Woolridge v. State, 158-91

Citation827 S.W.2d 900
Decision Date26 February 1992
Docket NumberNo. 158-91,158-91
PartiesJames Ray WOOLRIDGE, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

Michael Logan Ware, Fort Worth, for appellant.

Tim Curry, Dist. Atty. and C. Chris Marshall, Charles M. Mallin, Gregg Miller, Christian Harrison, Asst. Dist. Attys., Fort Worth, Robert Huttash, State's Atty., Austin, for the State.

Before the court en banc.

OPINION ON APPELLANT'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW

BAIRD, Judge.

Appellant was convicted of murder and punishment was assessed by the jury at confinement for life. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.42(d). The Court of Appeals affirmed. Woolridge v. State, No. 2-90-015-CR (Tex.App.--Fort Worth 1990) (Not published). We granted appellant's petition for discretionary review wherein appellant contends: The Court of Appeals erred in holding that it is improper for defense counsel to voir dire prospective jurors on their definitions of "reasonable doubt." We will reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

I.

A brief recitation of the pertinent events at trial is necessary to fully address the issue presented. After a few introductory remarks from the trial judge, the State began its voir dire examination. During that examination the State made the following statements:

Now, as he [trial judge] told you, this is a criminal case and what that means to you--excuse me--what that means to you is, the State has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We have to prove each element of our case beyond a reasonable doubt. And our law has never had a state court case that says beyond a reasonable doubt means one thing or another.

The fact is we don't know what it means, but the jurors in this case would be called to decide whether or not they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was, in fact, committed. Now, the term "beyond a reasonable doubt," I won't tell you what it means. I can tell you what it doesn't mean. 1

I'm sure a lot of you on TV have watched shows where they say, "I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt." That is not the standard that we apply in Texas in a criminal case. It's beyond a reasonable doubt. And while I won't tell you what it means, I will tell you what it doesn't mean.

Beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean beyond all doubt. The only way anybody on the jury could ever be convinced of a crime beyond all doubt is if you were a witness to it. And if you wee a witness to it, then you couldn't serve on the jury.

So, I guess the first thing that I am concerned is, is there anybody on the first row that would require [co-counsel] and myself to prove our case beyond all doubt?

* * * * * *

You heard me talk to you earlier about the State having the burden of proving each element of this case beyond a reasonable doubt. What are the elements? The elements are the things that we have to prove. As the Judge told you, we have alleged in an indictment that on or about the 11th day of February of 1988, that a defendant did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the death of [complainant] by shooting [complainant] with a deadly weapon to-wit: A firearm.

And if [co-counsel] and myself prove that to your satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt, under our law, you would be entitled or we would be entitled to a verdict of guilty of murder.

On the other hand, if we failed to prove that to your satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt, then this Defendant or any defendant in a criminal case would be entitled to a verdict of not guilty. That is the law.

We have also alleged it a second way; that on or about the 11th day of February, 1988, that the Defendant did then and there intentionally with the intent to cause serious bodily injury to [complainant], commit an act clearly dangerous to human life; namely: Shoot the said [complainant] with a deadly weapon to-wit: A firearm which caused the death of [complainant].

If we prove that to your satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt, under Texas law, we would be entitled to a verdict of guilty of murder. There's (sic) two ways it can be done. We would be entitled to a verdict of guilty of murder as charged. If we left out one element of the things that I read to you, the Defendant or a defendant in a criminal case would be entitled to a verdict of not guilty.

Is there anybody on the panel who couldn't follow the law? In other words, if you were convinced, you would be obligated to return a verdict of guilty of murder. If you weren't convinced, you would be obligated to say not guilty. Anybody who couldn't follow those simple principles? Okay.

During appellant's voir dire examination the following colloquy occurred:

... I would like to visit with you just a moment about the concept of reasonable doubt. Now, we talked--I didn't talk to you individually, I talked to the people on the first row about the deciding facts and what you look for when you decide what you believe and what you don't believe, what is true, what is not true. Look at the source, look at whether the story is believable to begin with. You look at other things that might corroborate the story. You look at your life experiences.

Well, in the American criminal justice system, jurors are not only called upon to decide the facts. But they are called upon to decide whether those facts are true beyond a reasonable doubt. And that's really the difference between the juror's role in a criminal case over here in the criminal courthouse and in the civil case over at the civil courthouse.

I'm sorry, are you one of the people that has served on a civil jury before?

JUROR: Yes, I have.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: And you remember that the burden of proof--did you say it was breach of contract?

JUROR: No.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Okay. What kind of case was it?

JUROR: It was a--to determine where a couple were married by common law.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Okay. A domestic relations case. Do you remember the burden of proof being by a preponderance of the evidence?

JUROR: I don't remember too much about the case, it has been so long.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Well, generally over in the civil courts, they argue about important things. They fight over important things, and I'm sure this was an important case. It certainly was to the individuals involved. They fight over millions of dollars sometimes, they fight over custody of young children. They fight over dividing up the property of a marriage in a divorce.

