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CCA Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys and Personal Injury Lawyers

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.

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.

Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017

Can an Out-of-State Conviction Be Used to Establish “Continuous” Abuse?

By | Sex Crimes

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Holds That An Out-of-State Conviction Cannot Be Used to Establish “Continuous Sexual Abuse” Under Texas Law

Lee v State Continuous Sexual Abuse Texas 2017The Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion regarding the use of an out-of-state act to support a conviction in Texas. The issue faced by the Court was whether the commission of an out-of-state aggravated sexual assault could support a conviction for continuous sexual abuse of a child under Texas law.

Lee v. State (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 2017)

The Facts—The Trial Court Found Defendant Guilty of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child

In this case, Ronald Lee (Defendant) was convicted of continuous sexual assault of a child and the jury assessed a life sentence. During trial, evidence showed that Defendant committed aggravated sexual assault against his young stepdaughter twice, once in New Jersey and once in Texas. Both assaults were temporally separated by at least 30 days.

Texas Penal Code Section 21.02 prohibits the commission of two or more acts of sexual abuse over a specified time. Although committed in two separate states, the trial court permitted the evidence of both sexual assaults in New Jersey and Texas in order to convict Defendant.

The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Conviction, Holding that the Evidence was Legally Sufficient to Support the Conviction

On appeal, Defendant claimed that the evidence presented—the alleged act in New Jersey—was insufficient to support his conviction in Texas. The court of appeals held that because Defendant was charged and convicted under Texas Penal Code Section 21.01 for continuous sexual abuse, Texas has jurisdiction if part of the prohibited conduct element occurred in Texas. Further, the court determined that the location of the sexual abuse was not an element of the offense; thus, the State’s only obligation was to prove that the court of prosecution had venue—proper jurisdiction. As a result, because one of the alleged acts of sexual abuse occurred in Taylor County, the court of appeals said that the evidence was sufficient to prove venue.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reforms the Judgment to a Lesser-Included Offense Conviction, Holding the Evidence was Legally Insufficient to Support the Original Conviction

Defendant appealed the appellate court’s decision to affirm his conviction. He argued that the alleged act of abuse in New Jersey was not sufficient proof required under the Texas Penal Code, which requires two or more violations of penal code sections. Each of these required offenses must be a violation of Texas law. Texas only has jurisdiction over an offense if either an action element or result element of the offense occurs inside the state. Because “act of sexual abuse” requires an act that is a violation of Texas law, Defendant’s act in New Jersey may not be considered one of the required offenses for a conviction under Section 21.02. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that Texas had jurisdiction of continuous sexual abuse of a child, but the evidence in this case was insufficient to support the conviction because one of the acts was not a violation of Texas law.

When an appellate court finds that the evidence was insufficient to support a charged offense, but the jury found the defendant guilty of a lesser offense supported by sufficient evidence, then the appellate court must reform the judgment to reflect the lesser-included offense and remand for new punishment. In this case, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the jury found Defendant guilty of aggravated sexual assault, which was the lesser-included offense, and remanded the case for a punishment hearing.

Judge Yeary’s Concurring Opinion

Self-Defense Jury Charge Texas

When is a Defendant Entitled to a Jury Instruction on Self-Defense?

By | Self-Defense

Self-Defense Jury Charge TexasThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently released an opinion regarding when a defendant is entitled to a self-defense charge. The issue facing the Court was whether there was some evidence, from any source, that would support the elements of self-defense and whether self-defense was authorized when a deadly weapon was used in response to verbal provocation.

Gamino v. State, Court of Criminal Appeals (2017)

The Facts—The Trial Court Denied Defendant’s Request for a Self-Defense Instruction and Defendant was Subsequently Convicted.

