Young v. State

Decision Date05 January 2000
Citation8 S.W.3d 656
Parties(Tex.Crim.App. 2000) SHERMAIN NADINE YOUNG, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS NO. 1579-96
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

Page 656

8 S.W.3d 656 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000)
NO. 1579-96
January 5, 2000


Before the court en banc.

Womack, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Meyers, Price, Holland, Johnson, and Keasler, JJ., joined.

In this case we reconsider the "Helms Rule" that, "Where a plea of guilty is voluntarily and understandingly made, all non-jurisdictional defects including claimed deprivation of federal due process are waived," Helms v. State, 484 S.W.2d 924, 927 (Tex. Cr. App. 1972).

Page 657


When the appellant got off a flight from Belize at Houston Intercontinental Airport, an immigration inspector decided that she should be excluded from entry into the United States. She was to be detained overnight and returned to Belize the following day. She was taken to the Liberty County jail, which had a contract with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to house detainees. When she was searched at the jail, cocaine was found taped to her legs.

The appellant was indicted for possession of cocaine in the amount of at least 200 grams but less than 400 grams. She moved to suppress the evidence of her possession of cocaine on the ground that it was obtained incident to an illegal arrest. The district court heard evidence on the motion and denied it. Immediately after that ruling the appellant waived trial by jury and pleaded guilty. There was no plea-bargain agreement between the appellant and the State. After preparation of a presentence investigation report, the court held a hearing on punishment and sentenced the appellant to ten years in prison.

The appellant asked the court of appeals to reverse her conviction because the trial court erred by denying her motion to suppress evidence. She also asked the court to overrule Helms. The court of appeals held that the appellant was precluded from appealing the trial court's ruling on the motion to suppress because, in a case in which there was no plea-bargain agreement, the Helms Rule meant that such matters were waived. Young v. State, 940 S.W.2d 680, 681 (Tex. App. -- Beaumont 1996). The court held that it was not authorized to overrule Helms. Id. at 3. It suggested that the appellant should have pleaded not guilty to avoid the Helms Rule. Id. at 3-4.

We granted discretionary review on our own motion1 and requested the parties to brief and argue the question, whether the Court should reconsider its decision in Helms.


The "Helms Rule" is a distortion of a rule that we imported from federal habeas corpus decisions. This federal rule was born at a time in which we found, as we said in Ex parte Young, 418 S.W.2d 824, 826 (Tex. Cr. App. 1967):

New concepts of the meaning of due process announced by the Supreme Court of the United States are binding on State as well as Federal Judges, and their duties and responsibilities in the administration of federal constitutional law are co-equal.

A judgment of conviction obtained in violation of due process of law is void for want of jurisdiction of the court to enter such judgment. Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391 [(1963)].

Habeas corpus is an appropriate means by which relief from confinement under a void conviction may be obtained in the State as well as in the Federal Courts.

The first antecedents of the Helms Rule entered our jurisprudence as obiter dicta in Hoskins v. State, 425 S.W.2d 825 (Tex. Cr. App. 1968). Hoskins appealed from the revocation of his probation, claiming that insufficient evidence was entered to prove his guilt in the earlier proceeding at which he pleaded guilty and was granted probation. The Court held that it was well settled that Hoskins, having failed to appeal at the time of his original conviction, could not bring such a challenge after the revocation of probation. Then we added a reference to a rule that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had developed in its habeas corpus cases from Texas:

With reference to appellant's claim of deprivation of federal constitutional due

Page 658

process, attention is directed to Bee v. Beto, 384 F.2d 925, wherein the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a guilty plea entered by a Texas state defendant was conclusive as to the defendant's guilt, admitted all facts charged in the indictment and waived all nonjurisdictional defects, citing White v. Beto, 367 F.2d 557; Law v. Beto, 370 F.2d 369 and Haynes v. United States, 372 F.2d 651.

Id. at 829-30.

