Oral arguments involving cameras in courtrooms case to be heard in courtroom at The University of Texas at Austin, Wednesday (Jan. 15)

Jan. 13, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas—The State of Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will hold oral arguments beginning at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 15 in the Eidman Courtroom at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law. The court is the highest Texas court with jurisdiction over criminal matters.

The nine-judge court will hear oral presentations in four cases, including two appeals from death sentences imposed after convictions of capital murder. In another case, a defendant charged in Harris County with aggravated sexual assault committed with a knife argues that his jury was improperly permitted to convict him of simple or non-aggravated assault committed without a knife.

The first case to be heard is State ex rel. Rosenthal v. Poe, involving highly publicized events in Houston. Cedrick Harrison, 17, was charged by a Harris County grand jury with the capital murder of Felix Sabio, 35, outside Sabio's apartment on Rio Bonito Street in Houston.

Shortly before jury selection was to have begun in November, PBS' Frontline television sought permission to tape the entire trial, including jury deliberations. Harrison and his defense attorneys consented but the prosecution opposed the taping. Judge Ted Poe granted Frontline's request. When jury selection began, both sides questioned prospective jurors about effects of the taping on them, and a number of jurors were rejected because of the apparent impact of the taping.

The Harris County district attorney took the unusual step of asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to intervene in the ongoing trial by issuing a writ of mandamus. The writ, if issued, would order Poe to set aside his grant of permission to Frontline to tape the jury's deliberations. In response, the court agreed to consider the district attorney's request on its merits and ordered that proceedings in Poe's court stop.

The Court of Criminal Appeals seldom intervenes in ongoing trial court litigation but reviews cases after they have reached a conclusion and an appeal is taken. In Wednesday's proceedings, the judges will consider whether Poe's authorization for taping of deliberations is so clearly in violation of law as to justify the court in exercising its authority to step in and prevent an error in trial proceedings before that error takes place.

The judges are unlikely to announce an outcome from the bench on Wednesday.

This apparently is the first time efforts have been made to tape a jury's deliberations in a Texas criminal trial. Few such deliberations in other states have been taped, and when taping has been permitted it generally has required the permission of both the defense and the prosecution. The case to be argued Wednesday may be the first consideration by an appellate court of whether the prosecution has a right to have jury deliberations not recorded.

For more information about the Court of Criminal Appeals cases to be heard on campus, visit the School of Law Web site.

Note to the news media editors: The Court of Criminal Appeals has said that no recording devices may be used to record this hearing. Parking near the School of Law is available in Parking Garage 1 on Trinity Street and news media representatives may contact a law school communications officer about charges.

For more information contact: Allegra J.Young, School of Law, 512-471-7330, or Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.