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Carl Lawrence Bolar a/k/a Carl L. Bolar v. The State of Texas
Case Number: 02-19-00357-CR
Judge: No. 02-19-00357-CR
Court: In the
Court of Appeals
Second Appellate District of Texas
at Fort Worth
Plaintiff's Attorney: Joshua Lewellyn
Joseph W. Spence
Fort Worth, Texas - Criminal defense attorney represented Carl Lawrence Bolar a/k/a Carl L. Bolar with a Poss of a Controlled Substance charge.
Over the course of just fifteen months, Bolar committed seven felonies: four drug
offenses and three felonious attempts to avoid responsibility for the same.
The problems began with a late-night traffic stop in July 2017. Bolar was driving a
vehicle near Van Horn Avenue in east Fort Worth and was stopped for failing to use a
turn signal. Or, rather, two police officers attempted to stop Bolar’s vehicle, but Bolar
refused to pull over his car.
1 When Bolar finally pulled over, he had multiple loose pieces
and plastic bags of crack cocaine in his lap. Although the officers could see the cocaine
through Bolar’s window, he nonetheless attempted to hide the drugs; Bolar kept the
doors locked and the windows rolled up while he put some of the crack cocaine in his
mouth and took a swig of his drink in an attempt to swallow the contraband. Finally, one
As Bolar continued to drive, the front passenger tossed something out of the
of the police officers broke Bolar’s window and arrested him,2 only to discover
additional plastic bags of crack cocaine. In total, the officers seized more than twentythree grams of cocaine. Bolar was subsequently indicted for (1) first-degree-felony
possession of a controlled substance—cocaine—in an amount of four grams or more
but less than two hundred grams, with the intent to deliver; (2) third-degree-felony
evading arrest or detention with a vehicle; and (3) third-degree-felony tampering with
physical evidence—cocaine—by chewing or swallowing it. See Tex. Health & Safety
Code Ann. § 481.112(d); Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 37.09(a)(1), (c), 38.04(b)(2)(A).
Just over a month later, while out on bond, Bolar was found in possession of
cocaine again. This time, Bolar was present at a “known narcotics house” on Van Horn
Avenue when Fort Worth Narcotics Unit officers executed a search warrant at the
home. Bolar had more than two grams of cocaine in his pants pocket and next to his
foot. He was indicted for the fourth felony underlying this appeal: third-degree-felony
possession of a controlled substance—cocaine—in an amount of one gram or more but
less than four grams. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.115(c). Although Bolar
was released on bond, his bond was soon forfeited because he failed to appear for court.
Despite the bond forfeiture, despite the numerous warrants out for his arrest, and
despite the mounting number of criminal charges against him, Bolar returned to the drug
In addition to the offenses Bolar committed during the course of the traffic stop,
he had five outstanding arrest warrants for offenses committed in Arlington and
Grapevine. The five warrants stemmed from crimes other than those currently on
house on Van Horn Avenue. The Fort Worth Narcotics Unit executed yet another
search warrant at the home due to continued reports of shootings, narcotics trafficking,
and several related crimes at that location. Bolar fled out the back of the residence, and
after the officers gave chase, Bolar hid under a truck on another street. Upon discovery,
he had more than six grams of heroin in his pocket.
3 He was arrested for the drugs—as
well as outstanding warrants—and indicted for the fifth felony underlying this appeal:
second-degree-felony possession of heroin in an amount of four grams or more but less
than two hundred grams. See id. § 481.115(d). As before, Bolar bonded out.
Again though, Bolar failed to appear for court. In fact, Bolar failed to appear the
week one of his felony cases was set for trial.4 Then, after his case was reset, he failed to
appear a second time. Bolar’s bond was forfeited, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and
he was indicted for the sixth felony underlying this appeal: third-degree-felony bail
jumping.5 See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 38.10(a), (f).
By then, Bolar had ten outstanding felony warrants for his arrest—some
stemming from the crimes detailed above and others related to offenses not currently on
In addition to the heroin, Bolar also had cocaine in his pocket. He was charged
with state-jail-felony possession of a controlled substance—cocaine—under one gram
and sentenced to two years’ confinement prior to the convictions underlying this appeal.
See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.115(b).
The record is unclear as to which of Bolar’s cases was set for trial the week he
failed to appear.
The felony bond relied upon for the bail-jumping offense corresponded to
Bolar’s charge for second-degree-felony possession of a controlled substance—heroin.5
appeal. Two separate law enforcement units began searching for Bolar, with a third
assisting in the execution of search warrants at his suspected locations. Several months
later, law enforcement officers learned where Bolar was staying and—after conducting
surveillance to confirm Bolar’s presence—knocked on his apartment door. Bolar refused
to open the door. The officers finally forced entry into the apartment and arrested
Bolar.6 In plain view on the kitchen counter, the officers discovered a bag containing
nearly two grams of crack cocaine.
7 Elsewhere in the apartment, officers found several
items commonly used to make, cut, and store crack cocaine.8 Bolar was indicted for
second-degree-felony possession of cocaine in an amount of one gram or more but less
than four grams, with the intent to deliver—the seventh and final felony underlying this
appeal. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 481.112(c).