On August 11, 2013, Cesar Gamino (Defendant) and his girlfriend were leaving downtown Fort Worth as the local bars were closing. While Defendant and his girlfriend were walking back to his truck they passed by a group of men who were heard saying lewd comments. Believing the comments were directed at his girlfriend, Defendant confronted the men. Khan, one of the men, told Defendant they were not talking about his girlfriend. According to Khan, Defendant then said “I got something for you,” went to his truck, retrieved a gun, and pointed it in their direction. Two police officers working nearby heard Defendant’s comment and saw Defendant with the gun. Defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Khan was also arrested and charged with public intoxication.

During trial, Defendant testified that the men threatened him and his girlfriend by saying “grab her ass” and that they would “F her if they wanted to,” and that they would “kick [his] ass.” Defendant further testified that one of the men got up and moved towards him in an aggressive manner. This behavior, coupled with the fact that Defendant was disabled, caused him to believe he and his girlfriend were in danger. As a result, Defendant testified that he reached into his truck, grabbed his gun and told the men, “[s]top, leave us alone, get away from us.” Defendant’s girlfriend also testified that he was in fact disabled and that the men had confronted them and threatened her—causing her to fear for her life.

At the end of the trial, the defense asked for a self-defense instruction in the jury charge and the trial court denied the request.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Trial Court’s Decision—Holding Defendant was Entitled to a Self-Defense Instruction Regardless of the Fact that he was Charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon.

Section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code governs self-defense. According to Section 9.31, a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree that person reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against another person’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. Verbal provocation by itself is not enough.

Section 9.32 governs the use of “deadly force” in self-defense cases. In the case at hand, the lower court charged Defendant with using a deadly weapon. However, even if a defendant uses a deadly weapon, deadly force as defined in section 9.32 may not apply if it meets the requirements of Section 9.04.

Under Section 9.04, a threat to cause death or serious bodily injury by the production of a weapon as long as the actor’s purpose is limited to creating an apprehension that he will use deadly force if necessary, does not constitute the use of deadly force.

The Court of Appeals determined that Defendant reasonably believed his use of force was immediately necessary to protect against Khan’s use or attempted use of unlawful force, and Defendant produced his gun for the limited purpose of creating an apprehension. Thus, the Court of Appeals ruled that under Defendant’s version of events, the use of his gun did not constitute the use of deadly force, and Defendant was not disqualified from receiving a self-defense instruction even though he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon because he met the requirement of Section 9.04.

Accordingly, the trial court erred by not submitting an instruction on self-defense to allow the jury to decide the issue of self-defense.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the COA—Holding that the Jury Should Have Been Given the Opportunity to Assess Whether Appellant’s Conduct was Justified as Self-Defense.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the trial court erred in taking away the self-defense issue from the jury. According to Texas case law, it is error for a trial court to deny a self-defense instruction if there is some evidence, from any source, that will corroborate the elements of a self-defense claim—even if the evidence is weak, contradicted or not credible.

The State argued, as well as the dissent, that Defendant was not entitled to a self-defense instruction because he did not admit to threatening the victim with imminent bodily injury. This argument was based on the idea that self-defense is a confession and avoidance justification, and the confession was missing here. The Court however disagreed, inferring a confession.

Here, Defendant testified that he displayed his gun and yelled, “stop,” “get away,” and “leave us alone.” Accordingly, the court held it to be reasonable for the jury to infer that if the men did not stop, Defendant would have used his gun for protection. As such, even though the evidence was contradicted by the State, Defendant believed the display of his gun was immediately necessary to protect himself against the use or attempted use of unlawful force, and that he displayed his weapon for the limited purpose of creating an apprehension that he would use deadly force if necessary.

Using the Court of Appeals’ analysis, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed their judgment holding that the jury should have been given the opportunity to analyze Defendant’s actions as self-defense.

See also the Gamino Dissenting Opinion

Shoplifting Before Leaving the Store

Can Police Arrest a Person for Shoplifting Before They Leave the Store?

By | Theft

Shoplifting Before Leaving the StoreThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down a case regarding a police officer’s findings of reasonable suspicion and probable cause. The issue was whether an officer had probable cause to arrest a customer for theft from a store before she actually exited the store and when she claimed, after being confronted by the officer, that she was going to pay for the items shad had placed in her purse.

