2nd COA Archives | Page 2 of 3 | Fort Worth Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and Family Law

Judge Reform Unauthorized Verdict

When the Jury Verdict is Not Authorized by Law

By | Jury Trial

What Should the Trial Judge Do When the Jury Returns an Unauthorized Verdict?

Judge Reform Unauthorized VerdictAt the trial of Reginald Nixon for burglary of a habitation and evading arrest, the jury returned a guilty verdict and sentence of 7 years for the burglary and 9 years for the evading. However, the verdict form contained a handwritten note that read: “*To be served consecutively, not concurrently.” A consecutive sentence would mean that the two verdicts are added together to make the actual prison term 16 years. The jury had previously asked the judge whether the sentences would run concurrently and the judge refused to answer them, advising them to simply continue with their deliberations. Without an answer to their question, the jury took the matter into their own hands.

The problem with the jury’s verdict of 7 years and 9 years to run consecutively is that it is not an authorized sentence. Under Texas law, the sentences in Nixon’s case were required to run concurrently rather than consecutively. As a result, the trial judge refused to accept the sentences and reform them to run concurrently (as he was urged to do by Nixon’s counsel). Instead, the judge sent the jury back with a note advising them that the sentences cannot run consecutively. The jury soon returned with new verdicts of 16 years confinement for each offense, which the judge accepted.

Nixon appealed, again urging that the trial judge erred by failing to accept and reform the original jury verdicts. The 2nd Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) affirmed the trial court’s judgments and “reasoned that while the judge may have had the authority to reform the verdict under Article 37.10, he also had the authority to refuse the verdict and return the jury to their deliberations pursuant to this Court’s opinion in Muniz v. State [573, S.W.2d 792 (Tex. Crim. App. 1978)].”

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted review and now reverses the holding of the 2nd Court of Appeals. The CCA highlighted the changes that were made in 1985 when the legislature enacted Section 37.10(b) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. This change distinguished between “informal” and “unauthorized” verdicts. For unauthorized verdicts, Section 37.10(b) provides:

If the jury assesses punishment in a case and in the verdict assesses both punishment that is authorized by law for the offense and punishment that is not authorized by law for the offense, the court shall reform the verdict to show the punishment authorized by law and to omit the punishment not authorized by law.

CCA explained that the lower court’s reliance on Muniz was misplaced since Section 37.10(b) was not enacted at the time Muniz was decided. Further, the verdict form in Muniz was incomplete, unlike the verdict in this case, which was complete but contained an unauthorized portion.

The CCA concluded by holding:

Although the terms of confinement were 45 authorized punishments, the attempted cumulation was punishment unauthorized by law. Article 37.10(b)’s plain language is clear that, when the jury assesses punishment and returns a verdict assessing punishment that is both authorized and unauthorized by law, “the court shall reform the verdict to show the punishment authorized by law and to omit the punishment not authorized by law.” Accordingly, we hold that the judge erred in failing to accept the initial punishment verdicts and omit the jury’s unauthorized attempt to stack the terms of confinement.

Judge Alcala and Judge Yeary dissented.

Interference with 911 Call Fort Worth

Interference with 911 Call Conviction Upheld After Acquittal of Underlying Emergency

By | Domestic Violence

Acquitted of the Underlying Assault that Necessitated a 911 Call, Defendant’s Guilty Verdict for Interference with 911 Call Upheld, Says the Second Court of Appeals

Interference with 911 Call Fort WorthIn February 2014, David Schumm and his wife were arguing in their home when she tried to place a 911 call. His wife testified that he prevented her from making the call by taking her cell phone. Fearing an assault, she ran outside, screaming for help. Schumm allegedly followed her outside, dragged her onto their porch and “strangled” her. At trial, Schumm denied all assaultive conduct and denied taking her cell phone. Schumm was charged in two separate cases with Interference with 911 Call and with Assault Family Violence with Impeding Breath. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 42.062 and § 22.01(b)(2)(B) (West Supp. 2015). Schumm was acquitted of the felony assault charge at trial.

At a separate trial for the Interference with a 911 Call charge, the jury was allowed to hear that Schumm had been accused and tried for felony assault, however, the jury was not allowed to hear that he had been acquitted of the charge. Schumm’s attorney attempted to get a certified judgment of acquittal admitted into evidence, but the State’s relevance objection was upheld—the trial court prevented Schumm from disclosing to the jury his acquittal. Schumm appealed his conviction for Interference with a 911 Call on the ground that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the evidence of the felony assault acquittal.

