Weekly Case Summaries: May 29, 2009

United States Supreme Court

Montejo v. Louisiana

05/26/09 : Cite No. 07-1529 : Custodial Interrogation

Issue

Are law enforcement officers free to approach for custodial interrogation a defendant who has first appeared before a magistrate at the jail?

Holding

Yes, so long as the officers first read the suspect his Miranda rights and have obtained a waiver of counsel under standard Miranda rules. With this decision, overruling Michigan v. Jackson (prohibiting interrogation of a defendant who invoked his right to counsel at arraignment), the Supreme Court allows for a bypass of the issue created in Rothgery v. Gillespie County (where magistration created protection under the Sixth Amendment with regard to right to counsel). The Court concluded, "What matters for Miranda and Edwards is what happens when the defendant is approached for interrogation, and (if he consents) what happens during the interrogation - not what happened at any preliminary hearing."
Read opinion.

Commentary

This is the case of the year in criminal justice. By adjusting the bright-line rule arising from the 6th Amendment Right to Counsel to match the rule arising from the 5th Amendment Right to Counsel (Miranda), as it applies to custodial interrogation, the SCOTUS resolved the confusion created by Rothgery. Justice Scalia's majority opinion provides a refreshingly supportive view of the value of a confession in the criminal justice system. Read this opinion, summarize the new standard and immediately notify your law enforcement of the change. Justice Alito's concurring opinion has the fun job of taking the dissenting four to task for criticizing the standard applied for overruling precedent when they were happy with the application of that standard in an earlier case this term (changing the bright-line rule for search of vehicle incident to an arrest).

Texas Courts of Appeals

Brock v. State - 1st COA

05/21/09 : Cite No. 01-08-00509-CR : Jury Charge

Issue

Did the trial court incorrectly refuse to include the lesser-included offense of misdemeanor assault in the jury charge during the defendant's trial for assault on a public servant?

Holding

Yes. Two inmate witnesses testified that the incident began with an unprovoked attack on the defendant, to which he responded by striking the officer. The officer and two other officers who witnessed the altercation testified that the officer was blindsided when the defendant struck him. The court held that a rational jury could find that the officer may have either criminally or tortiously abused his status as a public servant by acting outside the lawful discharge of his duties during the altercation.
Read opinion.

Commentary

An interesting way to go from a maximum punishment range of life in prison to one year in county jail. Why not just apply a self-defense charge and go for a not guilty? Anyway, over and over, prosecutors learn the hard way that plausible lesser-included offenses should be included in the jury charge. The jury is either going to believe the guard or the inmate. Let them make the choice in a way that does not permit reversal on appeal.

Briseno v. State - 4th COA

05/20/09 : Cite No. 04-08-00353-CR : Community Supervision Conditions

Issue

For a defendant charged with sexual assault of an adult victim, is a trial judge allowed to impose conditions of community supervision limiting the defendant's interaction and contact with minor children and subjecting him to warrantless searches?

Holding

Yes. The searches were to be conducted during certain hours and only by the defendant's supervision officer. The provisions restricting the defendant's interaction and contact with minor children were modified to allow him contact with his own family and otherwise were reasonably related to the purposes of probation, even though his victim was not a child.
Read opinion.

Commentary

A good affirmation of the trial court's discretion to impose reasonable conditions of probation.

Gabriel v. State - 14th COA

05/21/09 : Cite No. 14-08-00037-CR : Warrantless Search

Issue

In his prosecution on a theft charge, did the defendant have an expectation of privacy in the postal box that he had rented within a retail shipping and mailing center?

Holding

No. By submitting the federally required form to rent a postal box in a commercial mailing center, the defendant created an agency relationship with the mailing center. The defendant's postal box could be opened only in the front by a key, while the back remained open to the mailing center employees. The manager of the mailing center had the authority to consent to the investigator's warrantless request to view the defendant's mail by collecting the mail from the postal box and copying the front of the envelopes.
Read opinion.

Commentary

A very elaborate investigation of an identity theft and credit card abuse crime ring. And a nice, creative application of search and seizure techniques by combining a postal box search, license plate search, garbage run and ATM photo records to catch this thief.

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