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How Does the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Work?

The Texas judicial system utilizes a bifurcated appellate court system, which comprises of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of Texas. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest appellate court in the state for all criminal matters. Depending on the case being appealed, this court may exercise mandatory or discretionary appellate jurisdiction over criminal matters in Texas. These matters include:

  • All felony and misdemeanor cases (with the exclusion of juvenile matters, which fall under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Texas)
  • Appeal cases which involve the death penalty (the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has exclusive jurisdiction over these types of cases)

In addition to this, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also has the power to issue writs of habeas corpus, certiorari, mandamus, procedendo, prohibition, and any other writs it may deem necessary for the enforcement of its jurisdiction and the protection of its judgments.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals comprises of a presiding judge and eight other judges. Judges are elected in partisan elections every six years. Only individuals between the ages of 35 - 74 are qualified to become Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges. Other qualifications include:

  • Being a citizen of Texas licensed to practice law in the state
  • Haven practiced for a minimum of 10 years.

In situations where there is a vacant judgeship position, a qualified individual is appointed by the governor to serve out the remainder of the term. However, the state’s senate must confirm this appointment.

When hearing cases, the court may choose to sit in panels of three. When this happens, the presence of two judges is enough to constitute a quorum. Also, at least two of these judges have to agree before a decision can be issued. However, in some cases, such as in appeals involving the death penalty, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must seat en banc (in full-court with all nine judges present). When the court sits en banc, the presence of five judges is enough to constitute a quorum, and the concurrence of at least five judges is required for a decision to be issued.

Except for cases involving a death penalty, which are automatically accepted by the court, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals has discretionary jurisdiction over the cases it accepts. Before this court accepts a case, some factors are taken into consideration:

  • If the Court of Appeals’ decision conflicts with the decision rendered by another Court of Appeals on the same matter
  • If the Court of Appeals’ decision represents an important question of either state or federal law that has not been but should be, settled by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
  • If the Court of Appeals’ decision is on an important question of either state or federal law, and conflicts in any way with the applicable decisions of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals or the Supreme Court of the United States
  • Whether a Court of Appeals has declared a statute, regulation, rule, or ordinance unconstitutional
  • If a decision of the Court of Appeals have misconstrued a statute, regulation, rule, or ordinance
  • If the Court of Appeals’ justices have disagreed on a material question of law that was necessary to the court’s decision
  • Whether a Court of Appeals may have either seriously departed from the accepted and usual course of a judicial proceeding in the state of Texas, or sanctioned such a departure by one of the state’s lower courts, that it requires the Court of Criminal Appeals to exercise its powers of supervision

Typically, parties that wish to appeal a case at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must file a petition for a review with the court after a Court of Appeals has issued a decision. However, in some cases, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals may decide to review the Court of Appeals’ decision at any time. For this to happen, at least four judges in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must vote in favor of accepting the case. When this happens, the Court of Criminal Appeals will issue an order stating the lower appellate court’s mandate.

In cases where a petition requesting a review is to be filed with the court, this petition must be filed not more than 30 days after either the Court of Appeals’ judgment was issued or the last timely motion for a rehearing or reconsideration was overruled. If the court grants the petition, then briefs are submitted by the appealing parties. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is not a trial court, and so it does not accept new testimony or witnesses. Instead, it reviews the briefs submitted by the appealing parties, and records of the Trial Court and the Court of Appeals, to determine whether an error in the judicial process may have occurred.

The court may also direct the appealing parties to present oral arguments if it deems it necessary. Oral arguments typically last for a maximum of 20 minutes per party. After reviewing the case, the court then issues an opinion stating the reasons for its decision on the matter. Judgments issued by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals may serve any of the following purposes:

  • To affirm the judgment issued by the lower court, either in whole or in part.
  • To modify the judgment issued by the lower court, and affirm it as modified.
  • To reverse the lower court’s judgment either in whole or in part (when this happens, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals renders the judgment that the lower court should have rendered)
  • To reverse the judgment of the lower court and remand the case for further proceedings.
  • To vacate the judgments of the lower courts (including the Court of Appeals) and dismiss the case.
  • To vacate the lower court’s judgment and remand the case for further proceedings due to changes in the law.
  • To dismiss the appeal.

Once the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a judgment, unsatisfied parties may file for a rehearing within 15 days. If this is denied, the case is considered concluded. The Court of Criminal Appeals is the court of last resort for all criminal matters in Texas, and the decisions it renders in these cases are considered final. There is no time limit for how long it takes the court to issue a decision.

The Texas judicial system provides interested persons access to online portals that can be utilized to obtain the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals records by performing case searches or event searches. Interested parties can also access released orders and opinions online.

Copies of these records can also be obtained by mailing a written request to the court at:

Court of Criminal Appeals

P. O. Box 12308

Austin, TX 78711

In-person requests are accepted at the office of the Clerk of the Court between the hours of 8:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m. at Room 106 of the Supreme Court building located at:

Court of Criminal Appeals

Supreme Court Building

201 West 14th Street

Austin, TX 78701

In addition to this location, the court may sit in other cities. Queries can be directed to (512) 463–1551.

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