Texas Stamp

EX PARTE CHRISTOPHER RION

PD-1096-19 01/15/2020

“Collateral estoppel applies only when two issues are identical. In appellant’s manslaughter trial, the jury was charged to consider whether appellant ‘recklessly caused the death’ of the complainant. In a pending aggravated assault trial, the jury will be charged to consider whether he ‘recklessly caused bodily injury’ to a different complainant. The court of appeals held that collateral estoppel applies. Was the court right?” 

Rion’s car struck another vehicle, injuring one occupant and eventually killing the other. He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of one and manslaughter of the other. Over Rion’s objection, the charges were tried separately. He was first acquitted of manslaughter. Rion filed a pretrial writ claiming the aggravated assault prosecution was barred by collateral estoppel because the only issue, whether he acted recklessly, was decided in the negative by the first jury. The trial court denied relief.

The court of appeals reversed. It held that the jury had necessarily decided that Rion was not criminally responsible, i.e., did not have the culpable mental state, because he suffered a psychotic breakdown prior to the collision and so did not make a conscious decision to engage in the allegedly reckless conduct. It rejected the State’s argument that recklessness as to one victim’s death is not the same as recklessness as to another victim’s injury, calling it “hypertechnical.” Interestingly, the court of appeals said the State was not collaterally estopped from trying Rion for “intentionally or knowingly causing the accident.”

The State reurges its argument that collateral estoppel does not apply when both the prohibited result and gravamina of the first and second offenses are different. Conceding that the only contested issue was Rion’s recklessness, the State says the court of appeals misconstrued what the jury was asked to decide. Rion’s mental state must be tailored to the result of his conduct, not the conduct itself, because manslaughter is a result-oriented offense. The question was not whether he recklessly drove a certain way but whether he recklessly caused death. That is a separate question from whether he recklessly caused a less serious injury with the same driving.

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