Tanner Don Hole v. The State of Texas--Appeal from 217th District Court of Angelina County

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NO. 12-06-00207-CR










This is an aggravated assault case. On its initial submission, we held that Appellant had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel during the thirty days following his sentencing. We abated the appeal and remanded the cause to the trial court with instructions that the appellate timetable on Appellant s motion for new trial should run anew so that Appellant might have the opportunity to amend his motion for new trial, and, if appropriate, obtain a hearing on his motion. The trial court conducted a hearing on the motion for new trial, but did not rule on the motion. Therefore, Appellant s motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law. In one issue, Appellant contends the district court abused its discretion in failing to grant his motion for new trial, because his trial counsel s conflict of interest adversely affected the defense and trial counsel did not disclose the conflict, a violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 10 of the Texas Constitution. We affirm.



Steven Wilson was a passenger in the back seat of Appellant s car during a police chase in which Wilson fired multiple shots from Appellant s rifle at the pursuing officers. At trial, Wilson was an important witness for the prosecution.

During the trial, Wilson testified that when he first saw the emergency lights of the patrol car, he told Appellant, The cops are behind us. We re going to jail. According to Wilson, Appellant made the decision to evade the police, slid the rifle into the back seat to me and proceeded to tell me to do what was necessary to get the cop off our tail. Wilson testified that it was implied that I was to shoot the shoot at the cop car. At one point in time, I believe he said, Shoot. Wilson fired approximately ten rounds at the officers, shooting out the windshield of the pursuing patrol car causing it to hit a fence.

Appellant s version of events differed substantially from Wilson s. Appellant testified that when he first became aware that a police car was behind him with its overhead lights flashing, he intended to pull over. However, Wilson told him that if I pulled over, that it was going to be a dead pig. Wilson had the rifle, and Appellant maintained that he decided to evade arrest because he feared Wilson would shoot the officer. Appellant denied telling Wilson to shoot. Appellant told the jury, At that time I was not sure or certain that I knew he was I knew he was kind of crazy.

The record shows that Appellant s trial counsel never questioned Wilson concerning his history of drug use or his drug use on the day of the offense. Trial counsel never asked Hole to explain his testimony that he knew Wilson to be kind of crazy. Nor did trial counsel ask Appellant what he knew of Wilson s prior drug use or drug use on the day of the incident.

Motion for New Trial

After remand, Appellant filed a motion for new trial contending, for the first time, that his trial counsel had a conflict of interest, which constituted a denial of Appellant s right to counsel under the United States and Texas constitutions. At the hearing on Appellant s motion, Appellant s trial counsel acknowledged that he had represented Wilson as appointed counsel in a proceeding wherein additional terms were added as conditions of Wilson s probation because of Wilson s substance abuse problem. At the time of Appellant s trial one year later, counsel had no recollection that he had ever represented Wilson. Counsel testified that Appellant s defensive theory at trial was that Appellant acted to evade arrest out of fear that otherwise Wilson would harm him or the officer. Counsel testified that Appellant never told him of Wilson s drug problem.

Appellant testified that Wilson had a serious drug problem and that on the day of the incident Wilson seemed strung out and high on crack cocaine. Appellant conceded that he never told his trial counsel about Wilson s drug use.

Standard of Review

We review a trial court s denial of a motion for new trial for abuse of discretion. Charles v. State, 146 S.W.3d 204, 208 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). A trial court abuses its discretion in denying a motion for new trial only when no reasonable view of the record could support the trial court s ruling. Id.

Applicable Law

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel who is not burdened by an actual conflict of interest. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 692, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2067, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984). In order to prevail on a Sixth Amendment conflict of interest claim, a defendant who raised no objection at trial must show that his attorney labored under an actual conflict of interest that adversely affected his attorney s performance. Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 349-50, 100 S. Ct. 1708, 1718-19, 64 L. Ed. 2d 333 (1980). In other words, the appellant must show that his trial counsel had an actual conflict of interest, and that the conflict actually colored counsel s actions at trial. Acosta v. State, 233 S.W.3d 349, 356 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).

