Monthly archive

June 2019

June 2019 SDR – Voice for the Defense Vol. 48, No. 5

Voice for the Defense Volume 48, No. 5 Edition

Editor: Michael Mowla

From Editor Michael Mowla:

        1. I summarize each opinion in a manner that allows readers to generally use this SDR instead of reading every opinion.

        2. If you determine that a summarized opinion is relevant to one of your cases, I urge you to read the opinion and not rely solely upon these summaries.

        3. The summaries reflect the facts and relevant holdings and do not reflect my opinion of whether the cases correctly: (1) recite the facts presented at trial; or (2) apply the law. My opinions (if any) are preceded by “Editor’s Note.”

        4. This SDR is for you. Send me suggestions on how I may improve it.

Editor’s note: No relevant criminal cases were handed down by the SCOTUS since the last SDR.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

United States v. Campos, No. 18-50416, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 13057 (5th Cir. April 30, 2019) (designated for publication) [Mandatory minimum supervised release terms]

        Under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(b)(1)(B) & 860(a), the minimum supervised release sentence for an underlying drug conviction is 8 years.

        Under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(h) and U.S.S.G. § 7B1.3(g)(2), when supervised release is revoked, the district court may order the defendant to supervised release after prison, which is subject only to a maximum of the term of supervised release authorized by statute for the offense that resulted in the original term of supervised release less any term of imprisonment that was imposed upon revocation of supervised release. U.S.S.G. § 7B1.3(g)(2).

        Under Glover v. United States, 531 U.S. 198, 204 (2001), the risk of unnecessary deprivation of liberty undermines the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings in the context of plain error because of the role the district court plays in calculating the range and the relative ease of correcting the error. Unlike cases where trial strategies might be criticized for leading to a harsher sentence, U.S.S.G. miscalculations result from judicial error.

        Supervised release terms constitute a substantial restraint on liberty.

United States v. De Nieto, No. 16-51142, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 13058 (5th Cir. April 30, 2019) (designated for publication) [Loss-amount reliability; disqualification of counsel]

        Under United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948), a finding is clearly erroneous when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. But under United States v. Harris, 597 F.3d 242, 250 (5th Cir. 2010), there is no clear error if the district court’s finding is plausible in light of the entire record. Under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 cmt. 3(C), given the district court’s unique position to assess the evidence and estimate the loss amount, its loss determination is entitled to appropriate deference. The 5th Circuit gives wide latitude to the district court to determine the loss amount. The district “court need only make a reasonable estimate of the loss based on available information and need not be determined with precision. In making its loss-amount estimate, a district court may rely upon information in the PSR so long as that information bears some indicia of reliability. When a defendant challenges a PSR’s loss estimate, he bears the burden of presenting rebuttal evidence to demonstrate that the information in the PSR is inaccurate or materially untrue.

        Under U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 cmt. 3(A), the loss amount is the greater of actual loss or intended loss. An “actual loss” is the reasonably foreseeable pecuniary harm that resulted from the offense. An “intended loss” is the pecuniary harm that the defendant purposely sought to inflict, even if that harm would have been impossible or unlikely to occur.

        The 5th Circuit will not reverse a district court’s disqualification of counsel for conflict unless the defendant can show the district court abused its discretion.

        A district court abuses its discretion if it: (1) relies on clearly erroneous factual findings; (2) relies on erroneous conclusions of law; or (3) misapplies the law to the facts.

        Under Wheat v. United States, 486 U.S. 153, 159 (1988), while the right to be represented by counsel of choice is comprehended by the Sixth Amendment, the aim of the Amendment is to guarantee an effective advocate for each defendant rather than to ensure that a defendant will inexorably be represented by the lawyer whom he prefers. The right to choose one’s own counsel is circumscribed in several important respects, including where counsel has an actual conflict of interest or a serious potential conflict of interest that may arise during trial. The presumption that a defendant is entitled to counsel of choice may be rebutted by a showing of actual or potential conflicts of interest. Whether a party has met its burden to demonstrate these conflicts of interest must be left primarily to the trial court. Defendants may waive conflicts of interest in some situations, but the district court must be wary of the problems implicating the comprehension of the waiver to protect the integrity of the court and defend against future attacks over the adequacy of the waiver or the fairness of the proceedings. Even a valid waiver does not end the inquiry because the district court must ensure that trials are conducted within ethical standards and legal proceedings appear fair to all who observe them. Given the delicate balancing of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights with conflicts of interest that are hard to predict, the district court is allowed substantial latitude in refusing waivers where an actual conflict is demonstrated before trial and a potential for conflict exists that may burgeon into an actual conflict as the trial progresses.

        A court need not hold a hearing before granting a motion to disqualify counsel. A hearing is necessary only to uncover nuanced, hidden conflicts. Where actual and potential conflicts are apparent from the record, a hearing is not necessary.

