Weekly Case Summaries: April 6, 2012

Supreme Court of the United States

Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington

No. 10-945 : 04/02/12     (5-4)

Issue:

Can staff at facilities incarcerating detainees who have committed minor offenses and who will be admitted to the general population subject the detainees to a close visual inspection—without touching—of their naked bodies?

Holding (Kennedy, J.):

Yes, generally, the courts must defer to the correctional officials unless there is substantial evidence showing the policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.
Read Opinion 

Concurrence (Alito, J.,): 

The limits of the decision are important.  Officials may visually inspect detainees’ naked bodies without touching them and require the detainees to “manipulate their bodies.”  It may not always be reasonable to conduct full strip searches of a person whose detention has not been reviewed by a judicial officer and who could be held in separate facilities from the general population.

Dissent (Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, & Kagan, J.J.,):

A visual strip search for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence is a serious invasion of privacy and unreasonable under the 4th Amendment.

Commentary:

The Court certainly chose some very egregious facts that provide the background for its decision.  The defendant had been sentenced to fines only for two minor offenses, and a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to keep current on the fine payments.  Even though he later paid the fines up to date, the warrant remained outstanding, and he was arrested two years later.  He was detained in two separate facilities, both of which required him to strip and be closely examined even under his genitals.  He was released one day later after charges were dismissed.  You should not expect a strip search to be upheld on an across-the-board basis if the search involved touching the defendant.  You should not expect such searches to be upheld for all possible defendants, such as juveniles.  And you should definitely not expect such searches to be upheld for arrestees who have yet to be charged with an offense.

Rehberg v. Paulk

No. 10-788 : 04/02/12 (9-0)

Issue:

Is a complaining witness who testifies before a grand jury entitled to the same absolute immunity under 42 U.S.C. §1983 as a witness who testifies at trial? 

Holding (Alito, J.):

Yes, the same justification supporting absolute immunity for trial witnesses applies to grand jury witnesses, and there is no distinction between law enforcement and lay witnesses appearing before a grand jury.
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

I am not sure how much state prosecutors will need this decision, as we would more likely be seeking perjury charges for someone who has lied under oath.  But it is nice to know that our witnesses are immune from a federal civil rights lawsuit based upon their testimony both at trial and before a grand jury.

Supreme Court of Texas

D.P.S. v. Caruana

No. 10-0321 : 03/30/12        (7+2)

Issue:

Under the ALR Rules and TRE 803(8), must a police officer’s unsworn arrest report be excluded from evidence?

Holding (Hecht, J.,):

No; because a false statement in a governmental record is a criminal offense, the absence of the oath in an arrest report does not undermine the assurance of veracity or render the report inadmissible.  Unsworn reports about driver intoxication are always admissible as public records.
Read Opinion 

Concurrence (Jefferson, C.J., and Lehman, J.):

No, because the driver could confront the officer who took an oath before testifying. But peace officers’ reports, when offered by DPS in an ALR hearing, lack the trustworthiness necessary to come within the public records hearsay exception.
Read Concurrence 

Commentary:

If you handle ALR hearings, this decision may prove very helpful to you.  It is very well written.  But in criminal cases, there would be yet another barrier to the admissibility of such reports—the Confrontation Clause.  So this case will not change criminal prosecution too much.  But it is a good analysis under Rule 803(8).

Court of Criminal Appeals

Washington v. State

No. PD-0685-11 : 04/04/12           (per curiam)

Issue:

Did the defendant waive his right to appeal after pleading true to the allegations during a hearing to adjudicate guilt?

