Carmell v. Texas

PETITIONER: Carmell
RESPONDENT: Texas
LOCATION: Denton County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 98-7540
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 529 US 513 (2000)
ARGUED: Nov 30, 1999
DECIDED: May 01, 2000

ADVOCATES:
Beth S. Brinkmann - Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court supporting the respondent
John Cornyn - Argued the cause for the respondent
Richard D. Bernstein - Argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Scott Carmell was convicted of multiple sexual offenses against his stepdaughter from 1991 to 1995, when she was 12 to 16 years old. Before September 1, 1993, the relevant Texas statute specified that a victim's testimony alone about a sexual offense could not support a conviction unless corroborated by other evidence or if the victim had informed another person of the offense within six months of its occurrence (outcry). However, the statute provided that if a victim was under 14 at the time of the offense, the victim's testimony alone could support a conviction. A 1993 amendment allowed the victim's testimony alone to support a conviction if the victim was under 18. Carmell argued, before the Texas Court of Appeals, that four of his convictions could not stand under the pre-1993 version of the law, which was in effect at the time of his alleged conduct, because they were based solely on the testimony of the victim, who was not under 14 at the time of four of the offenses and had not made a timely outcry. The court held that applying the 1993 amendment retrospectively did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution because the amended statute did not alter the punishment or the elements of the offense that the State must prove. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied review.

Question

Does an amended Texas statute that authorizes the conviction of sexual offenses on the victim's testimony alone, whereas the statute previously required the victim's testimony along with corroborating evidence, violate the constitutional prohibition against State "ex post facto" laws when applied in a trial for offenses committed before the amendment's effective date?

Media for Carmell v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 30, 1999 in Carmell v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 01, 2000 in Carmell v. Texas

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I have the opinion to announce in No. 98-7540, Carmell versus Texas on behalf of Justice Stevens who wrote for the Court.

This case comes on writ of certiorari from the Court of Appeals of Texas.

The petitioner was convicted of 15 counts of various sexual offenses.

Under a Texas statute a so-called outcry statute in effect at the time of the alleged conduct, a conviction could not be sustained on the victim’s testimony alone unless the victim had told someone about the offense within six months of the crime.

This is the so-called outcry, or unless the victim was under 14-years-old at the time of the offense.

In 1993, Texas amended that statute to permit a conviction solely on the victim’s testimony if the victim was under 18 years of age.

Petitioner was convicted on all accounts.

He appealed his convictions arguing that the State had based its case on the victim’s testimony alone.

Yet the victim had not made a timely outcry nor was she under 14-years-old at that time.

The Texas Court of Appeals rejected petitioner’s argument holding his convictions could be sustaining under the 1993 amendment to the statute because the victim fell within the new 18-year-old age requirement.

It further held that retrospectively applying the amendment to offenses committed before its enactment did not violate the ex post facto prohibition in the Constitution.

We granted certiorari to resolve the division among lower courts as to whether these kinds of laws violate the Ex Post Facto Clause.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, the court reverses.

In Calder v. Bull Justice Chase explained that the phrase ex post facto laws refers to four types of criminal laws, among them laws that receive less or different testimony then the law required at the time of the commission of the offense in order to convict the offender.

Here, because the victim was not under 14 years of age and had not made a timely outcry, the old Texas law in place at the time petitioner committed his offenses required the victim’s testimony plus other corroborating evidence in order to convict him.

The new Texas law however, permitted the petitioner to be convicted on the victim’s testimony alone.

The Court holds that such a law receives less testimony than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense in order to convict the offender.

Accordingly, the court concludes that convicting petitioner under the amended Texas law violates the Ex Post Facto Clause and therefore reverses the judgment below.

Justice Ginsburg has filed a dissenting opinion which the Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy and I have joined.