Read the court’s opinion in Schumm v. State.

Interference with 911 Call | Interference with an Emergency Call

Under Texas Law, to be found guilty of interfering with an emergency call an (1) individual (2) knowingly (3) prevents or interferes with (4) another individual’s (5) ability to place an emergency call or to request help, including with a cell phone (6) from a law enforcement agency, (7) in an emergency…[“a condition in which an individual is…in fear of imminent assault.”]. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 42.062(a)-(d).

Appealing to the Second Court of Appeals, Schumm argues that the excluded evidence of his acquittal is relevant to the element of “emergency” (#7 above). He contends that because he was acquitted of “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly impeding the normal breathing” of his wife, that there was no proof that an emergency actually existed, and that, because no emergency existed, not all of the elements of “interfering with an emergency call” have been fulfilled. In short, there is reasonable doubt that an emergency existed at all because he was acquitted of the underlying assault, and, because the trial testimony is her word against his.

Here, the Second Court of Appeals disagrees with Schumm, “yet the judgment of the acquittal [Schumm] sought to admit did not show that the felony jury had specifically found no emergency.” The jury did not find that Schumm’s wife was not in fear of an imminent assault at the time Schumm allegedly prevented her from using her cell phone. Instead, the felony jury found that the Schumm should be acquitted of the “assault by impeding breathing” charge. The Court notes that “emergency is not an element of assault by impeding breathing” and a “completed assault is not an element of the offense of interference with an emergency call.” Id. In short, the evidence had no bearing on whether Schumm’s wife feared an imminent assault when she tried to call 911; the Court does not address the possibility that there is reasonable doubt that an emergency existed in the first place. The Court affirms the trial court’s judgment of guilty.

Accomplice Wtiness Rule Texas

Texas’ Accomplice Witness Rule

By | Criminal Defense

Accomplice Wtiness Rule TexasCriminal law disfavors the testimony of an accomplice, for good reason.  The policy behind this is clear – factfinders should be leary of trusting those who have a substantial stake in the litigation, especially those with a direct liberty interest.  A few years back, the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) provided a good synopsis of the Accomplice Witness Rule, which I felt was worth sharing.  The following excerpt is taken from Clark v. State (June 17, 2010).

What is the Accomplice Witness Rule in Texas criminal law?

The accomplice-witness rule is a statutorily imposed sufficiency review andis not derived from federal or state constitutional principles that define the legal andfactual sufficiency standards.  An accomplice is a person who participates before, during, or after the commission of the crime and can be prosecuted for the same offense as the defendant or for a lesser-included offense.  Article 38.14 of the code of criminal procedure provides that “[a] conviction cannot be had upon the testimony of anaccomplice unless corroborated by other evidence tending to connect the defendant with the offense committed; and the corroboration is not sufficient if it merely shows the commission of the offense.”

When evaluating the sufficiency of corroboration evidence under the accomplice-witness rule, we “eliminate the accomplice testimony from consideration and then examine the remaining portions of the record to see if there is any evidencethat tends to connect the accused with the commission of the crime.”  The corroborating evidence need not prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt by itself.  Nor is it necessary for the corroborating evidence to directly link the accused to the commission of the offense.  Rather, the evidence must simply link the accused insome way to the commission of the crime and show that “rational jurors could conclude that this evidence sufficiently tended to connect [the accused] to theoffense.”  Additionally, “[p]roof that the accused was at or near the scene of the crime at orabout the time of its commission, when coupled with other suspicious circumstances, may tend to connect the accused to the crime so as to furnish sufficient corroboration to support a conviction.”  But “mere presence alone of a defendant at the scene of a crime is insufficient to corroborate accomplice testimony.”

I omitted the citations, so you should click on the link above and go to page 15 of the opinion if you wants the various cites for the law above.

