Texas Stamp


PD-0184-22 09/07/2022


    “Did the court of appeals have jurisdiction over Sinclair’s appeal?”


     “In a proceeding under Article 11.072 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, does a trial court have jurisdiction to rule on a motion to reconsider after the trial court has entered an appealable order denying or granting, in whole or part, an application under the statute?”

Sinclair filed an Art. 11.072 writ application in Bexar County. The district court referred the matter to a magistrate. The referral order provided that any action taken by the magistrate would become the decree of the district court if not superseded by the district court’s order within 15 days of the magistrate’s report. In August about a year later, the magistrate held a hearing that the State had no notice of, adopted Sinclair’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, and recommended habeas relief (“the August order”). The State learned of this 17 days later. Then, 24 days after the August order, it filed a motion to reconsider. The magistrate granted reconsideration and, in a November order, recommended against relief. Sinclair appealed the November order and argued that it was too late for the trial court to have reconsidered the August order because the State waited more than 20 days to file its motion to reconsider.

The court of appeals agreed with Sinclair that the trial court lost jurisdiction over the writ when the 20-day window for filing a State’s appeal from the September order had passed. It could not be extended by a motion for reconsideration since that is not provided for in the statute. The court of appeals reversed the November order denying habeas relief and vacated the order granting the State’s motion to reconsider. On rehearing, the State argued for the first time that the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction over the appeal because there had never been a final appealable order in the case. In the State’s view, Bexar County magistrates lack authority to issue final orders in habeas matters. In its opinion on rehearing, the court of appeals declined to address the issue, stating that it had merely vacated the order granting the motion to reconsider, not determined whether any of the orders were final judgments.

The State argues that the court of appeals should have dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. It contends that the magistrate’s August order was a recommendation granting relief and should not be considered a final order. Under the Bexar County magistrate statutes, magistrates can have postconviction habeas cases referred to them, but they cannot preside over trials. Among their designated powers (unless further limited by the referral order) are the power to rule on admissibility of evidence, pretrial motions, make findings, formulate conclusions, and “recommend the rulings, orders, or judgment to be made in a case.” The State argues this establishes a clear distinction between the preliminary kind of rulings that magistrates have the power to decide from the ultimate outcome rulings that they do not. And it argues this extends to habeas cases. Another provision permits the referring court to modify, reverse, or otherwise change any action by a magistrate and states that if the referring court does not do so, the magistrate’s action “becomes the decree of the court.” The State argues that this last provision cannot be relied on to transform the magistrate’s August order into an appealable order because doing so would erode the careful distinction the Legislature set out. Because the statute only permits a recommendation, a district court must sign a final order to trigger an appeal. The State also contends that the referral order in this case limited the magistrate to only issuing the writ and conducting a hearing and thus extended only to implied powers necessary for those two things and no others. Given that the magistrate revoked its prior recommendation, apparently not even the magistrate intended it to be a final order.    


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