Kniatt v. State

Decision Date05 December 2007
Docket NumberNo. 10-03-00199-CR.,10-03-00199-CR.
Citation239 S.W.3d 910
PartiesNathan Andrew KNIATT, Appellant v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Richard S. Gladden, Attorney At Law, Denton, TX, for Appellant/Relator.

Joe F. Grubbs, Ellis County District Atty., Waxahachie, TX, for Appellee/Respondent.

Before Chief Justice GRAY, Justice VANCE, and Justice REYNA.



The principal issue before us in Appellant Nathan Kniatt's motion for rehearing is whether the trial judge who heard Kniatt's motion to recuse District Judge Gene Knize correctly applied or interpreted the law governing recusal. We will abate this appeal for a new hearing on Kniatt's recusal motion.

Procedural Background

Kniatt was charged by indictment for possession of methamphetamine. At a pretrial hearing on December 7, 2001, Kniatt's attorney (whom Kniatt had just terminated) and the assistant district attorney informed the trial court either that Kniatt intended to reject the State's plea bargain offer or that Kniatt had reneged on a plea bargain agreement, and that Kniatt wanted to retain new counsel. In response, Judge Knize stated:

State versus Nathan Kniatt set for trial Monday morning. As I understand from the attorneys they thought they had a plea agreement. In fact they had a plea agreement, and today the defendant has reneged on that, doesn't want the agreement. I've also been informed he wants to fire the lawyer. All that's okay with me. I'll take all this up. Defendant's bond is revoked. He's going to jail pending trial. Have a seat over there, sir. We'll set your trial when we get around to it.

On December 11, 2001, Kniatt returned to the trial court and entered a guilty plea. In accordance with the plea agreement, the trial court deferred adjudication of guilt, placed Kniatt on community supervision for three years, and fined Kniatt $3,000.

The State subsequently filed a motion to revoke Kniatt's community supervision and to proceed with adjudication of guilt. Kniatt filed a pre-conviction application for writ of habeas corpus and a motion to recuse Judge Knize from hearing that application and from hearing the State's motion to proceed with an adjudication of guilt.1 Judge Marvin Marshall, sitting by assignment, denied the motion to recuse after an evidentiary hearing. Judge Knize then heard and denied Kniatt's application for writ of habeas corpus. He also heard and granted the State's motion to revoke and adjudicated Kniatt guilty.

Kniatt appealed the trial court's denial of his request for habeas corpus relief and the order denying his motion to recuse. We held that Kniatt met his burden of showing that his guilty plea was involuntarily given and that the trial court erred in denying Kniatt's habeas corpus application, but we did not reach the recusal issue. Kniatt v. State, 157 S.W.3d 83, 86-87 (Tex.App.-Waco 2005), rev'd, 206 S.W.3d 657 (Tex.Crim.App.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 667, 166 L.Ed.2d 514 (2006). The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed our judgment and remanded the cause for us to consider Kniatt's recusal issue. Kniatt v. State, 206 S.W.3d 657, 665 (Tex.Crim.App.2006), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 667, 166 L.Ed.2d 514 (2006). In an unpublished opinion on remand that we now withdraw by separate order, we held that the assigned judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Kniatt's motion to recuse. Kniatt's motion for rehearing, which primarily alleges that we and the assigned judge misapplied or misinterpreted recusal law, is now before us.

Standard of Review

We review a ruling denying a defendant's motion to recuse for abuse of discretion. Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 120 (Tex.Crim.App.2000); TEX.R. CIV. P. 18a(f). A recusal decision should not be reversed if it is within the zone of reasonable disagreement. Id. at 120-21. A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts arbitrarily and unreasonably, without reference to guiding rules or principles, or when it misapplies the law to the established facts of the case. See State v. Herndon, 215 S.W.3d 901, 907-08 (Tex.Crim. App.2007); Lyles v. State, 850 S.W.2d 497, 502 (Tex.Crim.App.1993); Beaumont Bank, N.A. v. Buller, 806 S.W.2d 223, 226 (Tex.1991).

An appellate court "should reverse the trial court's decision only for an abuse of discretion; that is to say, only when it appears that the trial court applied an erroneous legal standard, or when no reasonable view of the record could support the trial court's conclusion under the correct law and the facts viewed in the light most favorable to its legal conclusion." DuBose v. State, 915 S.W.2d 493, 497-98 (Tex.Crim.App.1996), overruled on other grounds by Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 90 (Tex.Crim.App.1997);2 see also In re American Homestar of Lancaster, Inc., 50 S.W.3d 480, 483 (Tex.2001) ("A trial court has no discretion to determine what the law is or in applying the law to the facts and, consequently, the trial court's failure to analyze or apply the law correctly is an abuse of discretion."). A trial court has no discretion to misinterpret the law. See Walker v. Packer, 827 S.W.2d 833, 840 (Tex.1992); see also In re Arthur Andersen LLP, 121 S.W.3d 471, 476 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, orig. proceeding) ("as to legal issues, an error amounting to an abuse of discretion can be as simple as misinterpreting or misapplying the law").


Kniatt complains that the assigned judge erred by denying his motion to recuse Judge Knize under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18b(2)(a) or (b). Kniatt urged recusal under the following provisions of Rule 18b:

A judge shall recuse himself in any proceeding in which:

(a) his impartiality might reasonably be questioned; or

(b) he has . . . personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.

TEX.R. CIV. P. 18b(2)(a), (b).

During the recusal hearing, the State argued to the assigned judge that Kniatt was required to show that Judge Knize had a bias or prejudice and, citing Cumpian v. State, that the motion had to be based on bias arising from an extrajudicial source:3

And I believe in a motion to recuse that the burden is going to be on the defendant here to show that the Judge had some kind of bias or prejudice4 against him such that he couldn't get a fair hearing from the Judge.