State v. Ford, Court of Criminal Appeals (2017)

The Facts—What Happened?

A Corpus Christi Police Department Officer responded to a report regarding a customer in a Dollar General Store concealing store merchandise in her purse and jacket. Upon arriving at the store, the responding officer met with the employee and was given a description of the customer.

The police officer approached a customer matching the employee’s description, identified later as Ford, and informed her that she had been seen concealing merchandise in her purse. Ford replied that she was not done shopping and had intended to pay for the items. However, the officer noticed that Ford had a shopping cart with store items that were not in her purse. The purse was covered by a jacket, which the officer picked up, and discovered that the purse was fully zipped up and full of merchandise. Upon removing the store items from her purse, the officer discovered six small baggies of methamphetamine and two pills.

The State charged Ford with theft over $50 and possession of controlled substances. Ford was subsequently indicted for possession of methamphetamine.

Defendant’s Motion to Suppress—The Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion and Determined No Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause

The drugs found on the defendant were discovered during a theft investigation. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs. The trial court granted the motion to suppress.

At the suppression hearing, the trial court acknowledged that a theft could be complete without the physical removal of the property; however, the court also observed that the defendant never tried to leave the store with the merchandise and “was still shopping.” Further, the court determined that there was insufficient evidence that the defendant intended to steal the merchandise because she did not attempt to leave the store, she did not run or try to conceal anything when approached by the officer, and she stated that she intended to pay for the merchandise.

The trial court concluded that the “officer acted prematurely” in approaching the defendant and asking questions about the merchandise and that inferring an intent to steal was “too big a leap at [that] point.” The trail court questioned the reliability of the information provided during the suppression hearing as it all came from reports by the store employee and the police officer, both of whom were not at the suppression hearing to substantiate the information.

The Court of Appeals Agreed with the Defendant and the State—Holding that the Officer Had Reasonable Suspicion, but Not Probable Cause

On appeal, the State argued that the conversation between the police officer and the defendant was part of a consensual encounter and that the totality of the circumstances gave rise to probable cause to arrest the defendant.

The court of appeals rejected the State’s first claim that the conversation was part of a consensual encounter, but agreed with the State that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant to ask her questions. The court of appeals held that the trial court erred in concluding that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct a stop.

The court of appeals held that the trial court was within its discretion when it concluded that the State failed to meet its burden of proof establishing probable cause to arrest. This discretion was used when determining that the evidence used by the State was “questionable” with no one able to corroborate the information provided.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed the COA Judgment and Determined that an Officer has Probable Cause to Arrest for Theft Even Before the Defendant Exits the Store

The Court of Criminal Appeals recognized that both the trial court and the court of appeals recognized that it was not necessary for the defendant to take the merchandise out of the store for her to commit theft. Nevertheless, both of the lower courts erred in concluding that the officer did not have probable cause to believe that the defendant intended to steal the items.

The court explained that the officer had knowledge of at least four undisputed facts supporting the idea that the defendant intended to steal: (1) the store employee reported that the defendant was concealing items in her purse; (2) the defendant admitted to the officer that she had concealed items in her purse; (3) the shopping cart had items from the store that were not in her purse; and (4) the defendant’s jacket was covering her purse. The fact that the defendant placed some items in her shopping cart but concealed others in her purse caused the arresting officer to believe the defendant was intending to steal the concealed items.

The court supported this argument by referring to Groomes v. United States, 155 A.2d 73, 75 (D.C. App. 1959), in which the District of Columbia Court of Appeals heard a case—similar to this one—and concluded that once items are removed from the shelf and concealed or put in a convenient place for removal, the elements of a taking and appropriation are satisfied. Further, the police officer could reasonably believe that the placement of the jacket on top of the bag was used to further conceal items.