United States v. Flores, No. 18-40334, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 13059 (5th Cir. April 30, 2019) (per curiam) (designated for publication) [Juvenile adjudication for aggravated assault is not a violent felony for an ACCA sentence enhancement]

        Under the ACCA, the penalty is increased to a minimum of 15 years if the defendant has three previous convictions for a violent felony if he is convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (committing a firearms offense after being convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year).

        Under 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B), a violent felony is any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year or any act of juvenile delinquency involving the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device that would be punishable by imprisonment for such term if committed by an adult that: (i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves the use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.

        Under Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 257 (2013), and Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2251 (2016), to determine whether a conviction qualifies as a violent felony under the ACCA, the “categorical approach” is used, which examines the elements of the offense rather than the facts underlying the conviction or the defendant’s actual conduct to determine whether the enhancement applies. If the elements of the statute forming the basis of the defendant’s conviction are the same as or narrower than those of the generic offense, then there is a categorical match and the enhancement is proper. But a state crime cannot qualify as an ACCA predicate if its elements are broader than those of a listed generic offense. The categorical approach must also be used for prior juvenile cases.

        For a juvenile adjudication to constitute a predicate offense for an ACCA enhancement, it must involve the use or carrying of a firearm, knife, or destructive device.

        The elements Texas aggravated assault covers a greater swath of conduct than the elements of the relevant ACCA offense. Causing serious bodily injury does not categorically require the use or carrying of a knife, firearm, or destructive device. Per Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(a)(17), a deadly weapon is “a firearm or anything manifestly designed, made, or adapted for the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury; or (B) anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.” Thus, a deadly weapon could be anything, including a hand or foot. Thus, both prongs of Texas aggravated assault are broader and cover a greater swath of conduct than the relevant ACCA offense for juvenile offenses.

        Aggravated assault under Texas law does not categorically require the use or carrying of a knife, firearm, or destructive device, and cannot qualify as a predicate offense under ACCA for juvenile adjudications.

United States v. Ganzer, No. 17-51042, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 12203 (5th Cir. April 24, 2019) (designated for publication) [Good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule]

        Under United States v. Carrillo-Morales, 27 F.3d 1054, 1060–1061 (5th Cir. 1994), and United States v. Jones, 133 F.3d 358, 360 (5th Cir. 1998), when reviewing a denial of a motion to suppress evidence, the 5th Circuit reviews factual findings for clear error and the constitutionality of law enforcement action de novo. A district court’s ruling in a motion to suppress should be upheld if there is any reasonable view of the evidence to support it. The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party that prevailed.

        Under Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 231 (2011), the exclusionary rule was created by the SCOTUS to supplement the bare text of the Fourth Amendment, which protects the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures but is silent about how this right is to be enforced. It operates by generally barring the prosecution from introducing evidence obtained through a Fourth Amendment violation. Its purpose is to deter violations of the Fourth Amendment and not to redress the injury of the victim of an unreasonable search or seizure. Application of the rule is not a personal constitutional right. Nor is it automatic if there was a Fourth Amendment violation.

        Under United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 907–913 (1984), the good-faith exception allows admission of evidence obtained by officers acting in reasonable reliance on a search warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate but later invalidated. The exclusionary rule is designed to deter police misconduct and not judicial errors or misconduct. It cannot be expected and should not be applied to deter objectively reasonable law enforcement activity. Where the officer is acting as a reasonable officer would and should act in similar circumstances, excluding the evidence will not further the ends of the exclusionary rule. The costs and benefits of suppressing reliable physical evidence seized by officers reasonably relying on a warrant issued by a detached and neutral magistrate compels the conclusion that such evidence should be admissible in a prosecution. However, suppression remains an appropriate remedy where it is clear that the officer had no reasonable grounds for believing that the warrant was properly issued. The deterrence benefits of exclusion vary with the culpability of law enforcement conduct. When police exhibit deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent disregard for Fourth Amendment rights, the deterrent value of exclusion is strong and outweighs the resulting costs. But when police act with an objectively reasonable good-faith belief that their conduct is lawful or their conduct involves only simple, isolated negligence, the deterrence rationale loses much of its force.

        The good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule can apply to warrants that are void ab initio.

        Under United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 923 (1984), there are four situations that indicate the presence of bad faith and require the application of the exclusionary rule despite a warrant having been issued: (1) the magistrate issuing the warrant was misled by information in an affidavit that the affiant knew was false or would have known was false except for his reckless disregard of the truth; (2) the magistrate wholly abandoned his judicial role; (3) the affidavit is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable; and (4) the warrant is so facially deficient in failing to particularize the place to be searched or the things to be seized that the executing officers cannot reasonably presume it to be valid.