And I have a case that I can cite to the Court that is a court of appeals out of San Antonio, Cumpian,5 . . . that says specifically that a motion to recuse has to be based on bias and prejudice by the Judge that's related to extrajudicial matters.

In other words, the Court's rulings in court can't be the basis for motion to recuse. Just because a defendant doesn't like the way that the Judge ruled against him, he can't just make some spurious allegations and the allegations in and of themselves require the Judge to be recused.

In making its ruling from the bench, the assigned judge stated:

In this case I have a narrow area in which I have to operate on these motions to recuse. And based on those parameters, I'm going to deny the motion to recuse in this case.

In the State's Brief on Remand, the State reiterated its position that Kniatt had to show bias arising from an extrajudicial source, and the State has not disputed Kniatt's contention in his motion for rehearing that the assigned judge strictly applied the per se extrajudicial-source rule advocated by the State and found in Kemp, Rosas, and Cumpian.6

Kniatt's motion for rehearing asserts that the per se extrajudicial-source rule does not apply to questioned-impartiality and personal-knowledge claims. We agree in part and decline to follow Harris to the extent that it misstates current Texas law by relying on Kemp and Rosas.7 See Harris v. State, 160 S.W.3d 621, 625 (Tex.App.-Waco 2005, pet. dism'd).8 Kemp predated the Court of Criminal Appeals' adoption of Rule 18b and thus did not apply it,9 and claims of questioned impartiality and personal knowledge under Rules 18b(2)(a) and 18b(2)(b) do not always require a showing of bias or partiality arising from an extrajudicial source. In Kemp the court considered a motion to recuse the trial judge because he had signed the search and arrest warrants for the defendant. Citing McClenan v. State, 661 S.W.2d 108, 109 (Tex.Crim.App.1983), overruled on other grounds by De Leon v. Aguilar, 127 S.W.3d 1, 5 (Tex.Crim.App.2004), the defendant argued that judicial bias was a common-law basis for disqualification. The court responded:

A trial judge ruling on a motion alleging bias as a ground for disqualification must decide whether the movant has provided facts sufficient to establish that a reasonable man, knowing all the circumstances involved, would harbor doubts as to the impartiality of the trial judge. See Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana v. Harry L. Laws Co., 690 F.2d 1157, 1165 (5th Cir.1982); see also, McClenan, supra at 109. . . . Moreover, it is beyond rational dispute that before alleged bias becomes sufficient to warrant the disqualification of a judge, it "must stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case." United States v. Grinnell Corp., 384 U.S. 563, 583, 86 S.Ct. 1698, 1710, 16 L.Ed.2d 778 (1966).10 Kemp, 846 S.W.2d at 305-06 (emphasis added).11

Questioned Impartiality

The gist of Kniatt's recusal claim based on Judge Knize's questioned impartiality is that, based on Kniatt's allegations of Judge Knize's conduct and remarks at the pretrial hearing on December 7, 2001, a reasonable person might reasonably question Judge Knize's impartiality in hearing and ruling on Kniatt's habeas application.

Rule 18b(2)(a) plainly states that a "judge shall recuse himself in any proceeding in which . . . his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."12 TEX.R. CIV. P. 18b(2)(a). Texas cases almost unanimously state the following reasonable-person test for...

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16 cases
  • Carson v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • January 31, 2017
    ... ... Id. Consequently, Texas courts have used the extrajudicial source construct as discussed in federal cases to determine whether recusal is required under Rule 18b. See Kniatt v. State , 239 S.W.3d 910, 920 (Tex. App.Waco 2007, no pet.) (per curiam) (applying Liteky 's discussion of recusal based on "extrajudicial source information" to recusal under Rule 18b(3) ); see also Abdygapparova v. State , 243 S.W.3d 191, 198 (Tex. App.San Antonio 2007, pet. ref'd) ( ... ...
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    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • December 31, 2008
    ... ... Because these disputes often involve complex legal issues, it is in the State's best interest to fill the judiciary with individuals with extensive legal experience, and the constitution of ... 275 S.W.3d 113 ... this State ... all the facts in the public domain concerning the judge and the case, would have a reasonable doubt that the judge is actually impartial.'" Kniatt v. State, 239 S.W.3d 910, 915 (Tex.App. — Waco 2007, order) (per curiam) (quoting Burkett v. State, 196 S.W.3d 892, 896 (Tex.App. — Texarkana ... ...
  • Ryser v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • November 25, 2014
    ... ... A trial court's failure to analyze or properly apply the law is an abuse of discretion and would support a reversal. See Kniatt v. State, 239 S.W.3d 910, 91213 (Tex.App.-Waco 2007, no pet.). The proper method for a trial court to analyze whether publicity is pervasive is through a hearing on the motion to change venue and, if voir dire is held before the trial court rules, consideration of the venire members' voir dire ... ...
  • Gaal v. State, No. 2-08-382-CR (Tex. App. 1/28/2010)
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • January 28, 2010
    ... ...         We apply the rules of civil procedure to review the denial of a motion to recuse in a criminal case. De Leon v. Aguilar, 127 S.W.3d 1, 5 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004) (orig. proceeding); Arnold v. State, 853 S.W.2d 543, 544 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993); see Kniatt v. State, 239 S.W.3d 910, 912-13 (Tex. App.-Waco 2007, no pet.) (op. on reh'g). In doing so, we review the denial of a motion to recuse for an abuse of discretion. Tex. R. Civ. P. 18a(f); Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 120 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000) (plurality op.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 944 ... ...
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