Maintaining Rights After Admitting Guilt at Punishment Stage


The following article was provided by Lauren Williams, Legal Writer for King Law Offices.

While deciding a recent case, Jacobson v. State, 2013 Tex. Crim. App. (2013), the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas overruled any last vestiges of the doctrine set forth in De Garmo v. State, 691 S.W.2d 657 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985). Therefore, a defendant who admits his guilt at the punishment stage does not forfeit his right to challenge the errors occurring during the guilt stage.

Under the De Garmo doctrine, error that occurred during the guilt phase was waived by appellant’s judicial admissions at the punishment phase, not admissions at the guilt phase of the trial.

In Jacobson, the defendant objected to the prosecutor’s argument at the guilt stage.  The trial court overruled his objection.  Subsequently the jury found  Jacobson guilty of “aggravated sexual assault”.  Later, the defendant, at the punishment stage, testified and admitted to having a ‘sexual relationship’ with the victim, a twelve year old girl.  In the appeal, the defendant’s sole claim was that the trial court erred in overruling his objection to the prosecutor’s argument.

The court of criminal appeals concluded that “Leday’s (Leday v. State, 983 S.W.2d 713 (1998)) reasoning applied to all guilt-stage claims of error, not merely “fundamental” claims, and it overruled any last vestiges of the De Garmo doctrine. Therefore, a defendant who testified at the punishment stage of trial and admitted his guilt did not forfeit his right to argue on appeal about errors occurring during the guilt stage.

In Leday, The court held that the court of appeals erred in deeming the appellant’s point of error waived by his testimony at the guilt stage. The court noted that under the De Garmo doctrine, error that occurred during the guilt phase was waived by appellant’s judicial admissions at the punishment phase, not admissions at the guilt phase of the trial. It was further held that the De Garmo doctrine could not be invoked to prevent such appellate review and reversed and remanded the case for consideration of appellant’s points of error.

The court further observed in Jacobson that “the criminal justice system makes two promises to its citizens: a fundamentally fair trial and an accurate result. If either of those two promises is not met, the criminal justice system itself falls into disrepute and will eventually be disregarded. The doctrine of De Garmo v. State, 691 S.W.2d 657 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985) may arguably serve the interest of an accurate result at the guilt stage, but it may also negate the equally important societal goal of a fair trial.  The criminal-justice system depends upon trial judges making correct legal rulings. Texas laws provide for appellate review of those rulings to ensure that the system will deliver accurate results in a fair proceeding.

For more information regarding the rights of convicted or alleged criminals, contact Mario Madrid today at 713-877-9400.

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