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Charles Lynch v. The State of Texas
Case Number: 01-17-00668-CR
Judge: Peter Kelly
Court: Court of Appeals
First District of Texas
Plaintiff's Attorney: Alan Keith Curry
Defendant's Attorney: Free National Lawyer Directory
Just Call 855-853-4800 for Free Help Finding a Lawyer Help You.
Galveston, TX - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant Charles Lynch charged with Delivery of a Controlled Substance.
Lynch was indicted for possession with intent to deliver between 4 and 200
grams of cocaine. He pleaded not guilty and proceeded to a jury trial. At trial, the
State called three witnesses: (1) the police officer who executed a search warrant,
(2) a detective who attempted to obtain cell phone data from Lynch’s phone, and
(3) a chemist who tested the drugs recovered at the scene. Lynch called one witness,
Tina Moreno, another occupant of the house.
Sergeant F. Gandy of the La Marque Police Department testified that he
conducted a narcotics investigation that focused on Lynch as a suspect. Sergeant
Gandy obtained a search warrant for Lynch’s residence and an arrest warrant for
Lynch. In September 2015, officers went to Lynch’s residence to execute the
warrants. The residence was a garage that had been converted into a one-bedroom
apartment. Police forced their way in after nobody answered the door. Officers
discovered four occupants inside the house: Lynch, Moreno, Phillip Darden, and
Norma Myers. Sergeant Gandy believed that Lynch was the only permanent resident
of the house and the other occupants “visited in some form or fashion.” Lynch told
Sergeant Gandy that all four occupants had access to the house and lived there.
Sergeant Gandy discovered crack cocaine on a dresser in the bedroom, some of
which was resting on a cell phone. He also found a knife and cash on a dresser and
plastic baggies with the corners torn off in the trash can. Sergeant Gandy testified
that about 7 grams of crack cocaine was found, which was close to a quarter of an
ounce. The State showed the jury photos that law enforcement took of the apartment
and their discoveries.
On cross-examination, Sergeant Gandy testified that some of the evidence had
been moved before it was photographed. For example, plastic baggies were placed
on top of the stove in the kitchen and on top of the dresser in the bedroom to facilitate
photographs, but the baggies were not in those positions when the officers arrived.
Sergeant Gandy also clarified that all four occupants said that Moreno lived in the
house with Lynch. Moreno’s prescription medicine was found in the bedroom.
Sergeant Gandy agreed that a pink bottle of Hello Kitty perfume found in the
bathroom likely belonged to a woman. He declined to speculate about whether other
products in the bathroom and shower belonged to a woman or a man. Sergeant
Gandy admitted that, while Moreno stated that the drugs were hers, she was not
arrested or investigated beyond searching her cellphone. According to the State’s
photographs, her cellphone was found plugged into a pink phone charger next to the
While Sergeant Gandy was testifying, the defense played a recording of his
interview with Moreno. The interview occurred immediately after the search warrant
was executed and took place in the living room. During the interview, Moreno told
the officers that she had lived at the house for a few months. She stated that the drugs
in the bedroom belonged to her and that she sold and used crack cocaine. She
claimed to have a “quarter” of cocaine that she valued at approximately $225. Once
the officers told her that claiming that the drugs were hers would not prevent Lynch
from being arrested and that she could be charged with a first-degree felony, Moreno
said that the drugs were not hers. She said that she initially said the drugs belonged
to her because she did not want Lynch to be arrested. Moreno also denied selling
drugs from the residence. She told officers that the cell phone on top of the dresser
belonged to Lynch and that she had seen him sell drugs from the house in the past.
Sergeant Gandy testified that, even though Moreno claimed the drugs were hers, she
was not arrested because he did not believe her. He did not think she demonstrated
enough knowledge to be a street-level drug dealer, and he had not seen her at the
house during surveillance.
Detective G. Groce of the Galveston Police Department, whose specialty was
extracting information from cell phones and computers, testified that he attempted
to extract information from Lynch’s phone but could not do so because it was
password protected. He was able to extract information from Moreno’s phone.