Community Caretaking Fort Worth

“Hunched Over” Passenger Not Enough Distress to Invoke the Community Caretaking Exception

By | Criminal Defense, DWI

Community Caretaking Fort WorthWhile conducting a preventative patrol on the Fourth of July in 2013, a Fort Worth police officer stopped at a red light beside Cameron Byram’s vehicle. Both vehicles had the windows rolled down. The officer testified at trial that he noticed a female passenger in Byram’s car “hunched over…[and that he]…didn’t see any movement at all [from] the female.” The officer smelled alcohol coming from Byram’s car, and felt Byram was “not attending to the female passenger.” The officer shouted over to Byram, asking if she was alright, but Byram faced forward and drove away when the light turned green. Believing the female passenger needed medical attention, coupled with Byram’s actions “as an attempt to avoid contact with the police,” the officer stopped Byram’s car to conduct traffic stop. The officer checked on the passenger and called for medical attention, which she later refused. Next, the officer investigated and arrested Byram for driving while intoxicated (DWI). The officer testified that Byram had not committed a traffic offense, nor were there any technical violations on Byram’s car—he only stopped the car to perform a safety check.

Byram v. State (2nd Court of Appeals – Fort Worth, 2015)

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

After his motion to suppress the evidence for the DWI charge was denied, Byram entered a guilty plea. The trial court assessed punishment at ninety days in jail and a $750 fine, but suspended the sentence, placing him on community supervision for eighteen months. Byram appealed.

The issue before the Fort Worth Court of Appeals is whether the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment applies to the facts of the case, or, whether the police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop Byram.

The Fourth Amendment provides a safeguard against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV; Wiede v. State, 214 S.W.3d 17, 24 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). A warrantless arrest is considered unreasonable unless it fits into an exception, such as the community caretaking exception. Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 113 S. Ct. 2130, 2135 (1993); Torres, 182 S.W.3d at 901. A search or seizure “is not unreasonable” when community caretaking is the goal, however, the exception is “narrowly applied” in the “most unusual of circumstances.” Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 152.

“Courts consider four non-exclusive factors in determining whether the officer’s belief that the defendant needed help was reasonable: (1) the nature and level of the distress exhibited by the individual; (2) the location of the individual; (3) whether or not the individual was alone or had access to assistance other than that offered by the officer; and (4) to what extent the individual, if not assisted, presented a danger to himself or others.” Corbin v. State, 85 S.W.3d 272, 277 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

First, the Court of Appeals concludes that the passenger did not exhibit distress. “The passenger did not appear to be in any great distress, she was located in a busy area of town where there were nearby hospitals, she was not alone [in the car], she was in public, and she did not appear to be a danger to herself or others.” Further, the Court of Appeals states, “We…cannot conclude that the…community caretaking exception, when applied to a hunched over passenger…indicates that the passenger presented a danger to herself or others.”

Second, the Court of Appeals determines that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to be able to perform a safety check. “[While] we do not question the good faith of [the officer’s] subjective suspicion that Byram might have been involved in an alcohol-based offense…so long as consumption of alcohol is not illegal…permitting…investigation of persons for alcohol-based offenses solely on whether the odor of alcohol is present invites unwarranted police intrusions.” Byram’s traffic stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Justice Sue Walker dissents, stating the passenger was exhibiting signs of distress because she “was not moving and appeared unconscious.” The passenger was also in a vehicle driven by a man “who appeared unconcerned about her well-being.” The passenger’s access to assistance was doubtful because Byram did not respond to the police officer’s question about her condition. Lastly, the passenger was a danger to herself because she appeared unresponsive and unable to ask for help. “Thus, all four factors…support the reasonableness of the officer’s belief that she needed assistance.”

Law enforcement officers must abide by local, state and federal procedural and substantive laws when conducting traffic stops and arrests. If you or a loved one is facing DWI charges or traffic violations, please contact our office today for a free consultation at (817) 993-9249.

Fort Worth Child Abuse Attorneys

Outcry Witness Statements Upheld by Fort Worth Court

By | Sex Crimes

Hearsay Statements Admitted in Child Sexual Assault Trial. Affirmed on Appeal by Fort Worth Court.

Fort Worth Child Abuse AttorneysGonzales v. State – 2nd Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) 2015

Pablo Gonzales, Jr. was convicted on one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child and three counts of indecency with a child. He was sentenced to life in prison by the jury for the sexual assault case and twenty years imprisonment in each of the indecency cases.

The defendant lived in a house where drug use was rampant and people would come in, often leaving their children for him to watch.  One of the witnesses against him, given the pseudonym T.P., was the mother of two of the girls that claimed to be sexually abused by defendant. Generally, hearsay testimony, testimony from one person about what another person says, cannot be admitted into evidence against a defendant. Here, the trial court applied an exception to the hearsay rule for an “outcry witness.” An outcry witness is the first person a child tells about abuse that the child received and this testimony by the outcry witness can be admitted.