Bolar pleaded guilty to all seven felonies: (1) first-degree-felony possession of a
controlled substance—cocaine—with the intent to deliver; (2) third-degree-felony
evading arrest or detention with a vehicle; (3) third-degree-felony tampering with
physical evidence—cocaine—by chewing or swallowing it; (4) third-degree-felony
possession of a controlled substance—cocaine; (5) second-degree-felony possession of a
Bolar was alone in the apartment at the time of his arrest.
Officers also found a bag containing marijuana and an empty pistol magazine on
the kitchen counter.
Officers also found a loaded pistol with an extended magazine and ammunition.6
controlled substance—heroin; (6) third-degree-felony bail jumping and failure to appear;
and (7) second-degree-felony possession of a controlled substance—cocaine—with the
intent to deliver. His punishments were enhanced under Texas’s habitual-offender
statute based on Bolar’s prior felony convictions for (1) aggravated robbery with a deadly
weapon, adjudicated in 2004, and (2) retaliation, adjudicated in 1998. See Tex. Penal Code
Ann. § 12.42(d). Bolar pleaded true to the enhancement allegations. The enhancements
increased the statutory ranges of punishment for each of Bolar’s seven felonies to “life,
or . . . any term of not more than 99 years or less than 25 years.” Id.
Punishment was to the court and involved only three witnesses: an officer with
the City of Fort Worth Narcotics Unit (Officer Jones), an officer with the Fort Worth
Gang Section (Officer Costa), and an investigator for the Tarrant County District
Attorney’s Office (Investigator Blaisdell). All three witnesses testified for the State and
confirmed that the Van Horn residence Bolar frequented was a “known narcotics
house” at which “[n]arcotics transactions, sales, distribution, along with a lot of known
prostitution” occurred. Officer Jones stated that law enforcement had surveilled the Van
Horn house and executed “numerous” search warrants at the location and that Bolar
was identified as “the source of the narcotics being distributed from there”—specifically,
the crack cocaine and heroin. Officer Costa, in turn, testified that Bolar was a member of
a gang known as the Eastside 4x3 Crips, and the officer explained the significance of
photographs depicting Bolar’s gang-related tattoos, clothing, associations, and hand 7
signals. Finally, Investigator Blaisdell testified regarding Bolar’s failure to appear in court
and described the labor-intensive manhunt to find him.
After hearing this punishment evidence and reviewing Bolar’s presentencing
investigation (PSI) report, the trial court sentenced Bolar to forty years’ confinement for
each of his seven offenses, with the sentences running concurrently. Bolar timely filed
and presented a motion for new trial contending, among other things, that his sentences
were grossly disproportionate to his offenses. See Tex. R. App. P. 21.4, 21.6; see also Kim
v. State, 283 S.W.3d 473, 475 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2009, pet. ref’d) (discussing
preservation requirements for Eighth Amendment challenge). The motion was denied by
operation of law without a hearing. See Tex. R. App. P. 21.8(a), (c).
Bolar raises a single point on appeal: he claims that his forty-year sentences are
grossly disproportionate to his offenses in violation of the Eighth Amendment.9
A. Applicable Law
The Eighth Amendment—made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth
Amendment—prohibits the imposition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”10 U.S.
Const. amends. VIII, XIV; Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 58–60, 130 S. Ct. 2011, 2021–
Bolar’s Eighth Amendment claim implicitly challenges the trial court’s failure to
grant him a new trial on the same basis. We review a trial court’s denial of a motion for
new trial for an abuse of discretion. See Burch v. State, 541 S.W.3d 816, 820 (Tex. Crim.
10Bolar does not allege that his sentences violate the prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishments in the Texas Constitution. See Tex. Const. art. I, § 13.8
22 (2010); State v. Simpson, 488 S.W.3d 318, 322 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). Generally, if a
sentence is “within the statutory limits, including punishment enhanced pursuant to a
habitual-offender statute, [it] is not excessive, cruel, or unusual.” Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at
323. However, a narrow exception to this general rule exists: the Eighth Amendment
prohibits noncapital punishment within the statutory limits if the sentence is grossly
disproportionate to the offense.
11 Graham, 560 U.S. at 59–60, 130 S. Ct. at 2021–22;
Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 997–1001, 111 S. Ct. 2680, 2702–05 (1991) (Kennedy,
J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment);
12 Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 322.
Although the “precise contours [of the gross-disproportionality exception] are unclear,”
one thing is certain: it applies “only in the exceedingly rare or extreme case.”13 Harmelin,
501 U.S. at 998–1001, 111 S. Ct. at 2703–05 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and
concurring in judgment); Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 322–23.
11The Eighth Amendment also prohibits punishment that is “inherently barbaric,”
whether it is within the statutory limits or not. Graham, 560 U.S. at 59, 130 S. Ct. at 2021.
Bolar does not assert that his punishment is inherently barbaric.