A chemist with the Department of Public Safety testified that he tested the
suspected controlled substance found on the scene. The sample he tested weighed
more than four grams, and since the highest penalties attach to drug weights over
four grams, he did not test all of the substance recovered to find the total weight. He
determined that the substance was cocaine. The State rested after the chemist’s
Lynch called Tina Moreno to testify. Moreno said that she was called to testify
because drugs found in the house belonged to her. She stated that Lynch did not
know about the drugs, nor did he know that she was using and selling them. Moreno
testified that Lynch would not approve of her using drugs in the house. She testified
that the crack cocaine, plastic baggies, and knife found in the house belonged to her.
Moreno read an affidavit that she swore to on the day after the search. In the
affidavit, she stated that all of the controlled substances in the house belonged to her.
When she wrote the affidavit, she did so on her own, without counsel. While
testifying, she stated that she was lying when she told police on the day of the search
that the drugs were not hers. She testified that officers intimidated her when they
told her she would go to jail and scared her into saying that the drugs were Lynch’s
when they were not. She wrote the affidavit the next day to clear up the confusion.
Moreno also read a second affidavit that she had signed. It stated that she had
lived at the house for a few months, and she had used cocaine for several years. On
the day of the search, she purchased some cocaine and brought it to the house. Lynch
did not know about the purchase because she had led him to believe that she no
longer used crack cocaine. In the affidavit, she stated that she shared a bedroom with
Lynch, and when she went into the bedroom to change her clothes, she placed her
belongings on the dresser, including the crack cocaine. She meant to pick up her
things, including the cocaine, but it slipped her mind. She averred that the coin purse
found on the dresser and its belongings, which were little bags of crack cocaine, a
$20 bill, and a $10 bill, belonged to her. Moreno testified that her statements in the
affidavit were true. She also testified that she had criminal convictions stemming
from her history of drug use.
On cross-examination, Moreno stated that she had been released from prison
in June of 2015, and between June and September, when the house was searched,
she stole to get money to buy drugs. On the day before the search she had purchased
a quarter of an ounce of crack cocaine for $225 from a house in La Marque. She
intended to smoke it at the house while Lynch was gone. She also had smaller
amounts of cocaine in a pouch. Moreno testified that while her primary mailing
address was her mother’s house, she went back and forth between Lynch’s house
and her mother’s house. She kept clothes at Lynch’s house and spent about 30
percent of her time there.
The State introduced text conversations between Lynch and Moreno that
occurred a few weeks before the search. They showed that Moreno texted Lynch
asking him to bring her “something to smoke.” Moreno testified that she was asking
Lynch to bring her cigarettes because she did not have money to buy them. She also
texted Lynch in early September, thanking him for all that he had done for her and
apologizing for “the way things turned out” between them. She told Lynch that she
loved him but that she was “in her addiction.” She testified that she meant her
addiction to crack cocaine and cigarettes. After Moreno’s testimony, Lynch rested.
The State then sought to introduce rebuttal evidence, in the form of
penitentiary packets (“pen” packets), showing that Lynch had four prior convictions:
possession of methamphetamine in 1990, two convictions for possession with intent
to deliver cocaine in 2006, and possession of cocaine in 2006. The State argued that
Moreno’s testimony had rebutted all of the State’s evidence of Lynch’s intent
because Moreno stated that the crack cocaine, knife, and baggies belonged to her.
Lynch responded that the convictions were not evidence of intent because there was
no testimony or evidence to show a distinctive, common characteristic between the
previous cases and the underlying allegations. Pen packets did not prove that Lynch
had similar motive, means, or intent. Lynch argued that without direct testimony or
some other evidence, the extraneous offenses were more prejudicial than probative,
allowing the jury to convict based on bad character. Lynch also argued that the
possession cases were not sufficiently similar because the underlying offenses did
not have the same elements as the charged offense.
The court allowed the State to introduce the two convictions for possession of
a controlled substance with intent to deliver between 4 and 200 grams of cocaine
from 2006 and excluded the other two convictions. The pen packets containing the
two convictions were admitted and published to the jury. The court instructed the
jury that they could use them as rebuttal evidence to Lynch’s defensive theory and
could consider them to show Lynch’s “intent, motive, opportunity, preparation, plan,
absence of mistake or accident, or knowledge, if any.”
The jury found Lynch guilty of possession with intent to deliver cocaine. He
pleaded true to an enhancement, and the court sentenced him to 45 years’
In two issues, Lynch contends that the trial court abused its discretion in
admitting evidence of his two prior convictions for possession with intent to deliver.
