Texas Stamp


PD-0553-20 10/21/2020

“Did the court of appeals fail to apply the standard of review correctly in its analysis of appellant’s ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim?”

Johnson rode his bicycle behind a tire store where a brown 2002 Chevy truck was idling. He opened the truck’s door, got in, and surprised the owner’s wife who was sitting in the passenger seat. She saw a screwdriver in his hand and jumped from the truck while he drove it forward and backward. Johnson then took the truck.

At his aggravated robbery trial, the defense argued that Johnson lacked the intent to steal the truck because he believed it was his. About a week before the offense, police found Johnson on the roadside, behaving erratically. They took him for a psychological evaluation and towed his gray 1997 Dodge truck. On the day of the offense, Johnson was acting strangely again and “not in his right mind.” He told family members he was going to get his truck (which was in another city) and came back a short time later driving the victims’ truck. 

After calling all its witnesses, defense counsel offered Johnson’s medical records. The State objected, and the trial court sustained the objection based on the lack of a sponsoring witness and no foundation. Johnson did not make his proffered exhibit part of the record. The jury convicted him of the lesser-included offense of theft.

On appeal, Johnson argued his trial counsel was ineffective for not offering the medical records in an admissible form. Although the record had not been developed to explain counsel’s actions, the court of appeals majority held that trial counsel’s misunderstanding of the evidentiary predicate was not legitimate trial strategy. It found prejudice because the lengthy records document multiple severe and chronic mental health disorders relevant to whether he formed the requisite intent for theft. In the majority’s view, it “would have provided extensive insight into appellant’s severe mental health issues and his seemingly abnormal behavior.” The concurrence would have found counsel ineffective for not pleading insanity. One judge dissented because the medical records were not in the appellate record, a lay jury would not have been in a position to interpret the records without the aid of an expert, and counsel could have reasonably decided not to press for their admission because the evidence would have been a double-edged sword.

The State reiterates the dissent’s arguments and contends that the majority only speculated that counsel misunderstood the predicate. It adds that, because the records do not document Johnson’s mental state at the time of the offense, they would not have been admissible. Finally, it contends the majority failed to consider the totality of counsel’s representation, the detrimental portions of the medical records, and the rest of the evidence at trial.

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