Texas Defendant Loses Appeal in Murder Case with Appellate Court Lacking Jurisdiction to Rule on Issue

In a recent murder case coming out of a Texas court, the defendant unsuccessfully argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to grant either a motion to recuse or referring a request to the presiding judge of a case under Rule 18(f). The defendant was convicted of the offenses of murder and aggravated assault and was sentenced to 45 years of confinement for each of the convictions. The State argued that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the issue, arguing for a dismissal of the defendant’s claim. On appeal, the appellate court ruled that the issue did not fall within the court’s jurisdiction, and subsequently rejected the claim.

Facts of the Case

In 2011, the defendant was convicted of both murder and aggravated assault and sentenced to 45 years of confinement for each of the offenses. The clerk’s record from the trial court stage indicates that the defendant filed a verified motion to recuse in both trial court cases. At the bottom of the defendant’s motion is the trial court’s signature, with a handwritten ruling granting the motion, as well as a date of signing. In response to this appeal, the State has filed a motion to dismiss the claim on the grounds that the appellate court lacks jurisdiction. The State argues that there is no right to appeal an order granting recusal and any attempt to appeal the failure to rule on a motion to recuse should be moot because the trial court granted the motion.

The Decision

Here, the trial court clearly entered a handwritten ruling at the bottom of the recusal motion, granting the motion and signing and dating it. Under Texas law, once a motion to recuse has been filed, a trial court must either recuse itself or refer the request to the presiding judge to assign a judge to hear the motion. An order granting a motion to recuse is final and cannot be reviewed by either appeal or writ of mandamus. According to Rule 18a(j), no appeal is permitted from a trial court’s grant of a recusal motion, and the appellate court lacks jurisdiction over the appeal. Subsequently, the appellate court denies the defendant’s appeal, granting the State’s motion to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

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