Terry Stop Officer Pat Down Search

“Acting Suspicious” is Not Enough to Justify a Pat Down Search

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Does an Officer’s Testimony That a Person was “Acting Suspicious” Establish Reasonable Suspicion to Support a Terry Stop?

Terry Stop Officer Pat Down SearchThe Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently handed down an opinion concerning the reasonable suspicion standard required for law enforcement officers to conduct a Terry stop—an exception to the warrant requirement. The issue facing the Court was whether merely “acting suspicious” is enough to establish reasonable suspicion to justify a law enforcement officer to initiate a Terry stop.

United States v. Monsivais, 848 F.3d 353 (5th Cir. 2017)

The Facts — District Court Found the Terry Stop to be Lawful Based On the Defendant’s Demeanor, Remarks, and for Officer-safety Reasons

While on patrol in a marked police car, two officers observed Monsivais walking down the side of the I-20 interstate away from an apparently disabled truck. The officers stopped in front of Monsivais and activated the car’s emergency lights in order to ask Monsivais if he needed roadside assistance. As Monsivais approached, he ignored the officers and walked past their patrol car. At this point, the officers exited their vehicle, and asked Monsivais where he was going and if he needed any help. Monsivais told the officers he was heading to Fort Worth (even though his vehicle was pointed towards Abilene). During questioning, Monsivais appeared nervous and repeatedly placed his hands in his pockets; however upon the officer’s request, Monsivais removed his hands. Additionally, Monsivais responded politely to all of the officers’ questions. After approximately four minutes, one of the officers advised Monsivais that he was going to pat Monsivais down for weapons because of his behavior, inconsistent statements and for officer safety reasons. Shortly thereafter, Monsivais told the officer that he had a firearm in his waistband. The officer seized the firearm and Monsivais was later charged with possession of a firearm while being unlawfully present in the United States.

Monsivais filed a motion to suppress the firearm and other evidence, arguing that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment because he did not have reasonable suspicion to believe Monsivais was involved in criminal activity when he detained him. The district court denied Monsivais’ motion to suppress, holding only that the “consensual encounter was transformed into a lawful Terry frisk due to the Defendant’s demeanor, remarks, and for officer-safety reasons.”

The Court of Appeals Reversed the District Court’s Decision—Holding the Officers Lacked a Basis to Reasonably Suspect Monsivais of a Criminal Act

The Court first determined that the officer seized Monsivais for Fourth Amendment purposes when he told Monsivais that he was going to pat him down. At this point, the officer converted the roadside assistance “welfare check” into an investigative detention—otherwise known as a Terry stop.

“The Fourth Amendment generally requires officers to obtain a warrant before searching or seizing an individual.” However, pursuant to a narrow exception announced in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 (1968), police officers may briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if under the totality of relevant circumstance they can point to “specific and articulable facts” that give rise to reasonable suspicion that a particular person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. United States v. Hill, 752 F.3d 1029, 1033 (5th Cir. 2014).

Here, the Court found that while Monsivais’ behavior might not have been typical of all stranded motorists, the officers could not point to any specific and articulable facts that Monsivais had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime before seizing him.

The court explained that Monsivais’ nervous demeanor alone was insufficient to create reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to justify a Terry stop. In fact, the Court gives little or no weight to an officer’s statement that a suspect appeared nervous. United States v. Portillo–Aguirre, 311 F.3d 647, 656 (5th Cir. 2002). Moreover, the Court held that evidence of Monsivais placing his hands in his pocket is of little significance. The Court noted that any number of people walking down the street might have their hands in their pockets. Additionally, the Court determined there were no inconsistencies in Monsivais’ story; and, even if there were, the inconsistencies would not connect Monsivais with any reasonably suspected unlawful conduct. Moreover, Monsivais’ choice to ignore the officers’ presence by merely walking past them, not fleeing, did not give rise to criminal activity.

In conclusion, the officer testified that he never suspected Monsivais was involved in any criminal activity, but rather that Monsivais was just acting “suspicious.” As such, the court found that the officer seized Monsivais without reasonable suspicion and that the evidence obtained from the unlawful seizure should have been suppressed.

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest Texas

May a Person Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

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Resisting Arrest: How is it defined under Texas law?

