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Brandon Barnett

Innocent DNA Transfer in Laundry

Innocent Transfer of DNA Through a Load of Laundry

By | DNA

What is Transfer DNA and Why is it Important in Criminal Cases?

Innocent DNA Transfer in LaundryWhen a person thinks of DNA evidence, they typically think of blood, semen, or some sort of bodily fluid left at a crime scene that indicates a suspect in a crime. However, this is no longer the case. With the advances in technology, DNA can be detected from just sitting near another person. In a study done by Australian forensic scientist Roland van Oorschot, he found that in 50% of volunteers who sat at a table and shared a jug of juice they ended up with another’s DNA on their hands. The volunteers never touched one another and some of the DNA found was from individuals who were not even at the table. They found that DNA was much easier to transfer than anyone had previously thought.  This means that at any given crime scene, there could be hundreds of DNA profiles. The DNA found by investigators could be from an innocent person or the suspect. This is concerning because, while there is a way to discover whose DNA it is, there is not a way to discern how it got there. Who’s to say they won’t find yours?

The DNA Phantom Case From Germany

That is exactly what happened in the case of the Phantom of Heilbronn. In Germany, DNA from one woman was found at crimes scenes ranging from murders to thefts. This woman’s DNA was connected to 40 crimes extending as far back as 1993 and covering the countries of Germany, Austria, and France. However, the DNA that was found did not belong to the perpetrator, it belonged to a woman who made the cotton swabs used to collect DNA samples from the crime scene. Even though the cotton swabs went through the proper sterilization process, they still contained traceable amounts of DNA. The Phantom of Heilbronn is an example of how easily DNA can be innocently transferred to a crime scene.

How DNA Can Be Transferred Through Laundry in Child Sexual Assault Cases

When it comes to child sexual abuse cases, researchers have found that DNA can be transferred innocently by the laundry even after clothes are supposed to be “clean.” A Canadian study discovered that when undergarments are washed with sheets containing bodily fluids, the undergarment too will have DNA on them. The DNA from the sheets transfers to the undergarments in the washer and the washer itself. This is problematic because a person’s DNA can end up on every household member’s clothing in one wash. This DNA can later be collected during an investigation, but investigators might make the wrong assumption as to how it got there.

To help distinguish between innocent DNA transfer from laundering and DNA that was left during a crime, the researchers studied the location of the DNA on the items of clothing. In the process of this experiment, the findings strongly suggest that bodily fluids that were transferred during laundering were absorbed deeper into the fabric. Swab samples that yield significant quantities of bodily fluids are indicative of the fluid being deposited directly on the clothing as opposed to transfer during laundering. DNA that is transferred during the laundering process is both found in a different location and lesser in quantity than DNA deposited through abuse.

What Does This Mean for the Future of DNA Analysis?

The findings from this research are important for the future of DNA evidence, especially in the case of child sexual abuse cases. This research shows that DNA does not immediately indicate sexual abuse. This research emphasizes that the mere presence of DNA on a child’s undergarments does not confirm abuse. Investigators should gather all available evidence before they come to a conclusion.

Oliva Overturned DWI 2nd Elements

Oliva v. State – Prior DWI is a Punishment-Only Issue for DWI (2nd)

By | Criminal Defense

Existence of a Single Prior Conviction for Misdemeanor DWI is a Punishment-Only Issue in a Case for DWI (Misdemeanor Repetition), says the CCA

Oliva Overturned DWI 2nd ElementsOliva v State (Tex. Crim. App. 2018)

It is well established in both Texas statutes and case law that the existence of two prior DWI misdemeanors will enhance the third DWI to a felony-level offense. See Texas Penal Code § 49.09(b); Ex Parte Benson, 459 S.W.3d 67, 75-76 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). A variable “three strikes and you’re out” type of statute, the law was enacted as a legislative response to deter potential repeat offenders from creating dangerous and preventable hazards on Texas roads. In this statutory enhancement scenario, the third strike becomes the offense itself, thus, the third DWI offense is an element of the felony. As a result, the defendant is punished according to the felony sentencing guidelines.

But what happens when the defendant only has one strike—one prior misdemeanor DWI on his record? Would it make any difference if that DWI happened nearly a decade prior, on an otherwise clean driving and criminal record? Recently, the Court of Criminal Appeals sought to determine the legal significance of companion statute TPC § 49.09(a), whereby the defendant had only one prior misdemeanor DWI offense. TPC § 49.09(a) states that the “existence of a single prior conviction elevates a second DWI offense from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor.” The CCA had to decide whether having one single prior DWI constituted an element of the crime or whether the one single prior DWI was only relevant in the punishment phase.

