Weekly Case Summaries: February 2, 2017

Texas Courts of Appeals

Bradford v. State (14th COA)

No. 14-15-00707-CR        1/26/17

Issue:

Does the corpus delicti rule apply only to confessions where the defendant has admitted every fact necessary to prove guilt?

Holding:

No. Under the rule of corpus delicti, a defendant’s extrajudicial confession is not legally sufficient evidence of guilt without some independent evidence. This rule requires corroboration of two elements: 1) an injury or loss and 2) a criminal agent. Although the term “confession” is used in most cases, the corpus delicti rule also applies to “admissions of incriminating facts that do not amount to a full confession of guilt.” Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is a tough case.  The court’s opinion is very thorough with regard to whether the corpus delicti rule applies to mere admissions, as opposed to full confessions. But it is definitely very challenging for the State when faced with the task of presenting corroborating evidence of a crime of omission, essentially proving a negative. If you are faced with such a case, you will definitely need to read this decision.

Gonzalez v. State (8th COA)

No. 08-14-00293-CR        1/25/17

Issue:

Can evidence of extraneous drug use be entered into evidence as relevant to a claim of self-defense?

Holding:

Maybe. The type of intoxicant and the time period between ingestion and the events at issue will dictate how much predicate is necessary for drug use to be considered relevant. For common intoxicants, such as alcohol and marijuana, a jury’s common experience can guide its evaluation of the effects and longevity of the drug. However, with less common drugs or longer durations between drug use and a criminal act, direct testimony about the specific effects of the drug, the dose taken, and the half-life of the drug may all be required to prove relevancy. Even if relevancy is shown, a long delay between ingestion of the drug and the crime (in this case, the time between taking ecstasy and a confrontation that led to capital murder was six hours) can lower the probative value of the drug use evidence below that required to pass the prejudice balancing test under Tex.R.Evid. 403. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This case emphasizes the importance of presenting evidence of the effect of a particular drug if you are relying upon the defendant’s taking of the drug as evidence to support the defendant’s guilt of a non-drug-related offense. The court’s opinion addresses that issue pretty well. Where the court gets it wrong in this case, however, is in its harm analysis. The defense is this case was self-defense, or perhaps guilt of a lesser offense based upon a lesser culpable mental state. If evidence of the defendant’s drug use was not admissible with regard to those issues on the merits, then how could that evidence harm the defendant? The court also says that the defendant was harmed because his credibility in testifying was crucial to his case., but the court does not state how the defendant’s credibility at the time that he testified was adversely impacted by drug use several hours before the commission of the offense.

Fowler v. State (6th COA)

No. 06-16-00038-CR        1/27/17

Issue:

Can a recording made on a camera issued by a police department taken of surveillance video made by a store be admissible?

Holding:

Only if adequately authenticated. In this case, the officer adequately demonstrated that the recording he made of the store’s surveillance monitor was a duplicate copy of the relevant portion of the original surveillance recording. However, the State presented no evidence to show that the store’s surveillance video was an accurate recording or rendition of events in that particular store on a certain day at a specific time. The court concluded that the date and time stamp on the lower center part of the screen of the officer’s recording of the store recording was insufficient to show the surveillance system was working properly on the purported date and time. Read opinion.

Commentary:

Without saying so, the court appears to be of the opinion that the State was required to present a witness from the store concerning the video recording device. In support of its decision, the court relied upon a 1994 decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals, but that case also involved a video recording that had a time and date stamp on it. The high court should review this decision because the time and date stamp on the recording and the surrounding circumstances appear to show that the recording was working properly and that it depicted what it claimed to depict.

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