Weekly Case Summaries: February 21, 2014

Texas Courts of Appeals

Ramirez v. State

Nos. 04-12-00764-CR & 04-12-00765-CR                2/12/14

Issue:

After his wife filed for divorce, the defendant tracked his estranged wife down at her boyfriend’s mother’s house, poured gasoline on her car, set it on fire, brandished two samurai swords, kicked in the door of the house, and threatened to kill his wife while holding one sword against her throat and the other against her side. In the indictment for arson and burglary, could the State name the defendant’s wife as the owner of the house on a theory she had a greater right to possession than the boyfriend, even though her boyfriend’s mother was the actual owner?

Holding:

Yes. There was evidence at trial that established the defendant’s wife was baking a pie in the kitchen of the house when the defendant set her car on fire. In a case of first impression, the court held that this evidence established the defendant’s wife had some right to actual care, custody, control, or management of the house. Because the defendant himself had no right of possession in the house, his wife’s right, however limited, was greater by default. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

If you are forced to allege a non-title-owner as the owner, look at this decision, and consider some of the facts upon which you will need to rely to get past a sufficiency challenge. This decision should hold up on review by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Could not happen to a nicer guy. After reading the facts, you get the feeling that no court would want to reverse this gentleman’s conviction. Good job by the State in saving these convictions.

Barnes v. State

No. 07-11-00382-CR              2/13/14

Issue:

1) May an in-person tip provide enough reasonable suspicion to justify the detention and subsequent search of a suspect and the suspect’s vehicle?

2) Can the plain-view doctrine authorize the warrantless search of a suspect’s entire vehicle?

Holding:

1) Yes. When a citizen-informer meets the police in person, the informer places himself in a position of accountability, and his information deserves to be given great weight. A detention based on facts supplied by a citizen-informer, which are adequately corroborated by the detaining officer, does not violate the Fourth Amendment. In this case, the citizen-informer’s tip that the suspect was a convicted felon who possessed stolen guns was corroborated by drugs and paraphernalia police were shown in a house the suspect was utilizing, and the fact that the suspect showed up outside the house. Read the opinion.

2) Yes. An officer’s observation of contraband or evidence of a crime in plain view inside an automobile can establish probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle, including the glove compartment and center console. The Supreme Court held in Gant that police could search a vehicle incident to arrest only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search. But the plain-view doctrine, in conjunction with the automobile exception, justifies a warrantless search of a vehicle. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

This is such a great decision for prosecutors. There is very good language about the reliability of citizen-informants—something that courts needs to recognize more and more—distinguished from confidential informants who are often more connected to the criminal world. This decision is even more important for its application of the automobile exception and the plain view doctrine. It provides an excellent counterpoint to the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in Keehn v. State, which is cited in this court’s opinion. This decision is thoroughly researched and well-organized. You should definitely read this one.

 

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