Texas Stamp

GONZALEZ, JUAN ANTONIO

PD-0181-17 06/28/2017

1. “The Eighth Court erred in holding that evidence that Gonzalez had consumed ecstasy on the day of the murder was irrelevant to his state of mind and self-defense claim because the State failed to introduce evidence of the drug’s half-life or the length of its effects, and that, despite any bearing it had on the central issue of self-defense or the relatively innocuous nature of the intoxication evidence, when compared to the severity of the charged offense (capital murder), its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.”

2. “The Eighth Court erred in holding that any erroneous admission of Gonzalez’ possession and consumption of ecstasy the day of the murder constituted harmful error where the complained-of evidence was developed quickly through a single witness, the State did not allude to the evidence during closing arguments, and Gonzalez’ defensive evidence was internally inconsistent and controverted by the State’s evidence. In disregarding the weight of these factors, the Eighth Court erred in its application of the appropriate harm standard.”

Gonzalez was convicted of murdering a police officer who confronted him and his friends after observing one of them key a car. At trial, evidence of Gonzalez’s use of ecstasy six hours before the offense, documented on his Facebook page, was admitted over Gonzalez’s Rules of Evidence 401, 404(b), and 403 objections.

On appeal, the court of appeals rejected the State’s argument that the ecstacy evidence was relevant to the jury’s evaluation of Appellant’s self-defense claim. It determined that, without, evidence of the drug’s effects or its lasting effect on Gonzalez’s state of mind, an ordinary jury could not properly use that information. Continuing, the court held that, even if it was relevant, its relevance was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Because it did not go to a central issue, it does “raise concerns for swaying a jury on an improper basis, distracting the jury, or permitting the jury to place undue weight on the evidence which it was ill-equipped to evaluate.” The court then held that the admission was harmful: the character of the evidence is disturbing to the average juror, placed Gonzalez in a poor light, and was emphasized by the State.

The State complains that the court of appeals’ decision forces the State to present evidence of ecstacy’s half-life and length of its effects before it can be admitted. But evidence merely tending to impact the truth or falsity of a fact is relevant and need not, in and of itself, prove or disprove a particular fact. Evidence of Gonzalez’s intoxication made it less probable that his belief that force was necessary was objectively reasonable. And it took little time to develop the evidence, and the State’s need for it was great given the self-defense claim. Because it was relevant to Gonzalez’s state of mind, it was not unfairly prejudicial.

Finally, the State argues that even if it was improperly admitted, Gonzalez was not harmed. Portraying the defendant in a “poor light” is not a valid justification because that would dispense with the need for a harm analysis in every case. Nor did it unfairly affect Gonzalez’s credibility. Gonzalez gave several inconsistent statements and his callous behavior during and after the offense justified the jury’s verdict. And again, the State notes, the evidence took little time to present. Therefore, the court of appeals should have considered the lack of emphasis by the State.

 

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