Weekly Case Summaries: March 12, 2010

U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Cir.

Wooten v. Thaler

03/02/10 : Cite No. 07-70044

Issue:

In a death penalty case, did the incomplete evidence in the State's possession during plea negotiations violate Wooten's right to due process by leading him to believe the DNA was not as strong as it turned out to be?

Holding:

No, the State has no obligation to turn over incriminating evidence, and the late-submitted inculpatory DNA evidence was unintentionally delayed. The State did not affirmatively act to deceive. Read Opinion.

Commentary:

Defendant makes the rather creative argument that he should be able to go back and take a plea bargain for life in prison because the State's case got stronger during trial. If that argument was constitutionally supported, then nearly every guilty verdict might be in danger. Nonetheless, the court's opinion does note a line of cases suggesting that such a theory might be appropriate if the State "deliberately deceived" the defendant as to the strength of the State's case. So, don't go tricking the defendant into a jury trial.

 

Texas Courts of Appeals

In the matter of D.H.

03/05/10 : Cite No. 03-07-00426-CV

Issue:

Did public-school officials violate the 4th Amendment when they required students to leave their items in a classroom and permitted a canine to sniff the items for narcotics?

Holding:

No, a relatively minor privacy interest was implicated, the invasion of the interest was not significant, and the seizure "effectively addressed the problem of student drug use and served the important governmental interest in protecting students' safety and health." Read Opinion.

Commentary:

There is something a bit shocking about reading that drug use in schools has become such a problem it is reasonable to empty a classroom and have a dog sniff over student backpacks without any specific information suggesting the presence of drugs. Nonetheless, the opinion clearly explains how the school conducted the search in a reasonable manner, avoiding individual embarrassment to any student. Note also that the search did not involve a dog sniff of any student. That likely would have been unreasonable absent specific information to believe that the student had drugs. Might be a good opinion to have your children read before they take their backpack to school.


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