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Ex parte Rich – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In Ex parte Rich, 194 S.W.3d 508, 513-14 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006), a defendant pled "true" to enhancement allegations. Id. at 510.

However, the record established that one of the convictions used for enhancement had been reduced to a misdemeanor. Id. at 511.

Therefore, despite the plea of "true," the record established, as a matter of law, that the prior conviction could not be used for enhancement. Id.

The defendant, applying for a writ of habeas corpus, was then able to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support enhancement despite his plea of "true." Id. at 513. His challenge was successful. Id. at 515.

In that case, Rich pleaded guilty to felony DWI and true to two enhancement paragraphs that alleged prior convictions for two felony offenses. Id. at 510.

The trial court enhanced Rich's punishment under the habitual-offender provision of penal code section 12.42(d) and imposed a sentence of twenty-five years' confinement. Id.

Rich did not take a direct appeal. Id. As it turns out, one of the prior felony convictions used to enhance Rich's punishment had been reduced to a misdemeanor after a motion for new trial was granted. Id.

Rich sought habeas relief, and the issue before the court of criminal appeals was whether he could "raise a claim of illegal sentence based on an improper enhancement for the first time on a writ of habeas corpus, or whether such claim is forfeited by:

1) Rich's failure to raise it on direct appeal; or 2) Rich's plea of true to such enhancements during the plea proceedings." Id.

In discussing whether Rich had forfeited his complaint by pleading true to the enhancement paragraphs at the plea proceedings, the court acknowledged "the general rule that a plea of true to an enhancement paragraph relieves the State of its burden to prove a prior conviction alleged for enhancement and forfeits the defendant's right to appeal the insufficiency of evidence to prove the prior conviction," but it also recognized an exception when the record affirmatively reflects that the enhancement is itself improper. Id. at 513.