Weekly Case Summaries: April 25, 2014

United States Supreme Court

Navarette v. California

No. 12-9490                            4/22/14

Issue:

When a driver called 911 to report a specific make, model, and license number of a truck that had just run her off the road at a specific mile marker, was that information sufficient to provide law enforcement with reasonable suspicion to perform an investigative stop for DWI?

Holding:

Yes. Under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated. The tip, even if anonymous, was from an eyewitness and described behavior consistent with DWI; the officer’s corroboration of the truck’s description and location established that the tip was reliable enough to justify a traffic stop. Read the opinion.

Dissent (Scalia, J.):

The court’s new rule—that as long as the caller identifies where the car is, anonymous claims of a single instance of possibly careless or reckless driving called in to 911 will support a traffic stop—could not have fit the Framers’ concept of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Commentary:

This decision should be helpful for prosecutors and law enforcement, but only time will tell whether it makes a change in how we litigate traffic stops based upon citizen reports of driving while intoxicated or reckless driving. The decision should help us argue the reliability of reports from citizen informants, as we have done previously in cases like Brother v. State, 166 S.W.3d 255 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). But Navarette may go further than Texas court decisions have gone. This decision appears to be inconsistent with Martinez v. State, 348 S.W.3d 919 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011), so perhaps we can make an argument in the appropriate case that Martinez has been overruled. One of the most interesting aspects of this decision is the reliability that the Court places upon 911 calls in general, which will have to carry forward into our arguments in the future. If you have a DWI case in which the defendant was stopped after a citizen report of the defendant’s driving behavior, you must read this decision.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Williams v. State

No. 04-13-00386-CR                          4/16/14

Issue:

Can a threat to harm someone in the future place that person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury sufficient to support a conviction for terroristic threat?

Holding:

Yes. Even if the specific threat is to bring harm at a future date, if the jury finds the action of making that threat put the victim in fear of imminent harm, the crime of terroristic threat is complete. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

Very creative job by the State in going beyond the defendant’s mere words and showing that the jurors could still make a finding of a threat of “imminent” harm. Expect that this decision may be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals. But the decision is very thorough and well-reasoned and looks to every piece of circumstantial evidence to show why the defendant’s threats amounted to a terroristic threat, punishable as a criminal offense.

Ex Parte Castillo

No. 04-13-00615-CR                          4/16/14

Issue:

In a capital murder case, when the State successfully argued against instructions for lesser-included offenses of aggravated assault and burglary and the jury subsequently found the defendant “not guilty” on the remaining capital murder charge, did Double Jeopardy then bar further prosecution of the defendant for assault and burglary?

Holding:

Yes. The assault and the burglary were both lesser-included offenses of the capital murder; therefore the defendant had already been placed in jeopardy for those crimes during the initial prosecution. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

This decision points out why we may want to permit jury instructions on lesser-included offenses. If evidence is weak, the lesser-included offenses may give the jury a palatable option, instead of an outright “not guilty” verdict for the defendant. The problem with this case is that the State’s evidence of the defendant’s intent to kill was good (he stabbed the victim in the back and repeatedly stabbed another victim who survived). This is a tough one to swallow.

In Re Hartman

No. 09-13-00579-CR

Issue:

Is mandamus an appropriate remedy when a trial judge determines evidence is not subject to discovery but an appeals court disagrees?

Holding:

Yes. A judge does not have discretion over allowing access to Brady material, so even if in the judge’s opinion the material is not Brady, if the appeals court determines the material is Brady, then the judge’s actions are ministerial, not discretionary, and mandamus will issue. Read the opinion.

Dissent (Johnson, J.):

The facts of the case were not ripe for mandamus at the time.

Commentary:

With the advent of the Michael Morton Act (the most recent amendments to Article 39.14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure), mandamus may be the increasing means by which parties litigate discovery disputes. Intermediate courts of appeals will have a great deal of mandamus cases to reference, but most of those will be in the area of civil discovery, where the rules are still very different. It will be decisions like this one to which we will have to refer when litigating discovery disputes. This court gave the trial judge no discretion in deciding whether to order the disclosure of Brady evidence, but the Brady character of the particular evidence that was not disclosed in this case seems a little tenuous, although that is not entirely clear from the facts provided in the opinion. It may be that the State will want the Court of Criminal Appeals to review this decision by filing a petition for a writ of mandamus against the court of appeals—but do not hold your breath. Mandamus is always a very tricky way to win a legal dispute, and it can fail under even the best of circumstances.

 

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