The court also addressed the lower courts’ concern of reliability of the reports by the employee and the officer. The court notes that the employee’s report was then corroborated by the admission of the defendant, and further, that the employee served as a citizen informant who the officer could reasonably rely on as one of several factors for determining probable cause.

Here, the Court determined that the lower courts erred in concluding that the police officer lacked probable cause to arrest the defendant. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgments of the courts below.

See Judge Walker’s Dissenting Opinion

DWI Jury Instruction Alcohol Burnett

Error to Instruct DWI Jury on Drug Intoxication When Not Supported By Evidence

By | DWI

Is it Error to Provide a Jury with Instructions When the Statutory Language is not Supported by the Evidence?

DWI Jury Instruction Alcohol BurnettThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down a case regarding the State’s ability to use the full statutory definition of “intoxicated” in a jury charge for DWI cases. The issue faced by the court was whether the trial court erred in providing the jury with portions of the statutory language that were not supported by evidence presented at trial.

Burnett v. State, Court of Criminal Appeals (2017)

The Facts—What Happened?

Burnett was arrested and charged with DWI after rear-ending a vehicle occupied by Bussey and Chappa. When Burnett exited his vehicle both Bussey and Chappa observed him to be intoxicated. Bussey and Chapa smelled the odor of alcohol on Burnett’s breath and noticed his speech to be slurred. Additionally, the first officer on the scene also noticed Burnett to have slurred speech and the odor of alcohol on his breath. Burnett told officers that he had not been drinking and consented to taking the standard field sobriety tests. Burnett showed signs of intoxication during the all three tests and was subsequently arrested.

In a search incident to arrest, officers found pills in Burnett’s jacket and a prescription pill bottle located in his car. The pills and prescription bottle were not photographed or admitted into evidence.

The State later charged Burnett with a Class B misdemeanor DWI and alleged that he was intoxicated “by not having the normal use of his mental and physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of the substances, and any other substance into his body . . .”

Defendant’s Motion to Suppress—The Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion then Subsequently Admitted the Excluded Evidence as Same-Transaction Evidence.

One of the officers who saw the pills at the scene thought they were hydrocodone and was going to testify regarding such. The defendant filed a motion to suppress arguing that the officers should not be able to testify to what type of pills they found because the officers were not drug recognition experts. The trial court granted the motion to suppress.

Nonetheless, the following day at trial the pill discussion was brought up again. The state advised the Court that there was video evidence from the scene showing officer Coapland, officer Allred, and Burnett talking about the pills. Specifically, it showed that “Coapland found the pills in Burnett’s jacket, he gave them to Allred, who said that the pills looked like hydrocodone. Allred asked Burnett whether he had a prescription for the medication, and Burnett responded that he did.”

The State argued that the evidence of Burnett’s pill possession should be admitted into evidence as same-transaction contextual evidence. Over Burnett’s same objection the trial court admitted the pill evidence.

Then, when the court submitted the instructions to the jury, it included in the full statutory definition of the legal term “intoxicated,” which included not only intoxication by introduction of alcohol, but also by introduction of a drug (or a combination of alcohol and drugs).  Burnett objected to this definition, arguing that the proper instruction should not include language regarding drug intoxication because there was no evidence produced at trial to indicate that he had ingested any drugs at the time of his arrest.

The Court of Appeals Agreed with the Defendant—Holding that it to be Error to Submit the Entire Statutory Language.

On appeal, Burnett argued that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that he was in possession of hydrocodone and further argued that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that it could convict him if it found that any substance other than alcohol intoxicated him.

The court of appeals agreed and held that the charging instrument must apply the law to the facts. In support they distinguished the facts in Burnett from those in Ouellette, a 2011 court of criminal appeals case.

In Ouellette, the defendant appeared intoxicated. After her arrest, officers found a drug that she expressly identified that was known to produce the same symptoms of intoxication as alcohol. Although there was no direct evidence that she consumed the drug, there was circumstantial evidence from which a rational juror could have found that she did based on her express identification of the drug and the officer’s testimony that the drug would produce similar symptoms. Thus, the jury charge in Ouellette reflected the law as it applied to the evidence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the COA Judgment and Agreed that the Jury Charge was Erroneous Since it did not Apply the Law to the Facts Produced at Trial.