He argues that the pen packets did not include details demonstrating their similarity
to the underlying case, allowing the jury to convict based on bad character. He also
argues that without detail, the probative value of the convictions was substantially
outweighed by their unfair prejudicial effect. We agree.
The State introduced the extraneous offense evidence through pen packets,
containing only the judgments and indictments for the two offenses. The indictment
language tracked the statutory language for the offenses and did not offer particular
details of the underlying conduct. The State sought to admit the convictions to rebut
Moreno’s testimony that the drugs belonged to her. Specifically, the State argued
that the convictions showed intent and absence of mistake. Lynch objected that the
State could not use the convictions to show conformity, that they were too remote
from the underlying case, and that their probative value was outweighed by their
prejudicial effect. He also objected that the evidence lacked detail showing similar
characteristics between the present case and the prior cases. Over Lynch’s
objections, the court allowed the two convictions in the form of pen packets to be
When the State introduced the pen packets, the court instructed the jury that
the convictions were offered “as rebuttal evidence to the Defendant’s defensive
theory of this case. This evidence may only be considered to show, if it does, the
Defendant’s intent, motive, opportunity, preparation, plan, absence of mistake or
accident, or knowledge, if any.” The court instructed that the evidence could not be
considered as character evidence and or used as evidence that “on this particular
occasion, the Defendant acted in accordance with that alleged character trait, if any.”
Immediately after the admission of the pen packets, both sides rested. The jury
charge included a similar limiting instruction for the jury stating:
[The extraneous offense] evidence was admitted only for the purpose
of assisting you, if it does, for the purpose of showing the defendant’s
motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, or absence
of mistake or accident, if any. You cannot consider the testimony unless
you find and believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant
committed these acts, if any, were committed.
B. Standard of Review
We review a trial court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence for an abuse
of discretion. Martinez v. State, 327 S.W.3d 727, 736 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). A
trial court abuses its discretion only if its decision is “so clearly wrong as to lie
outside the zone within which reasonable people might disagree.” Taylor v. State,
268 S.W.3d 571, 579 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). The erroneous admission of
extraneous offense evidence constitutes non-constitutional error. Hernandez v. State,
176 S.W.3d 821, 824 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005); see also TEX. R. APP. P. 44.2(b).
Under rule 44.2, we must disregard “any [non-constitutional] error, defect,
irregularity, or variance that does not affect substantial rights.” TEX. R. APP. P. 44.2.
We will uphold a trial court’s evidentiary ruling if it was correct on any theory of
law applicable to the case. De La Paz v. State, 279 S.W.3d 336, 344 (Tex. Crim.
C. Applicable Law
“Relevant evidence is generally admissible, irrelevant evidence is not.”
Gonzalez v. State, 544 S.W.3d 363, 370 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018) (citing TEX.R. EVID.
402). “Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has a tendency to make a fact more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence
in determining the action.” TEX. R. EVID. 401. “Evidence does not need to prove or
disprove a particular fact by itself to be relevant; it is sufficient if the evidence
provides a small nudge toward proving or disproving a fact of consequence.”
Gonzalez, 544 S.W.3d at 370. “A ‘fact of consequence’ includes either an elemental
fact or an evidentiary fact from which an elemental fact can be inferred.” Henley v.
State, 493 S.W.3d 77, 84 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).
Evidence of other crimes may be admissible to show “proof of motive,
opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity or absence of mistake or
accident.” TEX. R. EVID. 404(b). It is not admissible to prove the “character of a
person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith.” Id. Before extraneous
offense evidence can be admitted, it must also satisfy the balancing test established
in Rule of Evidence 403, which states that evidence is admissible if and only if its
probative value is not substantially outweighed by its unfair prejudicial effect. TEX.
R. EVID. 403; see Gigliobianco v. State, 210 S.W.3d 637, 640 (Tex. Crim. App.
2006); Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 388 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990).
When conducting a Rule 403 analysis, a court must balance the probative
force of and the proponent’s need for the evidence against the risk of unfair
prejudicial effect. Gonzalez, 544 S.W.3d at 372. Specifically, the court must
consider (1) any tendency of the evidence to suggest decision on an improper basis;
(2) any tendency of the evidence to confuse or distract the jury from the main issues;
(3) any tendency of the evidence to be given undue weight by a jury that has not
been equipped to evaluate the probative force of the evidence; and (4) the likelihood
that the presentation of the evidence will amount to undue delay. Gigliobianco, 210
S.W.3d at 641–42. The probative force of the evidence refers to how strongly it
serves to make the existence of a fact of consequence more or less probable.