12Harmelin produced five separate opinions. See generally Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 961–
1029, 111 S. Ct. at 2684–2720. Justice Kennedy’s concurrence, which the Supreme Court
subsequently described as “[t]he controlling opinion,” modified and applied the thencurrent version of the gross-disproportionality test to Harmelin’s sentence for a term of
years. Graham, 560 U.S. at 60, 130 S. Ct. at 2022; Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 996–1009,
111 S. Ct. at 2702–09 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); see
also McGruder v. Puckett, 954 F.2d 313, 316 (5th Cir. 1992) (adopting Justice Kennedy’s
modified gross-disproportionality test based on a “head-count” analysis of Harmelin).
13The United States Supreme Court has but twice held a noncapital sentence
imposed on an adult to be constitutionally disproportionate—and only once in the last
century. See Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 323 (listing Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349,
30 S. Ct. 544 (1910), and Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 103 S. Ct. 3001 (1983)).9
To determine whether a noncapital sentence qualifies for this uncommon and
“somewhat amorphous” exception, we begin with a threshold analysis comparing the
gravity of the offense to the severity of the sentence. Graham, 560 U.S. at 60, 130 S. Ct.
at 2022; Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 323; Ex parte Chavez, 213 S.W.3d 320, 323–24,
324 n.20 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006). Assessing the gravity of the offense requires us to
consider the defendant’s culpability, the defendant’s prior adjudicated and unadjudicated
crimes, and the harm caused or threatened to the victim and to society. See Simpson,
488 S.W.3d at 323. We weigh these factors against the defendant’s sentence, looking to
precedent for guidance as to the constitutional limits of proportional severity. See Hutto v.
Davis, 454 U.S. 370, 374–75, 102 S. Ct. 703, 706 (1982) (per curiam) (chastising lower
courts for extending gross-disproportionality exception beyond the limits of precedent);
McGruder, 954 F.2d at 317.
In the rare case in which this threshold analysis indicates gross disproportionality,
we proceed to steps two and three by comparing the defendant’s sentence with those
received by similar offenders in this jurisdiction and with those imposed for the same
crime in other jurisdictions.
14 Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 323; see also Solem, 463 U.S. at 296–
14Admittedly, a court’s reliance on precedent during the threshold step-one
determination could be considered a comparison of the defendant’s sentence with those
of offenders in the same jurisdiction and in other jurisdictions. However, the few
Supreme Court cases that have progressed to steps two and three have demonstrated
that these steps require distinct analyses and that precedent is appropriately considered
as part of step one. See Solem, 463 U.S. at 296–300, 103 S. Ct. at 3012–15; see also
Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 998–1005, 111 S. Ct. at 2703–07 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part
and concurring in judgment) (modifying Solem analysis and discussing precedent in
threshold step-one determination).10
300, 103 S. Ct. at 3012–15 (applying steps two and three). However, the appeal before us
is not a rare case; Bolar’s sentences are well within constitutional bounds considering the
gravity of his offenses, so we need only address step one.
B. Gravity of Bolar’s Offenses
First, the gravity of Bolar’s offenses was and is significant; he had high culpability,
he had an extensive criminal history, and he posed a grave danger to society.
Bolar’s moral culpability—his blameworthiness for the offenses—was extremely
high. In analyzing a defendant’s culpability, we consider factors such as the defendant’s
age at the time of the offense, his motive and intent to commit the crime, his role as the
primary actor or as a party to the offense, and his acceptance of responsibility. See, e.g.,
Graham, 560 U.S. at 69, 130 S. Ct. at 2027 (considering juvenile’s age and intent to
commit the offense);
15 Solem, 463 U.S. at 293–94, 103 S. Ct. at 3011 (noting defendant’s
motive and intent to commit the offense); see also, e.g., Erickson v. State, No. 02-19-00287-
CR, 2020 WL 4907364, at *5 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Aug. 20, 2020, pet. ref’d) (mem.
op., not designated for publication) (noting acceptance of responsibility as well as
“methodical and repetitive” nature of criminal conduct); Fulton v. State, No. 02-19-00227-
CR, 2020 WL 3969851, at *4 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth June 11, 2020, no pet.) (mem.
15Although the Graham Court considered the defendant’s culpability as part of its
Eighth Amendment analysis, it did not do so within the Harmelin framework. See
560 U.S. at 61–62, 130 S. Ct. at 2022–23 (considering categorical Eighth Amendment
challenge to life sentences without parole in nonhomicide juvenile cases).11
op., not designated for publication) (discussing attempts to evade police, attempts to
conceal contraband, and involvement in “drug underworld”); Pizarro v. State, Nos. 13-19-
00053-CR, 13-19-00054-CR, & 13-19-00055-CR, 2019 WL 3820434, at *4 (Tex. App.—
Corpus Christi–Edinburg Aug. 15, 2019, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated for
publication) (considering role as primary actor and mental state); Randall v. State,
529 S.W.3d 566, 569 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2017, no pet.) (considering role
in robberies and attempt to evade police); Mitchell v. State, No. 02-09-00374-CR,
2010 WL 4925023, at *3 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Dec. 2, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op., not
designated for publication) (noting failure to accept responsibility). Here, Bolar was an
adult when he committed the seven felonies, and each offense was the result of Bolar’s
intentional or knowing conduct. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §§ 481.112(a),
.115(a); Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 37.09(a)(1), 38.04(a), .10(a). Moreover, although he
emphasizes that he “pl[eaded] guilty and accepted responsibility for [his seven]
offenses,” the record indicates that he did so only after his repeated efforts to evade
arrest were thwarted by police persistence.