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest TexasIn general, resisting arrest occurs when a person attempts to interfere with a peace officer’s duties. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code defines resisting arrest as: a person who intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from:

  • Effectuating an arrest;
  • Carrying out a search; or
  • Transporting a person accused of a crime.

Resisting arrest requires the person to have used force against the arrest, but it does not require the officer to be acting lawfully in making the arrest. To be guilty of resisting arrest, the force need not only be directed at or toward the officer but is also met with any force exerted in opposition to, but away from the officer, such as a simple pulling away. Thus, even small uses of force can give rise to a charge of resisting arrest. However, non-threatening statements of disagreement with the officer’s actions usually are not enough to qualify as resisting arrest.

Some examples of resisting arrest include:

  • Preventing a cop from handcuffing you;
  • Struggling against an officer who is trying to arrest you; and
  • Engaging in violent action against the officer, like punching, kicking or inflicting harm with a weapon

Can You Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

One of the most important cases on this point is Ford v. State, 538 S.W.2d 633 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976).

What Ford provides, in short, is that you may not resist an arrest—whether lawful or unlawful. Historically, American citizens were legally entitled to use reasonable force to resist an unlawful arrest. Several states have now eliminated – either by statute or by judicial decision – the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code eliminated this right. Furthermore, subsection (b) of Section 38.03 specifically states it is no defense to prosecution that the arrest or search was unlawful.

In Ford, the Court held “the elimination of the common law right to resist arrest reflects a growing realization that the use of self-help to prevent an unlawful arrest presents too great a threat to the safety of individuals and society to be sanctioned.” The Court reasoned that the line between an illegal and legal arrest is too fine to be determined in a street confrontation; it is a question to be decided by the courts. Furthermore, the Court has concluded that by limiting the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest, the Legislature has not limited the remedies available to the person arrested, and thus, there is not a violation of the person’s constitutional rights.

Potential Consequences

Regardless of whether a person is guilty of the underlying charge that prompted the attempted apprehension, resisting arrest is a serious charge in Texas (many time more serious than the underlying offense). A person can face a significant fine and jail time.

Typically, resisting arrest, search, or transportation is prosecuted as a Class A Misdemeanor. An individual convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor may be sentenced to up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.

However, the charge may be enhanced to a felony of the 3rd degree if you use a deadly weapon, such as a gun or a knife, to resist the arrest or search. An individual convicted of a felony of the 3rd degree may be sentenced to 2-10 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a fine up to $10,000.

Our advice is to comply with the officer’s demands calmly and politely and let us work out the legality of the arrest later.

Passout Blackout Alcohol Memory Sexual Assault Attorney

Passout vs. Blackout: How Alcohol Can Affect Memory (Voice for Defense Article)

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Alcohol and Memory: An Interview with Texas Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Kelly Goodness, Ph.D

Passout Blackout Alcohol Memory Sexual AssaultAs you can probably imagine, many criminal cases involve events that occur when people are intoxicated. This can be especially true for cases involving allegations of sexual offenses. In these alcohol-fueled situations, the issue of memory can play a large part in the case. When we encounter intoxication and memory issues in sexual assault cases, we often employ the assistance of a forensic psychologist to serve as either an expert consultant or expert witness.  One of the best in her field is Dr. Kelly Goodness of Keller, Texas. Dr. Goodness is an expert in alcohol and the brain, including the difference between “pass out” and “blackout” evidence.  She is one of the most highly employed experts for alcohol-related sexual assault cases involving members of the U.S. Military. What follows is an interview that we conducted with Dr. Goodness regarding how alcohol can impact a person’s memory and how it can apply to the sexual assault context.
______________________

Q: Dr. Goodness, How is Alcohol Related to Memory?

A: Alcohol is a potent amnestic agent. Beginning with just one or two drinks, alcohol can produce detectable memory impairments. As the dose increases, so does the potential magnitude of the memory impairments, all the way up to the total inability to recall events during a drinking episode, otherwise known as a blackout.

Read the full article from the Voice for the Defense HERE.

Denton County Pretrial Diversion PTD

Denton County Pre-Trial Diversion Program (PTD)

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Pre-Trial Diversion (PTD) Denton County, Texas.  A Second Chance for First-time Offenders.

Denton County Pretrial Diversion PTDWhen someone is charged with a criminal offense and is experiencing their first encounter with the criminal justice system, the process can be daunting. A first-time offender typically has two primary concerns: 1) Will I go to jail? and 2) Can I keep this offense from going on my record?

