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COURT OF APPEALS
THIRTEENTH DISTRICT OF TEXAS
CORPUS CHRISTI - EDINBURG
JULIE ANNE FLOWERS A/K/A
JULIE ANNE RICHARDSON, Appellant,
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee.
On appeal from the 105th District Court
of Kleberg County, Texas
MEMORANDUM OPINION ON REMAND
Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Garza
Memorandum Opinion by Justice Rodriguez
Appellant, Julie Anne Flowers a/k/a Julie Anne Richardson, was charged with twenty-two counts of forgery, a state jail felony. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 32.21(b), (d) (Vernon Supp. 2005). The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on counts 1, 2, and 5 through 22, and a verdict of guilty on counts 3 and 4, which charged forgery of a check in the amount of $253.08 made payable to Aaron's Rental. (1) See id. § 32.21(a)(1)(A)(i), (B). The trial court sentenced Flowers to one year confinement in a state jail facility, probated for a period of three years. It also assessed a $500.00 fine plus court costs and restitution in the amount of $253.08. By two points of error, Flowers challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict.
In our original opinion and judgment, we held that the evidence was legally sufficient but factually insufficient under the standards of review in effect at the time. Flowers v. State, No. 13-05-004-CR, 2006 Tex. App. LEXIS 4360 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi May 18, 2006), rev'd and judgm't vacated, In re Flowers, PD-1298-06, 2007 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 41 (Tex. Crim. App. Jan. 10, 2007) (per curiam). On January 10, 2007, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals vacated our opinion and judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of its opinion in Watson v. State, 204 S.W.3d 404 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006), which re-articulated the factual sufficiency standard of review. Id. at 415-17. Reconsidering the factual sufficiency point of error in light of Watson, we affirm the trial court's judgment.
I. Standard of Review
In a legal sufficiency review, we consider all of the evidence in the record in the light most favorable to the verdict and determine whether, based on that evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom, a rational jury could have found the accused guilty of the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); Swearingen v. State, 101 S.W.3d 89, 95 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003). The reviewing court considers all evidence admitted at trial, whether properly or improperly admitted. Conner v. State, 67 S.W.3d 192, 197 (Tex. Crim. App. 2001). This standard applies regardless of whether the case is founded upon direct or circumstantial evidence. Earhart v. State, 823 S.W.2d 607, 616 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991); Rosillo v. State, 953 S.W.2d 808, 811 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 1997, pet. ref'd).
When reviewing the factual sufficiency of the evidence we look at all evidence in a neutral light and will reverse only if (1) the evidence is so weak that the finding seems clearly wrong and manifestly unjust or (2) considering conflicting evidence, the finding, though legally sufficient, is nevertheless against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. Watson, 204 S.W.3d at 414-15. This Court will not reverse the jury's verdict unless, we can say with some objective basis in the record, the great weight and preponderance of the evidence contradicts the verdict. Id. at 415.
We measure the sufficiency of the evidence by the elements of the offense as defined by the hypothetically correct jury charge. Malik v. State, 953 S.W.2d 234, 240 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997); Adi v. State, 94 S.W.3d 124, 131 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi 2002, pet. ref'd). "Such a charge would accurately set out the law, would be authorized by the indictment, and would not unnecessarily increase the State's burden of proof." Malik, 953 S.W.2d at 240.
Under either standard, the fact finder is the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony. See Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 111 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000); Johnson v. State, 23 S.W.3d 1, 7 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000) (en banc). We must give deference to the fact finder's decisions about the weight and credibility of evidence. See Johnson, 23 S.W.3d at 9.
A. The Law
If a person forges a writing with intent to defraud or harm another, he commits an offense. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 32.21(b) (Vernon Supp. 2005). Section 32.21 of the Texas Penal Code provides, in relevant part, that "forge" means "to make . . . or execute any writing so that it purports . . . to be the act of another who did not authorize that act." Id. § 32.21(a)(1)(A)(i). "Forge" also means to pass that writing. See id. § 32.21(a)(1)(B). Proof of intent to defraud is derivative of other elements; thus, in a forgery case, the culpable mental state of "intent to defraud or harm" can be inferred if the State proves that the defendant knew that the writing in question was forged. See Huntley v. State, 4 S.W.3d 813, 814 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1999, pet. ref'd) (op. on reh'g) (en banc). Here, it is undisputed that Flowers executed the check at issue by signing Young's name to it and passing it to Aaron's Rental. The State's burden was therefore to prove that Flowers acted without Young's authorization. See id.