Gonzalez, 544 S.W.3d at 372. We will uphold a trial court’s ruling on a Rule 403
balancing test, whether explicit or implied, if it is within the “zone of reasonable
disagreement.” Jamari v. State, 273 S.W.3d 745, 753 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st
Dist.] 2008, no pet.); see also Martinez, 327 S.W.3d at 736 (when reviewing the trial
court’s determination of probative and prejudicial value of evidence under Rule 403,
appellate courts reverse only upon showing of clear abuse of discretion).
D. Admissibility of pen packets
Preliminarily, to the extent the State sought to rebut Moreno’s testimony that
Lynch would not have approved of her use of cocaine, the extraneous offenses were
improper evidence to do so. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has explained that
when a witness presents a picture that an accused is not the type of person to commit
a certain type of offense, the State “may impeach that witness’ testimony by crossexamining the witness concerning similar extraneous offenses.” Wheeler v. State, 67
S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002). However, “[t]he evidentiary caveat . . . is
that the opponent must correct the ‘false impression’ through cross-examination of
the witness who left the false impression, not by calling other witnesses to correct
the false impression.” Id. The State did not introduce the offenses as impeachment
during Moreno’s testimony. Instead, the State sought to introduce additional
evidence after Moreno’s testimony of prior bad acts. Even assuming that Lynch left
a false impression with the jury by eliciting testimony from Moreno that he was not
the type of person to possess cocaine, the State would only have been “entitled to
rebut that ‘false impression’ inference with cross-examination questions [of Lynch’s
witness] concerning allegations of similar misconduct.” Id. at 885–86. Here,
however, the State did not attempt to correct any false impression by crossexamination of Moreno. Rather, the State attempted to correct the false impression
through evidence, without testimony, of Lynch’s other crimes.
Even assuming the extraneous offense pen packets were relevant for some
other purpose, the trial court erred in admitting them because their probative value
is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice and confusing the issues.
TEX. R. EVID. 403. The probative value of this particular evidence was low.
Gigliobianco, 210 S.W.3d at 641 (Rule 403 analysis must balance inherent probative
force against prejudicial tendencies). The pen packets containing the two convictions
showed only that on two previous occasions in 2006 Lynch had been convicted of
possession with intent to deliver cocaine and was sentenced to imprisonment.
Remoteness and similarity are important factors for judging the probative value of
offered extraneous offenses. Plante v. State, 692 S.W.2d 487, 491 (Tex. Crim. App.
1985) (stating if there are sufficient common distinguishing characteristics between
the extraneous offense and the primary offense such that the probative value of the
evidence outweighs its prejudicial value, then the court may admit the evidence to
prove certain elements of the crime). But here, the State did not introduce any
associated testimony or details to demonstrate similarity between the circumstances
of the prior convictions and the facts of the alleged offense. According to the pen
packets, the two extraneous offenses occurred in 2004 and 2006, not near the time
of the 2017 events recounted at trial. The record does not include whether the
convictions occurred under circumstances similar to the State’s theory in this case.
The Court of Criminal Appeals has recognized that:
“[T]here will always be similarities in the commission of
the same type of crime. That is, any case of robbery by
firearms is quite likely to have been committed in much
the same way as any other. What must be shown to make
the evidence of the extraneous crime admissible is
something that sets it apart from its class or type of crime
in general, and marks it distinctively in the same manner
as the principal crime.
Ford v. State, 484 S.W.2d 727, 730 (Tex. Crim. App. 1972); see also Smith v. State,
420 S.W.3d 207, 220–22 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2013, pet. ref’d)
(upholding admission of evidence of robbery “substantially similar” to the charged
offense to prove intent to commit robbery when both incidents involved same
accomplice and defendant approaching unsuspecting person in a parking lot, and
incidents occurred within three weeks of each other); Prince v. State, 192 S.W.3d
49, 54–5 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2006, pet. ref’d) (upholding admission
of evidence of two “sufficiently similar” extraneous offenses to prove intent when
the offenses were committed with a blunt instrument or knife, no property was taken
from store clerk, and defendant drove away quickly); Johnson v. State, 932 S.W.2d
296, 302–03 (Tex. App.—Austin 1985, pet. ref’d) (upholding admission of
extraneous aggravated assault to prove intent because both offenses involved
defendant shooting at individuals in car early in morning while accompanied by
same person, who also used shotgun, and attempts to prevent escape of other
There is no evidence that Lynch used the same means to possess the drugs or
that he possessed a similar amount. Cf. Blackwell v. State, 193 S.W.3d 1, 14 (Tex.
