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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Clarifies Application of ‘Estoppel’ in Plea Bargain Context and Holds Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction to Revoke Community Supervision After Statutory Term Expired

by Richard Resch

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held a trial court lacked jurisdiction to revoke community supervision where the violation occurred after the statutory maximum term of five years concluded, despite the fact he had been sentenced to a 10-year term.

Before the Court was the writ of habeas corpus application of Matthew David Lozoya. He pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree felony obtaining a controlled substance by fraud. His plea came after he accepted a plea agreement with the State, which agreed to dismiss two other counts and recommend a four-year prison sentence on one count and 10 years of community supervision on the other count. The trial court followed the agreement and ordered the sentences to run concurrently.

Procedural History

In year six, the prosecutor filed a motion to revoke community supervision. Lozoya agreed to plead true to the allegations in return for a five-year sentence recommendation from the State, which the trial court imposed. The State subsequently informed Lozoya that it believed the trial court lacked jurisdiction to revoke community supervision because it did not file the motion to revoke or obtain capias before the expiration of the five-year maximum lawful term. That information was based on Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 42.12 § 3(b)(2)(B) (2017), which provides the maximum initial period of supervision for Lozoya’s offenses, without a lawful extension, which is absent in this case, is five years.

Lozoya moved for habeas corpus relief in the Court of Criminal Appeals thereafter, and that court remanded for further record development. The trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. It found Lozoya’s community supervision ended after the lawful five-year period without a motion to revoke being filed within that time. Because that supervision had legally expired, the trial court concluded the judgment of revocation and the sentence were void for lack of jurisdiction.

The Court of Criminal Appeals filed and set this case to decide “(1) whether [Lozoya] should be estopped from challenging the trial court’s revocation of his community supervision because he accepted benefits under his plea agreement, (2) whether the trial court had jurisdiction to revoke [Lozoya’s] supervision after the five-year period expired if estoppel does not apply, and (3) the proper remedy if [Lozoya] is entitled to relief.” 

Estoppel: Clarification in Plea Bargain Context

The Court began its analysis with a discussion on and clarification of estoppel. It explained that it has “not been as precise as [it] could have been in the past when discussing” the doctrine of estoppel by contract, which bars a party from denying “the truth of facts agreed on and settled by force of entering into a contract.” 31 C.J.S. Waiver and Estoppel § 55 (2019). That is, “a party is bound by the terms of his own contract until set aside or annulled for fraud, accident, or mistake.” United Fid. Life Ins. Co. v. Fowler, 38 S.W.2d 128 (Tex. Civ. App. – Dallas 1931). There does not need to be any acceptance of benefits for estoppel by contract to apply; the doctrine focuses on whether a party assumed a position that is inconsistent with essential facts contained in the contract to the prejudice of another. C.J.S. Waiver and Estoppel § 70.

The Court acknowledged that when it recognized the doctrine of estoppel by contract in Rhodes v. State, 240 S.W.3d 882 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007), and discussed the doctrine in subsequent cases, it erroneously referred to “estoppel by contract” when it actually meant “estoppel by acceptance of benefits under a contract.” See Rhodes (citing a version of estoppel that is triggered by acceptance of benefits but mistakenly labeling the doctrine as estoppel by contract, despite the fact that doctrine is not triggered by acceptance of benefits). Although the two types of estoppel are closely related, they are distinct types of estoppel. Thus, the Court announced that going forward, it “will not refer to estoppel by contract when determining whether an applicant should be estopped from bringing a claim because he accepted a benefit from a plea bargain.”

Turning to the present case, the Court stated that, as per the foregoing clarification, the doctrine of estoppel by contract does not apply because Lozoya was not challenging the terms of his plea agreement. For example, he was not arguing that the State orally agreed to recommend a five-year probated sentence despite the fact the written plea agreement states that the State would recommend a 10-year probated sentence.

Estoppel: Limitations on Application of Acceptance of Benefits Doctrine

Under the doctrine, acceptance of any benefit derived from a transaction or contract, with knowledge or notice of the facts and rights, will create an estoppel (an equitable doctrine that prevents a party from asserting a claim or right that contradicts what that party has said or done previously or what has been legally established as true). C.J.S. Waiver and Estoppel § 154. An important limitation on the doctrine is that the party against whom the estoppel is asserted must have acted with knowledge of the relevant facts and of his rights. See Frazier v. Wynn, 472 S.W.2d 750 (Tex. 1971) (“[T]here can be no ratification or estoppel from acceptance of the benefits by a person who did not have knowledge of all material facts at the time of acceptance.”).

The Court stated that it “need not decide the exact contours” of the doctrine in order to decide this case and left the establishment of the contours for another day.

No Estoppel in Present Case

The record showed that (1) defense counsel, the State, and the trial judge all mistakenly believed that Lozoya could lawfully have been placed on community supervision for 10 years, (2) Lozoya’s motion-to-revoke counsel was under the same mistaken belief, (3) the State advised Lozoya of the error on October 9, 2020, (4) the court appointed counsel for Lozoya on January 28, 2021, and (5) Lozoya filed the present application on March 18, 2021, less than two months later.

The Court reasoned that even assuming for the sake of argument a defendant receiving community supervision is a per se benefit, there is still no evidence that (1) any party involved in this case was aware of the key material facts that the maximum lawful initial period of supervision is only five years or (2) Lozoya was bargaining away his right not to be placed on community supervision for a longer period than lawfully permitted. Consequently, Lozoya’s acceptance of the 10-year term of community supervision, assuming it constitutes a benefit, was not voluntary, as required by the estoppel by acceptance of benefits doctrine. The Court further concluded that he did not acquiesce to the unlawful supervision period or ratify it because he “diligently pursued his claim” once he learned of the material facts. Thus, the Court ruled that it would be “inequitable” to conclude “an acceptance-of-benefits estoppel was created under the plea agreement or the judgment.”

Trial Court’s Jurisdiction to Revoke

The Court made it very clear that this case is about a narrow issue: whether the trial court had jurisdiction to revoke Lozoya’s community supervision after the lawful five-year period expired. It made it equally clear that this case is not about whether the trial court had jurisdiction to sentence him to community supervision for longer than lawfully permitted or whether his sentence was illegal.

The Court then discussed Coffey v. State, 500 S.W.2d 515 (Tex. Crim. App. 1973), and its progeny and determined the governing rule of law is that a trial court has jurisdiction to revoke community supervision after the lawful term ends only if a motion to revoke was filed and a capias issued prior to the expiration of the lawful term. Thus, the Court held that the trial court lacked jurisdiction when it purported to revoke Lozoya’s community supervision after the lawful five-year period had expired without it being extended or a motion to revoke filed during the lawful period of supervision.

Remedy and Conclusion

The Court agreed with the State’s request not to unwind the entire plea agreement. Instead, it set aside only the trial court’s judgment revoking Lozoya’s community supervision and sentencing him to five years’ imprisonment. Thus, the Court granted habeas relief.

Accordingly, the Court vacated the trial court’s judgment. See: Ex parte Lozoya, 666 S.W.3d 618 (Tex. Crim. App. 2023).  

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Ex parte Lozoya



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