United States v. Ricard, No. 18-30047, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 12598 (5th Cir. April 26, 2019) (designated for publication) [42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b)(1)(A) (Medicare kickbacks); 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7) (identity theft); 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (making a false statement to a federal agency); sufficiency of the evidence; deliberate ignorance instruction; Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) (18 U.S.C. § 3663A)]

        Under Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979), when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, a court views all evidence whether circumstantial or direct in the light most favorable to the government, with all reasonable inferences and credibility choices to be made in support of the jury’s verdict. The jury retains the sole authority to weigh any conflicting evidence and to evaluate the credibility of witnesses. Evidence is sufficient to support a conviction if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The inquiry is limited to whether the jury’s verdict was reasonable, not whether the reviewing court believes it to be correct. A preserved sufficiency claim is reviewed de novo but with substantial deference to the jury verdict.

        If a defendant fails to file motions for judgment of acquittal under Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 29 after the close of the government’s evidence and after the verdict, review is under the manifest miscarriage of justice standard, in which a claim of insufficiency is rejected unless the record is devoid of evidence pointing to guilt or if the evidence is so tenuous that a conviction is shocking.

        To sustain a conviction under 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b)(1)(A) (Medicare kickbacks), the evidence must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant: (1) solicited or received renumeration, (2) in return for referring an individual for a service, (3) that may be paid under a federal healthcare program, and (4) that the defendant acted knowingly and willfully.

        Under 18 U.S.C. § 371, to prove a conspiracy, the government must show the defendant knowingly and voluntarily entered into an agreement with another person to pursue an unlawful objective and committed an overt act in furtherance of the unlawful objective.

        To prove a willful act under 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b)(1)(A) (Medicare kickbacks), the government must prove that the act was committed voluntarily and purposely with the specific intent to do something the law forbids (with bad purpose either to disobey or disregard the law). Under Bryan v. United States, 524 U.S. 184, 196 (1998), knowledge that the conduct is unlawful is all that is required.

        To sustain a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7) (identity theft), the evidence must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant: (1) knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses (2) without lawful authority (3) a means of identification of another person (4) with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law.

        To sustain a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (making a false statement to a federal agency), the evidence must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant: (1) made a statement (2) that was false (3) material (4) knowingly and willfully (5) falls within agency jurisdiction.

        When evidence is admitted under Fed. Rule Evid. 404(b), the abuse-of-discretion standard is heightened because evidence in criminal trials must be strictly relevant to the particular offense charged. A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is based on an erroneous view of the law or a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence. Evidence erroneously admitted under Rule 404(b) is subject to a harmless error inquiry so any error, defect, irregularity, or variance that does not affect substantial rights must be disregarded.

        Under Fed. Rule Evid. 404(b)(1), evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character. But under Fed. Rule Evid. 404(b)(2), bad-act evidence may be admissible for proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. The test for admissibility requires a determination that the extrinsic-offense evidence: (1) is relevant to an issue other than the defendant’s character (such evidence is admissible if it is of similar subsequent conduct relatively closely linked in time and evidence of intent on that subsequent occasion allows inferences about the intent underlying the conduct); and (2) possesses probative value that is not substantially outweighed by its undue prejudice, which is based on: (i) the government’s need for the extrinsic evidence, (ii) the similarity between the extrinsic and charged offenses, (iii) the amount of time separating the two offenses, and (iv) the court’s limiting instructions, but should not be admitted if it is of a heinous nature (like a violent act) that would incite the jury to irrational decision by its force on human emotion, must be similar in magnitude to the charged crimes, and must not occupy a disproportionate amount of the jury’s time).

        A deliberate ignorance instruction serves to inform the jury that it may consider evidence of the defendant’s charade of ignorance as circumstantial proof of guilty knowledge. It guards against a defendant who chooses to remain ignorant so he can plead lack of positive knowledge in the event he should be caught. The danger of such an instruction is that when a defendant must have acted knowingly or willfully, the jury might convict for negligence or stupidity. A deliberate ignorance instruction should be given only when a defendant claims a lack of guilty knowledge and the proof at trial supports an inference of deliberate ignorance. An inference of deliberate ignorance exists if there is evidence showing (1) subjective awareness of a high probability of the existence of illegal conduct, and (2) purposeful contrivance to avoid learning of the illegal conduct. The instruction may be proper if a defendant argues that he was not aware his conduct was illegal.

        When the defendant does not object to error before the district court, plain error review applies. Under Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 52(b), a court of appeals may consider errors that are plain and affect substantial rights even though they are raised for the first time on appeal. Under Molina-Martinez v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 1338 (2016), and United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725 (1993), these conditions must be met before a court may consider plain error: (1) error that has not been intentionally relinquished or abandoned; (2) the error must be plain (clear or obvious); (3) the error must have affected the defendant’s substantial rights, which requires the defendant to show a reasonable probability that but for the error, the outcome of the proceeding would have been different; and (4) the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

        Value of the improper benefit conferred used in U.S.S.G. § 2B4.1 equals gross value less direct costs.

