Weekly Case Summaries: May 27, 2016

United States Supreme Court

Foster v. Chatman

No. 14-8349        5/23/16

Issue:

Was there a Batson violation in this specific case?

Holding:

Yes. In this case the Court relied heavily on original prosecution documents that explicitly made multiple references to the race of potential jurors. Additionally, the Court did a thorough analysis of the race-neutral reasons the prosecutors gave for striking all prospective African-American jurors and found multiple factual inconsistences and instances of white jurors with the same or similar answers and opinions who were not struck from the jury. This evidence was found to strongly support the idea that the race-neutral reasons for striking minority jurors were merely pretextual. Read.

Concurrence (Alito, J.):

Justice Alito wrote to elaborate on the procedural rules of the case, but concurred in the judgment that a federal Batson violation had occurred and that the case should be remanded back to Georgia, where that state court should accept the federal decision on the federal Batson question. He cautioned against the Supreme Court hearing claims arising from state court without first waiting for a federal habeas action, however. Read.

Dissent (Thomas, J.):

Justice Thomas dissented because in his view, the Court did not have jurisdiction in the case, and wrongly decided the case on the merits. He believed that the Court should have been far more deferential to the state court’s initial findings because Batson is basically a “credibility determination.” Read.

Commentary:

A person is not a bad juror because of race, color, gender, or any similar characteristic. Rather, he may be a bad juror because of his biases, prejudices, attitudes, and beliefs. Voir dire needs to be about extracting this information from jurors so that a party can make appropriate challenges for cause and peremptory challenges. Attorneys for both sides need to ask trial judges for enough time to extract this kind of information. And attorneys who may face a claim of discrimination need a command of the facts such that they can distinguish all venire members in the strike zone from one another. Here, the prosecutors (some 30 years ago) offered some inconsistent explanations for their strikes. Combined with ambiguous materials from the prosecution files and the Court’s divide-and-conquer analysis of the prosecutors’ stated reasons for the strikes, they appear discriminatory.

Court of Criminal Appeals

Johnson v. State

PD-1496-14         5/25/16

Issue:

Should the defense have been allowed to present evidence that the minor victim had sexually abused his sister as proof of his bias or motive to fabricate testimony?

Holding:

Yes. The constitutional right to confrontation includes the right of cross-examination to show bias or fabrication, and there is no evidence of harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, concern for witness safety, or repetitive interrogation in the defense’s proposed cross-examination of the victim in this case. Because the defense was not attempting to elicit testimony regarding the victim’s juvenile adjudication for the sexual abuse, but rather to show the abuse as bias or motive to fabricate his accusation against the defendant, it should have been admitted at trial. Read.

Dissent (Keasler, J.):

The probative value of the victim’s past sexual conduct does not outweigh the danger of unfair prejudice; thus, should be barred under Rule 412 of the Texas Rules of Evidence. Additionally, because the defense was able to establish a motive for fabrication using other testimony, Judge Keasler did not believe that the Confrontation Clause should be implicated to allow this specific testimony. Read.

Commentary:

This is a long opinion with a detailed discussion of the facts. The Court holds that the evidence that the victim was molesting his younger sister around the time of the offense and investigation was admissible under Rule 412 and Rule 403. Arguably, the Confrontation Clause discussion is mere dicta. Long dicta. Child abuse prosecutors should study this decision because this situation is common in their cases.

Cole v. State

No. PD-0077-15                 5/25/16

Issue:

Were there exigent circumstances in this case to allow a warrantless blood draw?

Holding:

Yes. The Court states that the proper way to view an exigency case is “whether officers had a reasonable belief that obtaining a warrant was impractical based on the circumstances and information known at the time of the search.” The factors supporting exigent circumstances in this case were: (1) the severity of the crash and large field of debris, (2) the fact that it took place in a busy intersection and required multiple roadways to be shut down, (3) that there was only one investigator available to examine the crash site, and (4) the number of law enforcement personnel required to secure the site, leaving them unable to depart to attempt to obtain a warrant. Additionally, because this was a narcotics intoxication case, officers feared that any medical intervention would affect the accuracy of the blood sample. Read.

Dissent (Johnson, J.):

Judge Johnson dissented because in her view, the situation required a warrant for a blood draw of the defendant. Read.

