To most he is thought of as a hero, but to an ever-growing minority Christopher Columbus, or Cristoforo Columbo, was just another well-financed criminal guilty of murder and other horrendous acts. Can those who seek either of these declarations [hero vs. murderer] of Christopher Columbus ever have their conclusions supported by a criminal trial court’s decision in Texas? In order for that to happen, there are several incredible legal hurdles to overcome.
The first and most obvious hurdle is, “How can you have a trial for something that happened 511 to 525 years ago?” Many decades, if not centuries, from the alleged commission of a murder should keep a person from being tried…right? WRONG. In Texas, according to Texas’ Code of Criminal Procedure, Title 1, Chapter 12, there is no limitation for an indictment to be presented for anyone who is alleged of committing murder, manslaughter, crimes involving sexual assault, trafficking and forced prostitution. So, the alleged offenses of murder can still, to this day, be charged against Columbus in Texas.
So if Columbus can still potentially be tried for murder so many centuries later, should not the fact that he cannot be present at trial (He’s dead, right? Unlike Elvis and Tupac, of course!), be a reason for Texas not to subject him to a criminal trial?
Posthumous trials, or trials against the dead, must be a seldom, if not nonexistent, practice for Texas courts since the only mention of the term “posthumous” in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure refers to a victim, under Chapter 56 – Rights of Crime Victims, and not a prospective defendant. Texas case law is also silent when it comes to posthumous trials for criminal prosecutions. In addition to Columbus’ defense counsel’s probable argument against a posthumous trial in Texas, defense counsel would likely also claim having a trial against an absent defendant violates Texas’ AND the United States’ Constitutions. This is because the defendant (in this case, Good ol’ Christobal Colon) require due process be used when the respective governments seek to take something from the defendant. The U.S. Supreme Court stated, “…when life and liberty are at stake must the defendant be present at trial.” (Hopt v. Utah, 110 US 574, 28 L Ed 262, 4 S Ct 202 (1884), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_in_absentia, https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/110/574/case.html) Since Columbus’ life and liberty are no longer at stake since he has been deceased for over 511 years, it could be argued a court can still entertain this matter.
Every argument for having a criminal trial against Christopher Columbus in a State Court of Texas is overshadowed by the tallest hurdle of them all – Texas’ Jurisdiction. Is Texas able to have a trial for any alleged crime committed outside its borders?
Section 1.04 of Texas’ Penal Code covers “territorial jurisdiction”. A relevant part of the statute states (d) this state includes the land and water and the air space above the land and water over which this state has power to define offenses. Another relevant part of the statute states (a) This state has jurisdiction over an offense that a person commits by his own conduct or the conduct of another for which he is criminally responsible if: (2) conduct outside this state constitutes an attempt to commit an offense inside the state; or (3) the conduct outside this state constitutes a conspiracy to commit an offense inside the state, and act in furtherance of the conspiracy occurs inside this state.
It is widely known, Columbus did not sail or set foot in Texas or in a territory adjacent to Texas. According to the statutes above, a criminal prosecutor has the monumental task of connecting Columbus’ alleged offenses to continued offenses crossing into the Texas’ territorial jurisdiction in order to have an indictment charged in Texas against Columbus, not to mention the legal quagmire existing with Texas’ ability to prosecute crime occurring before Texas became an actual entity.
Many people have been indicted with crimes that can be quashed or dismissed by, among other reasons, jurisdictional and due process arguments.
If you or a loved one faces criminal prosecution for a crime, it is very important to contact a criminal defense attorney to review your case to develop a proper defense. The Hernandez Law Group has represented hundreds of criminal clients and many have resulted in dismissals. Please contact the Hernandez Law Group at (956) 255-5555.