An actual conflict exists if counsel is required to make a choice between advancing his client s interest in a fair trial or advancing other interests . . . to the detriment of his client s interest. Monreal v. State, 947 S.W.2d 559, 564 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). When an attorney is unable to cross-examine a government witness or is hindered in such a cross-examination because of a privilege arising from counsel s prior representation of a witness[,] an actual conflict of interest exists. Ex parte McFarland, 163 S.W.3d 743, 759 n.52 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005) (citing United States v. Martinez, 630 F.2d 361, 362 (5th Cir. 1980)). The Tenth Circuit has noted that in the context of successive representations, we find it difficult to envision circumstances more fraught with inherent conflict than where an appointed attorney representing a reluctant defendant must present a defense theory inculpating the attorney s former client, particularly where the former representation was factually intertwined with the criminal defendant s case. Church v. Sullivan, 942 F.2d 1501, 1511 (10th Cir. 1991). But until a defendant shows that his counsel actively represented conflicting interests, he has not established the constitutional predicate for his claim of ineffective assistance. Beets v. Collins, 65 F.3d 1258, 1266 (5th Cir. 1995).

When an actual conflict is shown, the appellant need not show that, but for his lawyer s conflict, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different; he need only demonstrate that the conflict adversely affected his lawyer s performance. Cuyler, 446 U.S. at 348, 100 S. Ct. at 1718. To demonstrate that the conflict adversely affected his attorney s performance, an appellant must show that a valid or genuine alternative strategy was available to his counsel, but was inherently in conflict with his duties to others. . . . Church, 942 F.2d at 1512.


A year before the trial of the instant case, Appellant s trial counsel represented the witness Wilson in a proceeding wherein Wilson agreed to commitment to the Regional Intermediate Sanction Facility because of a documentable substance abuse problem. Counsel did not represent Wilson in the trial in which Wilson was placed on probation, nor did he represent Wilson at the revocation of his probation. Counsel s representation of Wilson was in no way intertwined with or substantially related to his representation of Appellant a year later. Counsel testified at the motion for new trial hearing that during Appellant s trial he was unaware that he had represented Wilson in the prior proceeding.

Appellant points out that Wilson provided the only direct testimony that Appellant encouraged him to shoot at the pursuing officers. Wilson s version of events sharply contradicted Appellant s. Counsel presented no evidence at trial that Wilson had a drug problem. Appellant insists that his trial counsel s conflict prevented him from developing, during cross examination, whether Wilson s drug use impaired Wilson s capacity to recall the events in question.

Appellant s defensive theory was that he acted as he did, because he was afraid of Wilson and believed that, if given the chance, Wilson would kill him, his wife, and the pursuing officers. Appellant argues that evidence of Wilson s addiction to crack cocaine and his violent and unpredictable behavior under its influence also would have demonstrated the reasonableness of his fear of Wilson and lent credibility to his defense.

We conclude that, under the facts of this case, an actual conflict of interest never arose. Appellant s trial counsel had no recollection during Appellant s trial that he had ever represented Wilson. Counsel s representation of Wilson was extremely limited and occurred a year prior to the trial of the instant case. The two cases were not connected. In his testimony Appellant conceded that he had not told his lawyer about Wilson s addiction to crack cocaine. During cross examination, counsel elicited Wilson s admission that he was highly intoxicated at the time of the offense and that his memory was not very good. Wilson also admitted that at the time of the incident he was on deferred adjudication for five years for failure to register as a sex offender and had more to lose as a result of arrest than Appellant. Counsel s rigorous cross examination of Wilson belies the notion that his failure to develop testimony regarding Wilson s crack cocaine addiction stemmed from his awareness of a potential conflict. Moreover, counsel s actions at trial could not have been affected or colored by his earlier representation of Wilson absent any awareness on his part of his prior representation of Wilson.


The trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to grant Appellant s motion for new trial. The judgment is affirmed.



Opinion delivered March 19, 2008.

Panel consisted of Griffith, J., Hoyle, J., and Bass, Retired Justice, Twelfth Court of Appeals, Tyler, sitting by assignment.