Bolar already had five warrants out for his arrest when he committed the first
three felony offenses underlying this appeal. During that encounter with the police, he
refused to pull over his car, refused to unlock his door, refused to roll down his window,
and attempted to swallow some of the crack cocaine in his possession. Later, after
committing additional drug offenses, he failed to appear for court. And when the police
executed a no-knock search warrant at the Van Horn drug house, Bolar ran out the back 12
of the home, led the police on a chase, and hid under a truck. Then, when he was
scheduled for trial, Bolar again failed to appear for court—twice. And when law
enforcement learned of his location and knocked on his apartment door, he refused to
open the door. These actions undermine Bolar’s claim that he voluntarily took
responsibility for his actions. Indeed, the very nature of three of the felonies underlying
this appeal—evading arrest, evidence tampering, and bail jumping—demonstrates that
Bolar was willing to commit additional felonies to avoid responsibility.
Consequently, despite pleading guilty, Bolar remained extremely culpable.
2. Criminal History
Moreover, Bolar had an extensive history of adjudicated and unadjudicated
offenses, in addition to the seven felonies underlying this appeal. Bolar downplays his
criminal history by arguing that the vast majority of his prior convictions occurred
before the age of twenty-two, fifteen to twenty years before his current offenses.16 He
emphasizes that he has had only one felony conviction since the age of twenty-two, and
the conviction was for possession of cocaine. Although factually accurate, this is a
deceptively rosy portrayal of Bolar’s record.
16Bolar was between the ages of thirty-six and thirty-seven when he committed the
seven offenses from which he appeals.13
Bolar has been charged with more than twenty offenses in his less than twentyfive years as an adult17—despite spending at least ten of those years in prison and many
more subject to parole, probation, and bond conditions.18 At age seventeen, Bolar
committed felony retaliation and three counts of misdemeanor burglary of a vehicle.19
He was sentenced to three years’ confinement for the retaliation offense but was released
on parole after approximately two years. Then, between the ages of twenty and twentytwo, Bolar was charged with misdemeanor assault causing bodily injury to a family
member, felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, and felony aggravated
20 Bolar was convicted of all three offenses and sentenced to one hundred
twenty days’ confinement for assault and ten years’ confinement for unlawful possession
17The PSI also reflects numerous juvenile infractions. However, given the civil
nature of juvenile cases and Bolar’s subsequent criminal history as an adult, we need not
consider Bolar’s juvenile record.
18Bolar was sentenced to three years’ confinement in November 1998 and was
paroled in 2000. He was then sentenced to ten years’ confinement in March 2004 but
was paroled in November 2011.
19Bolar committed retaliation in January 1998, and he was initially placed on
deferred adjudication community supervision. However, approximately one month later,
Bolar violated the terms of his supervision by committing the three burglary-of-a-vehicle
20Bolar was also charged with a second count of unlawful possession of a firearm
by a felon, but it appears from the record that Bolar’s second count was dismissed as
part of a plea bargain.14
and for aggravated robbery.
21 Upon his release from prison in late 2011—at age thirtyone—he continued his pattern of criminal behavior. Bolar was arrested for (1) two
counts of possession of marijuana under two ounces, (2) interference with an emergency
call, (3) possession of a controlled substance—cocaine—under one gram, (4) assault
causing bodily injury, and (5) assault by impeding the breath or circulation of a family
member or member of the defendant’s household. Although only one of these
postprison offenses had produced a final felony conviction by the time of Bolar’s
punishment trial in this case, another felony—assault by impeding the breath or
circulation of a family member or member of the defendant’s household—remained
Furthermore, in addition to Bolar’s extensive history of charged offenses, the
record contains evidence of countless criminal acts for which no charges were filed.
Bolar admitted a long history of regular marijuana use and admitted to smoking
“primos”—a combination of marijuana and crack cocaine—up to twice per day for the
two-to-three-year period preceding his arrest in 2018. See Tex. Health & Safety Code
Ann. § 481.102(3)(D) (listing cocaine as part of Penalty Group 1), § 481.115(a)
(prohibiting possession of a controlled substance listed in Penalty Group 1), § 481.121(a)
(prohibiting possession of “a usable quantity of marihuana”). Furthermore, the evidence
presented at Bolar’s punishment trial indicated that he was a known drug dealer and an
21For the offenses of aggravated robbery, unlawful possession of a firearm by a
felon, and assault causing the bodily injury of a family member, Bolar’s sentences were
assessed within days of one another and ran concurrently.15
active gang member. See id. § 481.112(a) (prohibiting the manufacturing, delivery, or
possession with the intent to deliver of certain controlled substances, including cocaine);
Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 71.02(a) (increasing the categorization of offenses committed as
a member of a combination or criminal street gang). Unsurprisingly, given his extensive
criminal history, his consistent drug use, and his association with a gang, Bolar’s PSI
concluded that he was “at High Risk of reoffending.”22
Bolar’s culpability and extensive criminal history also underscored the harm his
crimes inflicted and the grave danger he posed to society.