Law Enforcement Responds to Phone Call Reporting a Mysterious Person

Early in the morning in May of 2015, two Houston-area police officers responded to a call from dispatch about a suspicious person. Tex. R. App. P. 47.2(b), accessed 24 May 2018 via https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/fourteenth-court-of-appeals/2017/14-15-01078-cr.html. Sitting slumped over in a parked car was Jose Oliva, illegally parked with the engine on, in a lane of moving traffic. Concerned for Oliva’s health and safety, law enforcement attempted to alert Oliva, but he remained unresponsive. Police opened the car door and Oliva fell out onto the curb. Once Oliva woke up, law enforcement administered a field sobriety test; Oliva failed and was arrested. Blood testing later confirmed that Oliva had a blood alcohol level equivalent to having just ingested nine alcoholic drinks within the hour. Oliva was charged with DWI “by information” which mentioned a previous DWI on Oliva’s record.

What is an Information?

In Texas, a person may be charged via an indictment or via an instrument called an information. Article 21.20 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure defines an “information” as a written statement filed and presented in behalf of the State by the district attorney, charging the defendant with an offense. Oliva’s information described the May of 2015 DWI arrest and it mentioned a prior misdemeanor-level DWI offense on his record.

Oliva Heads to Court

During the trial, Oliva’s prior DWI was never mentioned, even though it was present on the information before trial. The jury convicted Oliva of DWI. Finding that he also had a prior DWI as alleged on the information, Oliva’s conviction was then increased, or enhanced, to DWI 2nd, which carried a sentence of 180 days confinement. Oliva appealed to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston.

On appeal, the appellate court held that under the statute’s plain language meaning, one singular prior DWI conviction is an element of the offense of Class A misdemeanor DWI under section 49.09(a)—much like the “three strikes and you’re out” felony-enhancement statute of 49.09(b). The appeals court reasoned that a fact that elevates the degree of an offense is necessarily an element of the offense and that § 49.09 lacked the “shall be punished” language present in other statutes containing punishment-only enhancements.

The State of Texas petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals to review this case once again, to determine whether the introduction of a defendant’s prior DWI is proper at the guilt-innocence phase of a criminal trial, or whether such a disclosure is only relevant under 49.09(b) during the punishment phase. Such distinction could have implications for bias, or taint, at trial, among other defense strategies. To recap, Texas Penal Code § 49.09(a) provides that the existence of a single prior conviction elevates a second DWI offense from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor.

The CCA Weighs In on Whether the Prior DWI is Actually an Element of DWI 2nd that Must Be Introduced to a Jury at Trial

Is the prior DWI conviction an element of the offense, or is the prior conviction a punishment-only issue? The Court of Criminal Appeals made a surprising conclusion, holding that the existence of a single prior conviction for misdemeanor DWI is a punishment-only issue. Broadly, the CCA reasoned that introducing the prior before the punishment phase

“would seem to benefit the State in most cases because it would enable the State to introduce evidence of the prior conviction at the guilt stage of trial instead of having to wait until the punishment stage.”

The CCA Analyzes the Statute

First, the CCA looked to the wording of the statute to find its “plain language” meaning. “In construing the meaning of, and interplay between, these statutes, we give effect to the plain meaning of the text, unless the text is ambiguous or the plain meaning leads to absurd results that the legislature could not have possibly intended.” Here, the CCA found that the plain language meaning was ambiguous and could lead the interpreter to conclude mixed, confusing results.

Second, the CCA took a closer look at how the statute was labeled in the Code to see if the legislature labeled the statute as guilt-innocence phase element. Unfortunately, this was not the case here, and the CCA had to look to grammatical construction. Texas case law has informed Texas courts, generally, that the Penal Code’s most obvious and common method of prescribing elements of an offense is prefacing incriminatory facts with the language, “A person commits an offense if ______.” Ex parte Benson, 459 S.W.3d 67, 85 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Unfortunately, the DWI statutes were not written with clarity as to preface incriminatory facts—the prior DWIs—with language specifying that “an offense is committed if____.”

Third, the CCA reasoned that it would have to deep dive into existing case law to assist with determining the meaning of the statute. Looking to Calton v. State, the CCA suggested that “a statute could unambiguously prescribe an element of an offense by setting forth a fact that would increase the degree of the offense; a punishment enhancement “does not change the offense, or the degree of the offense of conviction, as there can be no enhancement until a person is first convicted of an offense of a certain degree.” 176 S.W.3d 231, 233-34 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005).

Next, looking to Ex parte Benson, another DWI case, the CCA held that “a prior conviction that merely enhances the offense level would not be an element of the offense.” Benson, 459 S.W.3d at 74-75. In conclusion, the CCA held that although the statutory language is ambiguous, various factors suggest that the legislature intended that § 49.09(a) prescribe a punishment-only issue.