The State appealed the appellate court reversal and argued that the jury charge should include the entire statutory definition regardless of the evidence presented at trial. More specifically, the State argued that the focus is only on whether the defendant is intoxicated, not the intoxicant itself. In support of this argument, the State referred to Judge Cochran’s dissenting opinion in Gray v. State, 152 S.W.3d 125, 136 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004) (Cochran, J., dissenting).

In response, Burnett argued that while the State only needs to allege that the defendant was “intoxicated” and is permitted to use the language of the entire statutory definition, it would be erroneous to provide the jury with a section of statutory language that is not supported by the evidence at trial. Burnett argued that ruling for the State would allow “such guessing [that] could ensnare thousands of innocent Texans, such as fatigued drivers and those with naturally bad balance, even though they never ingested any substance as required to prove intoxication.” Burnett also claimed that the State misinterpreted Judge Cochran’s dissent and would not apply.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the State misinterpreted Judge Cochran’s dissent; the dissent discussed pleadings rather than jury charges and thus, was not applicable. Furthermore, the Court declined to follow the State’s argument that in every case the full statutory language should be allowed regardless of evidence. The court reasoned that the trial court is responsible for ensuring the jury instructions set forth the law applicable to the evidence in the case. As such, the jury charge must be tailored to the facts presented during the trial.

The court also noted that a jury will still be permitted to consider whether the defendant is intoxicated by “any other substance” if there is evidence that the defendant ingested a substance that caused intoxication or there is circumstantial evidence for a rational juror to make an inference, like Ouellette.

Here, the Court determined that Burnett only showed signs of intoxication by alcohol—nothing else. The odor of alcohol was present on his breath, he had slurred speech and he failed the field sobriety tests. The fact that police later found pills that may have been hydrocodone was irrelevant because “there was no evidence as to what kind of drug hydrocodone is, whether it can cause intoxicating effects, or whether the symptoms of intoxication Burnett was experiencing were also indicative of intoxication by hydrocodone.” These criteria were the critical elements that were present in Ouellette but not in Burnett’s case. Accordingly, the court held the jury charge in Burnett’s case to be erroneous because it did not apply the law to the evidence presented at trial and it constituted harmful error.

Takeaways…

In any DWI case, if there is no evidence presented at trial that would suggest intoxication by drugs or vice versa by alcohol, then the defense should ask for the statutory language in the jury charge to be limited to only facts produced. Additionally, the mere fact that drugs are found is not enough, by itself, to have such language in the jury charge. If Burnett had not objected to the full statutory definition of intoxication, he could have been finally convicted based on evidence never presented at trial. (In Judge Richardson’s concurring opinion he also notes that there were no objections made to the evidence in Ouellette).

Judge Richardson Concurring Opinion

Presiding Judge Keller Dissenting Opinion

Judge Yeary Dissenting Opinion

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas Queeman

Auto Accident Turned Homicide Conviction Reversed by CCA

By | Criminal Negligence

Does Failure to Control Speed and Keep a Proper Distance from other Vehicles Prove a Gross Deviation from the Standard of Care that an Ordinary Driver Would Exercise Under the Circumstances?

Criminally Negligent Homicide Auto Accident Texas QueemanThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion in Queeman v State regarding criminally negligent homicide. The issue facing the court was whether a death, which was caused by Appellant’s failure to control the speed of his vehicle and failure to maintain a proper distance from another vehicle, proves a gross deviation from the standard of care amounting to criminally negligent homicide.

Trial Court Found Appellant Guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide.

