Case Summaries

Each week, TDCAA staff members summarize the most important cases from Texas and federal criminal courts and provide insightful commentary on how those cases could impact the criminal justice system as well as a link to the opinions. Find a library of previous Weekly Case Summaries here.

Summaries

June 11, 2021

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Pugh v. State

No. PD-0546-20                         6/9/21

Issue:

Was it reversible error to admit a defendant’s statements into evidence when the defendant first volunteered that he had “stuff” in his car and an officer asked him, “What do you got in the car?” before Mirandizing him? 

Holding:

No. Without addressing whether the officer’s question constituted a custodial interrogation, the Court held that admitting the defendant’s answer was harmless. The defendant’s prior statements to the officer, contraband within his reach found in the car registered to his wife, and other evidence outweighed any harm in admitting his answer. Read opinion.

Concurrence (Walker, J. joined by Newell, J.):

The independent source doctrine applied in this case, and “[u]nfortunately for the [defendant], he was the ‘independent source.’ … His voluntary statement about having ‘stuff in the car’ provided police with probable cause to search the Impala independent of [the] [o]fficer[‘s] separate, unlawful follow-up question.” Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is a decision solely about the application of a harm analysis, so it may be of limited value to prosecutors. But it is a good reminder that violations of Miranda v. Arizona lead to suppression of resulting statements only, not suppression of physical evidence that might result from the statements.

Ex parte Gomez

Nos. PD-0724-20 & -0725-20                6/9/21

Issue:

Can a bond be revoked as insufficient under Art. 17.09 once it has been posted?

Holding:

Yes. Under Govt. Code §54.856, a district court has the power to review and change a magistrate’s decision in revoking bail. In doing so, “Art. 17.09 does not require a trial court to justify its ruling; it only requires that the trial court ‘find’ that the bond is insufficient in amount.” There is no requirement to show “good and sufficient cause” to support a finding of insufficient bond. Rather, that decision is reviewable for an abuse of discretion by a court of appeals. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is a great case. This decision reviews Art. 17.09, §3 and squarely places the ultimate authority for setting a defendant’s bond with the trial judge, not the initial magistrate. You may find prior decisions in which a magistrate’s determination of bail takes precedence over a trial court’s determination of bail, but those cases almost certainly deal with situations in which the trial court has not yet obtained jurisdiction over the defendant’s case. This dispute appears to have arisen in cases in which the defendant had already been charged in the trial court. In those situations, the trial court is not bound by the magistrate’s decision regarding bail, even if there has been no change in circumstances since the magistrate made that initial bail determination. The court also makes it clear that there is no distinction between the terms “bail” and “bond.” The two terms are interchangeable. Don’t go crazy with this decision, however. Art. 17.15 will still control the trial court’s (and the magistrate’s) determination in setting bail.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Chaves v. State

No. 01-19-00524-CR                  6/3/21

Issue:

Was the defendant entitled to a mistrial when the court clerk inadvertently overlooked an eligible juror when calling the names of the first 12 persons who would make up the jury?

Holding:

No. Although Art. 35.26 states “the clerk shall … call off the first 12 names on the lists that have not been stricken …”, no violation had occurred because it was a clerical mistake, and neither the State nor the defendant had struck the omitted juror on their strike lists. For those reasons, the Court held there had not been a violation “of the spirit and intent” of the jury selection process. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This decision underscores how difficult it is—and should be—for a defendant to obtain a mistrial. Just because a mistake has occurred, just because an error has occurred, that does not mean that the defendant is entitled to a mistrial. The defendant in this case still had a fair and impartial jury, and the proceedings could go forward.

Fuller v. State

No. 02-20-00101-CR                  6/3/21

Issue:

Was a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial violated when his trial did not occur until three years after he was arrested?

Holding:

No. While “[t]he length of delay is presumptively prejudicial, weighing against the State …”, the Court determined most of the delay was due to the time it took the lab to analyze blood evidence. In addition, the defendant had not diligently asserted his speedy-trial right and failed to establish any prejudice to his defense because he agreed to wait for the DNA testing and did not raise the issue until after two years had passed after his arrest. Read opinion.

Commentary:

Because this is a speedy trial decision, it is necessarily very fact-bound. Nevertheless, this decision may be helpful if the delay in a case is based upon laboratory testing. Such a delay will still weigh against the State, but not as heavily. As with many speedy trial claims, this defendant’s claim was largely doomed by his own delay in asserting his right to a speedy trial. If you want to learn some speedy trial law, this decision could be a good start. It is an extremely thorough application of the Barker v. Wingo factors.

Null v. State

No. 14-19-00839-CR                  6/8/21

Issue:

Did the trial court correctly admit DNA evidence related to an extraneous sexual assault at the punishment phase?

Holding:

Yes. Expert testimony regarding the testing of the defendant’s DNA by an outsourced lab in conjunction with the expert’s lab was reliable under Rule 702 of the Texas Rules of Evidence. Although the expert was not physically present for the testing, she ensured the lab followed the necessary steps in establishing the DNA profile. Read opinion.

Dissent (Hassan, J.):

Regarding other extraneous offense evidence presented at trial, the dissent stated: “I find it impossible to conclude the admission of evidence improperly connecting [the defendant] to a similar sexual assault was not harmful and would reverse and remand for a new punishment hearing.” Read opinion.

Commentary:

A full analysis of the admissibility of the expert witness’s opinion did not occur in this case because the defendant did not raise sufficient objections at trial. But this decision is entirely in line with prior cases that allow an expert witness to give her own opinion, even if she did not personally conduct the analysis. Her expert opinion is not rendered inadmissible simply because she lacked personal knowledge of every underlying fact.

TDCAA is pleased to offer these unique case summaries from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Courts of Appeals and the Texas Attorney General. In addition to the basic summaries, each case will have a link to the full text opinion and will offer exclusive prosecutor commentary explaining how the case may impact you as a prosecutor. The case summaries are for the benefit of prosecutors, their staff members, and members of the law enforcement community. These summaries are NOT a source of legal advice for citizens. The commentaries expressed in these case summaries are not official statements by TDCAA and do not represent the opinions of TDCAA, its staff, or any member of the association. Please email comments, problems, or questions to Stephanie Huser.