It is important to note that Justices Keasler and Yeary filed a dissenting opinion about the CCA’s holding. In the dissent, the Justices aver that the CCA should adhere to the language of the case law in Calton, regardless of the wording of a particular statutory provision, so long as the provision is not explicitly labeled a punishment issue. Even though this case law is not supported by authority, the dissent claims that the interests of swift justice “would be better served by the wholesale adoption of this language…[as] such adoption would simplify our analysis by creating an easy, bright-line rule.” Further, the dissent also states that Calton’s language is consistent with the use of the phrase “degree of offense” in connection with the word “convicted” in the statute that prescribes the requisites of a criminal judgment, Article 42.01, so that the prior DWI conviction should be introduced at the guilty-innocence phase of a criminal trial.

Which is More Important, Swift Justice or a Fair Trial?

In sum, this ruling is a win for those who have made a couple of DWI mistakes, but are not repeat, habitual offenders. For defense attorneys, knowing exactly when evidence of a prior DWI can be admitted on the record during a criminal trial is paramount to developing a successful legal strategy. Should evidence of a prior DWI be introduced too early, the judge or jury may become biased, or tainted, against the facts and evidence in the case before them. If the evidence is introduced at the punishment phase, for the purposes sentencing enhancements only, the defendant may have more solid footing to defend against the DWI charge before the court.

Video Footage Evidence Fowler

Is a Video of a Video Admissible in a Criminal Trial?

By | Evidence

Video Footage Evidence FowlerTechnology has dramatically changed the landscape of criminal law procedure, and ultimately criminal convictions, in Texas. Updated DNA testing exonerates the wrongly-accused, while incriminating the guilty. Traffic cameras are commonplace on Main Street, clocking speeding motorists who are subject to fines and penalties—and bad feelings. Recently in Arkansas, recordings from Amazon’s Echo artificial intelligence device have been used by prosecutors as evidence in a murder trial. As digital evidence evolves rapidly, so must the evidentiary rules supporting admissibility. In this late-breaking case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considers one man’s conviction for theft and burglary vis a vis the admissibility of “picture only” video footage.

State v. Fowler (Tex. Crim. App. 2018)

Fresh Tire Marks Lead to a Suspicious Dollar Store Receipt

Law enforcement was called to the scene of a burglary at a business in Royse City, Texas. Police discovered disarray; cut wires, mangled cables, and bolt cutters were seized as evidence, but no suspects were apprehended. One month later, police were called to investigate the same scene for another burglary. This time, ATV tracks led police to a nearby field where they found a receipt from the local Family Dollar store mere feet away from a stolen ATV. Even more curious were the items listed on the receipt, which included duct tape and utility knives. Police used the date, time stamp, and the address on the receipt to request video footage from inside the store. Employees at Family Dollar provided investigators with time and date-stamped footage that corresponded with the receipt found at the scene of the crime. Police recorded the incriminating footage on their body cameras, as recording from a VHS cassette proved time-consuming and clunky. Although the footage was non-audio “picture only,” it showed a suspect purchasing the items that were reflected on the receipt found at the crime scene. Further, the footage time and date stamps placed the individual inside of Family Dollar at a certain time, on a particular day.

Leveraging all of the information learned from the receipts, the fact that the ATV was stolen, and the video footage, law enforcement soon had a suspect—Jamel Fowler. Fowler was convicted of theft of property for stealing the ATV and was sentenced by a jury to two years imprisonment. Fowler appealed. On appeal, the court reversed the trial court’s conviction and sentencing, holding that “trial court committed reversible error by admitting an unauthenticated videotape exhibit into evidence.” The State of Texas appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals to determine whether prosecutors may prove authenticity of video footage without the testimony of someone who either witnessed what the video depicts or is familiar with the functioning of the recording device. In other words, is the video of a video at Family Dollar admissible as evidence against Fowler? In order to answer that question, the CCA looked to Texas Rule of Evidence 901.

Texas Rule of Evidence 901 and the Authenticity Requirement

Texas Rule of Evidence 901 governs the authentication requirement for the admissibility of evidence. Typically, to satisfy the requirement of authenticating evidence, the person offering the evidence must produce items or data sufficient to support a finding that the item or data is what the proponent claims it is.

“Authenticity may be established with evidence of distinctive characteristics and the like, which include [t]he appearance, contents, substance, internal patterns, or other distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances.”

TEX. R. EVID. 901(b)(4); see Druery v. State, 225 S.W.3d 491, 502 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). Conclusive proof of authenticity before allowing admission of disputed evidence is not required.

Applying Rule 901 to a “Picture Only” Video of a Video

May the proponent of a video sufficiently prove its authenticity without the testimony of someone who either witnessed what the video depicts or is familiar with the functioning of the recording device? The Court answers that, yes, it is possible, given the facts.