While there may be options available to keep a conviction off of a person’s record, the goal for most first-time (and one-time) offenders is to land in a situation making it possible to erase all records related to the arrest from existence. Under State law (Texas Government Code 76.011), counties are allowed to establish pre-trial diversion programs. Upon successful completion, these programs allow for certain first-time offenses to be discharged and ultimately expunged from an individual’s record.

Thankfully many counties across the State take into consideration the fact that a person has no prior history and may have just made a one-time mistake. Denton County, Texas is no different. First-time offenders that have been arrested for certain non-violent offenses may be eligible for a pre-trial diversion program in Denton County.

Eligibility for Pre-Trial Diversion in Denton Texas

To be eligible for a pretrial diversion program in Denton County, Texas an individual’s case must meet the following criteria:

  • The individual must be employed or enrolled in an accredited school
  • The individual charged must admit to guilt of the offense and accept responsibility
  • The individual must have had no prior arrests
  • The individual must report monthly to a probation officer
  • The individual cannot commit any new offenses and must abstain from the use of illegal drugs and alcohol

Also, ultimate discretion to allow a person to participate in a pre-trial
diversion program rests solely with the District Attorney. The District Attorney must approve of each applicant even if all criteria are met.

How Pre-Trial Diversion in Denton County, Texas Operates

Individuals participating in the pre-trial diversion program in Denton County are supervised by the Denton County Community Supervision Department (DCCSD). Individuals must pay a monthly supervision fee. DCCSD can and will tailor each program to each particular individual. A person may be required to participate in additional classes, community service or other rehabilitative programs as a result of his or her participation in the program. In addition, if any restitution has been assessed in favor of the victim in a case, repayment of that restitution could be made a condition of the program as well.  Typically, PTD lasts 12 months, but in some cases, it can be extended to 18 months.

Exceptions for Admission into the Denton County PTD Program

Because the District Attorney has ultimate discretion on allowing a person into the pre-trial diversion program, even a person who does not meet the minimum requirements may be allowed to enter into a pre-trial diversion.

The Final Result of Successfully Completing a Pre-Trial Diversion in Denton County, Texas

Upon successful completion of the Denton County Pre-Trial Diversion program, the District Attorney files a Motion to Dismiss the case and the case becomes eligible for an expunction.

FORT WORTH

Primary Location
209 W. 8th St
Fort Worth, TX 76102
817.993.9249

KELLER

*By Appointment Only
204 S. Main St #195
Keller, Texas 76248
817.482.6770

Marijuana Laws in Texas

Not Up in Smoke Yet: Marijuana Laws in Texas 2017

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Marijuana Laws in TexasYou have seen it on the news…yet another state has legalized marijuana. It seems as if weed is everywhere, surely Texas has jumped on the bandwagon and legalized it too! Our firm receives calls from people all the time who all say the same thing; they thought marijuana was legal now. Not in Texas.

Current Marijuana Laws in Texas

Despite having been legalized in other states, possessing even a small amount of marijuana is a crime in Texas. The Texas Health and Safety Code says it is illegal for a person to knowingly or intentionally possess a usable quantity of marijuana. How much marijuana a person has in their possession will affect the level of severity of the offense.

  • Up to 2 0z– Class B Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine
  • 2oz to 4oz– Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $4,000 fine
  • 4oz to 5lbsState Jail Felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 5lbs to 50lbs– 3rd Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 50lbs to 2000lbs– 2nd Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • More than 2000lbs– 1st Degree Felony, punishable by 2 to 99 years in jail and up to a $50,000 fine

Proposed Texas Laws Relating to Marijuana

Texas could be a state to watch in 2017 for Marijuana law reform. Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez has introduced Senate Joint Resolution 18, which would legalize cannabis for medicinal use, and Senate Joint Resolution 17, which would allow Texans to vote on legalization of marijuana in November 2018.

There are also three different proposed bills that would lessen punishment for possession of a small amount of marijuana under one ounce. Two propose a fine only, with a third taking the offense from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor (also fine only).