Appellant was traveling down a two-lane highway when he drove into the back of an SUV that was waiting to make a left turn onto an intersecting road. The impact caused the SUV to be pushed into oncoming traffic where it was subsequently hit, killing one of the passengers. The accident investigator could not determine Appellant’s actual speed, and there was no other evidence to suggest a reason for his inattentiveness. However, Appellant was charged and convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to eighteen months in a state jail facility.

The Court of Appeals Reversed the Conviction, Holding that the Evidence was Legally Insufficient to Support the Conviction.

On appeal, Appellant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence from which his conviction was based upon. The accident investigator admitted that he had no way of knowing Appellants actual speed, nor did he know the amount of time or reason the Appellant was inattentive. The court of appeals determined that the evidence at hand provided no reasonable basis for the jury to prove that Appellant was traveling at excessively high speeds or was distracted for a certain reason—such as texting. As such, an inference would only amount to mere speculation. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial courts decision.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed the Court of Appeals’ Decision—Holding the Evidence did not demonstrate that Appellant’s conduct rose to the Level of “Criminal Negligence.”

To demonstrate that Appellant was criminally negligent, the State must prove:

  • The defendant’s conduct caused the death of the individual;
  • The defendant should have been aware that there was a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death from his conduct; and,
  • The defendant’s failure to perceive such risk constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care and ordinary person would have exercised under similar circumstances.

However, the Court notes that the amount of carelessness for criminally negligent homicide is much higher than for civil negligence. Here, the Court agreed that Appellant’s conduct was negligent, however it held that the conduct did not rise to gross negligence. While the evidence was sufficient to prove that the defendant was speeding, it was not sufficient to prove that he was excessively speeding, and the State presented no evidence concerning the reason or length of time for which Appellant was inattentive. Absent any other evidence to show a failure to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk caused by the defendant’s conduct, no reasonable jury could have found that Appellant’s conduct constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care of an ordinary person under the circumstances. Therefore, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Appellant’s acquittal.

Co Defendant Suppression New Trial Arizmendi

When a Co-Defendant’s Wins a Suppression but You Already Pled Guilty

By | Criminal Appeals

“Buyer’s Remorse”—Rolling the Dice on Plea Deals

Co Defendant Suppression New Trial ArizmendiThe Court of Criminal Appeals recently handed down an opinion concerning a motion for a new trial based on evidence obtained from a co-defendant’s motion to suppress hearing. The issues facing the Court were whether the defendant, who had recently entered into a plea deal, satisfied the requirements for granting a new trial on the basis of such evidence; and, whether the defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim was properly brought before the court.

State of Texas v. Arizmendi (Court of Criminal Appeals, 2017)

The Facts — Trial Court Granted Defendant’s Motion for New Trial in the “Interest of Justice.”

Rosa Arizmendi, Defendant, was convicted (after pleading guilty) for being in possession of more than 400 grams of methamphetamine with intent to deliver after officers stopped her co-defendant’s vehicle, of which she was a passenger. Both Defendant and Co-defendant were arrested as a result of the stop. On April 28, 2015, Defendant entered into a plea deal, receiving twenty-five years confinement and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, Defendant voluntarily waived her right to appeal.

Six days later, a hearing for a motion to suppress was held regarding Co-defendant’s case. The video of the stop was introduced into evidence, and the arresting officer testified, noting that he initially noticed the vehicle because it looked clean and subsequently stopped the vehicle for crossing over the while line delineating the roadway from the improved shoulder. However, the trial court concluded that Co-defendant’s vehicle was not in any violation of Texas law. The Court explained that the vehicle only came in close proximity of and possibly touched the inside portion of the white line, which is not a violation of Texas law. Thus, granting Co-defendant’s motion. See, State v. Cortez, 501 S.W.3d 606 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

Based on this information, Defendant filed a motion for new trial, “in the interest of justice,” alleging the verdict in her case was contrary to the law and evidence. Defendant’s motion referred to Co-defendant’s hearing alleging a lack of probable cause or other lawful reasons for the stop. Furthermore, Defendant asserted the officer’s testimony was new evidence not available at the time of Defendant’s guilty plea. Defendant’s counsel further asserted that because she failed to tell Defendant that a motion to suppress was an option, Defendant received ineffective assistance.