        Restitution under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (MVRA) (18 U.S.C. § 3663A) is limited to the actual loss directly and proximately caused by the defendant’s offense of conviction. The burden to demonstrate the amount of the loss sustained by a victim is on the government. The MVRA approves burden-shifting based on which party is best able to satisfy those burdens and who has the strongest particular incentive to litigate the particular issues involved.

        In healthcare fraud cases, an insurer’s loss for restitution purposes must not include amounts that the insurer would have paid had the defendant not committed the fraud (defendant is entitled to have Medicare’s loss amount offset by the value of services provided to patients). A least a portion of the burden to establish an entitlement to a restitution credit should be transferred to the defendant in Medicare cases where the defendant claims that legitimate medical services were provided. The defendant has a burden to show entitlement to an offset against the amount of loss and meets it by establishing that: (1) the services he provided to Medicare beneficiaries were legitimate, and (2) Medicare would have paid for those services but for his fraud.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

Cauthren v. State, No. PD-0560-18, 2019 Tex.Crim.App. LEXIS 402 (Tex.Crim.App. April 17, 2019) (designated for publication) [DW finding in DWI cases]

        Under Moore v. State, 520 S.W.3d 906, 908 (Tex.Crim.App. 2017), in any felony offense in which it is shown that the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon, the trial court shall enter a DW finding in the judgment.

        Under Brister v. State, 449 S.W.3d 490, 493 (Tex.Crim.App. 2014), Cates v. State, 102 S.W.3d 735, 738 (Tex.Crim.App. 2003), and Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979), a DW finding is legally sufficient if after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding, any rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that a vehicle was used or exhibited as a deadly weapon. A motor vehicle is not a deadly weapon per se but can be found to be a deadly weapon if it is used in a manner that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.

        All felony DWI cases do not warrant an automatic or per se deadly weapon finding. A deadly weapon finding in a DWI case is dependent upon testimony in the record about the manner of use.

        Under Sierra v. State, 280 S.W.3d 250, 254 (Tex.Crim.App. 2009), when assessing a defendant’s manner of driving, a court must examine whether the driving was reckless or dangerous. Evidence of the driver’s intoxication and the fact of a collision alone does not support a deadly weapon finding absent evidence that the vehicle was driven in a deadly manner during the commission of the offense. There must be evidence that the manner of driving was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury apart from the collision and intoxication.


  • On June 16, 2012, at about 2:00 a.m., Appellant was driving on the Highway 6 frontage road near Tabor Road outside of Bryan when Elbrich stepped in front of his vehicle.
  • Appellant’s vehicle collided with Elbrich and Elbrich’s head hit the passenger-side windshield.
  • Elbrich had been walking on the right side of Tabor Road after leaving a bar nearby.
  • Appellant was driving about 30 mph on a lightly traveled frontage road when Elbrich stepped in front of his vehicle.
  • Appellant swerved to avoid Elbrich but was unable to avoid a collision.
  • Officers believe that by putting Elbrich in his vehicle and not driving to a hospital where Elbrich could get help, Appellant used his vehicle in a way that could have hurt Elbrich “real bad” or even resulted in death.
  • Appellant’s windshield was shattered with a spider web of broken glass. There was a large indentation in the windshield where it appeared Elbrich’s head stuck the vehicle, and the hood had minor damage.
  • Appellant stopped, got out of his vehicle, saw that Elbrich was bloody and unconscious, and put Elbrich in his vehicle to take him to the hospital.
  • Instead of going directly to the hospital, Appellant drove to a house located near downtown Bryan to exchange vehicles with his girlfriend.
  • While at this house, Appellant was involved in an altercation, and the police were called. Appellant smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, his eyes were glassy and bloodshot, and was swaying as he moved.
  • Officers also noticed a bloody and incoherent Elbrich in the passenger seat of Appellant’s vehicle and the windshield of the vehicle shattered.
  • Appellant told officers that he had struck Elbrich when Elbrich stepped in front of his vehicle.
  • Appellant initially told officers that he had not had anything to drink that night, but later admitted to consuming two “Four Lokos.”

  • At trial, Appellant testified that he drank the Four Lokos between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. the previous day.
  • Appellant refused to perform SFSTs or submit to a blood draw.
  • Officers arrested Appellant for DWI.
  • Appellant was indicted and tried for felony DWI with a DW finding.
  • The jury found Appellant guilty as charged and found that Ap­pellant used or exhibited a deadly weapon (a motor vehicle) during the of the offense.
  • The jury sentenced Appellant to six years in TDCJ.
  • On appeal, Appellant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s DW finding. The 13th Court of Ap­peals affirmed.