Medical Marijuana in Texas

The Texas Compassionate Use Act was signed by Governor Greg Abbot in 2015. The Act allows for individuals with intractable epilepsy to have access to CBD oil, a low THC cannabis oil. The bill prohibits smoking marijuana. Critics of the law say it is unworkable, as it requires a doctor to “prescribe” marijuana rather than recommend it as they do in other states where medical marijuana is legal. Under current federal law, a doctor “prescribing” marijuana could be open to sanctions, while one recommending the use is not. Another issue is that the ratio of THC to CBD that is allowed under the law is not potent enough to help some patients. There is potential for changes to be made to the Act during this legislative session, with proponents of the Act looking to broaden the scope and make access easier for patients.

THC Oil in Texas (Wax, Dabs, Marijuana Concentrate)

Possessing THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oil in Texas is considered a more serious crime than simply possessing marijuana. Over the last few years, vaping THC oil, which is a concentrated version of the mind-altering component of marijuana, has become popular. Under Texas law, THC oil or wax is considered a concentrate and possessing it is a felony criminal offense.

  • Less than 1 Gram– State Jail Felony
  • 1 Gram to 4 Grams– Third Degree Felony
  • 4 to 400 Grams– Second Degree Felony
  • 400 grams or more – First Degree Felony

The law considers THC oil and wax to be in a different penalty group that marijuana, due to the higher level of THC, and consequences are much harsher. So while a typical small amount of marijuana could be punishable as a misdemeanor, even a very small amount of THC oil can be punishable as a felony.

Edible THC in Texas

The use of THC oil in edibles can be very serious. When weighing the amount of a controlled substance, the Texas Health and Safety Code includes all adulterants and dilutants in the total weight. Popular THC laced edibles like gummy candy and brownies will be weighed in their entirety, and can result in very serious felony charges.

CBD Oil in Texas

Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is made from cannabis, but is non-psychoactive. Proponents claim it can have many health benefits. CBD oil that is made from industrial hemp is legal in Texas.

Synthetic Marijuana in Texas

K2, or Spice, is a synthetic form of marijuana that is created by spraying natural herbs with chemicals meant to mimic the effects of marijuana. Synthetic Marijuana is illegal in Texas, and carries the same punishment as marijuana.

Selective Prosecution for Marijuana Offenses in Texas

The District Attorney in Harris County (Houston) has decided not to prosecute low-level possession of marijuana cases. So far, that is the only county with such a policy. Other counties have diversion programs for first-time or low level offenders. You should check with a knowledgable attorney in your local area to learn more about the diversion programs available.

In Tarrant County, depending on the circumstances of the case, a marijuana offender may qualify for the Deferred Prosecution Program (DPP) or the First Offender Drug Program (FODP). Again, you should check with an attorney to determine whether you might be eligible to participate in either program.

Conclusion

Regardless of whether you disagree with what the law should be in regard to marijuana in Texas, it is currently illegal to use or possess. If you are arrested for possession of marijuana, you may qualify for a diversion program that will ultimately allow you to get your record fully expunged. Contact one of our attorneys today if you have pending marijuana charges in Tarrant County. We will be happy to discuss your options and defend your case.

Time Requirements for Juvenile Certification Texas

On the Clock: Time Limits to Try a Juvenile as an Adult

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Time Requirements on the State’s Power to Certify a Juvenile as an Adult

Time Requirements for Juvenile Certification TexasTexas Family Code Section 54.02 gives the juvenile court the power to transfer its exclusive jurisdiction over a juvenile case to a district court. This transfer of jurisdiction allows the State to treat a juvenile as an adult for purposes of prosecution. Section 54.02 actually lays out two different processes for transferring juvenile cases to adult court. The first process is used in cases where the juvenile is under the age of 18 at the time of certification. The second, which is laid out in Section 54.02(j), is for those cases in which a person has turned 18 prior to the filing of the case in juvenile court. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld the time requirements placed on the power of the State to pursue post-18 certifications in Moore v. State (Case Opinion – 2017).

Section 54.02(j)’s Time Limits

Section 54.02(j) allows a juvenile court to transfer its jurisdiction to an appropriate district court for criminal proceedings if the person accused is 18 years of age or older at the time the petition is filed but was a juvenile at the time the offense was committed. During the transfer hearing, the State must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that “for a reason beyond the control of the State, it was not practicable to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the person or after due diligence of the State, it was not practicable to proceed in juvenile court before the 18th birthday of the person because the State did not have probable cause to proceed in juvenile court and new evidence has been found since the 18th birthday of the person or the person could not be found.”