By and large, juries over there are called upon to decide facts the same way juries over here are called upon to decide facts. The difference is: Once the jury has decided the facts over there, the burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, which just means a shade more evidence on one side than the other. Is that starting to sound familiar?

JUROR: Yes.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: However, over here, when an individual's status and an individual's freedom is at stake, the burden is much, much higher. Juries still decide the facts just like they decide facts over in the civil courts, but the burden is beyond a reasonable doubt. I guess my question to you is: Do you think that's the way it should be?

JUROR: Yes, sir.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Okay. Thank you, sir.

[NEXT JUROR]: same question, do you think that maybe, maybe we've got our priorities all wrong, maybe the burden of proof should be higher than we're talking about, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars, than we're making decisions regarding an individual's life?

JUROR: No, I think the priorities are right where they set.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: May I ask you what beyond a reasonable doubt means to you?

[PROSECUTOR]: Excuse me, Judge, I am going to object.

THE COURT: I will sustain the objection, Counsel.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Let me ask you this: The prosecutor was absolutely correct when he said over here in the state courts, the Judge will not define beyond a reasonable doubt. It means whatever it means to you individually.

I can tell you that it's the highest burden of proof in the American justice system. I can tell you it's a much, much higher burden of proof than they use across the street at the civil courthouse when they decide custody of young children, when they're talking about things, objects, money, that sort of thing.

Over at the federal courthouse, the judges--Judge, this is just by way of example.

THE COURT: I'll wait and see what you say.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Sir?

THE COURT: I will wait and see what you are going to say.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: The federal judges over in the federal courthouse do give a definition of reasonable doubt, and it's something like this: That degree of certainty which you would rely on without hesitation in making the most important decisions in your own personal affairs.

Is that close to what you believe beyond a reasonable doubt means?

[PROSECUTOR]: I would object, he's trying to get her to commit.

THE COURT: I will sustain the objection. That is not proper.

You don't have to answer.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Okay. Note my exception.

THE COURT: Okay.

The charge to the jury at the guilt/innocence phase contained the following:

In all criminal cases, the burden of proof is upon the State. The defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless his guilt is established by legal and competent evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and in case you have a reasonable doubt as to the defendant's guilt, you will acquit him and say by your verdict Not Guilty.

* * * * * *

All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt....

On direct appeal, appellant contended the trial judge erred by prohibiting him from questioning the venire on the State's burden of proof, thereby denying appellant the intelligent exercise of his peremptory strikes. The Court of Appeals, relying upon Battie v. State, 551 S.W.2d 401 (Tex.Cr.App.1977),...

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45 cases
  • Wheatfall v. State
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
    • 29 Junio 1994
    ...were to be permitted to inquire into the definition of every term during trial, voir dire would become endless. Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900, 905 (Tex.Crim.App.1992); Trevino, 815 S.W.2d at 610; Milton, 599 S.W.2d at 826. Appellant was not prevented from propounding questions concerni......
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    • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
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    ...restriction on questioning of venirepersons is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Caldwell, supra; Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900 (Tex.Cr.App.1992). Questions that would require the prospective jurors to commit themselves as to how they might resolve factual issues in the c......
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    ...that the denial of a proper question is reversible error. Maddux v. State, 862 S.W.2d 590, 591 (Tex.Cr.App.1993); Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900, 906, 907 (Tex.Cr.App.1992); Allridge v. State, 762 S.W.2d 146, 163 (Tex.Cr.App.1988) ; Cockrum v. State, 758 S.W.2d 577, 584 (Tex.Cr.App.1988......
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    ...understanding of the term "reasonable doubt." Lane v. State, 828 S.W.2d 764, 766 (Tex.Cr.App.1992); and, Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900, 906 (Tex.Cr.App.1992). We review a trial judge's decision to limit voir dire for an abuse of discretion, Nunfio, 808 S.W.2d at 484; and, Allridge v. S......
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11 books & journal articles
  • Jury Selection and Voir Dire
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 1 - 2020 Contents
    • 16 Agosto 2020
    ...regarding his understanding of the term “reasonable doubt” constitutes reversible error in a non-capital case. Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992). The defendant has the right to examine a veniremember on a subject area even though the prosecutor has committed him to c......
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    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 1 - 2015 Contents
    • 17 Agosto 2015
    ...regarding his understanding of the term “reasonable doubt” constitutes reversible error in a non-capital case. Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992). The defendant has the right to examine a veniremember on a subject area even though the prosecutor has committed him to c......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 1 - 2021 Contents
    • 16 Agosto 2021
    ...regarding his understanding of the term “reasonable doubt” constitutes reversible error in a non-capital case. Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992). The defendant has the right to examine a veniremember on a subject area even though the prosecutor has committed him to c......
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 1 - 2016 Contents
    • 17 Agosto 2016
    ...regarding his understanding of the term “reasonable doubt” constitutes reversible error in a non-capital case. Woolridge v. State, 827 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992). The defendant has the right to examine a veniremember on a subject area even though the prosecutor has committed him to c......
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