Weekly Case Summaries: March 18, 2016

Texas Courts of Appeals

Bell v. State (11th COA)

No. 11-14-00098-CR        3/10/16

Issue:

Were there exigent circumstances present at the defendant’s arrest that made a warrantless blood draw for DWI reasonable?

Holding:

No. While the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement is still available and can render a warrantless blood draw legal, it does not do so in this case. Officers made no effort to identify if a magistrate was available for signing a warrant, and the additional factors of identifying a passenger in the vehicle and alerting CPS to the presence of a child in the vehicle did not amount to exigent circumstances given that multiple officers were available on-scene to assist. Read.

Commentary:

Look at this case if you are trying to argue exigent circumstances in a McNeely situation. The court also rejected the State’s good faith argument. See Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530 (2014) (reasonable mistakes of law by officers may not violate 4th Amendment). A version of that argument has been pending at the CCA, but prosecutors should not hold out much hope for it to prevail.

Dearmond v. State (2nd COA)

No. 02-15-00195-CR        3/3/16

Issue:

Was it reasonable for a police officer to stop a car with two flat tires, with the stop eventually leading to a DWI arrest?

Holding:

Yes. The court determined that based on the totality of the circumstances, the arresting officer had both reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle based on his belief it was being operated in an unsafe condition due to the flat tires, and justification under the community caretaking exception because the officer intended to check the welfare of the driver and offer assistance. Read.

Dissent (Dauphinot, J.):

Judge Dauphinot dissented from the majority because in her view it is not possible to justify a stop based both on reasonable suspicion and community caretaking. She argued that the community caretaking function is intended to be completely separate from the detection or investigation of any crimes; thus, if the officer suspected the driver of breaking traffic laws, the officer could not have been engaged in his community caretaking function when he pulled the driver over. Read.

Commentary:

It would not seem unreasonable for the same set of facts to indicate either a person in distress or a person committing a crime. What would have been unreasonable was the officer’s decision to ignore this spectacle.

Rundles v. State (6th COA)

No. 06-15-00074-CR        3/15/16

Issue:

Was it proper for a trial court to grant a motion for directed verdict and order a jury to declare a defendant competent to stand trial?

Holding:

Yes. The Court did not address the argument of whether a defendant has the right to have a jury decide the competency issue or whether the trial court has legal authority to order the jury to issue a directed verdict in a competency hearing because the argument was not properly preserved. But the Court upheld the decision because  there was no evidence that the defendant was incompetent at the time of the competency hearing. Read.

Commentary:

A quirky case. While you might be tempted to do the same where facts show the original competency valuator really had no good basis to declare a defendant incompetent, the safer course would be to allow the jury to render a verdict finding the defendant competent. View this case as an appellate procedure case, not as informing the State’s tactics in a competency trial.

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