Weekly Case Summaries: February 17, 2012

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

United States v. Hernandez

No. 11-40201 : 2/8/12

Issue:

Were the suspect's, her boyfriend's, and the illegal alien's post-Miranda statements made following their warrantless arrests inadmissible as "fruit of the poisonous tree?"

Holding:

Yes, the statements were derived from an illegal search. Just as the officers could not have relied on the suspect's admission as probable cause to enter her home, they also could not have relied on the admission as probable cause to arrest her. Also, for all the statements, there were no intervening circumstances of significance to break the causal chain so as to attenuate the taint of the illegality. Finally, even the doctrine of inevitable discovery (inapplicable under Texas law) does not allow admission of the boyfriend's and alien's statements.
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

Operating on an anonymous tip, and without probable cause, officers went to the defendant's residence and banged on the doors and windows. One officer tried to open the front door, but an outer screen door was locked. So the officer broke the glass pane of the screen door with a baton. This is the illegal conduct upon which the appellate court relied for the basis of its holding. In a previous opinion, the court of appeals had already held that the officers' search of the residence was illegal. In this opinion, the court also holds that the defendants' statements (resulting from the illegal conduct) also should have been excluded. The moral to this story is that an officer just cannot start breaking into a residence with nothing more than an anonymous tip.

Court of Criminal Appeals

Ex parte Moussazadeh

NOS. AP-76,439 & AP-74,185 : 02/15/12

Issue:

Was the defendant's guilty plea involuntary because his trial counsel provided incorrect advice on the minimum amount of time the defendant must serve before becoming eligible for parole?

Holding:

Yes. The defendant would not have pled guilty if trial counsel had advised him correctly on parole eligibility. Parole eligibility does not need to be an essential part of the plea agreement to make a showing of an involuntary plea that resulted from ineffective assistance of counsel. Ex parte Evans, 690 S.W.2d 274 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985), is overruled.
Read Opinion 

Concurrence: (Keller, P.J.)

The court should not have addressed whether counsel has an obligation to convey information about the parole consequences of a plea.
Read Concurrence

Commentary:

Judge Keller makes an interesting point that the majority's holding should not have been applied retroactively in that it applied a new rule of constitutional law. She would have granted relief to the defendant on a much easier basis consistent with prior case law. The bottom line with this new majority decision is that, in writs of habeas corpus, and maybe even motions for new trial, you should expect to hear more defendants claim that their pleas of guilty were involuntary, even if the basis for the involuntariness of the plea was not made a part of the plea bargain.

Ex parte Miles

NOS. AP-76,488 & AP-76,489 : 02/15/12

Issue:

Was the defendant "actually innocent" after the discovery of exculpatory police reports and changed testimony from the State's primary eyewitness and the State's expert on gunshot residue?

Holding:

Yes. The newly discovered evidence proved by clear and convincing evidence that no rational jury would have convicted the defendant.
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

The court also found that the defendant suffered a Brady violation in this case. The facts are lengthy and complex, but they show how a case can go wrong when the defense is not presented with all of the evidence that he might be able to use to show and/or argue his innocence. This offense occurred almost 20 years ago, and procedures and testing have certainly improved. But it is important to go over all of the evidence in your file (and law enforcement's files) to make sure that all evidence has been presented to the defendant for his defense.

Black v. State

NO. PD-1551-10 : 02/15/12

Issue:

Did the trial court incorrectly reopen the hearing on the motion to suppress after trial had commenced to hear additional evidence in support of its pretrial denial of the motion?

Holding:

No. It was within the trial court's discretion to reopen the motion to suppress hearing, outside the presence of the jury, to supplement the record with additional testimony, even over the objection of the defendant. The court of appeals correctly considered the additional evidence when reviewing the propriety of the ultimate ruling on the motion to suppress.
Read Opinion 

Dissent: (Meyers, J.)

The State did not fulfill its burden in proving the validity of the warrants during the initial suppression hearing, and the prosecutor's attempt to remedy the faulty hearing during trial should have been prohibited by the court.
Read Dissent 

Commentary:

A motion to suppress is nothing more than an objection to the admissibility of evidence, and a trial judge can reconsider his ruling on that objection at any time during the proceedings. But remember that this rule goes both ways. The defense can urge that a trial judge reopen a motion to suppress, and (if the trial judge so chooses), that can be done in the defendant's favor as well. And also note that this decision holds that a trial judge MAY reopen a hearing on a motion to suppress, but the decision does not hold that a trial judge is REQUIRED to reopen such a hearing. So if you fail to present sufficient evidence to support the correct ruling at a first hearing, you may not necessarily be given a second chance. But please ask to do so because this decision makes it clear that you can.

Texas Court of Appeals

Cook v. State – 2nd COA

No. 02-10-00338-CR : 2/9/12

Issue:

After the jury had sentenced the defendant and been discharged, did the trial court improperly permit it to reassemble just seven minutes later to re-deliberate and enter the verdict it intended?

Holding:

Yes; because the jury left the judge's eyesight and had been released from its obligations, it could have been subject to outside influence. The error was harmful too because the verdict was changed to delete community supervision. Reformation is not possible so a new punishment hearing is ordered.
Dissent: The record indicates that someone communicated with a juror between discharge and reconvening. The judgment should be modified.
Read Opinion

Commentary:

You may see this case again on petition for discretionary review before the Court of Criminal Appeals. The facts are very unusual, but it may be that the higher court will want to review this decision to determine the proper remedy—whether the defendant must go through an entirely new punishment hearing, or whether the defendant should be placed on probation as the jurors had originally stated in their written punishment verdict.

State v. Garcia – 7th COA

Nos. 07-11-0100/0101-CR : 2/10/12\

Issue:

Did the trial court incorrectly decide that the State had failed to satisfy the 180-day deadline of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (IADA)?

Holding:

Yes. Although the defendant initiated a request under the IADA, he failed to forward the certificate required by CCP art. 51.14 (from his custodian); thus, the deadline remained dormant.
Read Opinion 

Commentary:

This is a fact-intensive case, but if you handle extradition cases, you should definitely keep it handy. It recites many of the basic requirements for pursuing the speedy resolution of an extradition case. 

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