In turn, the authority for all the decisions that we cited in Hoskins is another decision of the federal court, Busby v. Holman, 356 F.2d 75 (5th Cir. 1966).2 Busby had been charged in Alabama with rape, which was a capital offense, and robbery. He had given a confession while he was in jail. His counsel and the prosecutor agreed that, if Busby would change his plea to guilty of rape, the prosecutor would recommend a life sentence and dismiss the robbery charge. Busby agreed to follow that procedure and pleaded guilty "voluntarily, intelligently and with full knowledge of the consequences." Id. at 77. Later he sought habeas corpus relief in federal court on the ground that his conviction was invalid because his jail-house confession had been coerced and taken while he was without counsel. The court of appeals held:

There is no merit in this contention, even if we assume that the appellant's confession was not voluntary and even if we assume further that he was required to be furnished with counsel when he was being interrogated even though he did not ask for such assistance. For the confession was not offered in evidence in view of the fact that the appellant pleaded guilty and the question of its legality is relevant in the present proceedings only to the extent that it may have affected the voluntary character of the appellant's plea. It is settled by a host of authorities that a judgment on a plea of guilty which has been entered voluntarily on advice of counsel is not rendered invalid because the defendant had previously made a confession under circumstances which might have rendered it inadmissible in evidence if the defendant had pleaded not guilty and had gone to trial. This is so because the plea, if voluntarily and understandingly made, is conclusive as to the defendant's guilt, admitting all the facts charged and waiving all non-jurisdictional defects in the prior proceedings against him. The judgment and sentence which follow a plea of guilty are based solely upon the plea and not upon any evidence which may have been acquired improperly by the prosecutor. Accordingly, a confession in the possession of the prosecutor which has been illegally obtained cannot be made the basis for a collateral attack upon a judgment of conviction entered upon a plea of guilty voluntarily and understandably made.

Ibid. (footnotes omitted).

The Supreme Court would soon agree with the Fifth Circuit's reasoning. In McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759 (1970), state prisoners brought habeas corpus cases in federal court, alleging that their guilty pleas were motivated by involuntary confessions. The Court said:

A conviction after trial in which a coerced confession is introduced rests in part on the coerced confession, a constitutionally unacceptable basis for conviction. It is that conviction and the confession on which it rests that the defendant later attacks in collateral proceedings. The defendant who pleads guilty is in a different posture. He is convicted on his counseled admission in open court that he committed the crime charged against him. The prior confession is not the basis for the judgment,

Page 659

has never been offered in evidence at a trial, and may never be offered in evidence.

What is at stake in this phase of the case is not the integrity of the state convictions obtained on guilty pleas, but whether, years later, defendants must be permitted to withdraw their pleas, which were perfectly valid when made, and be given another choice between admitting their guilt and putting the State to its proof. This would be an improvident invasion of the State's interests in maintaining the finality of guilty-plea convictions that were valid under constitutional standards applicable at the time. It is no denigration of the right to trial to hold that when the defendant waives his state court remedies and admits his guilt, he does so under the law then existing; further, he assumes the risk of ordinary error in either his or his attorney's assessment of the law and facts. Although he might have pleaded differently had later decided cases then been the law, he is bound by his plea and his conviction unless he can allege and prove serious derelictions on the part of counsel sufficient to show that his plea was not, after all, a knowing and intelligent act.

Id. at 773-74.

McMann was one of the Brady trilogy: three cases decided on the same day in which the Court held that, after the entry of a guilty plea which was otherwise voluntary and untainted by ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant could not collaterally attack the judgment in federal court on a theory that the guilty plea was coerced because of constitutional violations that were not the basis of the judgment.3 A few years later in Tollett v. Henderson, 411 U.S. 258, 266 (1973), the Court "reaffirm[ed] the principle recognized in the Brady trilogy: a guilty plea represents a break in the chain of events which has preceded it in the criminal process. When a criminal defendant has solemnly admitted in open court that he is in fact guilty of the offense with which he is charged, he may not thereafter raise independent claims relating to the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred prior to the entry of the guilty plea."

Therefore the rule that we quoted in Hoskins, and which was validated by subsequent decisions of the...

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