Weekly Case Summaries: March 24, 2017

 

U.S. Supreme Court

Manuel v. Joliet

No. 14-9496     3/21/17

Issue:

May a plaintiff bring a §1983 claim based on the Fourth Amendment to contest the legality of his pretrial confinement?

Holding (Kagan, J.):

Yes. Pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes, but also when it follows the start of legal process. In this case, a judge made a probable cause finding, but because that finding was based solely on fabricated evidence, the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment basis for his §1983 claim was not extinguished. The Court remanded the case to the Seventh Circuit to determine when the Fourth Amendment claim accrues and whether suit is barred by the statute of limitations. Read opinion.

Dissent (Alito, J., joined by Thomas, J.):

Although the dissent agreed that 4th Amendment protection continues to apply after “the start of legal process,” Justice Alito would find that legal process should mean only issuance of an arrest warrant or a first appearance in court.  “But if the Court means more—specifically, that new Fourth Amendment claims continue to accrue as long as pretrial detention lasts—the Court stretches the concept of a seizure much too far.” Justice Alito would also conclude that a claim of malicious prosecution may not be brought under the Fourth Amendment.

Dissent (Thomas, J.):

“I would leave for another case (one where the question is dispositive) whether an unreasonable-seizure claim would accrue on the date of the first appearance if that appearance occurred on some day after the arrest. I think the answer to that question might turn on the meaning of ‘seizure,’ rather than on the presence or absence of any form of legal process.”

Commentary:

This defendant was jailed for drug possession even though the pills were subjected to two negative field tests. Then someone wrote in a report that a field test was positive (even though it wasn’t). Texas prosecutors and police have dealt with enough fake dope by now that they should be more cautious (and certainly more honest) than this. Otherwise, the opinion seems to expand this citizen’s right to recover for his wrongful incarceration to include time he spent in jail after a magistrate found probable cause based on false information.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

McClintock v. State

No. PD-1641-15     3/22/17

Issue:

Does the good-faith exception in Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 38.23(b) apply when a warrant affidavit supplies probable cause, but that probable cause appears to be tainted by a prior illegality?

Holding:

Yes, if the officer reasonably believes the information he submitted in a probable cause affidavit was legally obtained. The Court concluded that the good-faith exception includes information submitted in an affidavit and not just the warrant itself. “An officer who has included information in a search warrant affidavit that he knows—or should know—to be illegally obtained cannot be said, we think, to have acted in good-faith reliance upon any warrant that may issue that depends for its probable cause upon that tainted information. Thus, the language of the statutory exception is broad enough to embrace the fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine. It is also broad enough, we conclude, to accommodate a corollary: An officer who reasonably believes that the information he submitted in a probable cause affidavit was legally obtained has no reason to believe the resulting warrant was tainted.” In this case, because a dog sniff at the defendant’s door was done before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Florida v. Jardines, the officer’s search of the residence was executed in objective, good-faith reliance on the affidavit and warrant that referred to the dog sniff. Read opinion.

Dissent (Alcala, J.):

The dissent would conclude the evidence found in the defendant’s apartment should be suppressed and the good-faith exception in Art. 38.23(b) does not apply. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is an interesting and well-written decision but it may have little practice effect on your docket unless you are sitting on cases with warrants called into doubt by Jardines. Basically, if the warrant affidavit relies on information that is determined to be illegally obtained due to an intervening court decision, it isn’t per se invalid, unless the officer can see into the future.

Ex parte Owens

No. WR-83,551-01     3/22/17

Issue:

Is a lab technician’s prior misconduct in cases involving testing alprazolam and cocaine the type of misconduct that would warrant a presumption of falsity of testing done by the same technician in a case involving possession of marijuana?