The defendant in this case argued that the outcry witness testimony should not be allowed into court because T.P. admitted that her memory was fuzzy as a result of her drug use. Defendant also argued that T.P.’s testimony satisfied few, if any, of the nonexclusive factors the court considers in determining the reliability of an outcry.

When Can an Outcry Witness Statement by Admitted Over Defense Objection?

Article 38.072 of the code of criminal procedure provides a mechanism that requires the trial court to determine on a case-by-case basis if outcry witness testimony reaches the level of reliability required to be admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule.

Indicia of reliability that the trial court may consider [under article 38.072] include (1) whether the child victim testifies at trial and admits making the out-of-court statement, (2) whether the child understands the need to tell the truth and has the ability to observe, recollect, and narrate, (3) whether other evidence corroborates the statement, (4) whether the child made the statement spontaneously in his own terminology or whether evidence exists of prior prompting or manipulation by adults, (5) whether the child’s statement is clear and unambiguous and rises to the needed level of certainty, (6) whether the statement is consistent with other evidence, (7) whether the statement describes an event that a child of the victim’s age could not be expected to fabricate, (8) whether the child behaves abnormally after the contact, (9) whether the child has a motive to fabricate the statement, (10) whether the child expects punishment because of reporting the conduct, and (11) whether the accused had the opportunity to commit the offense.

The defendant claimed that the outcry lacked reliability, specifically because of T.P.’s drug use and generally because it was short, lacked detail, and was uncorroborated. The 2nd Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) agreed that the statement was short, but pointed out that it was also very clear, specific, and unequivocal. A trial court’s decision to admit evidence will not be disturbed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. A trial court has only abused its discretion if its decision falls outside the zone of reasonable disagreement.

The 2nd Court of Appeals went on explain that even if they concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony, such error would not rise to the level of constitutional error and should only be reversed if the error affected the Defendant’s substantial rights. The Court noted the victim testified at trial, and her testimony both corroborated T.P.’s testimony regarding the outcry and provided greater detail.  For this reason, the Court held that even if the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the outcry witness testimony, the error would be harmless.

Even if someone admits to their memory not being completely accurate due to prominent drug use, their outcry testimony can still be brought into court if the person who made the statements to them originally, corroborates them. This may make it extremely hard to overturn a conviction with the Court of Appeals because even if outcry testimony may be weak or lacks reliability, the Court will likely not overrule the case so long as others corroborate the testimony. This may also make it extremely hard to keep out any outcry statements.

Aggravated Assault with Deadly Weapon

Can You Assault a Person Even When You Cannot Find Them?

By | Assault

Second Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) holds that Aggravated Assault by Threat does not require personal presence of the victim

Aggravated Assault with Deadly WeaponIn Hernandez v. State (Tex. App.–Fort Worth August 6, 2015), the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, Texas looked that the issue of whether the evidence was sufficient to prove Assault by Threat when appellant brandished a gun to a crowd while looking for the victim.

FACTS: The appellant, Daniel Hernandez, got into an argument with the victim and exchanged hostile words in the parking lot outside a food stand owned by the victim. Appellant told the victim “you’re going down” before he drove left the area in his vehicle. The appellant ultimately returned to the parking lot armed with a gun.

The victim, who had learned that appellant was back and was armed, hid inside of a building behind the food stand. The victim watched from the window as the defendant waved the gun to the crowd that had gathered in the parking lot. The defendant specifically encountered one individual in the crowd, a friend of the victim, and pointed the gun at him. The defendant then left. Approximately ten minutes later, someone shot up the victim’s pickup truck, which was parked outside a nearby home.

Hernandez was convicted by a jury in the 367th District Court in Denton County and was sentenced to 63 years confinement. He appealed his conviction, arguing that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict when the alleged victim was not present during the aggravated assault.

A majority of the 2nd Court of Appeals found the evidence legally sufficient to support the conviction for aggravated assault (by threat) with a deadly weapon. The Court concluded that the evidence showed that “Appellant was hunting [the victim] with a gun and was verbally threatening to take him down” near the food stand, “that is, in the location Appellant expected to find him.” The Court reasoned that “it did not matter that the defendant could not find the victim at the location; his actions still rendered him liable for an assault by threat with a firearm. Appellant’s inability to find [the victim] in the crowd did not change Appellant’s conduct.”

