Morgan v. State of Texas: Greater Right of Possession in a Burglary Prosecution

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Morgan V. State of Texas

NO. PD-0758-15

In the Court of Criminal Appeals

Procedural History: This case went to the Court of Criminal Appeals on PDR by the State. Appellant was convicted for burglary of a habitation. The Second Court of Appeals overturned Appellant’s conviction for legal insufficiency of the evidence. The State filed PDR.

Holding: A person can be convicted for burglarizing their own home, if another has a greater right to possession to the home, than the defendant.

What happened?

The evidence at trial appeared to be that the Appellant moved in with his romantic partner. There appeared to be no dispute that the place was his residence: he had a key, his belongings were kept there, he helped out with household expenses and he had been living there for months. His romantic partner had her name alone on the lease and she alone paid rent. Appellant’s driver’s license showed a different address.

The couple had a fight. She locked him out of the house. He broke in and attacked her.

The jury found him guilty of burglary with intent to commit assault. As he did not have equal rights to possession of the home, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction  (for him burglarizing a place that was clearly his own home).

How did we get here?

The Second Court of Appeals overturned Appellant’s conviction, noting that Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 21.08 states “Where one person owns the property, and another person has the possession of the same, the ownership thereof may be alleged to be in either. Where property is owned in common, or jointly, by two or more persons, the ownership may be alleged to be in all or either of them.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned that the lower appellate court’s reliance on 21.08 was misplaced. Article 21.08 is a rule of pleading and not a part of the definition of the offense of burglary, the Court reasoned.

The CCA reinstated the conviction based on the Penal Code definition of owner:

a person who “has title to the property, possession of the property, whether lawful or not, or a greater right to possession of the property than the actor.” Texas Penal Code 1.07.

This paragraph best sums up the Court’s decision:

The Penal Code definition of “owner” clearly indicates that a defendant who has some, but less, right to control a habitation than the alleged owner may be prosecuted for burglary. The key is not whether Appellant had a right to possession of the property, but whether Regina’s right to possess the property was greater than Appellant’s. Only her name was on the lease, and she paid the rent. Regina is the one who gave Appellant a key to the apartment, and she is the one who could take it away. His status as her roommate at the time did not give him equal “ownership” rights to the apartment. We hold that, at the time of the offense, Regina’s right to possess the apartment was greater than Appellant’s. At that time, she was the “owner.”

You can read the full text of the opinion here.

 

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