The evidence was insufficient to support the DW finding.

  • Under Tex. Penal Code § 49.04, a person commits an offense if he operates a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. If the State proves two previous intoxication offenses related to operating a motor vehicle, the DWI becomes an F-3.
  • Under Moore v. State, 520 S.W.3d 906, 908 (Tex.Crim.App. 2017), in any felony offense in which it is shown that the defendant used or exhibited a deadly weapon, the trial court shall enter a DW finding in the judgment.
  • Under Brister v. State, 449 S.W.3d 490, 493 (Tex.Crim.App. 2014), Cates v. State, 102 S.W.3d 735, 738 (Tex.Crim.App. 2003), and Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979), a DW finding is legally sufficient if after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding, any rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that a vehicle was used or exhibited as a deadly weapon. A motor vehicle is not a deadly weapon per se but can be found to be a deadly weapon if it is used in a manner that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.
  • All felony DWI cases do not warrant an automatic or per se deadly weapon finding. A deadly weapon finding in a DWU case is dependent upon testimony in the record about the manner of use.
  • Under Sierra v. State, 280 S.W.3d 250, 254 (Tex.Crim.App. 2009), when assessing a defendant’s manner of driving, a court must examine whether the driving was reckless or dangerous. Evidence of the driver’s intoxication and the fact of a collision alone does not support a deadly weapon finding absent evidence that the vehicle was driven in a deadly manner during the commission of the offense. There must be evidence that the manner of driving was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury apart from the collision and intoxication.
  • There is little evidence about the manner in which Appellant used his vehicle while committing DWI.
  • The State’s allegation that Appellant used his vehicle as a DW before and at the time of impact because Appellant failed to control his vehicle and either applied his brakes too late or never applied his brakes at all is not supported by the evidence and cannot be inferred from the facts. Reasonable inferences, however, must be supported by the evidence presented at trial. While a jury may infer reckless or dangerous driving from the evidence, such an inference based on the facts here goes too far.
  • After the collision, there is no evidence that Appellant operated his vehicle in a manner that this Court has recognized as reckless or dangerous. It is not reasonable to infer reckless or dangerous driving from the fact that by not taking Elbrich directly to get help, Appellant used his vehicle in a way that could have hurt Elbrich “real bad” or resulted in his death. Preventing Elbrich from receiving needed medical attention is not related to the manner in which Appellant operated his vehicle.
  • While Appellant’s decision to not take Elbrich directly to the hospital may have been reckless, it does not demonstrate that Appellant operated his vehicle in a manner that is reckless or dangerous.
  • The DW finding in the judgment of the court of appeals is reversed and the trial court’s judgment is reformed to delete it. 

Texas Courts of Appeals

Babel v. State, No. 14-17-00762-CR, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 3144 (Tex.App.—Houston [14th Dist.] April 18, 2019) (designated for publication) [Reasonableness of a mistake made by a cop]

        Under Crain v. State, 315 S.W.3d 43, 48 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010), Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 327 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000), and Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997), a ruling on an MTS is reviewed under a bifurcated standard of review: almost total deference to the trial court’s determination of historical facts that turn on credibility and demeanor, de novo on other application-of-law-to-fact issues, nearly total deference to application-of-law-to-fact questions (mixed questions of law and fact) if their resolution turns on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor, and de novo on mixed questions of law and fact if their resolution does not turn on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. Under Osbourn v. State, 92 S.W.3d 531, 538 (Tex.Crim.App. 2002), and State v. Garcia-Cantu, 253 S.W.3d 236, 241 (Tex.Crim.App. 2008), the trial court’s decision must be affirmed if it is correct on any theory of law that finds support in the record.

        Under Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 328 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000), if the trial court does not make explicit FFCL, the evidence is reviewed in a light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling, and the review assumes that the trial court made implicit findings of fact supported in the record that buttress its conclusion.

        Under State v. Cortez, 543 S.W.3d 198, 204 (Tex.Crim.App. 2018), and the Fourth Amendment, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to justify a warrantless detention that amounts to less than a full custodial arrest. An officer may make a traffic stop if the reasonable-suspicion standard is satisfied. An officer has reasonable suspicion if the officer has specific, articulable facts that, combined with rational inferences from those facts, would lead the officer reasonably to conclude that the person detained is, has been, or soon will be engaged in criminal activity. We review reasonable suspicion by considering the totality of the circumstances. When a police officer stops an individual without a warrant, the State has the burden of proving the reasonableness of the stop at a suppression hearing. Under Brodnex v. State, 485 S.W.3d 432, 437 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016), this examination is an objective standard that disregards the subjective intent of the officer and requires only some minimal level of justification for the stop.