App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, pet. ref’d) (extraneous offenses introduced for
purposes of proving intent were similar because they showed defendant used same
means to entice young boys to be alone with him, gave them gifts, took them to same
place, told them to take their clothes off, threatened them in similar ways, and only
differences were the type of sexual contact); see also Plante, 692 S.W.2d at 493–94
(extraneous transactions were similar to charged offense of theft by deception
because all involved sale of goods or services on credit induced by appellant’s
unfulfilled promise to pay later, were billed to same company, and were not
To the extent the evidence proved intent, it did so by suggesting that Lynch
necessarily intended to commit the charged offense because he was a person who
commits possession with intent to deliver in general, and therefore was more likely
to have possessed cocaine on the date in question. But see TEX. R. EVID. 404(b)(1)
(evidence of a crime is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show
that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character); see
also Gigliobianco, 210 S.W.3d at 641 (court must balance tendency of evidence to
suggest decision on an improper basis); Webb v. State, 36 S.W.3d 164, 181 (Tex.
App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. ref’d) (“In other words, proof of the sexual
assault against Porter served no probative function other than to show appellant as a
person who commits sexual assault in general, and therefore was more likely to have
committed the sexual assault against Baird, an inference rule 404(b) strictly
In contrast to the low probative value, the risk of unfair prejudice was very
high, with a risk that the jury would decide on an improper basis. Gigliobianco, 210
S.W.3d at 641. This Gigliobianco factor weighs heavily against the admission of the
extraneous offenses. Id. The purpose of Rule 404(b) is to protect a defendant from
the “undue prejudice” that “when evidence is received that accused is of a wicked
or criminal disposition, juries are likely to find him guilty of the offense charged
regardless of whether it is proved by the evidence.” Robbins v. State, 88 S.W.3d 256,
263 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002) (quoting 2 Ray and Young, Texas Law of Evidence (2d
ed., 1956), § 1492). Evidence of other crimes may create unfair prejudice if a jury
would be more likely to draw an impermissible character conformity inference than
the permissible inference for which the evidence is relevant or if the evidence
otherwise distracts the jury and invites them to convict on a moral or emotional basis
rather than as a reasoned response to the relevant evidence. Hankton v. State, 23
S.W.3d 540, 547 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. ref’d).
While all extraneous offenses are inherently prejudicial, the admission of pen
packets stating only the two convictions, standing alone and without context, is
unusually prejudicial. In this case, the jury could have decided that the evidence
demonstrating that the drugs belonged to Lynch rather than Moreno was equivocal.
The jury did not hear evidence that police had observed Lynch distributing drugs
during their surveillance of his home. There was no evidence of trash pulls or
controlled buys. The only evidence introduced to support the inference that the drugs
belonged to Lynch was that he lived in the house and had been surveilled generally
by the La Marque Police Department, and drugs were found on his dresser and his
cell phone. But the jury also heard from Moreno that the drugs were hers. The jury
heard evidence that she had access to the bedroom where the drugs were found. And
Sergeant Gandy admitted that drug paraphernalia found in the house was moved
prior to being photographed, casting doubt on the exact locations of the drugs, knife,
and baggies when officers arrived.
Given the state of the evidence, the State’s introduction of the two convictions
had significant potential “to lure the factfinder into declaring guilt on a ground
different from proof specific to the offense charged.” Old Chief v. United States, 519
U.S. 172, 180 (1997). The convictions allowed the jury to believe Lynch was a
criminal in general, and therefore, probably committed the charged offense, a
conclusion the State emphasized in closing argument, stating:
The reason why I entered [the extraneous offense
convictions] was because Ms. Moreno gets on the stand
and pretty much says ‘Hey, I ran this whole operation
under his nose. He had no knowledge, no intent. He
wouldn’t go for that. Pretty much, he’s a saint. He doesn’t
want any of that in his house.’ So to rebut that, I brought
you: Well he’s not above having cocaine in his possession;
and in fact, cocaine, with possession and the intent to
deliver. The same exact reason why we’re here today.
