Weekly Case Summaries: January 24, 2014

Supreme Court of Texas

In the Interest of K.N.D.

No. 13-0257                1/17/14

Issue:

Was there sufficient evidence to support a finding that a child was removed for “abuse and neglect” based on abuse the child’s mother suffered at the hands of her roommate, the mother’s occupation as a prostitute, and the fact that the mother had previously relinquished her parental rights to her first child because she could not care for him?

Holding:

Yes. A court should consider risks or threats posed by the environment in which the child is being raised as well as decisions the parent made with previous children in deciding to remove a child for “abuse and neglect.” Read the opinion.

Commentary:

Termination appeals may be the most difficult appellate prosecutors face. Some appellate decisions have swept aside procedural rules and seemed to bend over backwards to return broken babies to dangerous situations. This decision, and the Texas Supreme Court’s decision in In re E.C.R., 402 S.W. 3d 239 (Tex. 2013), give prosecutors hope that termination cases will now be safer on appeal.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Saenz v. State

No. 04-12-00238 CR              1/22/14

Issue:

When the State charges a murder as capital murder under a multiple-victims theory, must the jury unanimously agree on exactly who was murdered?

Holding:

No. A jury must unanimously agree that a single criminal offense occurred, not how it was committed. Murdering multiple people is a single criminal offense of capital murder. If everyone on the jury believes the defendant murdered multiple people, jurors don’t also have to agree as to which people were murdered by the defendant. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

The facts of the case are chilling: The defendant, who worked in a dialysis clinic, injected bleach into multiple patients under her care, causing multiple deaths and injuries. The court conducts a detailed analysis and determines that, in a multiple-victims capital murder, the jury need not be unanimous about which of the victims were killed, as long as jurors unanimously determine that multiple victims were killed. Saenz will probably have greater application to the “serial killer” kind of case where there may be questions about identity of the killer of some victims.

Hernandez v. State

Nos. 07-11-00039-CR; 07-11-00040-CR                   1/17/14

Issue:

Was a defendant’s confession still voluntary even though it came after a detective said during her interrogation the defendant would never see her kids again if she didn’t tell the truth and that her cooperation might allow a judge to show her leniency?

Holding:

Yes. Coercive conduct alone doesn’t make a confession involuntary. The totality of the circumstances must show that the defendant’s will was overborne and her capacity for self-determination was critically impaired by the coercion. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

A well-written opinion pointing out how certain concepts can be used properly and improperly by interrogators. Key in this case was that the officer did not set up a quid pro quo or cause-and-effect situation. He did not threaten to take her children away if she did not talk, nor did he promise that she could keep her children if she did talk. The interrogator did play on her feelings about her children, but that was not such that it “overbore her will” and rendered the statement involuntary.

Brumbalow v. State

No. 10-11-00427-CR              1/9/14

Issue:

Is misdemeanor resisting arrest a lesser-included of aggravated assault against a public servant?

Holding:

No. Misdemeanor resisting requires a showing that the defendant used force against a peace officer or another, which is not an element of aggravated assault against a public servant. Read the opinion.

Commentary:

The CCA changed the landscape of lesser-included offense analysis with its opinion in Hall. It is good to see the lower courts applying that decision and overruling prior decisions that are unsound in light of Hall.

 

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