Law School Case Brief
Garza v. State - 974 S.W.2d 251 (Tex. App. 1998)
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. VI, grants criminal defendants a right to trial by jurors from the locality where the crime was committed. But this right, commonly referred to as the right to trial in the vicinage, does not apply in state prosecutions. Criminal defendants also have no state constitutional right to trial in the vicinage. The Texas Constitution grants criminal defendants the right to a trial by an impartial jury, without specifying that the trial must be held in any particular county. Tex. Const. art. 1, § 10. The constitution further provides that the power to change the venue in civil and criminal cases shall be vested in the courts, to be exercised in such manner as shall be provided by law; and the legislature shall pass laws for that purpose. U.S. Const. art. III, § 45.
Defendant Jose Garza, then 16 years old, was driving his mother's car along the streets of Falfurrias, Texas. With him were two friends and his brother; a .25-caliber handgun was also in the car. Thirteen-year-old Joel Ramirez threw a bottle at the car. Garza stopped, opened the door, and fired once. Ramirez died later that evening as a result of the gunshot wound. The juvenile court waived its jurisdiction, and Garza was indicted in Brooks County for Ramirez's murder. At trial in Texas state court, Garza contended that he was not aiming the gun at the victim, but rather that the bullet ricocheted off the ground and struck the victim. A jury convicted Garza of murder and assessed his punishment at confinement for 35 years. Garza appealed.
Was Garza's conviction proper?
The appellate court held that the evidence was sufficient to uphold Garza's murder conviction. The court further held that the jury instructions on intent did not wrongfully shift the burden of proof onto Garza. The court also found that the jury instructions were not coercive. The court did disapprove of the trial court's ex parte granting of the motion to change venue, but affirmed the trial court's conviction. The court held that Garza had no constitutionally protected interest in being tried in a particular county, and that even though the trial court clearly violated Tex. Crim. Proc. Code Ann. § 31.02 by failing to conduct a hearing, it did not deprive Garza of his due process rights.
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