Weekly Case Summaries: April 22, 2016

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas

Cruz, et. al. v. Abbott, et. al.

No. 5:16-CV-067-DAE     4/14/16

Issue:

Can Penal Code §20.05(a)(2) currently be enforced as written? 

Holding:

No. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction that blocks the enforcement of §20.05(a)(2) as written because that section of the law is likely to be preempted by federal law, including §§1323, 1324, 1327, and 1328 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. As a result, “state and local law enforcement officers and officials at all levels have no authorization to investigate, search, seize, arrest, detain, or prosecute” anyone based upon §20.05(a)(2) of the Penal Code while the injunction remains in effect. Read.

Commentary:

This is the type of decision that may ultimately reach the United States Supreme Court. There are only a few decisions that have confronted the constitutionality of state statutes that, in some way, criminalize the encouragement of someone to enter or remain in the United States in violation of federal immigration law. Most have been decided in the same way that Judge Ezra (a Reagan appointee originally serving as a judge in Hawaii) made this decision. This is an extremely thorough and well-reasoned decision. If you are interested, the meat of this decision is in §IV(C), and you will learn more about federal preemption law than you probably ever wanted to know. The bottom line is that you probably should not bring a prosecution under §20.05(a)(2), unless you hear that a state court or higher federal court has decided differently.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Mayer v. State (14th COA)

No. 14-14-01011-CR        4/7/16

Issue:

Must a defendant know he or she was involved in a collision involving death or injury to a person to be convicted of failure to stop and render aid?

Holding:

No. Transportation Code §550.021(a), as amended in 2013, does not require the defendant to know that he or she hit a person before the State can show failure to stop and render aid. The Legislature specifically added §550.021(a)(3), which states: “The person shall … (3) immediately determine whether a person is involved in an accident, and, if a person is involved in the accident; remain at the scene . . .” to close the loophole used by drunk drivers that they were unaware that they hit another person when they left the scene. Read.

Commentary:

This is a very helpful decision, and it will be useful for those cases where you cannot quite bring a prosecution for intoxication manslaughter and/or criminally negligent homicide arising from a motor vehicle crash. It faithfully follows decisions from the Court of Criminal Appeals and should hold up under further review.

Nichols v. State (14th COA)

No. 14-15-00259-CR        4/12/16

Issue:

Can a municipal traffic ordinance be more restrictive than the Texas Transportation Code?

Holding:

Yes, so long as there is no conflict between the ordinance and the Code, a municipal ordinance may institute additional traffic regulations. In this case Transportation Code §545.104 does not require use of a turn signal for vehicles turning from a private driveway or parking lot onto a highway; however, the city municipal code requires the use of a turn signal at any point and on any roadway when other traffic may be affected. Because it is more restrictive and does not attempt to make legal any action that the Transportation Code makes illegal, the municipal regulation is allowed. Read.

Commentary:

This decision was decided in the context of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to move to suppress evidence based upon the allegedly illegal traffic stop, so it is not a direct holding on the validity of such a traffic stop. If you believe a municipal ordinance will justify your officer’s actions where the Transportation Code does not, read this decision carefully, as well as the Patterson decision it cites and distinguishes.

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Smith v. State (14th COA)

No.14-15-00037-CR         4/12/16

Issue:

Was the use of a service dog during a child witness’s testimony overly prejudicial?

Holding:

No. The defendant did not preserve any objections to the dog based on Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 38.074, and the court did not find the use of the animal to be overly prejudicial. The dog was seated inside the witness box and entered and exited the courtroom outside the presence of the jury; as such, there is no evidence that his presence was harmful in any way. Read.

Commentary:

This is a great decision upon which you can rely to use a service animal to comfort or calm a child/witness when he or she testifies in court. But familiarize yourself with Article 38.074 if you want to use something or someone to comfort or calm such a child/witness. 

Woodman v. State (14th COA)

No. 14-15-00032-CR, 14-15-00033-CR       4/5/16

Issue:

Did a juror’s visit to the crime scene prior to the sentencing phase of the trial have a prejudicial effect on the outcome?

Holding:

No. The court found that because the visit occurred after the guilt stage and before deliberations on punishment began, because substantial crime scene evidence had already been introduced and the crime scene was not an issue at punishment, and because the juror had personal knowledge of the scene prior to trial, it was reasonable to conclude that the visit had no prejudicial effects on the sentence and the defendant was not entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Read.

Commentary:

This decision was made in the context of the trial court’s refusal to hold a hearing on the defendant’s motion for new trial, which was based upon juror misconduct. As such, the court’s opinion reads more like a harm analysis than a holding that it is OK for jurors to visit crime scenes before the trial has concluded. It is a good decision on whether a trial judge should be required to hold such a hearing, but do not use it to suggest that jurors should visit the crime scene on their way home during the trial.

TDCAA is pleased to offer these unique case summaries from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Attorney General. In addition to the basic summaries, each case will have a link to the full text opinion and will offer exclusive prosecutor commentary explaining how the case may impact you as a prosecutor. The case summaries are for the benefit of prosecutors, their staff members, and members of the law enforcement community. These summaries are NOT a source of legal advice for citizens. The commentaries expressed in these case summaries are not official statements by TDCAA and do not represent the opinions of TDCAA, its staff, or any member of the association. Please email comments, problems, or questions to [email protected]