B. Testimony and Evidence Admitted at Trial
At trial, Flowers, who was hired as a bookkeeper but who also assumed other responsibilities at Young's bed and breakfast inn, admitted signing Young's name to check number 10530 dated January 12, 2004, that was made payable to Aaron's Rental for a payment on her big-screen television rental contract agreement. She also admitted passing the check to Aaron's Rental. Flowers testified, however, that she had Young's permission to sign and pass the check. Flowers testified that Young borrowed her television in order to honor a coupon being used by clients of the bed and breakfast inn. She explained that in mid-December/January, she and Young discussed reservations and the need for a big screen television. Flowers had a big screen television and was a payment behind on its rental. Flowers testified that "[Young] agreed to make the payment on . . . the big screen TV, and [Flowers] would make up the difference but [Young] would pay the entire amount, and that's exactly what happened . . . ." Flowers testified that they "had discussed it several times before." Additionally, Flowers's February 15, 2004 pay stub reflected a $120.36 deduction from her paycheck. This amount was approximately half of the $253.08 paid to Aaron's Rental.
Testifying at trial, Young agreed that he was aware Flowers was going to sign a check for the rental of a big screen television and that Flowers did so at his direction to ensure that his clients would have a television available to them during their stay at the bed and breakfast inn. Young testified that "[Flowers], at that point was more or less running what was going on" and he "trusted [his] business to [Flowers] to watch over these type of things." Young stated that he assumed Flowers had rented a television as they had done that in the past. He admitted that Flowers may have told him that they could use hers, "but in the confusion of everything, [he didn't] really remember." He may have known that they were going to use Flowers's television, but not that they were going to rent a television set for $250. Young testified that he thought the rental was for one night, not for a whole week. Flowers told him she would bring a big screen television, and Young assumed she was going to rent one for thirty or forty dollars a night. Young testified that he did not authorize Flowers to write a check for her account balance on the television.
Colby Urbanovsky, a former employee of the bed and breakfast inn, testified that he and another co-worker picked up a big screen television from Flowers's house and delivered it to the main house at the bed and breakfast inn. The television was there for about two weeks, even though the coupon used by the clients was for one weekend. Urbanovsky also testified that he believed Young knew the television had been brought from Flowers's house because Aaron's Rental did not deliver it.
Regarding the signing of business checks, Young testified that he would give Flowers permission to sign his name on certain checks, but then he would tell her not to sign any other checks. There is also testimony that on a number of occasions, after Flowers had signed his name on checks to vendors, Young authorized those acts as to regular vendors. Aaron's Rental, however, was not one of those vendors. Additionally, Young authorized Flowers to sign his name on a $3,100.00 check made payable to Flowers to be used to buy a new car. (2) Nonetheless, Young testified that he never gave Flowers carte blanche to sign checks. He testified that he told her, "Julie, do not - [y]ou know, if you're going to - [i]f you're in an emergency and you're going to sign one, you must call me and we must talk it over, and I must approve it on an individual basis." Flowers testified that Young did not tell her not to write anymore checks, although he would say not to sign any more of a specific type of check until they talked about it. Finally, Urbanovsky testified that, on occasion, he heard Young tell Flowers to sign a check because he was not there to do so. He also heard Young tell Flowers not to sign any more checks and if she had to, to call him. In addition, other employees testified that, some time after March 2004, they heard Young tell Flowers not to sign any more checks.
C. Legal Sufficiency
By her first point of error, Flowers contends that the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain her conviction for forgery. She asserts that no rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt (1) that claimant, Luther Young, III, had not authorized her to sign his name to a business check made payable to Aaron's Rental and (2) that Flowers passed a check with intent to defraud or harm Young. (3)
Considering all of the above evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we conclude that a rational jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Young did not authorize Flowers to sign his name and pass check number 10530. See Jackson, 443 U.S. at 319; Swearingen, 101 S.W.3d at 95.
Young testified that although he authorized Flowers to sign his name on certain checks, he did not authorize a payment towards her Aaron's Rental account balance. Moreover, Aaron's Rental was not one of his regular vendors for which he would authorize her to sign checks. He assumed that Flowers, who performed numerous tasks in addition to the bookkeeping at the bed and breakfast inn, had rented a television as they had done in the past, for perhaps thirty or forty dollars a night. Although Flowers testified that Young agreed to make her payment to Aaron's Rental, questions concerning the credibility of witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony are to be resolved by the trier of fact, and the jury could have given more credibility and weight to Young's testimony. See Wesbrook, 29 S.W.3d at 111; Johnson, 23 S.W.3d at 7.
Concluding that the jury could have found Young did not authorize the check at issue in this case, the jury was entitled to infer that Flowers possessed the culpable mental state of "intent to defraud or harm." See Huntley, 4 S.W.3d at 814. Accordingly, we hold that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the jury's verdict as to counts three and four of the indictment. Flowers's first point of error is overruled.
D. Factual Sufficiency
In her second point of error, Flowers complains that the evidence is factually insufficient to sustain her conviction for forgery. More specifically, Flowers complains that the evidence is factually insufficient to establish the "not authorized" element of the offense. We disagree.