Here, the Court acknowledged the argument of the defense in the appeal: “The court of appeals’s point is well-taken—the State could have done more [to prove up the evidence presented]. However, even though the most common way to authenticate a video is through the testimony of a witness with personal knowledge who observed the scene, that is not the only way.”

The Court reasoned that video recordings without audio are treated as photographs and are properly authenticated when it can be proven that the images accurately represent the scene in question and are relevant to a disputed issue. Huffman v. State, 746 S.W.2d 212, 222 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988). The Court stated that (1) the officer’s in-person request of the manager of the Family Dollar store to pull the surveillance video on a certain date at a certain time; (2) that the distinctive characteristic that there is a date and time stamp on the videotape; and (3) the fact that the date and time on the videotape correspond to the date and time on the receipt that was found within three feet of the ATV; (4) the fact that the videotape pulled by the manager reveals Fowler at the store on that date at that time purchasing the items listed on the receipt that was found near the stolen ATV, were enough, together, to authenticate the video. The video was sufficiently authenticated to be admissible into evidence. The evidence strongly pointed to Fowler and, accordingly, his conviction was upheld.

Violation Protective Order Texas Wagner

What is “Threatening or Harassing” for a Protective Order Violation?

By | Domestic Violence

Violation Protective Order Texas WagnerFamily violence stories permeate the news, as domestic violence-related cases continue to fill both Texas criminal and family court dockets alike. The Texas Council On Family Violence reports that one in three Texans will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. (Texas Council On Family Violence, accessed 23 April 2018.) In 2016, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received over 17,000 outcries for help. A societal scourge that is found across all racial, socio-economic, financial, educational and religious stratifications, domestic violence continues to wreck families and ruin the lives of victims. What protections exist in Texas for victims? What behaviors rise to the level to trigger a protective order issued by the courts? What happens when a protective order is violated? In Wagner v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently considered whether numerous texts and emails can rise to the level of harassing behavior and violate a protective order.

Read the case here: Wagner v State (Tex. Crim. App 2018)

Domestic Violence Leads to a Protective Order for Victim

One month after separating from her abusive husband, LW was granted an Order of Protection from a district court. Based on the testimony presented, the district court found that not only had family violence occurred, it was likely to occur again in the foreseeable future. In her affidavit to the court, LW described an array of abusive behaviors including yelling and screaming, breaking objects around the house, destroying a car with a hammer, locking LW out of her own house, among other “strange and violent behavior.”

The Protective Order restricted her ex-spouse, Paul-Henri Wagner, from a laundry-list of communications and activities ranging from direct communication by phone to physical presence within 500 feet of LW’s residence. Specifically, Paul-Henri was prohibited from communication made to LW in a “threatening or harassing manner.” One week after the protective order was issued, Paul-Henri and LW sent text messages and email to each other, regarding financial and logistical obligations to their children. Eventually, LW told Paul-Henri to communicate via email only, asking him to “respect her wishes” by not sending her text messages. Shortly thereafter, Paul-Henri began sending emails professing his longing for reconciliation. LW told him to stop. Paul-Henri started sending text messages again—a dozen in fact. Soon the communication became a mix of texts and emails professing his undying love for LW. After a few days of the messages, LW told Paul-Henri to stop sending texts. Paul-Henri barraged LW with emails begging for reconciliation. Paul-Henri even went so far as to drag church members to contact LW for reconciliation.

Based on his incessant communications with LW, Paul-Henri was charged with a Class A misdemeanor Violation of a Protective Order for violating Texas Penal Code Section 25.07(a)(2), which provides (in relevant part:

(a) A person commits an offense if, in violation of a condition of bond set in a family violence case related to the safety of the victim, the person knowingly or intentionally:
(2) communicates:
(A) directly with a protected individual or a member of the family or household in a threatening or harassing manner;

Ultimately, a jury convicted Paul-Henri for violating the protective order, finding that he communicated with LW “in a harassing manner.”

Wagner Appeals the Violation of Protective Order Conviction | Void for Vagueness Argument

On direct appeal, Paul-Henri challenged the constitutionality of the Texas Penal Code, stating that §25.07(a)(2)(A) is overbroad and vague. The court of appeals rejected Paul-Henri’s argument, stating:

(1) that the term “harass” can be defined using a standard dictionary,
(2) that harassment is not protected speech under the First Amendment, and
(3) that the statute is not vague because Paul-Henri either knew or should have known that his repeated communications with LW would eventually pester her.

Paul-Henri then appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which granted his petition for discretionary review to determine the constitutionality of §25.07(a)(2)(A).

