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Texas Court of Appeals: Decriminalization of Civil Commitment Conditions Violation Applies to Cases Pending on Appeal

by Matt Clarke

On November 16, 2016, a Texas court of appeals held that a legislative amendment that removed criminal penalties for violations of sex offender civil commitment supervision requirements applied to cases that were pending on appeal on the enactment date of the amendment.

Enrique Martinez, a Texas civilly committed sex offender, had been convicted of felony violation of the conditions of his civil commitment for violating the rules of the community residential facility where he was housed. One of his supervision requirements stated that he must obey all of the facility's rules. At that time, Section 841.085 of the Texas Health and Safety Code made any violation of civil commitment supervision requirements a third-degree felony. Martinez was convicted of two counts of violating that section and given two 25-year sentences. He appealed.

While his appeal was pending in 2015, SB 746 was enacted, amending Section 841.085 to eliminate the provision that made it a felony for a civilly committed sex offender to fail to follow civil commitment requirements. The act stated that it applied to all offenses committed before, on, or after the enactment date unless a final conviction existed on the enactment date.

The state argued that applying the amendment to Martinez's case would be an infringement by the legislature on the power of clemency that was reserved to the executive branch. The court of appeals disagreed, holding that retroactive decriminalization was not the same as clemency in that clemency left the conviction intact whereas decriminalization did not. Further, the mere fact that there was an effect on a case that had already resulted in a trial court convicting a criminal defendant did not render an action an act of clemency. All three branches of government could take actions that had an effect on a criminal conviction that had not been finally adjudicated on appeal. Therefore, the court reversed the convictions and dismissed the indictment against Martinez. See: Martinez v. State, No. 08-12-00320-CR (Tex. App. El Paso 2016).

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Related legal case

Martinez v. State