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Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas: Holds Trial Objection Enough to Preserve Issue for Appeal

by Dale Chappell

When counsel objects at trial to a particular issue—even if it had failed to raise it in a pre-trial written motion—that objection is enough to “preserve” the issue for review on appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held.

During an armed robbery of a mobile phone store, the store owner was shot and killed. Johntay Gibson was arrested and taken into custody. After being read Miranda warnings, he was interrogated for seven hours before he asked for a lawyer. Upon the request, the interrogation stopped. After about five hours, the interrogating officer returned and resumed questioning. No new Miranda warnings were issued. Gibson was charged and went to trial.

 His lawyer filed a pre-trial motion to suppress Gibson’s seven-hour interrogation. A hearing was held on the motion. The five-hour gap and lack of new Miranda warnings were not mentioned in either the written motion or during the hearing. However, at trial, defense counsel objected to the last portion of the custodial interview. In support of the objection, counsel argued that it should be suppressed “because of the failure to re-warn him.” The court denied the motion. Gibson was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On appeal to the Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District (“COA”), Gibson again argued that the second interview should be suppressed because of the failure to re-warn. The COA affirmed his conviction and declined to hear the suppression issue. It stated: “Because appellant’s argument on appeal does not comport with any objection raised in the motion to suppress or at the suppression hearing, appellant has failed to preserve error on this issue.” Gibson then appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, which serves as the highest appellate court in the state for criminal cases.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled the COA “erred in relying on the motion to suppress and the suppression hearing in order to find a failure to preserve error.” The Court explained that to preserve an issue for appellate review “a party must have presented a timely objection or motion to the court.” It added that there is no requirement under Texas law that “the appellate argument [comport] with any related motion to suppress when there is an actual trial objection that comports with the appellate argument.”

At trial, Gibson objected to the admission of evidence and asked for it to be suppressed. The trial court overruled the objection and admitted it. Regardless of the claims made in the written suppression motion, his trial objection was sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review because it corresponded with his claims on appeal, instructed the Court.

Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas sustained Gibson’s ground for review, reversed the judgment of the COA, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

See: Gibson v. State, 2017 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 1142 (2017). 

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