“The Court of Appeals for the First District erred when it found, contrary to five other courts of appeals, that a trial court maintains unending jurisdiction over community supervision cases to grant ‘judicial clemency.’”
After being convicted for misdemeanor theft, Brent was placed on community supervision. When her supervision period expired, the trial court entered an order discharging her as required by Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 42A.701(e). Nearly two years later, Brent moved for “judicial clemency” under subsection (f), which allows a judge who discharges a defendant under that article to (in this case) set aside the verdict, dismiss the charging instrument, and release her from (nearly) all penalties and disabilities resulting from her conviction. The trial court granted Brent’s motion over the State’s objection to jurisdiction.
The court of appeals affirmed. It broke with five courts of appeals that have held that a trial court’s ability to grant “judicial clemency” expires when its personal jurisdiction over the defendant generally terminates—30 days after judgment, barring any motions extending it. In the absence of statutory language governing this separate form of relief, it could find no reason not to permit trial courts to exercise discretion at whatever point it deemed the defendant rehabilitated.
The State argues in its petition that “the court of appeals has imbued trial courts with unending jurisdiction – a thing unmatched in any other context.” This ignores both the overall structure of the statute, which covers what happens at the time the trial court reduces or terminates supervision, and subsection (f-1), which requires the creation of discharge forms that provide for either discharge or “discharge plus judicial clemency.” The State also takes issue with the court of appeals’s policy argument. First, policy is only a consideration when the statute is ambiguous; lack of a specific statement of jurisdiction is not an indication of ambiguity because very few statutes have such a statement. Second, the court ignored the policy arguments that favor requiring the defendant to show rehabilitation within the period of supervision. These include ensuring the trial court can monitor her and providing greater motivation to comply with conditions. Otherwise, the only thing on which the court can base its belated decision is lack of subsequent criminal history.