When do Communications Become “Harassing” Under the Law? | The Court of Criminal Appeals Weighs In

So when do multiple emails and texts become “harassment” in violation of a protective order language or the Penal Code (or do we even know)? The CCA held that the Penal Code was not unconstitutionally vague on this point and explained that:

“a person communicates in a harassing manner if the…method by which he communicates…would persistently disturb, bother continually, or pester another person…[Such behavior] necessarily requires multiple events of harassing communication…[and would be] troubling [to] someone with frequent…requests or interruptions.”

Here, Paul-Henri repeatedly contacted LW, even after she demanded that he stop. The court reasoned that the average person, with average intelligence, would conclude that his behavior was bothersome, and that he should have stopped. However, Paul-Henri did not stop his efforts to contact his victim. Furthermore, added the CCA, “the First Amendment does not prohibit a court from imposing reasonable restrictions on an abuser’s speech for the protection of his victim.” For those who have protective orders restricting communication, yes, multiple texts and emails may rise to the level of “harassing” behavior in Texas. Those who have been served protective orders need to understand the restrictions placed upon them in their orders and abide accordingly.

Family and intimate partner violence follows escalating patterns of behavior that are predictable and preventable. Understanding the facts about domestic violence is the first step in supporting victims in their safety planning and in holding abusers accountable for their actions.

Additonal Notice for Suppression Hearing

No Additional Notice Required for Suppression Hearing on Trial Date

By | Trial Advocacy

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Determines That There Needs to be No Additional Notice Provided to the State When Holding a Suppression Hearing On the Day of a Trial

Additonal Notice for Suppression HearingThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down a decision affirming a trial court judge’s decision to hold a suppression hearing on the day the trial was set, but before voir dire or any trial proceedings occurred. State v. Velasquez, 2018 Tex. Crim. App. LEXIS 52. After a prior motion for continuance by the State was granted, the defense submitted 16 pretrial motions, including a motion to suppress evidence. On the day of the trial, both sides announced ready, and the judge chose to hold the suppression hearing before jury selection. The State objected because they were not provided with proper notice of the hearing (and because their witnesses were not present to testify for the motions hearing before jury selection), but the objection was overruled and the judge ruled in favor of the defendant. The Fourth Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision, but that was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals, affirming the trial court ruling on the motion.

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 28.01

The State based its appeal on Article 28.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This statute enables the judge to schedule pretrial hearings (Section 1), requires notice of these hearings to be provided to the defense (Section 2), and gives the required means of providing notice (Section 3). The State claimed that it was not provided adequate notice of the pretrial suppression hearing under this statute, and therefore, should have been given an opportunity to delay the hearing and trial.

Section 1

Article 28.01(1) allows for the court to set a pretrial hearing before it is set for a trial upon the merits. The Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that this creates two separate settings and that the court must provide adequate notice for any new and separate hearing. Included in this list of settings is a suppression hearing in Section 1(6). The court also acknowledges that many suppression hearings are done as a part of trial, and that parties should be capable of arguing for or against suppression at the time of the trial. In this case, the State was not prepared for the suppression hearing and refused to argue, forcing the court to rule in favor of the defendant.

Section 2

Article 28.01(2) requires the court to provide notice of at least 10 days to the defendant in order to allow the defendant enough time to respond and raise any additional preliminary matters. The State argues that it is entitled to notice, however, the Court points out that the statute only provides for notice given to the defendant. The Court decided that the State has no right to additional notice for a pretrial motion that will be handled on the day of the trial, so long as notice of the trial day setting was given to the State.

Section 3

Article 28.01(3) establishes the acceptable methods for providing notice to the defendant. Notice can be given through an announcement in open court in front of the defendant and his/her attorney, personal service to defendant, or by mail.

Court of Criminal Appeals’ Conclusion

Ultimately, the CCA held that it was appropriate for the trial court to hold a suppression hearing on the same day as trial, despite not giving additional notice to the State. The notice of the trial setting was sufficient to make the State aware of the possibility of a suppression hearing, and the State should have been ready for that hearing. The court sees a distinction between a pretrial setting and handling a matter just before the trial begins. Because suppression hearings are often held in conjunction with trials, this action was proper. Article 28.01 does not apply in this instance because there was no new, separate setting, and the party complaining about notice was the State. The Court understands that there could be improvements to the notice requirements, but as a member of the judicial branch, they are not empowered to make those changes.

Bus Driver Consent Search Wise 2017

Can a Bus Driver Give Consent to Search the Passenger Compartment?

By | Search & Seizure

The Case of the Not Too “Wise” Bus Passenger

United States v. Wise, 877 F.3d 209 (5th Cir. TX 2017)

Bus Driver Consent Search Wise 2017FACTS: In this case, police officers were conducting bus interdictions at a Greyhound bus stop. After a certain bus stopped, the driver got off the bus and the officers approached him requesting consent to search the passenger cabin of the bus. The bus driver consented to a search and two experienced narcotics officers in plain clothes boarded the bus. The officers did not block the exit or otherwise obstruct any of the passengers from departing the bus. One officer walked to the back of the bus while the other officer remained at the front.

