Weekly Case Summaries: September 23, 2016

Court of Criminal Appeals

Stevenson v. State

No. PD-0122-15                 9/21/16

Issue:

Must a civil commitment order under Health and Safety Code §841.081(a) be final to be effective? Is each violation of the order a separate offense?

Holding:

No. A civil commitment order is effective immediately upon issuance, thus the defendant was subject to criminal charges for violating the order, even though he had appealed the order and the Court of Appeals had not yet issued its decision. However, violation of a civil commitment order is one “unit of prosecution” for double-jeopardy purposes. The fact that the defendant violated the order in multiple ways does not open him up to multiple punishments. Read.

Commentary:

This is a good decision. The Court would have undermined the efficacy of the civil commitment scheme had they allowed an appeal of the commitment order to prevent its enforcement. The Court’s double jeopardy analysis is an excellent example of how to apply the “units of prosecution” analysis.

Furr v. State

No. PD-0212-15                 9/21/16

Issue:

Is the State always entitled to a “guns follow drugs” presumption in assessing the reasonableness of police pat-downs for persons accused of possessing drugs?

Holding:

No. A previous ruling of this Court, that “it is objectively for a police officer to believe that persons involved in the drug business are armed and dangerous,” applied to persons selling narcotics, not merely possessing or using drugs. The Court declines to create a per se rule that it is objectively reasonable to pat down a person suspected only of possessing drugs. Read.

Dissent (Meyers, J.):

Judge Meyers would have found the stop and frisk of the defendant in this case unlawful and supports moving back to a standard where “specific, articulable facts” were necessary for reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and that anonymous tips must be independently corroborated for reliability. Read.

Commentary:

A useful decision if you are litigating a Terry frisk case. The Court distinguishes Florida v. JL from the facts and upholds the frisk. What the Court did not mention was the lower court’s attempted resurrection of the “consistent with innocence” analysis. It is of no moment that a given set of facts may be consistent with innocence—it is what those facts mean to the officer on the ground. We should be wary of creating bright line rules like “you can always frisk a drug suspect”—those rules will break down. But, police will be able to frisk a suspect accused of using drugs, who acts suspciciously, in a high-crime area, who does not follow instructions, and who seems intoxicated.

Tate v. State

No. PD-0730-15                 9/21/16

Issue:

Did the appeals court incorrectly apply the Jackson standard in its sufficiency review?

Holding:

Yes. The court of appeals was required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the guilty verdict, not to apply alternative reasonable hypotheses or possible innocent explanations. The fact that the contraband in this case was in plain view, in a place easily accessible by the defendant, and claimed to be owned by him, when analyzed cumulatively, is sufficient evidence to find a guilty verdict for possession of a controlled substance. Read.

Commentary:

The Court should not have had to write this opinion in 2016. The lower court’s analysis was the sort that used to get the courts of appeals in trouble during the Clewis area. In any event, this case will be the most up-to-date authority if you are called upon to argue affirmative links in a dope case.

State v. Hill

Nos. PD-0019-15, PD-0020-15, PD-0021-15 & PD-0022-15              9/21/16

Issue:

Does a trial court have discretion to hold a pretrial evidentiary hearing on a defendant’s motion to quash and dismiss?

Holding:

Yes. Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 28.01 specifically gives trial courts broad discretion to hold pretrial hearings on preliminary matters including, “pleadings of the defendant,” exceptions to the form or substance of the indictment, or “discovery.” Additionally, federal case law holding that it is not an abuse of discretion to refuse to hold a discovery hearing based only on allegations, does not require the inverse assumption, that it would be an abuse of discretion to conduct such a hearing. Read.

Commentary:

We will be seeing this case cited often. Prosecutors are called on to review many difficult cases: death penalty cases, allegations against politicians, allegations against police. Some attorneys and judges will view this decision as an open door to investigate behind the face of an indictment. It is interesting that the Court included a detailed recitation of the salacious facts in this case—the same holding could have been reached with a short opinion. At its core, however, the case is about the trial court’s discretion to hold a hearing, not the evidentiary threshold that requires a hearing. Good luck with that argument.

Ex parte Gonzalez

No. WR-85,601-01            9/21/16

Issue:

Is the defendant entitled to habeas relief because the parties did not understand the law in relation to the facts of this case?

Holding (per curiam):

Yes. The defendant pled guilty under §481.116(b) of the Texas Health and Safety Code to possession of a controlled substance under Penalty Group 2, however neither the State nor the defendant were aware at the time of the plea that subsection (d) had been added to §481.103 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, meaning the defendant could not be prosecuted for possessing the substance in question. Read.

Commentary:

This appears to be the first Adderall writ.

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