Justice Dauphinot dissented. She reasoned that there was no evidence that the defendant “knew that Complainant was watching him” from the building. In her view, the evidence must have established that the defendant specifically knew the victim was present in order to find he intentionally or knowingly placed the victim in fear of imminent bodily injury.

Contact our Fort Worth Aggravated Assault Defense Attorneys at (817) 993-9249

The criminal defense lawyers at Barnett Howard & Williams handle aggravated assault cases including cases involving deadly weapons in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and Denton County. Contact us today for a free consultation of your criminal case.

Fort Worth Jury Trial

Appeals Court Reverses Conviction in 11 Person Jury Trial

By | Jury Trial

12 Persons Required to Serve on Texas Felony Jury Trial – Fort Worth Trial Lawyers

Fort Worth Jury Trial LawyersA felony jury trial in Texas requires 12 jurors (with limited exceptions). The defense can waive that requirement under certain circumstances, and jurors can be excused under certain circumstances. But generally, a felony jury panel must have 12. Below, we discuss a case in Denton County where the jury started with 12 and then went to 11 because a juror could not understand the English language well enough to serve.

Stillwell v. State – Opinion issued by the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) on May 28, 2015

Appellant, Eben Stilwell was convicted in the 367th District Court in Denton County by an 11-person jury of indecency with a child and sentenced to 12 years in prison. A jury of 12 was originally empaneled but after three days of testimony, one of the jurors came forward and informed the court that he was having difficulty understanding the proceedings. The juror primarily spoke Spanish and was having difficulty following the proceedings because they were in English.

During the conversation between the judge and the juror, the juror repeatedly said “I understand a little bit” or “I don’t understand.” Both the defense and state agreed that the juror did not adequately understand the English language and was not completely following what was going on in the courtroom.

The prosecution and defense disagreed, however, as to the legal basis for the juror’s removal. The state urged that juror be deemed “disabled” under Tex.Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 36.29(a), which would allow the trial to proceed with 11 jurors over defense objection. The defense argued that because the juror was never able to serve, he was disqualified and a trial using 11 jurors could only proceed with the defendant’s consent. The defendant did not consent to continuing the trial with only 11 jurors. The trial court followed that state’s recommendation and dismissed the juror as disabled, continuing the trial with only 11 jurors.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth), Justice Sudderth writing the opinion for the court, held that the court could have allowed the juror to remain on the jury because the right to have him excluded due to his inability to understand English had been forfeited. It is always the attorneys’ duty to determine that capability and fitness of the jurors during voir dire. Neither party inquired as to ability to understand the English language.

But, once the court determined that the juror should be dismissed, consent of the defendant was required to proceed with 11 jurors. Because appellant did not agree to proceed with 11 jurors, a mistrial was required. The lower court was reversed.

Fort Worth Criminal Trial Lawyers

If you or a loved one have a criminal case in Fort Worth, you need to seek the best criminal defense lawyer to represent you and protect your rights at trial. Call our attorneys today for a Free Consultation of your case.

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort Worth

Warrantless DWI Blood Draw Held Unconstitutional By Fort Worth Court

By | DWI

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort WorthMosquitoes are pesky little things. They land on you, insert a sharp needle-like nose into your arm and suck your blood without even asking for permission. Well, like the hard slap of a hand on top of one of these pests, Texas courts are finally falling in line behind the Supreme Court’s ruling in Missouri v. McNeely (133 S. Ct. 1551 (2013)) striking down warrantless blood draws of a driver’s blood in DWI cases.

Last month, the Second District Court of Appeals in Burks v. State held that a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw – even conducted pursuant to the mandatory-blood-draw and implied-consent provisions of the Texas Transportation Code violates the Fourth Amendment to the United State’s Constitution.

The defendant in the Burks case was pulled over for changing lanes without signaling. A North Richland Hills police officer pulled him over and developed probable cause to arrest him for DWI. Because the defendant had been convicted twice before for DWI, the officer relied on Texas Transportation Code 724.012 to take the defendant’s blood without consent and without a warrant. Texas Transportation Code 724.012 provides that an officer may obtain a blood sample from a defendant without consent and without a warrant if the defendant on two or more occasions had been previously convicted or placed on community supervision for Driving While Intoxicated.

