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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:On June 19, 2003, a Houston police officer pulled over Sheriff K. Azeez and issued him a speeding citation. By signing the citation, Azeez promised to appear in Municipal Court No. 15 on July 21, 2003. He failed to appear and was charged by complaint with “unlawfully and knowingly fail[ing] to appear . . . in accordance with the terms of his release after having been lawfully released from custody on condition that he subsequently appear in said court.” Authorities tried Azeez a year later for this offense in Houston Municipal Court No. 8. On the first day of his trial in municipal court, before jury selection commenced, Azeez orally moved to quash the complaint, arguing that, whereas it charged him with an offense in the express terms of the Texas Penal Code �38.10(a) provision, he should instead have been charged under a provision of the Texas Transportation Code provision. The city prosecutor responded that the complaint had not charged Azeez under either of these provisions, but had instead charged him with a violation of city of Houston Ordinance 16-47. Azeez answered that he could not be charged under the ordinance, because the city “cannot legislate in areas there is a controlling State law, so that’s void � even if he is under that ordinance.” The trial court denied his motion to quash. Events at trial seemed to bear out Azeez’s claim that he had been charged under �38.10(a). During voir dire, in testing the qualification of prospective jurors, Azeez inquired whether they could all consider assessing punishment within the range of a fine between $1 and $500 � a range that is consistent with �38.10(a) and the city ordinance but inconsistent with the range of punishment for the Transportation Code offense. At the close of the evidence, Azeez again complained, this time in the context of a motion for directed verdict, that it was not clear under which offense he was charged. “It was apparently clear enough to the trial judge, however, when he came to issue his written charge to the jury,” the court wrote. There, without objection from either party, the trial court expressly set out the offense with which Azeez had been charged in terms of �38.10(a). The judge authorized a fine of up to $500. The jury quickly found Azeez guilty and assessed a fine of $400. Azeez filed a motion for new trial in which he argued, inter alia, that the trial court had erred in failing to grant his motion to quash the complaint on the basis that it had charged him with �38.10(a) rather than the more specific offense under the Transportation Code. The trial court denied the motion. Azeez reiterated this argument in his appeal to the County Criminal Court-at-Law, which ruled in a one-page opinion that he had “waived” this and all of his other challenges to the complaint because he had “made his objections after the start of voir dire.” The 14th Court of Appeals likewise affirmed Azeez’s conviction but eschewed the County Criminal Court-at-Law’s procedural-default rationale in favor of a ruling on the merits of Azeez’s claim. The 14th Court held that the complaint charged Azeez with the Transportation Code offense and did not charge him under either the city ordinance or �38.10(a). HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. Under �38.10(a), a person lawfully released from custody, with or without bail, on condition that he subsequently appear commits an offense if he intentionally or knowingly fails to appear in accordance with the terms of his release. An offense under this provision is a Class C misdemeanor where, as in Azeez’s case, the offense for which the person was required to appear (speeding) is punishable by fine only. Therefore, punishment in Azeez’s case could not exceed $500. Under Texas Transportation Code �543.009(b), a person who willfully violates a written promise to appear in court commits a misdemeanor regardless of the disposition of the charge on which the person was arrested. An officer who pulls a speeder over is required to issue him a citation and release him, so long as he promises to appear. The misdemeanor offense of failure to appear as promised as per the conditions of the speeding citation is specifically spelled out in the Transportation Code as a fine of no less than $1 and no more than $200. The CCA held that the 14th Court erred in two significant respects. First, in holding that Azeez was actually charged with the Transportation Code offense, the CCA found that the 14th Court ignored: 1. the express language of the complaint itself; 2. the fact that the court’s charge instructed the jury to convict Azeez (if at all) under the express language of �38.10(a); and 3. the fact that the jury was authorized to, and did in fact, assess a fine in excess of that which is permitted for the Transportation Code offense. The language of the complaint tracked �38.10(a) word for word, the CCA stated, whereas it merely paraphrased the elements necessary to charge an offense under the Transportation Code. The Legislature, the CCA stated, “has clearly manifested a policy that a failure to appear in court to answer for a traffic infraction should carry a less severe punishment than other failures to appear.” Because Azeez was prosecuted under �38.10(a) and assessed a fine in excess of what was allowable for �543.009(b), the CCA held that Azeez suffered a violation of due process. Thus, the CCA held that the trial court erred in allowing Azeez to be prosecuted and punished under �38.10(a) instead of �543.009(b). The 14th Court, the CCA stated, erred in allowing Azeez to be punished more severely than he could have been under the Transportation Code � a defect in the judgment that could be raised at any time, including for the first time on appeal. Thus, the county court-at-law erred to hold that Azeez’s objections to prosecution under �38.10(a) were untimely and therefore waived. OPINION:Price, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which Keller, P.J., and Womack, Johnson, Keasler, Hervey, Holcomb and Cochran, JJ., joined. Meyers, J., did not participate.

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