        Under Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530, 532, 536 (2014), an officer’s reasonable mistake does not render a traffic stop illegal. It is not required that factual determinations made by agents of the government always be correct, but that they always be reasonable.


  • On September 5, 2016, at about 8:00 p.m., Trooper Huayamave was on routine patrol on highway FM 529 in Harris County.
  • The sky was clear and traffic was heavy.
  • Huayamave believed visibility was not less than 1,000 feet.
  • The video from Huayamave’s on-board dashcam (SX-1) showed that all but one other car and appellant had their head lamps illuminated.
  • The street lamps along the roadway were illuminated.
  • Businesses on the roadway were illuminated by private light poles.
  • The sky was not brightly lit. The dashcam continuously adjusted to accommodate for decreasing light in the sky.
  • Huayamave passed appellant while traveling in the same direction.
  • The headlights and taillights of appellant’s car were not illuminated.
  • After passing appellant’s vehicle, Huayamave drove ahead, stopped in the middle of the road in a turn lane. Huayamave watched appellant’s car to see if she was going to activate her lights. Appellant passed Huayamave’s patrol vehicle and did not have her headlights illuminated.
  • Huayamave pulled behind Appellant’s car and activated his emergency lights. Appellant immediately began to pull over.
  • Huayamave informed appellant that her front headlamps were not illuminated. Appellant responded in confusion about whether her headlamps were activated or not. Appellant never indicated a belief that she was not required to have her headlamps illuminated. Appellant asked Huayamave, “So they’re, like, completely off?” Huayamave indicated the possibility that the headlamps were burnt out. Huayamave reached into appellant’s vehicle and manually activated the headlights.
  • Huayamave asked appellant whether she’s “doing okay.” He told appellant that he observed her “driving kind of slowly, too.”
  • Huayamave began administering SFSTs and arrested appellant.
  • Appellant was charged by information with DWI (class B).
  • The State amended the information to reflect a BAC of at least .15, increasing the offense level to a Class A.
  • Appellant filed an MTS alleging that Huayamave made a traffic stop for an offense that was not being committed—an alleged traffic law violation of driving without headlights at nighttime (30 minutes after sunset) or when visibility is less than 1,000 feet.
  • Per appellant, sunset occurred at 7:37 p.m., so the earliest time that Huayamave could have pulled appellant over under Tex. Transp. Code § 547.302 is 8:07 p.m.
  • Thus, the arrest was made 7 minutes before the law mandated that appellant turn on her headlights. The stop occurred earlier.
  • The State concedes the 30-minute period had not expired when Huayamave initiated the stop but that Huayamave had a reasonable but mistaken suspicion that appellant was committing the crime of failing to display her lights.

It is okay that a cop is unable to figure out when sunset occurs and count forward 30 minutes provided the cop is “reasonable” in his “mistaken belief.”

Editor’s note: This is the complete relevant law on the standard of review for suppression hearings.

  • Under Crain v. State, 315 S.W.3d 43, 48 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010), Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 327 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000), and Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997), a ruling on an MTS is reviewed under a bifurcated standard of review: almost total deference to the trial court’s determination of historical facts that turn on credibility and demeanor, de novo on other application-of-law-to-fact issues, nearly total deference to application-of-law-to-fact questions (mixed questions of law and fact) if their resolution turns on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor, and de novo on mixed questions of law and fact if their resolution does not turn on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. Under Osbourn v. State, 92 S.W.3d 531, 538 (Tex.Crim.App. 2002), and State v. Garcia-Cantu, 253 S.W.3d 236, 241 (Tex.Crim.App. 2008), the trial court’s decision must be affirmed if it is correct on any theory of law that finds support in the record.
  • Under Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 328 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000), if the trial court does not make explicit FFCL, the evidence is reviewed in a light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling and the review assumes that the trial court made implicit findings of fact supported in the record that buttress its conclusion.
  • Under State v. Cortez, 543 S.W.3d 198, 204 (Tex.Crim.App. 2018), and the Fourth Amendment, an officer must have rea­sonable suspicion to justify a warrantless detention that amounts to less than a full custodial arrest. An officer may make a traffic stop if the reasonable-suspicion standard is satisfied. An officer has reasonable suspicion if the officer has specific, articulable facts that, combined with rational inferences from those facts, would lead the officer reasonably to conclude that the person detained is, has been, or soon will be engaged in criminal activity. We review reasonable suspicion by considering the totality of the circumstances. When a police officer stops an individual without a warrant, the State has the burden of proving the reasonableness of the stop at a suppression hearing. Under Brodnex v. State, 485 S.W.3d 432, 437 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016), this examination is an objective standard that disregards the subjective intent of the officer and requires only some minimal level of justification for the stop.
  • Under Heien v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 530, 532, 536 (2014), an officer’s reasonable mistake does not render a traffic stop illegal. It is not required that factual determinations made by agents of the government always be correct, but that they always be reasonable.
  • Because Huayamave arrested appellant without a warrant, the State had the burden to prove reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop.
  • Under Tex. Transp. Code § 547.302, Duty to Display Lights, (a) A vehicle shall display each lighted lamp and illuminating device required by this chapter to be on the vehicle: (1) at nighttime; and (2) when light is insufficient or atmospheric conditions are unfavorable so that a person or vehicle on the highway is not clearly discernible at a distance of 1,000 feet ahead. (b) A signaling device, including a stoplamp or a turn signal lamp, shall be lighted as prescribed by this chapter. (c) At least one lighted lamp shall be displayed on each side of the front of a motor vehicle. (d) Not more than four of the following may be lighted at one time on the front of a motor vehicle: (1) a headlamp required by this chapter; or (2) a lamp, including an auxiliary lamp or spotlamp, that projects a beam with an intensity brighter than 300 candlepower.
  • Under Tex. Transp. Code § 541.401(5), “nighttime” is the period beginning one half hour after sunset and ending one half hour before sunrise.
  • It is undisputed that sunset occurred at 7:37 p.m. and Huayamave arrested appellant around 8:00 p.m. Thus, the arrest was made 7 minutes before the law mandated that appellant turn on her headlights and the stop occurred even earlier.
  • Because Huayamave saw that only appellant and one other person didn’t have their headlights on and the trial court decided that “it’s totally unreasonable to expect Huayamave to get on his radio and call headquarters to ask what time does the sun set tonight when he is in the middle lane on a five-lane road with moderate to heavy traffic traveling in both directions, it was objectively reasonable for an officer in Huayamave’s position to believe both that 30 minutes had elapsed after sunset and that appellant’s failure to turn on her headlights was a violation of Texas law.”

