Law School Case Brief
Johnson v. State - 967 S.W.2d 410 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998)
Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 2.01 requires that every state criminal conviction be supported by evidence that a rational factfinder could find as sufficient to prove all the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. An appellate court reviewing a cold record must consider all the record evidence, direct and circumstantial, in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, and to determine whether, based on that evidence, any rational jury could have found all the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In determining sufficiency of the evidence, the court considers all the evidence, admissible and inadmissible. If, based on all the evidence, a reasonably-minded jury must necessarily entertain a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt, due process requires that we reverse and order a judgment of acquittal. Appellate judges are not factfinders, however; they may not re-evaluate the weight and credibility of the record evidence.
Defendant Arnold E. Johnson was convicted of capital murder for the shooting death of a man; he was later sentenced to death. The charges arose over a shooting incident that involved Johnson, Reginald Taylor, a surviving victim of the shooting, and others. At trial in Texas State court, the prosecution presented numerous exhibits and witnesses, including Taylor. On direct examination, Taylor stated that he could not recall any of the events surrounding the shooting. Over the defense's objection, the prosecution was permitted to read into evidence Taylor's prior statement that he made to police officers after the incident. In his statement, Taylor described details of events leading up to the shooting, as well as the shooting itself. After two photo arrays of suspects, Taylor identified Johnson as the shooter. Also at trial, and again over objection, the prosecution was permitted to present evidence of two extraneous murder offenses for which Johnson had previously been acquitted. On automatic appeal, Johnson claimed, inter alia, that Taylor's statement and the evidence of the extraneous murder offenses were improperly admitted at trial.
Did the trial court commit reversible error in admitting Taylor's recorded recollection and in admitting evidence of prior extraneous offenses?
The state supreme court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for a new trial. The court ruled, inter alia, that Taylor's prior statement was admitted without proper predicate under Tex. R. Evid. 803(5) in that there was no testimony as to Taylor's first-hand knowledge of the shooting, and Taylor never guaranteed that his memory was correctly transcribed or that the factual assertions contained in the statement were true. Moreover, the court ruled, police detective's testimony regarding one extraneous murder conviction for which Johnson had been acquitted was highly prejudicial and required reversal. The limiting instruction given to the jury regarding their ability to consider the extraneous offense and the testimony elicited regarding the acquittal did not sufficiently diminish the harm.
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