This section of the Family Code imposes on the prosecutors a duty to pursue cases in juvenile court whenever possible. In order to retain the power to prosecute cases after a person has aged out of the juvenile system, the State must show that the delay in prosecution was beyond its control. If it is unable to prove this, then the only choice available for a juvenile court in these situations is to dismiss the case.

The Issue in Moore v. State

In Moore, the accused was charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child. He was alleged to have committed the offense when he was 16 years of age. Due to a heavy caseload and an error in one of the police reports, the detective did not send the case to the District Attorney’s Office until after Moore had turned 18. The prosecutor filed a certification petition in the case over a year later when Moore was 19 years old. The juvenile court transferred the case to district court.

Moore pled in adult court and received 5 years’ probation on a deferred adjudication. He then appealed the case claiming that the juvenile court lacked the jurisdiction to transfer the case because the State did not prove that the delay in filing the case was beyond its control. The State first claimed that law enforcement should not be considered “the State” under Section 54.02(j). The State then argued that the court should consider whether the reasons for the delay were unconstitutional. According to this argument, if the reasons for the delay were not in violation of Moore’s constitutional rights, then the State should be allowed to proceed with the certification regardless of who was to blame for the postponement in filing charges.

The Court’s Ruling

After considering the arguments of both sides, the ruling of the Court of Appeals, and the case law presented by the parties, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled on the case. First, the Court held that the term “the State” includes law enforcement and prosecutors collectively. The Court pointed out that the law consistently includes law enforcement in its use of this term.

The Court then dismissed the State’s notion that the requirements of Section 54.02(j) be treated like a claim of speedy trial, due process, or statute of limitations. The Court explained that the reason for the requirements in Section 54.02(j) is to limit the power of the State to prosecute a person as an adult for something that happened when he was a juvenile. In order for an exception to be made to this general rule, the State must prove that it was not at fault for the delay in prosecution.

Conclusion

The Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in Moore is consistent with the Texas Supreme Court’s rulings in other cases involving juvenile certifications. The courts are clear that juvenile cases should be handled in juvenile court when possible. This means that detectives and prosecutors working juvenile cases must be diligent in giving these cases the proper priority so that an accused juvenile does not age out of the system before his case can be heard by the juvenile court. In any case in which prosecution is delayed until after a person’s 18th birthday, the State will be required to prove that the reason for this lag time was beyond its control. And if the State is unable to meet this requirement, then the courts will prevent further prosecution in these cases.

Juvenile Statements Child Police Interrogations

The Admissibility of Juvenile Statements When Taken By Police

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Juvenile Statements Child Police InterrogationsThe juvenile justice system in Texas is a hybrid system which incorporates major elements of the adult criminal system, while maintaining separate rules and procedures to ensure that juveniles are not treated or labeled as criminals. In keeping with this philosophy, there are some special rules that apply when police officers take statements from juvenile suspects. This article will explain these rules and when they apply.

Two Types of Juvenile Statements

There are two types of statements: those taken as a result of custodial interrogation and those that are taken without custodial interrogation. There are different rules that apply, depending on which type of statement it is.

Voluntariness of the Statement

Historically in America, confessions have been looked at cautiously. This is because the police interrogation process has always been thought to be coercive by its very nature. The primary concern when viewing a statement given by a suspect is voluntariness. Therefore, no statement can be used in court unless it was voluntarily given. This voluntariness requirement applies to juvenile statements too. For noncustodial statements, voluntariness is the only requirement.

When looking at whether a juvenile statement was voluntary, the courts look at the totality of the circumstances. This means that the court will evaluate the situation including a child’s age, experience, background, education, intelligence, and their capacity to understand their rights and the consequences of waiving them. If, after considering all of the relevant factors in a particular case, the court determines that a noncustodial juvenile statement was voluntary, then it will be admissible in court against that juvenile.

Custodial Interrogation

A police officer that takes a juvenile’s statement as a result of custodial interrogation must not only ensure that the statement was voluntarily given, but also must comply with specific rules set out in the Texas Family Code. But first, you must ask two threshold questions: (1) Was the juvenile in custody? and (2) Was the juvenile being interrogated?

(1) Was the Juvenile in Custody?