Bolar claims that his seven current felonies were “non-violent, victimless
offenses . . . stem[ming] from his recent decline into drug addiction.” He emphasizes
that “no one was physically harmed[;] [t]he ‘victim’ was the State of Texas, not an
22Bolar’s likelihood of recidivism was assessed using the Texas Risk Assessment
23Bolar glosses over his numerous other adjudicated and unadjudicated offenses—
some of which were violent. Notably, Bolar had a prior felony conviction for aggravated
robbery with a deadly weapon, and at the time of his punishment trial, he had been
indicted for assault causing bodily injury to a family member by impeding blood or
breath. As discussed infra Section II.C, the trial court was entitled to assess Bolar’s
punishment “based not merely on [his] most recent offense[s] but also on the
propensities he has demonstrated over a period of time during which he has been
convicted of and sentenced for other crimes.” Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263, 284,
100 S. Ct. 1133, 1145 (1980).16
First, even if we agreed with Bolar’s characterization of his current offenses, “the
presence or absence of violence does not always affect the strength of society’s interest
in deterring a particular crime or in punishing a particular criminal.” Rummel, 445 U.S. at
275, 100 S. Ct. at 1140; see also Collins v. State, No. 02-18-00449-CR, 2019 WL 4126612, at
*4–5 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Aug. 30, 2019, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated for
publication) (quoting Rummel and holding ninety-five-year sentence was not grossly
disproportionate where habitual offender evaded arrest with a vehicle). The Texas
Legislature’s decision to classify Bolar’s drug offenses as felonies reflects how “odious
and socially threatening [it] believes drug use to be”—whether or not the crimes involve
violence or target specific identifiable victims. Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 988, 111 S. Ct. at
2698 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (discussing legislative discretion to decide the gravity of
Regardless, we do not agree with Bolar’s characterization of drug offenses as
harmless, victimless acts. “Texas law classifies the distribution of illegal drugs as a grave
harm to society” and numerous courts have recognized that the “[p]ossession, use, and
distribution of illegal drugs represent[s] one of the greatest problems affecting the health
and welfare of our population.” Id. at 1002, 111 S. Ct. at 2705 (Kennedy, J., concurring
in part and concurring in judgment) (cleaned up); Fulton, 2020 WL 3969851, at *3; accord
Acosta v. State, 160 S.W.3d 204, 212 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2005, no pet.); Thomas v.
State, 916 S.W.2d 578, 583 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1996, no pet.). One reason illegal
drugs pose such a threat is that they often contribute to other criminal activity; indeed,17
“[s]tudies . . . demonstrate a direct nexus between illegal drugs and crimes of violence.”24
Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 1003, 111 S. Ct. at 2706 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and
concurring in judgment); accord Puga v. State, 916 S.W.2d 547, 550 (Tex. App.—San
Antonio 1996, no pet.). And “[t]he greater the amount of illicit drugs possessed, the
more likely use is widespread and delivery to others is intended, and the greater the harm
to society.” Acosta, 160 S.W.3d at 212.
Consequently, this court has repeatedly rejected attempts to minimize the gravity
of drug offenses in the Eighth Amendment context. See, e.g., Fulton, 2020 WL 3969851,
at *3; Stuer v. State, No. 02-14-00243-CR, 2015 WL 1407750, at *3 (Tex. App.—Fort
Worth Mar. 26, 2015, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated for publication); Acosta,
160 S.W.3d at 212–13. Our sister courts too, have rejected such attempts. See, e.g., Zavala
v. State, No. 13-09-188-CR, 2010 WL 1138445, at *2–3 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–
Edinburg Mar. 25, 2010, pet. ref’d) (mem. op., not designated for publication); Thomas,
916 S.W.2d at 583–84; Puga, 916 S.W.2d at 550; Robinson v. State, 906 S.W.2d 534,
537 (Tex. App.—Tyler 1995, no pet.).
Here, Bolar possessed large amounts of cocaine on multiple occasions, under
circumstances indicating his intent to sell the contraband to others. He was repeatedly
24In Harmelin, Justice Kennedy recognized that illegal drugs “relate to crime in at
least three ways: (1) A drug user may commit crime because of drug-induced changes in
physiological functions, cognitive ability, and mood; (2) A drug user may commit crime
in order to obtain money to buy drugs; and (3) A violent crime may occur as part of the
drug business or culture.” 501 U.S. at 1002–03, 111 S. Ct. at 2706 (Kennedy, J.,
concurring in part and concurring in judgment).18
surveilled and arrested at a known narcotics house, and he repeatedly returned to the
narcotics house after his release on bond. The State even presented evidence that Bolar
was the primary drug dealer providing the narcotics sold at the house. “[Bolar’s]
suggestion that his [drug] crime[s] w[ere] nonviolent and victimless . . . is [thus] false to
the point of absurdity. To the contrary, [his] crime[s] threatened to cause grave harm to
society.” Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 1002, 111 S. Ct. at 2706 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part
and concurring in judgment).
