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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Credits Sentence with Time on Appeal Bond

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that a man who erroneously remained free on an appeal bond for 21 years was entitled to full credit toward his sentence.

Claus Detref Thiles was sentenced to 16 years in prison in a Dallas County plea agreement in 1982. He appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed his conviction, and the state filed a petition for discretionary review. The Court of Appeals granted Thiles an appeal bond and he was released in 1985. The bond conditions did not require him to remain in the state or check in with the court.

After thirteen months the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reinstated the conviction and returned the case to that court for review of the remaining errors Thiles had raised on appeal. Seventeen months later, the Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. However, no warrant for the appellate mandate was issued for another twenty years.

During these judicial proceedings, Thiles had moved to Missouri, remarried and became a productive member of society with no further criminal arrests, living openly under his own name with no attempt at concealing his identity or location. Two years after the appellate warrant was issued in 2007, Thiles was arrested in Missouri for DWI, though that charge was later dismissed. However, the police discovered the outstanding warrant and extradited him to Texas.

Thiles filed a state application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Article 11.07, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, arguing that he was entitled to credit toward his sentence for the time he remained on appeal bond because he had been erroneously “constructively released” from his sentence through no fault of his own. The state agreed that he was entitled to relief. The district court held an evidentiary hearing, during which Thiles and his wife testified that he was never informed that his conviction had been reinstated. The trial court recommended that relief be granted.

The Court of Criminal Appeals noted that there were two lines of relevant cases. One line deals with prisoners erroneously released from custody through no fault of their own, and the courts have uniformly held that such an erroneously released prisoner is entitled to credit toward the expiration or discharge of a sentence. The other line of cases involves defendants released on appeal bond while a direct appeal is pending, who are inadvertently allowed to remain at large after the appellate court upholds the conviction.
In that type of case, the courts have found that no credit should be granted toward the sentence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals applied the principle of reasonableness, noting that in the previous appeal bond cases the defendant always had personal knowledge that the conviction had been upheld by the appellate court. Because Thiles had not known of the reinstatement of his conviction, and a series of bureaucratic blunders by the government and bonding agency resulted in no arrest warrant being issued for such a long period of time, he was entitled to relief.

Since the time credit exceeded his sentence, the Court of Criminal Appeals ordered that Thiles “be immediately discharged from the custody” of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. See: Ex parte Thiles, 333 S.W.3d 148 (Tex.Crim.App. 2011).

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Related legal case

Ex parte Thiles