Holding:

No. In Ex parte Coty, 418 S.W.3d 597 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014), the Court set out a five-factor test for evaluating whether there should be a presumptive due-process violation in cases in which a discredited lab technician performed drug testing. Under the Coty test, the Court agreed with the trial judge that the defendant had failed to present sufficient evidence to warrant a presumption of falsity in the lab technician’s testing in this case. Specifically, the Court found that: (1) the lab technician’s handling of (“dry-labbing”) alprazolam and cocaine is not the same type of testing relevant to marijuana in the defendant’s case, because marijuana is subject to different tests, and (2) the timeframe for the lab technician’s mishandling of drug testing is not the same timeframe as in the defendant’s case. The Court concluded there was other evidence to establish the identity of the drug as marijuana, and the defendant’s guilty plea was minimally, if at all, impacted by the results of the lab technician’s analysis. Read opinion.

Commentary:

So, bad testing practices for regular drugs doesn’t necessarily mean your lab tech can’t identify marijuana. Especially when it is lots of marijuana.

Ex parte Ulloa

No. PD-0658-16     3/22/17

Issue:

Does an information toll the running of limitations in a felony case when the defendant did not waive his right to an indictment?

Holding:

Yes. As long as an information is pending in a court of competent jurisdiction, a later-filed indictment is considered to be pending for purposes of Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 12.05. Filing an information suffices to toll the statute of limitations if an indictment is later filed based on the same conduct. Read opinion.

Commentary:

These are interesting facts. The opinion does not address whether the State was filing informations in the case for the sole purpose of tolling limitations.

Villa v. State

No. PD-0541-16     3/22/17

Issue:

Is the evidence sufficient to establish the defendant was participating in an offense as a member of a criminal street gang if the victim: (1) testifies that at least six “other gang members start[ed] coming toward me,” and (2) when asked if he recognized anybody in the group, he said yes and named six people, including the appellant?

Holding:

Yes. This testimony is sufficient for a rational jury to have concluded that the people the victim named were gang members. The Court reversed the court of appeals’ holding that the evidence was insufficient, finding the appeals court failed to evaluate the evidence appropriately in light of the jury verdict. Read opinion.

Commentary:

The lower court seemed concerned that the victim did not directly state that the defendant was a member of the gang. But this was certainly a situation where the jury could infer that fact from the testimony of the victim and the State’s gang expert.

Texas Courts of Appeals

Lombardo v. State

No. 14-15-00406-CR     3/16/17

Issue:

If a judge modifies part of an order of probation conditions (in this case, lowering the monthly restitution payment), does the probation law in effect at the time of sentencing or at the time the order was modified apply?

Holding:

The law at the time of sentencing. A trial court’s decision to lower monthly restitution payments is not a separate restitution order or condition of community supervision. Therefore, the probation law in effect at the time of sentencing applies. Read opinion.

Commentary:

A straightforward application of the savings clause in the relevant bill. Almost all criminal legislation is prospective, but TDCAA always prints the savings clause language in their books to make it easy to fight off claims like this one.

Sabedra v. State

No. 10-16-00033-CR     3/15/17

Issue:

May a judge impose court costs of $133 for “copies/search” or a $5 “criminal county drug court fee”?

Holding:

No. Only court costs specifically imposed by statute may be assessed in a criminal case under Johnson v. State, 423 S.W.3d 385 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). Although there is statutory authorization for a $133 felony conviction fee and for a $60 drug court conviction fee, there is no statutory authorization for a copies/search fee or a criminal county drug court fee. Read opinion.

Commentary:

The court gives little insight into what these costs really were. Only statutorily authorized costs may be assessed, no matter how important the program is to local officials. A homegrown cost scheme once cost a major Texas county over a million dollars in lawsuit costs.

Texas Attorney General Opinion

KP-0137     3/20/17

Issue:

Does a grand jury have legal authority to deliver a report other than the return of indictments?

Conclusion:

No. The Legislature has authorized grand juries to inquire only into offenses that may be indicted and report their findings by return or rejection of an indictment. Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 2.03 does not grant the grand jury additional authority to issue reports other than indictments, and therefore, a district clerk has no legal obligation to accept a grand jury report prepared under Art. 2.03(a) as part of an investigation into official misconduct. Read opinion.

Commentary:

This is an interesting opinion. Many Texas counties report “no bills,” but that term is not mentioned in Article 2.03, and such a report seems inconsistent with this opinion.

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 [email protected]