Given this harm, and given Bolar’s high culpability and extensive criminal history,
the overall gravity of his offenses was and is significant.
C. Severity of Bolar’s Sentences
Having concluded that Bolar’s offenses are quite grave—he had high culpability,
he had an extensive criminal history, and he inflicted and threatened significant harm—
we next consider the proportional severity of Bolar’s sentences. See Graham, 560 U.S. at
60, 130 S. Ct. at 2022; Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 323. In doing so, we “grant substantial
deference to the broad authority that legislatures necessarily possess in determining the
types and limits of punishments for crimes, as well as to the discretion that trial courts
possess in sentencing convicted criminals.” Fulton, 2020 WL 3969851, at *4 (quoting
Solem, 463 U.S. at 290, 103 S. Ct. at 3009). Here, Bolar’s punishment was well within the
statutory range set by the Texas Legislature, and the gravity of Bolar’s offenses
“br[ought] his sentence[s] within the constitutional boundaries [of proportionality] 19
established by . . . prior decisions.” Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 1004, 111 S. Ct. at
2706 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).
1. Statutory Range
First, each of Bolar’s seven felonies were punished under Texas’s habitualoffender statute, with a statutory punishment range from twenty-five to ninety-nine
years’ confinement, or life. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.42(d). Bolar’s forty-year
sentences were “less than one-half of the maximum sentence possible under th[is] range
established by the legislature.” Thomas, 916 S.W.2d at 582–84 (holding forty-year
sentence for first-degree-felony delivery of cocaine was not grossly disproportionate
where appellant was punished under habitual-offender statute). As the trial court
accurately observed during sentencing, “40 is a lot closer to 25 than it is to 99.”
Bolar acknowledges as much but attempts to reframe the discussion. He urges us
to consider what the statutory punishment ranges for his offenses would have been had
he not been punished as a habitual offender. However, accepting this invitation would
require us to analyze Bolar’s gross-disproportionality claim in a hypothetical world—a
world in which he had a different criminal history, he was being punished for each of his
seven felonies as isolated acts in separate vacuums, and he was therefore subject to
different statutory ranges of punishment.25 This we cannot do. See Rummel, 445 U.S. at
284–85, 100 S. Ct. at 1144–45.
25Bolar acknowledges that, even under his suggested hypothetical reality, one of
his seven convictions was a first-degree felony offense with a punishment range of five 20
When punishing habitual offenders, “the State’s interest is not merely punishing
the offense of conviction”; it also has an interest “in dealing in a harsher manner with
those who by repeated criminal acts have shown that they are simply incapable of
conforming to the norms of society as established by its criminal law.” Ewing v. California,
538 U.S. 11, 29, 123 S. Ct. 1179, 1190 (2003) (plurality op.); see Rummel, 445 U.S. at 284–
85, 100 S. Ct. at 1144–45; see also Thomas, 916 S.W.2d at 584 (recognizing, in Eighth
Amendment context, that “[s]egregating a repeat offender from the society he victimizes
is a permissible goal of a recidivist statute” and of the punishment assessed thereunder).
Thus, “we must place on the scales not only [Bolar’s] current felon[ies], but also his long
history of felony recidivism”—and the habitual-offender punishment range
corresponding to that history of recidivism. Ewing, 538 U.S. at 29, 123 S. Ct. at 1189–
90 (plurality op.); Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 323 (quoting Ewing). To do otherwise—to
ignore the habitual-offender statute and to “treat [Bolar] in the same manner as [we]
might treat him were this his first . . . offense”—would “fail to accord proper deference
to the policy judgments that find expression in the legislature’s choice of sanctions.”
Rummel, 445 U.S. at 284, 100 S. Ct. at 1144; Simpson, 488 S.W.3d at 323 (quoting Ewing,
538 U.S. at 29–30, 123 S. Ct. at 1189–90 (plurality op.)).
The Texas Legislature established the applicable statutory range of punishment
for each of Bolar’s seven felonies as twenty-five to ninety-nine years or life, and that is
to ninety-nine years independent of the habitual-offender statute. See Tex. Health &
Safety Code Ann. § 481.112(d); Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.32(a).21
the punishment range we consider. Bolar’s sentences were at the lower end of that
range—and thus no more severe than the legislature allowed.
Moreover, the United States Supreme Court has confirmed the constitutionality
of sentences far more severe than Bolar’s for offenses far less grave and far less
numerous than his; the Court has upheld a life sentence for habitual theft, and it has
upheld a life sentence for first-time narcotics possession.
26In a related argument, Bolar contends that the trial court failed to conduct an
individualized determination of his proportional punishment for each offense. Bolar
emphasizes his troubled childhood as a mitigating factor and points out that the trial
court “impos[ed] the exact same sentence for separate and distinct offenses ranging from
first- to third-degree felonies based on different incidents with different facts.”
First, as explained supra Section II.C.1, the trial court was not required to
compartmentalize its sentencing for each offense; rather, it was permitted to consider
Bolar’s criminal record—including the other felonies to which Bolar was pleading
guilty—in assessing punishment on each count. See Ewing, 538 U.S. at 29–30, 123 S. Ct.
at 1189–90 (plurality op.).