In addition to allowing the jury to decide on an improper basis that Lynch was a
criminal in general, the evidence also had the tendency to confuse or distract the jury
by allowing them to focus more acutely on Lynch’s criminal history than the
evidence and main issues of the underlying case. See Gigliobianco, 210 S.W.3d at
The prejudicial effect can be reduced by the trial court’s limiting instructions,
but the instruction did not do so. The State argued that it sought to admit the evidence
to rebut a defensive theory and show absence of mistake, but the jury charge allowed
the jury to consider the offenses for a broad range of purposes. The jury charge
[The extraneous offense] evidence was admitted only for
the purpose of assisting you, if it does, for the purpose of
showing the defendant’s motive, opportunity, intent,
preparation, plan, knowledge, or absence of mistake or
accident, if any. You cannot consider the testimony unless
you find and believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the
Defendant committed these acts, if any were committed.
While the potential inference of character conformity can be held in check by
a limiting instruction, this limiting instruction allowed the jury to use the extraneous
offense information for more reasons than those for which the State sought to admit
it. See McGregor v. State, 394 S.W.3d 90, 121 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.]
2012, pet. ref’d) (holding limiting instruction reduced risk of inference of character
conformity). The laundry list of reasons to use the extraneous offenses given in the
limiting instructions could have only served to confuse the jury. See Gigliobianco,
210 S.W.3d at 641; DeLeon v. State, 77 S.W.3d 300, 316 (Tex. App.—Austin 2001,
pet. ref’d). The instruction did not lessen the potential for unfair prejudice in this
case. Cf. Le v. State, 479 S.W.3d 462, 472 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2015,
pet. ref’d). When combined with the State’s closing argument, the risk for unfair
prejudice was high.
The jury did not hear evidence that would demonstrate that the circumstances
of the previous convictions were similar or related to the circumstances of the
underlying case, and the jury did not receive a limited instruction for using the
convictions. The second factor and third Gigliobianco factors weigh against
admissibility of the evidence. See Gigliobianco, 210 S.W.3d at 641.
The fourth factor, the likelihood that the presentation of the evidence amounts
to undue delay, weighs in favor of admitting the evidence. Id. at 642. Since the State
only admitted documents, rather than testimony of the convictions, it did not take
long to introduce to the jury.
Balancing the prejudicial nature of the offenses with the State’s need for the
evidence to prove intent weighs against the admission of the extraneous offense
evidence. Id. at 641 (court must balance probative force and State’s need for
evidence against prejudicial effect). Intent may be inferred from circumstantial
evidence. Wolfe v. State, 917 S.W.2d 270, 275 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). To the extent
the State sought to rebut Moreno, we have explained how the convictions were
improper evidence to do so. Introducing the convictions, without details that would
give the jury perspective as to whether they were similar to this situation or not,
served little purpose other than to prove character conformity. See Montgomery, 810
S.W.2d at 391 (“The trial judge must conclude that the evidence tends in logic and
common experience to serve some purpose other than character conformity to make
the existence of a fact of consequence more or less probable than it would be without
Because the extraneous offense evidence consisted only of convictions in the
form of pen packets, without additional evidence to guide the jury to conclude that
the circumstances of the convictions were similar to the alleged conduct, the
probative value of the extraneous offense evidence was so substantially outweighed
by the danger of unfair prejudice that it was a clear abuse of discretion to admit them.
See Jamari, 273 S.W.3d at 753; Martinez, 327 S.W.3d at 736.
E. Harm Analysis
Next, we must determine whether the error is reversible. When considering a
non-constitutional error, we must disregard the error unless it affects a substantial
right. TEX. R. APP. P. 44.2(b). An error affects a defendant’s substantial rights only
when the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence on the jury’s
verdict. King v. State, 953 S.W.2d 266, 271 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997); Robinson v.
State, 236 S.W.3d 260, 269 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. ref’d). If the
error had only a slight influence on the verdict, the error is harmless. Johnson v.
State, 967 S.W.2d 410, 417 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998). Important factors include the
nature of the evidence supporting the verdict, the character of the alleged error, and
how the error might be considered in connection with other evidence in the case.