The officer at the front of the bus noticed a man who was pretending to be asleep. The officer found this suspicious, because in his experience, criminals on buses often pretended to be asleep to avoid police contact. The officer walked past the “sleeping” man and turned around. The sleeping man (named Morris Wise) then turned to look back at officer, revealing that he was not asleep after all. The officer then approached Wise (now awake) and asked to see his bus ticket. Wise gave the officer a bus ticket, bearing the name “James Smith.” The officer had a hunch that James Smith was a fake name. The officer then asked Wise if he had any luggage with him on the bus. Wise said yes and motioned to the luggage rack directly above his head.

Wise then gave the officers consent to search the duffle bag in the overhead compartment. The officers did not find any contraband in the duffle bag. The officers also noticed a backpack near Wise and asked if the backpack belonged to him. Wise denied ownership of the backpack. The officers then asked the other passengers about the backpack and no one claimed it, so the officers removed the backpack at the bus driver’s request.

Outside the bus, a trained police canine alerted to the backpack. The officers then cut a small lock off the backpack, searched it, and found seven brick-type packages that appeared to contain cocaine.

The officers then went back onto the bus and asked Wise if he would mind getting off the bus to speak to the officers. Wise complied with the officers’ request and got off the bus. The officers asked Wise if he had any weapons, which he denied that he had any weapons, and then they asked him to empty his pockets.

From his pockets, Wise gave the officers his ID card with bearing the name “Morris Wise” and a lanyard with several keys attached to it. Not surprisingly, one of the key opened the lock that the officers had to cut off of the backpack (that Wise said was not his). The officer then arrested Wise, and the government charged him with several drug-related offenses.

Motion to Suppress the Search as the Fruits on an Illegal “Checkpoint Stop”

Wise filed a motion to suppress the evidence as a violation of his 4th amendment right against unreasonable searched and seizures. The district court held that the officers’ conduct in searching the bus constituted an unconstitutional checkpoint stop. In addition, the district court held that the bus driver did not voluntarily consent to the officers’ search of the luggage compartment where the backpack was located. As a result, the district court suppressed all evidence the officers seized after the stop.

The government appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

First, the court held that the district court incorrectly characterized the officers’ bus interdiction as an unconstitutional checkpoint. The court noted that the Supreme Court’s cases involving checkpoints involve roadblocks or other types of conduct where the government initiates a stop to interact with motorists. In this case, the officers did not require the bus driver to stop at the station. Instead, the driver made the scheduled stop as required by his employer, Greyhound. In addition, the officers only approached the driver after he had disembarked from the bus, and the driver voluntarily agreed to speak with them. The court concluded that the interaction between the officers and the driver was better characterized as a “bus interdiction.”

Second, although Wise had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his luggage, the court held that as a passenger, Wise did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the luggage compartment of the commercial bus. As a result, the court concluded that Wise had no standing to challenge the officers’ search of that compartment, to which the bus driver consented.

Third, the court held that the officers did not seize Wise, within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, when they approached him, asked to see his identification, and requested his consent to search his luggage. Instead, the court concluded that Wise’s interaction with the officers was a consensual encounter because a reasonable person in Wise’s position would have felt free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter.

Finally, the court held that Wise voluntarily answered the officer’s questions, voluntarily emptied his pockets, and voluntarily gave the officer his identification and keys.

Can Police Stop You for Driving on the Improved Shoulder of the Road?

By | Drug Crimes

State v. Cortez (Tex. Crim. App. 2018)

Jose Cortez was stopped because a Texas State Trooper allegedly observed him driving on an “improved shoulder” in violation of Texas Transportation Code § 545.058. The officer testified that Cortez touched the white “fog” line of the road and crossed it twice. During the ensuing stop, the trooper searched Cortez’s vehicle and found drugs. Cortez moved to suppress the stop (and the search) arguing that the officer lacked probable cause to initiate the stop.

What is Driving on the Improved Shoulder?

The Texas Transportation Code also defines “improved shoulder” as a “paved shoulder” with the “shoulder” being the “portion of the highway that is:

  •  adjacent to the roadway;
  • designed or ordinarily used for parking;
  • distinguished from the roadway by different design, construction, or marking; and
  • not intended for normal vehicular travel.”