And, regardless, the Eighth Amendment “does not require strict proportionality
between crime and sentence” nor does it “mandate individualized sentencing in [adult]
noncapital cases.” Graham, 560 U.S. at 60, 130 S. Ct. at 2021 (quoting Harmelin,
501 U.S. at 1001, 111 S. Ct. at 2705 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in
judgment)); Chavez, 213 S.W.3d at 324 n.20; Murkledove v. State, 437 S.W.3d 17, 30 (Tex.
App.—Fort Worth 2014, pet. ref’d). In fact, the United States Supreme Court has
expressly refused to extend the Eighth Amendment’s individualized-sentencing
requirement to adult noncapital contexts. Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 995–96, 111 S. Ct. at
2701–02 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (Section IV, writing for the Court). Although Bolar
repeatedly cites Eddings v. Oklahoma to support his complaint regarding individualized
sentencing, Eddings was a death-penalty case, and “death differs from all other forms of
criminal punishment, not in degree but in kind.” Id. at 995–96, 111 S. Ct. at
2702 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (Section IV, writing for the Court) (quoting Furman v. Georgia,
408 U.S. 238, 306, 92 S. Ct. 2726, 2760 (1972) (Stewart, J., concurring)); see also Eddings v.
Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104, 105–06, 102 S. Ct. 869, 872 (1982).22
In Rummel v. Estelle, the Court approved the constitutionality of a mandatory life
sentence imposed under Texas’s then-effective habitual-offender statute where the
defendant had committed three instances of theft over approximately ten years, stealing
a total of less than $250 in goods and services. 445 U.S. at 265–66, 284–85, 100 S. Ct. at
1134–35, 1144–45. The Court recognized that “[h]aving twice imprisoned [Rummel] for
felonies, Texas was entitled to place upon Rummel the onus of one who is simply unable
to bring his conduct within the social norms prescribed by the criminal law of the State.”
Id. at 284, 100 S. Ct. at 1144; see also Ewing, 538 U.S. at 28–31, 123 S. Ct. at 1189–
90 (plurality op.) (holding that a mandatory sentence of twenty-five years to life was not
grossly disproportionate where the sentence was imposed under California’s habitualoffender statute after Ewing stole three golf clubs with an extensive criminal history).
Bolar’s current and prior offenses were far more serious than those discussed in
Rummel. In fact, unlike theft, “where the $100 [hot] check cause[s] $100 worth of
harm, . . . it is rational to believe that . . . $80 in methamphetamine [or another
controlled substance] pose[s] a danger of far more than $80 worth of harm.” Fulton,
2020 WL 3969851, at *3. “Our entire society is negatively affected by criminal drug
activities” such as Bolar’s. Robinson, 906 S.W.2d at 537.
Indeed, the Supreme Court emphasized the threat narcotics pose to society when
it upheld a life sentence for possession of a large quantity of cocaine in Harmelin.
Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 994–96, 111 S. Ct. at 2701–02 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (Section IV,
writing for the Court); see id. at 1002–04, 111 S. Ct. at 2705–07 (Kennedy, J., concurring 23
in part and concurring in judgment) (discussing narcotics). A plurality of the Court held
that the appellant’s imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole was not
grossly disproportionate to his possession of more than six hundred grams of cocaine,
even though the appellant had no prior felony convictions.
27 Id. at 996–1009, 111 S. Ct.
at 2702–09 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Justice
Kennedy explained “that the threat posed to the individual and society by possession of
this large an amount of cocaine—in terms of violence, crime, and social displacement—
is momentous enough to warrant the deterrence and retribution of a life sentence
without parole.”28 Id. at 1003, 111 S. Ct. at 2706; see also Hutto, 454 U.S. at 372–75,
102 S. Ct. at 704–06 (holding defendant’s convictions for distribution of marijuana and
possession of marihuana with the intent to distribute were not grossly disproportionate
to his two consecutive twenty-year sentences).
Harmelin is not an anomaly; this court too has repeatedly rejected Eighth
Amendment challenges to lengthy prison sentences for drug offenses—even without the
27As discussed supra note 12, a majority of the Harmelin Court held that the
sentence was constitutional, but Justice Scalia’s opinion, joined by Chief Justice
Rehnquist, held that “the Eighth Amendment contains no proportionality guarantee.”
Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 965, 111 S. Ct. at 2686 (opinion of Scalia, J.).
