Statute requiring defendant to pay court costs violated separation of powers provision of Texas Constitution

Julia Wisenberg, Volume 50 Articles Editor

 

JUDGE KELLER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT.

A Harris County jury found Orlando Salinas guilty of injury to an elderly person. In addition to receiving five years in prison, a bill of court costs was assessed against Mr. Salinas for $133 pursuant to a local government fee statute. Mr. Salinas objected, arguing on appeal that the statute is facially unconstitutional because funds were distributed to accounts that were not closely related to the criminal justice system.

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals held that the comptroller properly allocated the funds and further, no current statute dictated specific restrictions or requirements on how the funds were to be allocated. Thus, the appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court. Mr. Salinas filed a petition for discretionary review with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which held that the statute was unconstitutional and thus reversed the judgment in favor of Mr. Salinas.

First, the Court concluded that Texas Local Government Code Sec. 133.102 violated the Separation of Powers provision of the Texas Constitution. The statute collected funds from criminal defendants and allocated those funds to a comprehensive rehabilitation account for individuals in vocational or other rehabilitative programs. The Court held that this allocation did not “appear to serve a legitimate criminal justice purpose.” The statute made no reference to victims of crime and ultimately served a population not closely connected with the criminal justice system.

The Court also held since the invalid provisions were not inextricably entwined with the valid provisions, the provisions were severable. Thus, the proper remedy was to sever the invalid provisions that allocated court costs to rehabilitative programs from provisions that allocated costs to other accounts. The Court noted that this decision would be applied prospectively.

Judge Hervey concurred in the opinion, but noted that there are other consolidated court costs that are affected by this case, including those assessed in the vast majority of criminal offenses in Texas.

In dissenting opinions, Judges Yeary, Richardson, and Newell argued that the majority did not apply the proper standard of review for a claim related to a facially unconstitutional statute, which caused it to err.

 

Salinas v. State, ___ S.W.3d ___, No. PD-0170-16, 2017 WL 915525 (Tex. 2017).