Waco: Appeals Court Affirms 2 Cases On Jury Screening Issue

By: Paul J. Gately Email
By: Paul J. Gately Email

WACO (November 30, 2012)—Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals affirmed two cases Thursday in which lawyers raised a question about not being allowed to explain the concept of reasonable doubt to prospective jury members during the jury screening process.

The court affirmed the conviction of Tony Adell Sanders for murder and Jose Maria Garcia for attempted capital murder.

Sanders, 39, was found guilty December 2011 in 19th State District Court of murder in the shooting death of Timothy Smith, 28, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Garcia, 44, was found guilty in July 2011 of a daylong crime spree that resulted in injury to a Falls County sheriff's deputy and the multiple shooting of a Tennessee man at a local convenience store.

He was sentenced to a life term in the same court.

Both appeals asked that the 19th court decision be reversed because Judge Ralph Strother prevented defense lawyers from explaining the meaning of "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Strother has for some time had a rule in his court that the issue cannot be explained during the jury screening process, but that rule has been challenged and overturned in other cases.

In March of this year the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals published a ruling that upheld a jury's right to understand fully what the guilt of a defendant means and how lawyers explain a guilty finding to potential jury members.

The court ruled, specifically in an appeal of Laderek Adarious Fuller vs. The State of Texas, that a trial court judge may not disallow a defense lawyer from asking questions during voir dire that guarantee jurors understand what "guilty" means and that the burden of proof of guilt in a criminal trial requires that guilt be proved to the highest standard.

The issue surfaced in McLennan County more than a year ago when Strother issued a rule in his court that precluded defense attorneys from explaining the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of guilt to prospective jurors.

Stan Schweiger, a Waco defense lawyer, said in March the rule in Strother's court was well understood and in spite of defense counsel's attempts to get the judge to change his mind on the issue, Strother refused.


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