Weems v. State

No. PD-0635-14                 5/25/16

Issue:

Were there exigent circumstances in this case to allow a warrantless blood draw?

Holding:

No. The fact that the defendant hid from law enforcement, during which time his blood-alcohol level naturally diminished, was not enough to be considered an exigent circumstance that allowed a warrantless blood draw. Additionally, there was nothing in the record for the court to consider regarding the time and effort it would have taken to get a warrant under the circumstances. Read.

Commentary:

Cole and Weems should be studied together so that prosecutors and police can understand what exigent circumstances are and are not. Police need knowledge of what evidence they are seeking, what personnel are available, how to procure warrants, and whether a magistrate is available—all while investigating their case and filling out hours’ worth of government-mandated paperwork. The good news is that the analysis is not done in hindsight, but rather from the viewpoint of the officer’s reasonable belief at the time of the search. It will not be an easy test to apply. In Cole, the record showed that almost half of two shifts of officers were otherwise deployed on the case and unavailable to seek a warrant. Disturbingly, some comments from the CCA and Supreme Court in recent DWI cases seem to take for granted every county has a system for 24/7 search warrants available (and funded)—that is simply not the case.

In re Harris

No. WR-80, 923-02           5/25/16

Issue:

Is the defendant entitled to a writ of prohibition that would bar the trial judge from ordering the defendant’s habeas counsel to disclose portions of the trial counsel’s files?

Holding (per curiam):

No. The defendant in this case accused his trial counsel of ineffective assistance of counsel in pretrial investigation, at the guilt/innocence phase of trial, and at sentencing. Because he claimed his trial counsel’s ineffectiveness, the defendant waived some amount of attorney-client privilege in those materials that are relevant to the claim. There is no authority that would prohibit a trial judge from ordering disclosure of certain relevant parts of the defendant’s trial file (or any authority is not so clear that it would warrant a writ of prohibition); thus, the court denied leave to file the writ. Read.

Dissent (Alcala, J.):

Judge Alcala dissented and would have granted leave to file the writ of prohibition because the issues in this case—habeas claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel—will arise in future cases. Read.

Commentary:

Here, the defendant is not allowed to claim his trial lawyer was ineffective while at the same time denying the State and the habeas court the evidence that would allow full and fair adjudication of the claim. Hooray for justice!

Office of the Attorney General

Letter from the Lavaca-Navidad River Authority

KP-0089                5/18/16

Question:

Can a river authority prohibit citizens from openly carrying handguns in parklands maintained by the river authority?

Answer:

No. While §25.004 of the Parks and Wildlife Code allows the river authority to “adopt and enforce reasonable rules relating to the use, operation, management, administration, and policing of its water-related park areas,” that does not override §§30.07, 46.03, and 46.035 of the Penal Code. These sections limit the ability of a governmental entity to prohibit guns in places other than those specifically mentioned in §§46.03 and 46.035. Read.

Commentary:

Because nothing goes with inner tubes and beer like a Glock.

Letter from the Bandera County Auditor

KP-0091                5/23/16

Question:

Can a county provide financial assistance to a nonprofit organization under Art. III, §52 of the Texas Constitution?

Answer:

Yes. Art. III, §52 of the Constitution prohibits the Legislature from allowing “any county, city, town, or other political corporation or subdivision of the State to lend its credit or to grant public money or thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association, or corporation whatsoever.” However, spending public funds for a legitimate public purpose to obtain a public benefit is allowed, even if it incidentally benefits a private interest. As long as the county ensures the transfer of money is for a public purpose, retains control over the funds, and ensures that it achieves a public benefit, financial assistance to a nonprofit is allowed. Read.

Commentary:

And get ready for more business if the money is misused or walks off.

TDCAA is pleased to offer these unique case summaries from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Attorney General. In addition to the basic summaries, each case will have a link to the full text opinion and will offer exclusive prosecutor commentary explaining how the case may impact you as a prosecutor. The case summaries are for the benefit of prosecutors, their staff members, and members of the law enforcement community. These summaries are NOT a source of legal advice for citizens. The commentaries expressed in these case summaries are not official statements by TDCAA and do not represent the opinions of TDCAA, its staff, or any member of the association. Please email comments, problems, or questions to Ashley.Martin@tdcaa.com.