Bagheri v. State, 119 S.W.3d 755, 763 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003); Motilla v. State, 78
S.W.3d 352, 355 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002). “Specifically, the reviewing court should
consider whether the State emphasized the error, whether the erroneously admitted
evidence was cumulative, and whether it was elicited from an expert.” Motilla, 78
S.W.3d at 357.
The United States Supreme Court has explained:
[I]f one cannot say, with fair assurance, after pondering all
that happened without stripping the erroneous action from
the whole, that the judgment was not substantially swayed
by the error, it is impossible to conclude that substantial
rights were not affected. The inquiry cannot be merely
whether there was enough to support the result, apart from
the phase affected by the error. It is rather, even so,
whether the error itself had substantial influence. If so, or
if one is left in grave doubt, the conviction cannot stand.
Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 765 (1946); see King v. State, 953 S.W.2d
266, 271 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997) (adopting test from and citing Kotteakos, 328 U.S.
at 764–65); see also Johnson v. State, 43 S.W.3d 1, 4 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001). The
U.S. Supreme Court has defined “grave doubt” to mean “in the judge’s mind, the
matter is so evenly balanced that he feels himself in virtual equipoise as to the
harmlessness of the error.” O’Neal v. McAninch, 513 U.S. 432, 435 (1995); Webb v.
State, 36 S.W.3d 164, 182–83 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. ref’d)
(quoting O’Neal, 513 U.S. at 435). If the reviewing court is unsure whether the error
affected the outcome, the court should treat the error as harmful, i.e., as having a
substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.
O’Neal, 513 U.S. at 435; Webb, 36 S.W.3d at 182–83.
The defendant is not required to prove harm from an error. Johnson, 43
S.W.3d at 4. Indeed, there ordinarily is no way to prove “actual” harm. Id. It is
instead the duty of the reviewing court to assess harm from the context of the error.
Id. The proper inquiry is whether the trial court’s error in allowing the State to
introduce pen packets with Lynch’s extraneous offenses substantially swayed or
influenced the jury’s verdict, or whether we are left in grave doubt as to whether the
extraneous offense evidence substantially swayed or influenced the jury’s verdict.
Kotteakos, 328 U.S. at 765; Johnson, 43 S.W.3d at 4. In making this determination,
we consider the trial court’s erroneous admission of the extraneous offense in the
context of the entire record, and not just whether there was sufficient or
overwhelming evidence of the defendant’s guilt. Motilla, 78 S.W.3d at 355–56.
Here, the extraneous offense evidence undoubtedly swayed the jury’s
decision. We have previously explained how the character of the erroneously
admitted evidence was especially prejudicial. The pen packets were official
documents, leaving little room for interpretation by the jury. The strongest piece of
evidence the State had against Lynch was that he had previously been convicted
under similar statutes on two occasions.
The State emphasized the erroneously admitted evidence in its closing
argument, referencing the prior convictions and stating that Lynch had been
convicted of being a drug dealer in the past and that is the “same exact reason why
we are here today.” The State’s argument gave the jury the impression they could
convict Lynch of being a drug dealer, generally. The laundry list of reasons to use
the extraneous offenses given in the limiting instructions could have only served to
confuse the jury. DeLeon v. State, 77 S.W.3d 300, 316 (Tex. App.—Austin 2001,
Extraneous offense evidence can have a devastating impact on the jury’s
rational disposition towards other evidence because of the jury’s natural inclination
to infer guilt to the charged offense from the extraneous offenses. See Abdnor v.
State, 871 S.W.2d 726, 738 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994); Mayes v. State, 816 S.W.2d 79,
86 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991). Given that the extraneous offense evidence was
inherently prejudicial and possessed low probative value, and considering the record
as a whole and the State’s emphasis on the extraneous offense in closing argument,
it appears the offenses were presented to improperly bolster the State’s case. We
cannot say with fair assurance that the erroneous admission of the offenses had only
a slight influence on the jury or that their admission did not affect Lynch’s
substantial rights. TEX.R. APP. P. 44.2(b); Johnson, 967 S.W.2d at 417. Accordingly,
we hold that the erroneous admission of the extraneous offenses resulted in
Lynch’s two issues related to the extraneous offenses are sustained.
Consequently, we need not reach his remaining issues. TEX. R. APP. P. 47.1.
Outcome: We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.