The State argued that Defendant waived her right to appeal as a result of the plea deal and had not presented any new evidence likely to result in a different ruling. Noting, all evidence could have been discovered had Defendant been diligent. The State further asserted that Defendant was merely suffering from “buyers remorse.” Moreover, the State contended Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim was not apart of the original motion for new trial and, therefore, was untimely. However, the trial court rejected these arguments and granted Defendant’s motion for new trial “in the interest of justice,” and the State appealed.

The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Trial Court’s Decision — Holding Defendant Satisfied the Requirements for Granting a New Trial Based on Newly Discovered Evidence.

On appeal the State contended that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Defendant’s motion and further reiterated its previous assertions.

The Court of Appeals, however, rejected the State’s arguments. The Court held Defendant’s motion was not barred because the trial court implicitly granted Defendant permission to appeal when it set Defendant’s motion for hearing. The Court also determined Defendant did, in fact, present new evidence. The video of the stop did not contain audio and, therefore, the testimony was new because it was not available at the time of Defendant’s plea. Accordingly, since the Court found there was new evidence they declined to rule on the ineffective assistance claim and affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed and Remanded — Holding Defendant did not Satisfy the Requirements for Relief.

The State appealed again and the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower courts’ decisions. Here, Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a plea deal and after learning of her co-defendant’s favorable outcome Defendant filed a motion for new trial. The Court concluded that Defendant’s assertions were without merit because her failure to discover “new evidence” was a result of her own lack of due diligence. Furthermore, the “new evidence” Defendant asserts was either cumulative, collateral, or would not have brought about a different result.

To obtain relief the Court noted Defendant must satisfy the following four-prong test:
• The newly discovered evidence was unknown or unavailable to Defendant at the time of trial;
• Defendant’s failure to discover or obtain the new evidence was not due to the defendant’s lack of due diligence;
• The new evidence is admissible and not merely cumulative, corroborative, collateral, or impeaching; and,
• The new evidence is probably true and will probably bring about a different result in a new trial.

Defendant asserted the following as newly discovered evidence:
• The trial court’s ruling on Co-defendant’s motion to suppress;
• The testimony of the arresting officer at Co-defendant’s suppression hearing; and,
• The arresting officer’s statement about Defendant’s vehicle being a clean vehicle.

First, the Court explained that the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress was not evidence; it was only a legal determination. And, furthermore, even if it was considered evidence Defendant’s failure to discover was due to her own lack of due diligence. Second, the officer’s testimony was evidence, but aside from the testimony regarding the clean vehicle, it was merely cumulative and Defendant had access to the video, which conveyed the very same facts as the testimony. Furthermore, the Court determined the officer’s testimony regarding the clean vehicle was collateral, at best. The Court explained that the officer’s subjective intent was irrelevant to the ruling. Moreover, Defendant could have sought a police report or even filed her own motion to suppress to obtain such evidence—just as her co-defendant did. Finally, the Court concluded that Defendant’s ineffective assistance claim was not properly before the court because it was not made within thirty days of the judgment and, therefore, was untimely.

Thus, all evidence Defendant asserts as “new” was either cumulative, collateral, or would not have brought about a different result. As such, the Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions and remanded with instructions to reinstate Defendant’s judgment and sentence.

This case prompted two concurring opinions and a dissent. See below.

Arizmendi Hervey Concurrence
Arizmendi Newell Concurrence
Arizmendi Alcala Dissent

Takeaways

It is paramount that defense attorneys review all evidence and timely seek any additional evidence that may be relevant to a client’s case. Moreover, it is crucial for attorneys to provide clients with all possible options and outcomes before entering into a plea deal. Here, Defendant had all the same options as her co-defendant; however, Defendant was not properly counseled and, consequently, Defendant will spend twenty-five years in prison while her co-defendant remains free.