Oliva v. Texas (original by presiding judge keller)Annotate this Case
Appellant Jose Oliva was charged by information with DWI. The information contained two paragraphs: the first alleged the commission of the current DWI, and the second alleged a prior DWI conviction. The focus of the guilt stage of trial was solely on the first paragraph. The prior-conviction allegation was not read to the jury at the guilt stage, no evidence of the prior conviction was offered at the guilt stage, and there was no mention of a prior conviction in the guilt-stage jury instructions. Appellant was found guilty. At the punishment stage, the State read the prior-conviction allegation to the jury and introduced evidence of a prior DWI conviction. The jury found the prior-conviction allegation to be true and assessed punishment at 180 days’ confinement. The judgment labeled Appellant’s current conviction as a “DWI 2ND” and the degree of offense as a “Class A Misdemeanor.” The court of appeals held that the existence of a prior conviction was an element of the offense of “Class A misdemeanor DWI.” The court reasoned that a fact that elevates the degree of an offense is necessarily an element of the offense and that Penal Code Section 49.09 lacked the “shall be punished” language present in other statutes containing punishment enhancements. Because no evidence of a prior conviction was introduced at the guilt stage of trial, the court of appeals held that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the prior-conviction allegation. Consequently, the court of appeals reversed and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to reform the judgment to reflect a conviction for Class B misdemeanor DWI and to conduct a new punishment hearing. Under Penal Code section 49.09(b), the existence of two prior convictions for DWI elevated a third DWI from a Class B misdemeanor to a third degree felony. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addressed the status of section 49.09(a), which provided that the existence of a single prior conviction elevated a second DWI offense from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. The Court held in this case that, unlike the existence of two prior convictions for felony DWI, the existence of a single prior conviction for misdemeanor DWI was a punishment issue; the litigation of the prior-conviction allegation at the punishment stage of trial was proper. The Court reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.