Texas Family Code Section 51.095(d) considers a child to be in custody if he is in a juvenile detention facility, is in the custody of a police officer, or if he is in CPS custody and suspected of engaging in delinquent conduct. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided that “in custody” means when a reasonable person, under the circumstances, would believe that his freedom was restricted to the point of a formal arrest. See Dowthitt v. State, 931 S.W.2d 244 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). The Texas courts use a “reasonable innocent child” standard when looking at juvenile cases. See In the Matter of L.M., 993 S.W.2d 276 (Tex. App.—Austin 1999). Juveniles are not in custody, in the eyes of the Texas courts, when they are told by police that they are not in custody and are free to leave and at the end of the interview they are actually allowed to leave. See In the Matter of V.M.D., 974 S.W.2d 332 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1998).

(2) Was the Juvenile Being Interrogated?

If a child is in custody at the time a statement is taken, then you must look to see if the statement was the result of interrogation. The United States Supreme Court ruled that interrogation includes any questioning by a police officer and any speech or actions that are reasonably likely to get an incriminating response. See Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291 (1980).

Special Rules for Custodial Interrogation Written Statements

If a child is in custody and interrogated, then special rules must be followed before his written statement will be admissible in court. These rules are laid out in Texas Family Code Section 51.095(a)(1).

  • Before a juvenile in custody is interrogated, he must first be taken to a magistrate. The magistrate must advise the juvenile of his rights without the police officer being present.
  • After being warned of his rights and agreeing to waive them in front of a magistrate, the child can then be questioned by the police officer outside of the magistrate’s presence.
  • He can write a statement if he chooses. Before the juvenile signs his statement, however, he must be taken back in front of the magistrate.
  • Without the police officer being present, the magistrate will review the statement with the child and determine if he understands the statement, voluntarily gave it, and voluntarily and intelligently waived his rights.
  • Once the magistrate makes these determinations, the child can sign his statement in front of the magistrate.

Special Rules for Custodial Interrogation Oral Statements

The rules for making a juvenile’s custodial interrogation oral statement admissible in court are enumerated in Texas Family Code Section 51.095(a)(5).

  • The statement must be recorded by an electronic recording device by an operator who is competent to use the device.
  • All voices on the recording must be identified.
  • The recording device must be capable of making an accurate recording.
  • The recording of the child’s statement must be accurate and unaltered.
  • Before the child gives the statement, the recording must show the magistrate giving the juvenile his warnings and the juvenile must waive each right on the recording.
  • The magistrate may request that the police officer, after the interrogation is finished, bring the child and the recording back to the magistrate so the magistrate can review the recording with the child to ensure the statement was voluntarily given.

Exceptions for Oral Statements

Texas Family Code Section 51.095(a)(2)-(4) lays out the exceptions to the requirements for oral statements made while a juvenile is the subject of custodial interrogation. If any of these exceptions applies, then the special rules for oral statements listed above do not have to be complied with. These exceptions are: statements of fact made by the juvenile which are found to be true and tend to establish his guilt, res gestae statements, and statements made in open court or before a grand jury.

Conclusion

The juvenile system in Texas is intentionally separate and distinct from the adult criminal system in order to prevent treating children as if they are miniature criminals. Likewise, there are special rules that apply in some circumstances when a police officer takes a statement from a juvenile suspect. If a juvenile gives a statement without being the subject of custodial interrogation, then the courts will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine if that statement was given voluntarily. If so, then it will be admissible in court against the juvenile. If, however, the child was in custody and subject to interrogation, then these special rules must be followed in order for the statement to be admissible. These rules involve taking the child before a magistrate to be informed of his rights as opposed to being warned by the police officer. If these rules are violated, then the statement will be deemed to be inadmissible.

Texas Occupational Drivers License Rules

Texas Occupational License Restrictions and Requirements (and why they matter)

By | DWI | No Comments

What You Can, Should, and Must Do While You are Driving on an Occupational Drivers License in Texas

Texas Occupational Drivers License RulesIf you’ve received an occupational license related to a DWI ALR suspension (blood or breath test refusal or failure) in Texas, the judge who granted you that license likely included several restrictions and requirements you must follow. Those requirements can be found in the order granting your occupational license. You should have that order handy because Texas Transportation Code Section 521.250 requires you to possess a certified copy of the order when you drive. In fact, it’s a criminal offense not to possess a certified copy (we’ll revisit that below.)