The Texas Transportation Code §545.058 prohibits drivers from driving on the shoulder unless it is necessary and done safely, “but only:

  1. to stop, stand, or park;
  2. to accelerate before entering the main traveled lane of traffic;
  3. to decelerate before making a right turn;
  4. to pass another vehicle that is slowing or stopped on the main traveled portion of the highway, disabled, or preparing to make a left turn;
  5. to allow another vehicle traveling faster to pass;
  6. as permitted or required by an official traffic-control device; or
  7. to avoid a collision.”

Court Suppressed the Traffic Stop Because Driving on the Shoulder Did Not Violate Any Laws

In this case, the trial court determined, after careful review of dashcam footage and officer testimony, that Cortez did not appear to touch the fog line, and that even if he did, that was not a violation of the law. The courts also reasoned that if Cortez did cross the line, he was doing so to let the officer pass and to exit the highway, both reasons justified by the statute. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the stop. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

What Does This Mean for Texas Drivers?

First, it is not illegal to touch the white line of the shoulder under Texas Transportation Code § 545.058. If you are pulled over for this, the courts have determined this is not a violation of the law and does not provide a reasonable basis for an officer to pull you over and search your vehicle.

Second, if you do cross the white line, that is not necessarily a violation. If one of the acceptable reasons above is present, then it is permissible to cross the shoulder line and the police will not have a reasonable basis for stopping you and should not stop you or search your vehicle.

Overall, you should pay close attention when you are driving. But the courts have acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to drive in a perfectly straight line. The police do not automatically have a reasonable basis to stop you if you cross the white line, and they have NO basis for stopping you if you merely touch it. However, as we have always said, if you are stopped, be polite, be courteous, and do not consent to any searches.

NOTE: Presiding Judge Keller dissented in this case and would hold that driving on the white fog line does constitute driving on the improved shoulder in violation of the transportation code.

Drone Laws TX Drone Registration

Rules for Drones | Drone Registration and Penalties for Failure

By | Criminal Defense

Drone Laws TX Drone RegistrationDrones or Quadcopters were a popular Christmas gift this year. While many new drone owners are probably preoccupied with learning to fly without getting the propellers stuck in trees or crashing them over their neighbor’s fence, they need to take a moment to learn about the federal registration rules for unmanned aircraft.

*Federal drone registration had been struck down by an appeals court in May of 2017, but the National Defense Authorization Act that was passed in December 2017 reinstated drone registration.

Do I Have to Register My Drone?

Maybe. Any unmanned aircraft system (“drone”) that weighs more than .55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. Depending on the size of the drone, it can be registered under:

  • Part 107, Small UAS Rule,
  • Section 336, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, or
  • 14 CFR Part 47, the Traditional Aircraft Registration

Registration Under The Special Rule for Model Aircraft

Most people register their drone under this provision. The Special Rule for Model Aircraft allows for registration of a drone between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs for recreational use only. Under this registration:

  • A person is allowed to fly their drone within their line of sight,
  • A person is required to follow the community-based and nationwide guidelines,
  • A person is not allowed to fly their drone over an airport or to interfere with emergency response units, and
  • A person must notify an airport when they are flying within five miles of an airport.

In order to register under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, you must:

  • Register as a “modeler” with the FAA,
  • Be at least 13 years’ old,
  • Be a legal United States citizen or legal permanent resident, and
  • Label your drone with the registration number in case it is lost or stolen.

This registration, which can be completed online costs $5 and lasts for 3 years.

Registration of Drones Between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs Under the Smalls UAs Rule

The Small UAS Rule allows for registration of a drone between 0.55lbs and 55lbs for recreational and commercial use. Registration is REQUIRED by the FAA. Under the Small UAs Rule a person may:

  • Fly their drone at or below 400 feet (Class “G” airspace)
  • Fly during daylight or civil twilight
  • Fly at or below 100 miles per hour.

With a drone registered under Part 107, the pilot:

  • Must yield to manned aircraft
  • Cannot fly directly over people,
  • Cannot fly from a moving vehicle unless you are in a sparsely populated area.

In order to obtain your registration under the Small UAs Rule, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old,
  • Have a valid credit card, email address, and physical/mailing address,
  • Pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center,
  • Undergo a Transportation Safety Administration security screening, and
  • Denote the make and model of your aircraft when applying for registration.

The Small UAS Rule registration, which can be completed online costs $5 and lasts for 3 years.

Traditional Aircraft Registration for Drones Greater Than 55 Lbs

Traditional Aircraft Registration must be completed for any unmanned aircraft weighing over 55 pounds. The paperwork for drones greater than 55 pounds can be found on the FAA website and must be turned in via regular mail. Drones over 55 lbs will require an N-number that you have to submit to the FAA. The FAA website lays out the necessary information for an application.

This registration costs $5 and lasts for 3 years.

What is the Penalty for Flying a Drone Without Registering it?