28Justice Kennedy indicated that the legislature could rationally consider the
possession of more than six hundred grams of cocaine to be just “as serious and violent
as the crime of felony murder without specific intent to kill, a crime for which ‘no
sentence of imprisonment would be disproportionate.’” See id. at 1004, 111 S. Ct. at
2706 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (quoting Solem,
463 U.S. at 290 n.15, 103 S. Ct. at 3009 n.15).24
habitual-offender statute in play.29 See, e.g., Vega v. State, No. 2-05-299-CR,
2006 WL 3437978, at *1 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Nov. 30, 2006, pet. ref’d) (per curiam)
(mem. op., not designated for publication) (holding seventy-year sentence for possession
of four hundred grams or more of cocaine with intent to deliver was not grossly
disproportionate where punishment was not under habitual-offender statute and the
State presented no evidence of other bad acts); Caswell v. State, No. 2-05-048-CR,
2006 WL 240267, at *2 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth Feb. 2, 2006, no pet.) (mem. op., not
designated for publication) (holding ninety-nine-year sentence for first-degree-felony
manufacture of methamphetamine was not grossly disproportionate without mention of
any criminal history); Acosta, 160 S.W.3d at 212–13 (holding twenty-five-year sentence
for possession of cocaine of two hundred grams or more but less than four hundred
grams with the intent to deliver was not grossly disproportionate even though defendant
had no prior felony convictions and had successfully completed community supervision
for misdemeanor offenses).
29Our sister courts have held similarly. See, e.g., Alvarez v. State, 525 S.W.3d 890,
893 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2017, pet. ref’d) (holding forty-year sentence for first-degreefelony possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver was not grossly
disproportionate where appellant had criminal history but was not punished under
habitual-offender statute); Zavala, 2010 WL 1138445, at *1–3 (holding fifty-year sentence
for first-degree-felony possession of black-tar heroin with the intent to deliver was not
grossly disproportionate even though appellant had no criminal history); Puga,
916 S.W.2d at 550 (holding sixty-five-year sentence for delivery of twenty-eight grams or
more but less than two hundred grams of cocaine was not grossly disproportionate
where appellant had drug-related criminal history but was not punished under habitualoffender statute).25
There can thus be no realistic argument that Bolar’s forty-year sentences were
unconstitutionally disproportionate to his crimes. As in Harmelin, Bolar was convicted of
possessing a significant amount of cocaine with the intent to deliver the substance to
others. See Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 961, 111 S. Ct. at 2684 (opinion of Scalia, J.). However,
in contrast to Harmelin, this was but one of Bolar’s numerous felonies “place[d] on the
scales” for the trial court’s consideration at punishment. Ewing, 538 U.S. at 29, 123 S. Ct.
at 1189–90 (plurality op.); see Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 994, 111 S. Ct. at 2701 (opinion of
Scalia, J.) (Section IV, writing for the Court) (acknowledging that Harmelin had no prior
felony convictions). Indeed, Bolar pleaded guilty to seven different felonies in this
proceeding alone, bringing his total number of felony convictions to approximately
eleven—with additional charges still pending. Even comparing Bolar’s offenses to those
in Rummel, where the habitual-offender statute was in play, Bolar’s offenses were far
more serious and there were far more of them. See Rummel, 445 U.S. at 265–66, 281,
100 S. Ct. at 1134–35, 1143 (detailing Rummel’s three felonies and indicating that no
other felonies were proven at sentencing). In fact, all seven felonies underlying this case
were committed while Bolar had warrants out for his arrest based on previous crimes or
while he was subject to bond conditions for pending felonies. The record thus indicates
that Bolar was “simply unable to bring his conduct within the social norms prescribed by
the criminal law of the State,” and the habitual-offender statute itself reflected the
legislature’s desire and the trial court’s authority to “plac[e] upon [Bolar] the26
[corresponding] onus.” Id. at 284, 100 S. Ct. at 1144. The trial court expressly referenced
this consideration when it announced Bolar’s sentence:
[I]t’s just too bad for you that I’m having to render [justice] seven cases at a
time because of [your] continued violation of the law . . . . It’s your total
disregard and disrespect of yourself, the people who care about you and the
rules of our community when you just couldn’t stay out of trouble and
follow the rules being given all those opportunities.
. . . .
Five or six fewer cases, maybe we would have had a different story.
Showing up for court and facing the music, maybe we would have had a
different story, but unfortunately you had the pen and you got to write the
script and I’m required to grade the test based on what’s on paper and not
what I wish it would have been.
Again, even though Bolar’s offenses were more serious than those in Rummel and more
plentiful than those in Harmelin, his sentences were nowhere near as severe.
Therefore, affording “substantial deference . . . to the discretion that trial courts
possess in sentencing convicted criminals,” we cannot say that Bolar’s forty-year,
concurrent prison terms were grossly disproportionate. Solem, 463 U.S. at 290, 103 S. Ct.
at 2009. Weighing the severity of his forty-year sentences against the gravity of his
offenses—including his high degree of culpability, his habitual and extensive history of
criminal conduct, and the harm his crimes inflicted and threat he posed to society—
30In Harmelin in particular, the appellant did not even have the possibility of
parole—a possibility which could shorten Bolar’s confinement considerably. See
Harmelin, 501 U.S. at 961, 111 S. Ct. at 2684 (opinion of Scalia, J.); see also Fulton,
2020 WL 3969851, at *3 (noting availability of parole for similar drug-related offense in
Eighth Amendment analysis).27
Bolar’s sentences are well within the bounds of the Eighth Amendment’s proportionality
Outcome: Having overruled Bolar’s sole point on appeal, we affirm his sentences and
corresponding judgments of conviction.