Learn About Your Restrictions and Requirements

It all starts with the order that the judge signed. Review it. When reviewing the order granting your occupational license, you will find various restrictions and requirements. Restrictions typically limit your time, location and purpose of travel. In some scenarios, people are restricted to use an occupational license only when driving a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device. Other requirements can vary. They often include (but are not limited to) keeping a travel logbook, no traffic citations, no radar devices, etc. Specifically, however, Texas Transportation Code Section 521.245 requires the judge to require the person attend some form of an alcohol dependency program in the order granting occupational license. The order can also require you to submit proof of attendance to the court.

What Happens if Fail to Follow The Occupational Drivers License Restrictions or Requirements?

Texas Transportation code 521.253 says:
(a) A person who holds an occupational license commits an offense if the person:
…..(1) operates a motor vehicle in violation of a restriction imposed on the license; or
…..(2) fails to have in the person’s possession a certified copy of the court order as required under Section 521.250.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor.
(c) On conviction of an offense under this section, the occupational license and the order granting that license are revoked.

What about not complying with the requirement for attending an alcohol dependency program? Per Texas Transportation Code Section 521.245, judges have the authority to revoke the occupational license and impose an additional 60-120 day suspension. That additional suspension is costly, too. Unlike the original DWI ALR suspension where you could apply for an occupational license, there is no option for another occupational license if you were granted one and failed to comply with this requirement.

Don’t Run Afoul of the Occupational DL Rules or Restrictions

So, the suggested practice here is simple:

  1. Have a certified copy of the order granting your occupational license.
  2. Read it carefully and educate yourself about the restrictions/requirements involved.
  3. Comply with said restrictions/requirements for the duration of your occupational license.

If you have questions about your occupational license, contact your attorney for assistance. If you don’t have an attorney, the attorneys at Barnett, Howard & Williams, PLLC are only a phone call away.

Community Caretaking Function Texas

Community Caretaking Function: Police May Stop without Reasonable Suspicion

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Community Caretaking Function TexasIn November of 2015, we wrote about State v. Byram, a DWI case out of Tarrant County. In Byram, the 2nd Court of Appeals held that a “hunched over” passenger in a vehicle was not enough to invoke the police “community caretaking” function to allow the police to initiate a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion of a violation.  The 2nd Court reversed the DWI conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court. The State appealed this decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which issued its opinion today.

When May the Police Invoke the “Community Caretaking” Function to Make a Stop or Detention Without Reasonable Suspicion?

Byram v. State (Tex.Crim.App. 2017)

In this case, State argued that the police officer was engaged in his “community caretaking” function when he pulled the driver over. The State contends that this was a proper exercise of police authority and that the primary purpose of the stop need not be to investigate any alleged violation.

Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling (denying the suppression motion), the CCA agreed with the State and explained its view on the Community Caretaking function:

Local police officers frequently engage in “community caretaking functions,” totally divorced from the detection, investigation, and acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441 (1973). “As part of his duty to ‘serve and protect,’ a police officer may stop and assist an individual whom a reasonable person—given the totality of the circumstances—would believe is in need of help.” Wright v. State, 7 S.W.3d 148, 151 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). However, because the reasonableness of a community-caretaking seizure sprouts from its dissociation from the competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime, “a police officer may not properly invoke his community caretaking function if he is primarily motivated by a non–community caretaking purpose.” Corbin v. State, 85 S.W.3d 272, 276-277 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

The Court went on to lay out a two-step test for determining whether an officer may properly invoke his community-caretaking function:

  1. whether the officer was primarily motivated by a community-caretaking purpose; and
  2. whether the officer’s belief that the individual needed help was reasonable.”*

*The standard for reasonableness is no different when the officer stops a vehicle to check the welfare of a passenger rather than the driver. Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 151.

In this particular case, the CCA held, “[the officer] saw a woman in a precarious situation, and acted reasonably to help her by first asking whether she was okay, and then conducting a traffic stop when his
question went unheeded. This is the sort of ‘sound, commonsense police work that reason
commends, rather than condemns.'”

Fire as Deadly Weapon in Arson Case

Is Fire a Deadly Weapon in an Arson Case?

By | Arson, Deadly Weapon | No Comments

Defendant’s Arson Charge was Enhanced when Fire was Alleged as a “Deadly Weapon.”