Failure to register an unmanned aircraft can result in regulatory penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years. Penalties are determined on a case by case basis and will vary based on the judge.

The FAA provides on its website:

“There is no one-size-fits-all enforcement action for violations. All aspects of a violation will be considered, along with mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the violation. In general, the FAA will attempt to educate operators who fail to comply with registration requirements. However, fines will remain an option when egregious circumstances are present.”

Do you have to register your drone if you only fly over your own property?

Even if flying over your own property, the FAA still requires registration of your drone. The penalties for failure to register an unmanned aircraft will apply even if the drone does not leave your property.

What Other Drone Rules Should I Be Aware of?

Every registration allows for different flight regulations, so pay close attention to what you register for and what that particular registration allows you to do. The FAA has developed an app called “B4UFLY” which gives you important information about your location and the flight restrictions in that area. This app is recommended by the FAA to help avoid violations of the registration limitations. For any additional questions/concerns, visit the FAA website.

DWI No Refusal Christmas Fort Worth

Twas the Night Before No Refusal Weekend in Tarrant County

By | DWI

Tarrant County No Refusal Period for the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays

Tarrant County typically implements a No Refusal period during major holidays.  Being in the Christmas spirit, we thought that our No Refusal warning would be better if it rhymed.  Enjoy our Christmas No Refusal poem.

DWI No Refusal Christmas Fort Worth

Twas the night before Christmas, the police are all out,
Searching for drunk drivers that might be about.
They’ll be near the parties at restaurants and taverns.
They’ll pull your car over for bizarre driving patterns.
They’ll give the field test, “walk the line, heel to toe,”
And if you misstep, to the pokey you’ll go.
They’ll ask you to blow in the breath test device,
To see how much eggnog you’ve had on this night.
And if you refuse, to a magistrate they’ll dash,
To get a search warrant as quick as a flash.
So take an Uber this Christmas, a lesser price you’ll pay.
Don’t drink and drive on this No Refusal Holiday.

False Report Child Abuse Texas

Penalties for Falsely Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect in Texas

By | Child Abuse

False Report Child Abuse TexasUnder Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code, persons are required to report if they have cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare is being or has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect. The report is to happen immediately (or within 48 hours if the reporting person is a professional). The law further grants “immunity” to the person who reports or assists in the investigation if that person had “good faith” when they made the report.

What is a “Good Faith” Report of Child Abuse or Neglect?

Put simply, a “good faith” report is an honest and sincere report. The law wants to encourage folks to report so that the State can investigate and ensure that children are not being abused or neglected. However, falsely (or without good faith) reporting child abuse to CPS or other agencies is not to be used as an act of retaliation or aggression toward others. A false report damages the child’s welfare in itself because the child will be subjected to an investigation where none should have been pursued. Unfortunately, we have seen this occur in the context of highly contested family law cases and in some criminal cases as well. More recently, there were allegations of a false report made to smear a political opponent.

What are the Legal Penalties for Falsely Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect in Texas?

Section 261.107 provides the civil and criminal penalties associated with falsely reporting child abuse in Texas. This section provides that “a person commits an offense if, with the intent to deceive, the person knowingly makes a report…that is false.”

Criminal Penalty for False Report

Knowingly making a false report of child abuse or neglect in Texas is a State Jail Felony offense. The punishment range for this offense is 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail Facility and a fine up to $10,000. Further, if a person has been previously convicted of this same offense, a second offense is a Third Degree Felony which subjects the person to a prison term of 2 years up to 10 years.

Attorney’s Fees Reimbursement for the False Report

As a monetary penalty in connection with the criminal case, the court shall order any person that is convicted of making a false report to pay the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the person against whom the report was originally made.

Civil Penalty for False Report

The Family Code further provides that any person who engages in false reporting is liable to the State of Texas to pay a civil penalty of $1,000. The Texas Attorney General is responsible for bringing the action to recover the civil penalty.

What Do I Do if Someone Has Made a False Report to CPS About Me?

First of all, contact an attorney. Depending on the posture of the investigation, you may need representation and advice to help get through the allegations, even if they are false. If, however, CPS has already ruled out the allegations and no criminal action has been pursue, you should first gather your evidence. We have been with people at the police station when they made reports that they had been targeted by false CPS allegations. It is our experience that the police agency will want you to bring proof that the report was false or made in bad faith. Simply because CPS closed out the investigation and determined that there was “No Reason to Believe” that the allegations were true does not necessarily mean that the reporting individual acted in bad faith. Collect your text messages, social media messages, witness statements, and other evidence before you go to the police station to claim that you were the victim of a knowing false report. Because the State wishes to encourage reporting, it is reluctant to punish a person who reports unless there is clear cut evidence that the report was made in bad faith.  Again, it is best to contact an attorney to help you through this.