In April 2021, Shanea Lynn Reeder was arrested in Wheeler County for unlawful possession of a firearm. The arrest followed a consent-to-search of Reeder’s vehicle, during which a handgun was found. Knowing that Reeder had a prior drug offense, he was arrested as a felon for being in the unlawful possession of a firearm, in violation of Texas Penal Code § 46.04.


The underlying “offense” used by the deputies to make the arrest was an April 2017 six-year deferred adjudication for distribution of a controlled substance. County prosecutors also elected to use this deferred adjudication as the prior “conviction” necessary to file the formal unlawful possession of a firearm charge.


To ensure that the deferred adjudication was a conviction, prosecutors filed a Motion to Proceed With Adjudication of Guilt one month after Reeder’s arrest on the gun charge.


The trial court set two hearing dates in August 2021.


The first was to accept Reeder’s plea-bargained guilty plea on the unlawful firearm possession charge. After accepting the terms of the agreement, the trial court sentenced Reeder to an agreed-upon term of five years.


The trial court then conducted the second hearing on the State’s motion to adjudicate guilt on the deferred adjudication drug distribution offense. The State argued that Reeder had violated five conditions of the deferred adjudication sentence—all of which Reeder pled true to. The court accepted the violations, found Reeder guilty of the drug distribution offense and sentenced him to another agreed upon five-year prison term.


The trial court ordered the two 5-year terms to be served concurrently.


Once in the State’s prison system, Reeder decided to represent himself.


In January 2023, he filed an initial application for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he was not a convicted felon at the time of his arrest for unlawful firearm possession. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) ordered the trial court to conduct a hearing to determine if Reeder had any other “convictions” besides the drug distribution conviction. He did not.


The CCA then decided to resolve the question of whether “serving deferred adjudication community supervision for a felony offense constitutes having been convicted of a felony pursuant to Texas Penal Code § 46.04.”


On June 26, 2024, the CCA held it does not.


After an analysis of the unlawful possession of the firearm statute, the definition of community supervision, and the definition of deferred adjudication community supervision, the CA found that, “The definition of deferred adjudication community supervision expressly states proceedings will be deferred without entering an adjudication of guilt. Therefore, it is clear from the plain and ordinary meaning of conviction, and deferred-adjudication community supervision, that being placed on deferred-adjudication community supervision does not constitute a felony conviction.”


To make its finding completely clear, the CCA added, “Our precedent, as well, supports the concept that being placed on deferred adjudication community supervision does not constitute a felony conviction. ‘[C]onviction, regardless of the context in which it is used, always involves an adjudication of guilt’… ‘”A defendant on deferred adjudication has not been found guilty [which] . . . is one of the signal benefits of deferred adjudication as opposed to, for instance regular community supervision [because] . . . there is no ‘finding or verdict of guilt.'”


The CCA also noted that the fact that the unlawful possession of a firearm statute is silent on deferred adjudication community supervision “is arguably one of the best reasons” to find that a deferred adjudication does not constitute a “conviction.”


The CCA then went on to politely spank all parties involved for this profound misunderstanding of long-established law. “The record here reflects that the State, the trial court, and the Applicant were laboring under a misapprehension of a crucial fact during the plea bargain. That fact was whether Applicant was convicted of a felony while in possession of a firearm at the time of his arrest. How could the Applicant have understood the facts in relation to the law if no one understood during the hearing? We find Applicant’s plea bargain was an uninformed choice far short of knowing or voluntary.”  


The law library in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice served Reeder well. The CCA set aside the unlawful firearm possession conviction, although it left intact the adjudication of guilt on the deferred adjudication requiring him to serve that five-year term of imprisonment.  


This case is an excellent lesson for defense lawyers to research the law and facts before advising clients to plead guilty.