Court of Criminal Appeals
No. PD-1427-13 3/2/16
Does the defendant bear the burden of showing a trial was closed before the court of appeals may consider a Sixth Amendment violation?
Yes. The defendant must meet an initial burden of showing that his or her trial was actually closed to the public, and only once that burden has been met may the court consider whether the closure was justified. Read.
Dissent (Alcala, J.):
Judge Alcala dissented and would have allowed the Court’s original opinion in this case, that the voir dire proceedings were closed and it was a violation of the Sixth Amendment and Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (1984), to stand. Read.
This is a much-needed re-centering of the Court’s “closed court” jurisprudence. The Court holds that a defendant raising such a claim on appeal has the burden to show a trial was “closed to the public.” This is not the same, however, as showing someone was actually excluded. Such claims will be reviewed on appeal under the same standard of review applied to motions to suppress. Nevertheless, prosecutors should be very careful that courts and their staff and bailiffs aren’t enacting policies that are simply indefensible under the Sixth Amendment. The inquiry does not necessarily end with the number of seasts in the courtroom of the courtroom's listed capacity.
No. PD-1067-15 2/24/16
Judge Meyers has issued a revised dissenting opinion in the case, here.
Texas Courts of Appeals
Aguirre v. State (14th COA)
No. 14-14-00748-CR 2/1/16
Was the search warrant for the defendant’s home, which resulted in the seizure of laptop computers, a camera, flash drive, DVDs, multiple cells phones, and other computer accessories, valid?
Yes. The defendant in this case presented seven issues that attacked the probable cause for a warrant in this case, including (1) consideration of evidence outside the affidavit; (2) a contention that there were misrepresentations in the affidavit; (3) that the affidavit was predicated on conclusory statements; (4) that there was not enough information regarding the place to be searched; (5) that there was no probable cause for the seizure of the laptop computer; (6) the facts included in the probable cause affidavit were stale; and (7) that the warrant itself was too general and overbroad. The court overruled each of these issues and the defendant’s motion to suppress. Read.
This is an example of a typical search warrant in a child sexual abuse case surviving a fairly comprehensive attack on appeal. Review of this opinion would be helpful to child abuse detectives and prosecutors to see how to improve their game.
Ex parte Allen-Pieroni (10th COA)
No. 01-15-00431-CR 2/24/16
Did the trial court abuse its discretion when applying home confinement as a condition of the defendant’s bond?
Yes. The defendant was indicted for possession of a weapon in a prohibited place and evading arrest. Other than this case, she had no criminal record; however, the judge imposed home confinement as a bond condition due to the defendant’s apparent refusal to comply with a court order in a pending child custody case that required her to turn over all firearms to her attorney. This was an abuse of discretion and should have been handled in the custody case; as such, the Court of Appeals lifted the home confinement bond condition but imposed a curfew and left the electronic monitoring provision intact. Read.
The Court holds that the trial court cannot put the defendant under home confinement because it was frustrated with her non-compliance with an order in a family law case in the same court. But is evidence that the defendant had previously threatened another with a firearm and refused to surrender her firearms not relevant to the safety of the community? Especially when, in this case, she was caught taking a firearm into the courthouse?
Alford v. State (14th COA)
No. 14-15-00360-CR 2/25/16
Should the defendant have been allowed to present evidence of the complainant’s past sexual behavior and allegations of sexual abuse in his trial for sexual assault of a child, Penal Code §22.011(a)(2)(A)?
No. Evidence of the complainant’s past sexual behavior was properly excluded because it was not related to a specific instance, Rule of Evidence 412(b); instead it was general reputation evidence and the probative value was outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Also, past allegations of sexual abuse made by the complainant were properly excluded because they were not indicative of bias or motive in this specific case. No similarities between the previous allegations and these were shown, and the parties involved were not the same; thus, they were not evidence of specific animus against the defendant. Read.
Desperate defendants try desperate tactics. His DNA was recovered from the rape kit and he admitted sexually abusing the victim on a phone call overheard by another witness. This case will be helpful in keeping this type of trial clean.
State v. Stukes (14th COA)
No. 14-15-00287-CR 2/23/16
Was the State required to allege the manner and means of each underlying assault in an indictment for continuing family violence, Penal Code §25.11?
No. An indictment for a continuous offense is not generally required to allege the elements or manner and means of all underlying or predicate offenses. Additionally, in this case the defendant was unable to show any harm that has resulted from the lack of specificity; thus, the trial court erred when it originally quashed the indictment. Read.
A tightly written opinion on what constitutes a sufficient indictment to charge the offense of continuous family violence. If you are going to prosecute this type of case, this decision will be a guide to drafting an indictment. Read this opinion to have a nice, happy feeling about indictments going into the weekend.