Holding:

No.  The waiver is not valid because the defendant waived his right to appeal before sentencing and without an agreement on punishment.
Read Opinion 

Concurrence:

A new offense committed by the defendant and the adjudication of the previous offense were tried at the same hearing.  If both cases had been a part of a single plea agreement, the defendant’s waiver of his right to appeal on the adjudication case would have been valid.
Read Concurrence

Commentary:

It is apparent from the record that the defendant intended to waive the right to appeal at the time that the waiver was executed.  But the court’s decision here is very much line with its prior holdings.  There must be a clear bargain for the waiver of the right to appeal.  So if you wish for your defendant’s waiver of his right to appeal to be valid, make sure that the record reflects that you gave something up in exchange for that waiver.  A “silent” record will not be enough.  Make it an express part of the plea papers, or memorialize it in open court (with a court reporter taking it down).

Texas Court of Appeals

Lockard v. State – 7th COA

No. 07-10-00430-CR : 3/28/12

Issue:

Did the trial court violate a defendant’s rights to due process and due course of law by refusing to answer a jury question regarding consequences of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity?

Holding:

No, the policy decisions of other courts throughout the nation do not rise to the level of a due process right or a due course of law right. Article 46C.154, as the trial court applied it here, does not “offend[] some principle of justice so deeply rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental,” and the defendant has failed to establish that the trial court applied the mandatory prohibition of article 46C.154 in a manner that deprived appellant of fundamental fairness.
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

This may be the most thorough and well-reasoned of any opinion that I have seen on this issue.  Wonderful job by the court of appeals.  And it is especially important because the court has decided the issue under the newer statute, which has the same provision as the previous version of the insanity statute.

Martin v. State – 7th COA

No. 07-11-00102-CR : 03/30/12 (not design. for pub)

Issue:

Was the evidence sufficient to sustain a conviction for trespass by entry?

Holding:

No, although the State proved that the defendant remained on the park property at a time in which his presence was not permitted, it failed to prove that the defendant entered the property without effective consent and with notice that his entry was forbidden at the time he entered.
Read Opinion

Commentary:

There was no doubt that the defendant was on the 30-acre park after hours, but the State charged the defendant with criminal trespass by “entry” (as opposed to “remaining”).  And there was no evidence as to when the defendant entered the park.  It seems likely that the defendant had been at the park for quite some time because he was found with several others sitting in a teepee (and they may have been smoking marijuana).  The moral to this story is that you should make sure that you charge the correct form of offense based upon your proof.

Delafuente v. State – 14th COA

No.14-11-00500-CR : 04/03/12

Issue:

Did an officer have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle traveling 52 mph in a 65 mph zone for impeding traffic?

Holding:

No; the offense report merely stated that the traffic volume was moderate, that there was congestion in the left lane, and that the appellant’s vehicle was traveling 13 miles per hour below the speed limit while the officer was following it. There was no evidence that the normal and reasonable movement of traffic was impeded by the appellant’s driving. The officer’s opinion that the appellant was “impeding traffic,” without specific, articulable facts to substantiate it, is insufficient to support the existence of reasonable suspicion.
Read Opinion 

Dissent:

Although the majority concludes that the offense report lacks any evidence that the normal and reasonable movement of traffic was impeded by the driving of the vehicle, the record contains sufficient facts to support the officer’s belief that the vehicle was impeding traffic.

Commentary:

This is the kind of decision that drives me crazy.  The officer testified that the defendant was “impeding traffic” based upon his slower speed.  The trial court found and ruled in his favor.  Should not the trial court’s ruling be upheld?  Unfortunately, this holding is line with a similar decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in which the court held that the State failed to prove that a defendant committed a traffic violation of following too closely because all that the officer testified was that the defendant was following too closely.  I suppose that when an officer testifies that the defendant was “impeding traffic,” you should then ask the officer, “In what observable way was the defendant impeding traffic?”  Were cars having to constantly go around him?  Were they honking?  Still, a trial court’s ruling should be upheld if it is supported by the record.  Maybe the Court of Criminal Appeals will review this decision, especially since there is a dissenting opinion.

Texas Attorney General

Request from 52nd Judicial District Attorney

RQ-1049-GA : 03/29/12

Re: Status of unused funds of a county crime victims’ office.
Read Request 

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