April 2024: Texas Third Court of Appeals Delivers Opinion on the Penal Code § 22.021(f)(1) Enhancement for Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child in Tucker v. State

Texas Criminal Law Updates

2024 Best Lawyers "Ones to Watch" logo with Nick Toufexis stamp

Overview of Tucker v. State and the Issues Decided on Appeal

On April 25, 2024, the en banc Texas Third Court of Appeals upheld Michael Tucker’s Travis County convictions in a bench trial for Indecency with a Child and Aggravated Sexual Assault in Tucker v. State.

We’re not just Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers.

We are warriors fighting unjust and corrupt government prosecutions with a history of success and a reputation for tenacity, courage and legal ingenuity.

The appellant’s sufficiency of the evidence challenge was not particularly interesting, given the extreme fact pattern in the case.

However, the opinion in Tucker is notable because of an additional matter that the court considered. The state requested that the court modify the judgment by including the penalty enhancement under Tex. Penal Code § 22.021(f)(1). If the penalty enhancement applies, the minimum term of imprisonment is 25 years and the offense is not eligible for parole.

The Sufficiency of the Evidence Challenge

Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him on appeal, particularly disputing the intent required for conviction. The court denied appellant’s sufficiency of the evidence challenge, noting the appellant’s own admissions which directly supported the verdict.

In addressing Tucker’s legal sufficiency arguments, the Third Court evaluated the evidence, including Tucker’s own statements, which incriminated her. The court reiterated the standard of viewing evidence “in the light most favorable to the State,” and affirmed the convictions. The court found ample evidence to uphold the conviction and deny the legal sufficiency challenge.

The § 22.021(f)(1) Sentencing Enhancement Modification Request

The opinion also analyzed the Texas Penal Code §22.021(f)(1) sentencing enhancement, which prescribes a 25-year minimum sentence for offenses against victims under six years old. The court’s ruling examined “whether (f)(1) defines an element of Tucker’s §22.021 offense.”

Neither the Court of Criminal Appeals nor our Court has resolved whether (f)(1) defines an element of an offense under §22.021. With no precedent deciding the issue, we thus resort to first principles for deciding what is and is not an element of a particular offense.

The court concluded that “Section 22.021 unambiguously requires that (f)(1) not be an element of a Section 22.021 offense.”

The State had requested a modification to the judgment:

The State requests that we modify the judgment for the Count I aggravated sexual assault to reflect that the “Statute for Offense” includes Subsection (f)(1) … The judgment for this count reflects the “Statute for Offense” as Penal Code, but the State argues that omitting (f)(1) from the “Statute for Offense” field is a clerical error or misrecital requiring modification…

The court denied the State’s request for modification based on the court’s conclusion that (f)(1) was not an element of the offense, and thus the trial court did not err by omitting it from the “Statute for Offense” section in the judgment.

Implication of the § 22.021(f)(1) Sentencing Enhancement Ruling

This ruling was not a victory for the appellant, as the judgment said, “The Court enters an affirmative finding that the victim or intended victim was younger than 6 years of age at the time of the offense,” and the court of appeals found that “the judgment here expressly provides the finding that activates (f)(1).”

This case is perhaps most useful for legal practitioners as a detailed analysis of determining whether a statutory subsection is an element of the offense and the limits of an appellate court’s ability to modify a judgment. However, the determination that § 22.021(f)(1) is not an element of an offense will have implications for jury charges in Texas Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child cases.

Arrested or Charged With a Crime?

Exit mobile version