peace officers that Curtis Brown was not present at said residence occupied by defendant at a time when Curtis Brown was then and there present.” At trial, as soon as the trial court impaneled a jury, Teal objected to the indictment and argued that the district court did not have jurisdiction, because the indictment alleged only a misdemeanor, not a felony. The trial court overruled his objection. After hearing the evidence, the jury convicted Teal and sentenced him to two years in prison. On appeal, Teal argued that legally and factually insufficient evidence supported the verdict and that the jury instructions were erroneous. The 9th Court of Appeals, however, sua sponte addressed the issue of whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction. A two-justice majority of the court of appeals stated that the indictment failed to allege “that Teal had knowledge of Brown’s felony fugitive status so as to facially charge a third degree felony under section 38.05, and vest the district court with subject-matter jurisdiction.” Because the charging instrument did not charge an offense that fell within the district court’s jurisdiction, the 9th Court concluded that the district court should have transferred the indictment to a county court with misdemeanor jurisdiction. Justice David Gaultney dissented and stated that the indictment did vest the district court with jurisdiction. Relying on the Texas Constitution and CCA’s 1990 decision in Studer v. State, Gaultney concluded that the indictment was valid, because “[a]n indictment vests the court with jurisdiction even if it fails to allege an element of the offense.” HOLDING:Vacated and remanded. The Texas Constitution, noted the CCA, requires that the state must obtain a grand jury indictment in a felony case. Absent an indictment or valid waiver, a district court does not have jurisdiction over that case. An indictment provides a defendant with notice of the offense and allows him to prepare a defense. Because of a 1985 amendment to the Texas Constitution and statutory changes, a trial court’s jurisdiction is no longer contingent on whether the indictment contains defects of form or substance. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 1.14(b), defendants must object to errors in the form or substance of an indictment “before the date on which the trial on the merits commences[.]” Thus, Texas law now requires the defendant to object to any error in the indictment before the day of trial and certainly before the jury is impaneled. In the CCA’s 1990 opinion in Studer, the court interpreted the constitutional and statutory changes in holding that that defendants must raise indictment defects before the date of trial. In a later opinion, the held that the Texas Constitution requires that an indictment allege that a person committed an offense. Without those elements, the CCA stated, the charging instrument is not an indictment and does not vest the district court with jurisdiction. The proper test to determine if a charging instrument alleges “an offense,” the CCA stated, is whether the allegations in it are clear enough that one can identify the offense alleged. If they are, then the indictment is sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction. The element missing in the indictment at issue was whether Teal knew that Brown was a felony fugitive. This, the CCA stated, is one of the two mens rea requirements for hindering apprehension. The CCA noted that it previously upheld the validity of the indictment in several cases in which the mens rea allegation was missing or defective. In this case, the CCA stated, the indictment as a whole was sufficient to vest the district court with subject matter jurisdiction and give the defendant notice that the state intended to prosecute him for a felony offense. It alleged whom Teal was hiding (Brown), it stated the offense Brown was hiding from (a felony) and it alleged that Teal told police that Brown was not present. Because the indictment claimed Brown was an alleged fugitive for the felony offense of failure to comply with registration as a sex offender, the CCA held that the trial court could conclude from the face of the charging instrument that the state intended to charge a felony hindering apprehension offense. The indictment was defective, the court stated, because it omitted one of the two elements that raise hindering apprehension from a misdemeanor to a felony. Nonetheless, the CCA stated, the indictment was sufficient to vest the trial court with jurisdiction, because it charged an offense and one could fairly conclude from the face of the charging instrument that the state intended to charge a felony offense. If Teal was confused about whether the state did or intended to charge him with a felony, the court stated that he could have and should have objected to the defective indictment before the date of trial. OPINION:Cochran, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Meyers, Price, Keasler and Holcomb, J.J., joined. CONCURRENCE:Keller, P.J., filed a concurring opinion in which Womack and Hervey, JJ., joined. “Even when an indictment is error-free, a defendant can raise a claim that he was convicted of an offense that was not authorized by the facially complete indictment. Under those circumstances, the defendant can argue persuasively that the indictment was not defective, and thus, there was nothing to object to prior to trial. In that situation, there is no indictment error; rather, there is error in charging the jury or in rendering judgment on an offense that the indictment does not authorize.” Johnson, J., concurred without a written opinion.

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