Editor’s note: Instead of protecting cops who violate the Constitution, how about mandate that cops should not stop people who are not committing any crime because they (the cop) can’t figure out when sunset occurs and count forward 30 minutes? This cop didn’t have to “get on his radio and call headquarters” to find out when the sun sets as the court contends. He could have figured it out in 10 seconds with an Internet search on his phone and looked at the time on the phone.

Erwin v. State, No. 06-18-00058-CR, 2019 Tex. App. LEXIS 3245 (Tex.App.—Texarkana April 24, 2019) (designated for publication) [Legally sufficient evidence for Tex. Penal Code § 32.53(b), exploitation of an elderly individual]

        Under Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979), and Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 895 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010), to determine legal sufficiency, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, a reviewing court considers whether the factfinder was rationally justified in finding the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The reviewing court does not substitute its judgment for that of the factfinder by reevaluating the weight or credibility of the evidence but defers to the factfinder’s resolution of conflicts in testimony, weighing of evidence, and drawing reasonable inferences from the facts. The evidence is measured by the elements of the offense as defined by the hypothetically correct jury charge. Malik v. State, 953 S.W.2d 234, 240 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997). Circumstantial evidence and direct evidence can be equally probative in establishing the guilt of a defendant, and guilt can be established by circumstantial evidence alone. Under Hart v. State, 89 S.W.3d 61, 64 (Tex.Crim.App. 2002), proof of mental state will almost always depend upon circumstantial evidence, and knowledge may be inferred from the person’s acts, words, and conduct. The standard of review is the same for direct and circumstantial evidence. Hooper v. State, 214 S.W.3d 9, 13 (Tex.Crim.App. 2007). The reviewing court considers events occurring before, during, and after the commission of the offense and may rely on actions of the defendant that show an understanding and common design to do the prohibited act. It is not required that each fact “point directly and independently to the guilt of the appellant” if the cumulative force of all the incriminating circumstances is sufficient to support the conviction.

        To obtain a conviction under Tex. Penal Code § 32.53(b) (exploitation of an elderly individual) regarding financial accounts, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the defendant (2) for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain, (3) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly (4) caused the exploitation of (5) an elderly person (6) by the illegal or improper use (7) of funds from the elderly person’s financial account.

        Under Wirth v. State, 361 S.W.3d 694, 697 (Tex.Crim.App. 2012), a culpable mental state can be established by inferences from the acts, words, and conduct of the defendant. To determine intent, a court should consider events occurring before, during, and after the commission of the offense and may rely on actions of the defendant that show an understanding and common design to commit the offense.

Blood Pattern Analysis: Esoteric Science, Quotidian Skill, or Deceptive Practice?

Too many false allegations have been offered in the name of science and too many people have suffered serious damage—even life-long damage—as a result. It is time to put all of this to an end.

