Weekly Case Summaries: January 16, 2009

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Amador v. State -

1/14/09 : Cite No. PD-0144-08 : DWI Motion to Suppress

Issue

Did the trial court correctly deny the defendant's motion to suppress where the DWI video showed no standardized field sobriety tests?

Holding

Yes. Despite the lack of evidence of the defendant's performance on the field sobriety tests, the totality of the circumstances showed that the defendant's warrantless arrest was reasonable and supported by probable cause. The officer saw the defendant operate a motor vehicle on a public roadway in excess of the posted speed limit, the defendant could not find his license in his wallet and then was unusually slow in handing it to the officer, the defendant was slow in verbally responding, and the officer smelled the odor of alcohol on the defendant when he exited his vehicle.
Read opinion.

Commentary

Given that a growing number of DWI cases involve refusal of breath and FST's, it's a good thing the CCA returns the appellate courts to common sense in reviewing an officer's opinion about intoxication. What is it about the DWI that causes otherwise sensible judges to go all wonky? And why in the world is Judge Meyers dissenting?

Linton v. State -

1/14/09 : Cite No. PD-0413-08 : Court Interpreters

Issue

Did the trial court err in not providing the best interpretive services for a hearing-impaired defendant, including a deaf-relay interpreter, to ensure the defendant's full understanding of the trial proceedings?

Holding

No. The record shows that the defendant responded coherently and appropriately to questions (sometimes verbally even before the sign-language translation), was a high school graduate and a current junior college student, could understand enough English to obtain a driver's license and could communicate adequately enough with her accident victim to exchange insurance information. Both the pre-trial and trial judges stopped the proceedings to ask the defendant if she understood the proceedings, provided additional resources and services upon her request, and offered her additional time to confer with her attorney and her interpreters.
Read opinion.

Concurrence

Judge Johnson wrote to provide additional information on the special needs of hearing-impaired defendants based on her previous experience with representation of deaf clients.
Read concurrence. 

Commentary

The entire trial was videotaped. That's kind of amazing. In addition, the DWI investigation was videotaped and the defendant blew .18 an .19, making the case a very simple DWI. More importantly, the trial judge accommodated the defendant's deafness in a reasonable manner. Nice job by the CCA in finding that the constitutional standard does not require the extraordinary measures set out by the court of appeals, only that the measures taken by the trial court resulted in a fair trial. That standard of review shows respect for the exercise of discretion by a trial judge under difficult circumstances.

Laster v. State

1/14/09 : Cite No. PD-1276-07 : Legal Sufficiency

Issue

Was the evidence legally sufficient to support the defendant's conviction for attempted aggravated kidnapping when he grabbed a child walking along the sidewalk and then let her go within seconds?

Holding

Yes. The jury could have reasonably inferred from the defendant's actions that he intended to inflict bodily injury on the child when he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her toward him as she walked with her brother. The jury found that he had formed the intent to take her and then abandoned his plan only when he heard a car horn honk and realized that others had seen his action.
Read opinion.

Dissent

Judge Cochran disagreed with the majority and wrote that no rational jury could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, from the evidence in this case that the defendant had a specific intent to hold or secrete the child in a place where she was unlikely to be found, much less a specific intent to perform one of the other acts required for aggravated kidnapping, and that the crime instead was one of unlawful restraint.
Read dissent.

Commentary

This is the kind of case in which judges separate out on the basis of their personal philosophies about human behavior. The majority is willing to trust a jury to infer the defendant's intent from his actions. The dissent, surprisingly authored by Judge Cochran, is more willing to engage in personal theorizing about the alternate interpretations of the evidence.

Texas Courts of Appeal

Monge v. State - 14th COA

1/13/09 : Cite No. 14-07-00468-CR : Illegal Arrest and Confession

Issue

Was the taint of the defendant's illegal warrantless arrest for murder attenuated by his own subsequent confession?

Holding

Yes. The defendant's discovery that his accomplice had confessed and had implicated him as the shooter and another witness's corroboration of this account were legitimate intervening events sufficient to break the causal connection between the defendant's illegal arrest and his ultimate confession.
Read opinion.

Commentary

After the initial interview, when the defendant was told he was free to leave, he fell asleep on the floor of the police station and spent the night. Wow. Now, that is one comfortable, non-threatening police station. Way to go, Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. And, while it would have been pretty easy for the police to get a warrant for the defendant after the co-defendant confessed, it still seems like Texas has a ridiculously convoluted arrest law that doesn't permit a warrantless arrest for capital murder based on probable cause.

State v. Labonte - 14th COA

1/13/09 : Cite No. 14-08-00340-CR : Post-conviction DNA Testing

Issue

In the defendant's conviction for capital murder, was there sufficient evidence to find that favorable post-conviction DNA testing results would have prevented the defendant's conviction?

Holding

Yes. None of the State's evidence physically placed the defendant at the scene of the crime. The trial jury heard testimony that a stain in the back of the defendant's truck might not have been blood and that there was no reason for blood to have been in the back of the truck. Hairs found inside the truck did not match the two victims and hair from the scene did not match the defendant.
Read opinion.

Commentary

The appellate court concluded: "If mitochondrial DNA analysis shows that the stains in the truck do not contain human blood, or, if so, do not contain the victims' blood, there is a 51% chance that the jury would have found a reasonable doubt of appellee's guilt." Really? Exactly 51%? Not 49 or 52%? The court of appeals also utterly fails to explain why mitochondrial DNA testing would be any more helpful than the nuclear DNA testing that was done before trial. This is an opinion filled with enormous logical holes. Incidentally, here is the most incriminating evidence at trial, the thing that likely really got defendant convicted: videotape of defendant in interview room, saying, "Man, I've f---d up."

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