Weekly Case Summaries: November 4, 2011

Texas Court of Appeals

Rodriguez-Flores v. State – 3rd COA

No. 03-09-00433-CR : 10/28/11

Issue 1:

Did the trial court incorrectly prevent the defense from asking panelists whether they could follow the law of duress and acquit regardless of the victim's status as a child?

Holding:

Yes, the inquiry was a proper commitment question including only those facts leading to a valid challenge for cause. But the error was harmless.
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Issue 2:

Did the trial court wrongly admit the defendant's incriminating statements to a pretrial services officer employed to advise on pretrial bond?

Holding:

Yes, although the witness was not a typical agent of the state conducting a custodial interrogation, the witness's testimony about the defendant's unwarned statements changed her role from one of reporting to the court to a state agent collecting incriminating evidence for prosecution. Nevertheless, the error was harmless.
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Commentary:

The discussion of whether a pretrial release officer is an agent of the State for purposes of requiring Miranda warnings is carefully addressed. Unfortunately, the opinion punts on that issue before reaching a conclusion and, instead, finishes with a harmless error analysis. Miranda warnings were likely necessary, though, for the statements to come into evidence. The officer did more than just ask basic questions about bail.

State v. Esparza – 8th COA

No.08-10-00173-CR : 10/26/11

Issue:

Did the trial court improperly grant in part a motion to suppress on a theory it thought applicable although the theory had not been urged by the defense?

Holding:

Yes. While a trial court's ruling should be upheld if it is correct under any theory of law applicable to the case, the theory must be one offered by the defense. Exclusion of evidence must be based on a precise and timely request. Here, the seven theories advanced by the defense did not apply. 
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Commentary:

The defendant (and possibly the court of appeals) seems to be confusing challenges to the legality of an arrest and collection of evidence with the separate predicates for the admission of that evidence. Also, once a legal arrest was established, the defendant had the burden of establishing some other factual basis for showing an illegality that should lead to suppression. The key to this outcome was the defendant's misunderstanding of the burden of proof. Kind of a strange hearing.

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