In our original opinion in this appeal, our factual sufficiency review was largely guided by the following standard articulated by the court of criminal appeals in Zuniga v. State:
When reviewing a challenge to the factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's finding, we must determine whether, considering all the evidence in a neutral light, the jury was rationally justified in its finding beyond a reasonable doubt. We may find the evidence to be factually insufficient in the following ways: (1) if the evidence supporting the finding, considered alone, is too weak to support the jury's finding beyond a reasonable doubt, then we must find the evidence insufficient; or (2) if, when we weigh the evidence supporting and contravening the finding, we conclude that the contrary evidence is strong enough that the State could not have met its burden of proof, we must find the evidence insufficient.
Zuniga v. State, 144 S.W.3d 477, 484-85 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004), overruled by Watson, 204 S.W.3d at 417. In Watson, the court of criminal appeals stated the following:
Any holding that a criminal appellate court can reverse and remand for a new trial even when the evidence "preponderates" in favor of a conviction is inconsistent with that historically required high level of skepticism.
. . . We therefore disavow such language in Zuniga and reiterate that it is not enough that the appellate court harbor a subjective level of reasonable doubt to overturn a conviction that is founded on legally sufficient evidence. An appellate court judge cannot conclude that a conviction is "clearly wrong" or "manifestly unjust" simply because, on the quantum of evidence admitted, he would have voted to acquit had he been on the jury. . . . We have always held that an appellate court must first be able to say, with some objective basis in the record, that the great weight and preponderance of the (albeit legally sufficient) evidence contradicts the jury's verdict before it is justified in exercising its appellate fact jurisdiction to order a new trial.
Watson, 204 S.W.3d at 417. Therefore, we must now apply the standard articulated in Watson to Flowers's factual sufficiency challenge.
Flowers argues that there was evidence that (1) Young allowed Flowers to handle business regarding the bed and breakfast inn, (2) Young gave Flowers prior authorization to sign checks, including this check, (3) Young directed her to get a television to honor a coupon, (4) Flowers acquired a big screen television for the bed and breakfast inn, (5) Young was aware that Flowers's television was to be used and was, in fact, used for his clients' stay at the bed and breakfast inn, and (6) Young took a deduction from Flowers's paycheck which equaled approximately half of the monthly rental amount paid to Aaron's Rentals for the television.
Young testified that although he gave Flowers permission to sign his name on certain checks, he told her several times not to sign his name on any checks without his prior authorization. Young testified that he told Flowers, "If you're in an emergency and you're going to sign one [a check], you must call me and we must talk it over, and I must approve it on an individual basis." Moreover, when the State asked Young, "Did you ever authorize Julie Richardson [Flowers] to write a check for the [Aaron Rentals'] account balance for this T.V.?" Young answered, "Absolutely not." Kirk Scott, a former employee of the bed and breakfast inn, testified that he overheard Young tell Flowers he did not want her signing his name on any checks. Leticia G. Ramirez, an employee of Young, testified she heard Young "tell Julli [sic] not to sign any more checks." Ramirez reiterated during re-cross examination that she heard Young tell Flowers, "Do not sign any checks."
As the sole judge of the credibility of the witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony, the jury was free to believe that Young did not authorize Flowers to sign his name to the check to pay her account balance with Aaron's Rentals. See Wesbrook, 29 S.W.3d at 111; Johnson, 23 S.W.3d at 7. Therefore, after reviewing all of the evidence in a neutral light, we conclude that the evidence is not so weak that it seems clearly wrong and manifestly unjust, and after considering the conflicting evidence, the finding is not against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence. See Watson, 204 S.W.3d 404, 414-15. We overrule Flowers's second point of error.
Finding no error, we affirm the trial court's judgment. NELDA V. RODRIGUEZ
Do not publish.
Tex. R. App. P. 47.2(b).
Memorandum Opinion on Remand delivered
and filed this 10th day of January, 2008.
In relevant part, Charge 3 of the indictment read as follows:
[D]efendant . . . on or about January 12, 2004, in, KLEBERG County, Texas, did then and there, with intent to defraud or harm another, make a writing so it purported to be the act of Luther Young, III, who did not authorize the act, and said writing was a check of the tenor following: #10530 payable to Aaron's Rental for $253.08 on 1/12/04, . . .
Charge 4 identified the elements identified in Charge 3 and added that Flowers passed "to Aaron's Rental a forged writing, knowing such writing to be forged."
2. Flowers told Young she was expecting a check from her insurance company which she would use to repay him. At the time of trial, Flowers had not repaid the loan.
3. Flowers also generally contends that the evidence is legally insufficient because the State failed to prove that this check was signed and passed in Kleberg County, Texas, as alleged in the indictment. However, in accordance with rule 38.1(h) of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, we will only consider contentions that are supported by clear and concise arguments with appropriate citations to authorities and the record. See Tex. R. App. P. 38.1(h); Rhoades v. State, 934 S.W.2d 113, 119 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996) (en banc).