The Second Court of Appeals specifically held that this type of blood draw, despite being authorized by a state statute, still violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition to the Supreme Court’s ruling in McNeely, the court here relied on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in State v. Villarreal (No. PD-0306-14, 2014 WL 6734178 (Tex. Crim. App. Nov. 26, 2014), which held also that a warrantless, nonconsensual draw of a DWI suspect’s blood does not categorically fall within any recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, nor can it be justified under a general Fourth Amendment balancing test.

What does all this mean? As we’ve said in the past, the demise of warrantless blood draws for drivers in Texas continues to remain imminent and cases like Burks continue to reinforce the fact that the teeth of the United State’s Constitution bite much harder than the needle of an unreasonable search and seizure.

DWI defense attorney Fort Worth

DWI: Is Passing on the Shoulder Evidence of a Traffic Offense?

By | DWI

DWI Conviction Overturned | Passing on the Shoulder Permitted in Certain Circumstances

DWI defense attorney Fort WorthIn many ways, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also acts the State’s highest traffic court. What follows is a synopsis of Lothrop v. State, wherein the CCA opines on the legality of using the right shoulder of a road to pass a slower vehicle.

In Lothrop, the police stopped Appellant after observing him use the right shoulder of the road to pass a vehicle that was slowing down.  Appellant was later arrested for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). At trial, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence gained from the stop, arguing that the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to make the stop. Appellant pointed to Section 545.058(a) of the Texas Transportation Code, which provides:

(a) An operator may drive on an improved shoulder to the right of the main traveled portion of a roadway of that operation is necessary and may be 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.

The trial court denied the motion and Appellant pled guilty to DWI. The 2nd Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) affirmed the conviction, holding that “driving on an improved shoulder, regardless of circumstance, is prima facie evidence of an offense, and that Section 545.058(a) merely establishes defenses that a defendant may raise at trial.”

Think again, said the Traffic Court (a.k.a. CCA):

[T]he offense of illegally driving on an improved shoulder can be proved in one of two ways: either driving on the improved shoulder was not a necessary part of achieving one of the seven approved purposes, or driving on an improved shoulder could not have been done safely. Merely driving on an improved shoulder is not prima facie evidence of an offense. Thus if an officer sees a driver driving on an improved shoulder, and it appears that driving on the improved shoulder was necessary to achieving one of the seven approved purposes, and it is done safely, that officer does not have reasonable suspicion that an offense occurred.

With that, the CCA reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case back to the trial court.   So there you have it – your traffic lesson for today from the CCA. You are free to drive on the improved shoulder of the road (without worrying that you will be pulled over) IF you are doing it safely and for one of the seven listed purposes.

Fort Worth DWI Lawyers

Being Left of Center: Reasonable Suspicion for a DWI Stop?

By | DWI

Fort Worth DWI LawyersYou can’t believe anything he says. He tries to sound intelligent and reliable, but falls far short. Did you think I was writing about a political candidate? Nope. A police officer.

The Second District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) just released State v. Houghton, a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) case that centered around the testimony of the arresting officer.  In this case, the defendant moved to suppress the DWI stop for lack of reasonable suspicion.  At the suppression hearing, the police officer testified that he couldn’t remember why the car initially caught his attention. Perhaps it was for speeding, but he couldn’t say for sure.  He further testified that the car was driving left of center in a lane, but that it never actually crossed over the line.

Granting the motion to suppress, the trial court commented that the officer lacked any credibility. Affirming the trial court’s suppression ruling, the Court of Appeals, held:

To establish reasonable suspicion, the state must show that, at the time of the detention, the officer had specific, articulable facts that established reasonable suspicion.  Terry, 392 U.S. at 21-22, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880… Generally, law enforcement action can only be supported by facts the officer was “actually aware of at the time of that action.” State v. Ruelas, 327 S.W.3d 321, 326-27 (Tex. App.―El Paso 2010, pet. ref’d). As stated by the court in Ruelas, “The preference for objective standards, however, does not apply to the facts on which officers act.” Id. at 326 (holding officer lacked reasonable suspicion where it was not until suppression hearing when state was questioning motorist defendant that officer learned of facts suggesting he violated traffic code by making left turn into right-hand lane).

Here, because the officer failed to offer any justifiable reason for the traffic stop (a reason that was in his mind at the time of the stop, vice at the suppression hearing), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s suppression of the traffic stop.  A police officer can’t just follow the prosecutor’s lead to justify the stop.  He has to be able to articulate what was going through his mind at the time of the stop.  If is doesn’t amount to reasonable suspicion, the case needs to get kicked.