Pruett v. State (2nd Court of Appeals – Fort Worth, 2016)

***UPDATE – This case was REVERSED by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2017. See opinion here.

Fire as Deadly Weapon in Arson CaseJeffery Pruett inherited a one-third shared interest in the family home with his two siblings after the death of their elderly parents. The adult siblings had a long history of quarreling over Pruett’s living arrangements, as he moved in and out of the residence prior to the deaths of their parents. Fed up, Pruett moved into a motor home, and was often seen by the neighbors driving around the neighborhood. Meanwhile, Pruett’s siblings listed the home for sale with the intention of dividing the proceeds equally between the three siblings.

On December 19, 2012, a neighbor spotted Pruett parking his motor home in front of the residence. Pruett exited the vehicle, went into the backyard of the residence, and then got back into the vehicle and drove away. Moments later, the neighbor saw smoke coming from the back of the house. The neighbor ran to the backyard, saw flames shooting out of the residence, and called the Fort Worth fire department. Neighbors were successful in using a garden hose to extinguish a large portion of the fire. When the fire department arrived, they confirmed that there was no one inside the home and put out the remaining flames. After an investigation, the arson investigator concluded that the fire had been intentionally started with a flammable ignition source.

Pruett’s Case Goes to Trial

At trial, the fire department’s battalion chief testified that had the flames not been put out, the fire would have consumed the home. Further, the arson investigator testified that the fire was “very dangerous,” putting neighbors, fire fighters, and anyone inside the home in immediate danger of death or serious injury. Considering his use of fire to be a deadly weapon, the trial court convicted Pruett of arson, sentencing him to twenty years imprisonment. Pruett appealed to the Second Court of Appeals, arguing that the court lacked sufficient evidence to support the finding of fire as a deadly weapon. Fire as a deadly weapon carries a heavier penalty in Texas.

What does Texas Law say about fire as deadly weapon?

Fire is not considered a deadly weapon in the Texas Penal Code, however, a Court can find that fire was used as a deadly weapon if the surrounding circumstances meet a three-pronged test. Mims v. State, 335 S.W. 3d 247, 249-50. In order for fire to be deemed a deadly weapon, the evidence must prove

  1. the object meets the definition of a deadly weapon;
  2. the deadly weapon was used…during the transaction on which the felony conviction was based; and
  3. other people were put in actual danger.”

Brister v. State, 449 S.W.3d 490,494 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

The Second Court of Appeals Weighs In – The Court must determine whether the fire set by Pruett was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.

Did the fire meet the statutory definition of a deadly weapon?

Under Texas law, a deadly weapon can be “anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 1.07(a)(17)(West Supp. 2015). To determine whether the object was “capable” of causing death or serious bodily injury, such “capability” must be evaluated based on what actually happened, not conjecture about what might have happened if the facts had been different than they were.” Williams v. State, 946 S.W.2d 432, 435-36 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1997).

Here, the Court says the neighbor had put out most of the fire with the garden hose by the time the fire department arrived on the scene. Further, the neighbor who called the fire department was not placed in danger. Even though the arson investigator testified that the firefighters were placed in danger, such danger is part of the job. Since there was no one else in the home at the time of the fire, there is no evidence that the firefighters were put in actual danger of death or seriously bodily injury. The Court concludes, “the facts—viewed…in light of what did happen [not what could have happened]—do not support [fire as a deadly weapon] in this case.” The Second Court of Appeals orders the deadly weapons finding to be deleted from Pruett’s judgment.

CASE UPDATE (1/25/17) – CCA Reverses the COA Decision

In reversing the Court of Appeals, the CCA held:

“An arsonist is not the same as an intoxicated driver, and the degree of danger and harm that each offender is capable of causing is materially different. In the case at bar, the deadly nature of the fire is not difficult to appreciate. Fire is inherently dangerous in a way that cars are not and it is capable of inflicting serious bodily harm, especially when it is intentionally started in a residential neighborhood. This fire was dangerous because it was left unattended and because appellant used an accelerant. As a result, the fire endangered not only the lives of the firefighters who responded to the call but also the lives of neighbors who could have been killed or seriously injured if the fire continued to spread. The fire also posed a danger from both the heat effects and the emissions of toxic chemicals. In this case, the State adequately demonstrated that the fire that appellant started was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury…When evidence at trial demonstrates that someone ignites combustible material to intentionally burn down a house in a residential neighborhood, a deadly-weapon finding may appropriately attach to the arson conviction when the fire is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury. That is what happened in this case. “