—T. W. Young1

In a courtroom in Texas earlier this year, a Blood Pattern Officer swore on the stand that Blood Pattern Analysis is an exact science. She dismissed the NAS and the Texas Forensic Science Commission reports saying that neither found that blood pattern analysis wasn’t a science. Her answer stayed with the jury.

Is blood pattern analysis methodology an exact science as the officer testified or merely a skill that anyone of average intelligence can learn in a one-week course? Are parts of it outright chicanery, which would make it a deceptive practice? One thing is for certain: Blood Pattern Analysts employs irrelevant math and trigonometry calculations to disguise the fact that the analysts are guessing at key measurements upon which their conclusions are based.

Each time analysts take the stand they testify that they use physics to reach conclusions, but they don’t. And if they don’t, isn’t that perjury?2

In 1955, Berkeley biochemist and criminalist Paul Kirk introduced Blood Pattern Analysis, then called interpretation, into a courtroom in State of Ohio v. Samuel Sheppard. Since then, and after a long delay, the discipline has become a major part of crime-scene investigation and reconstruction. Blood Pattern Analysis has been studied by scientists and nonscientists. The application of the methodology has grown worldwide, and untold numbers of people have been found guilty as a result of blood pattern experts’ testimonies.

In 1970, criminalist Herbert MacDonnell’s research on blood patterns culminated in a pamphlet entitled Flight Characteristics and Stain Patterns of Human Blood.3 In the manual he described the characteristics of liquid blood, the shapes of blood stains, impact angles, splashed blood, projected and cast-off blood, the velocities of blood, and other related topics. MacDonnell proposed that the following determinations could be made from an analysis:

1. The distance from the stain to the Area of Origin;
2. The Area of Origin in three-dimensional space;
3. The type of impact that caused the stains;
4. The number of blows delivered;
5. The movement of the assailant and of the person assailed.4

MacDonnell stated that analysts must determine the Area of Origin—that is, the area in space from which the blood hemorrhaged. Those calculations, which are the first two enumerated, are the keys to making other determinations about what happened and how it happened. We will see that those first two determinations he stated could be made can only be guessed at using the irrelevant trigonometric formula relied upon by analysts.

The Tangent Method

In 1995, two Swedish police officers who taught blood pattern analysis at the Swedish National Police College arrived at the 42nd Blood Stain Institute in Corning, New York, and announced what is called the Tangent Method of determining the Area of Origin.5 They explained that the analyst could discover the Area of Origin (AO) by using a scientific calculator. This function would supposedly indicate the Area of Origin on the vertical axis based on an estimation of where the Area of Convergence was imagined to be.

Professor Victor Baltzhazard had proposed how the angle a drop of blood struck a surface could be determined in a paper he presented in 1939.6 Unfortunately, Baltzhazard’s discovery was a contribution to analysis that has been grossly misused and tells nothing more than the angle at which the drop struck the floor. It does not determine the trajectory of the droplet through the air, and this is where the deception begins. Neither strings at that angle nor the hypotenuse of a triangle imposed by laser upon the stain gives any insight to the droplet’s flight path. Consequently, the first two determinations that MacDonnell enumerated were not discoverable through trigonometrics.

False Impressions on the Jury

When blood pattern analysts with no academic science education take the stand and are asked by the prosecutor, “What is blood pattern analysis?” they are trained to parrot the following memorized lines: “Bloodstain pattern analysis involves the scientific study of the static consequences resulting from dynamic blood shedding events.”7

To impress the jury, analysts are trained to state that the analysis involves the use of math, physics, biology, and trigonometry. They have memorized answers about those topics. In fact, no physics or biology are taught in blood pattern classes, and the only trigonometric formula taught is a wrong one. Does that testimony amount to perjury?

When, in the second edition of their text, Bevel and Gardner defined the terms they wanted blood pattern experts to use, they instructed their readers to use the term analysis instead of interpretation as previous experts had used because “interpretation,” on the other hand, alludes to a more subjective viewing.”8 Yet, subjective is the primary word scientists use to describe their opinion of the blood patter discipline.

To a juror, the word science connotes methodology, precision, accuracy, and exactness based on testing by a qualified scientist. When a witness takes the stand and tells the jury that he, or she, is a scientist, or that what she or he is doing is science, the jury gives more credence to what the witness says. The jurors assume that the witness arrived at his or her conclusions based not just on a week or two of training but on previous scientific education, and that he or she is using proven formulas that reach accurate conclusions.

The International Association of Blood Pattern Analysts (IABPA) and International Association of Identification (IAI) have requirements for training, yet they have none for academic education. The National Academy of Science (NAS) Strengthening Forensic Science report stated quite clearly: “This emphasis on experience over scientific foundations seems misguided. In general, the opinions of bloodstain pattern analysts are more subjective than scientific.”9

An FBI communique produced for the Scientific Working Group on Bloodstains (SWGSTAIN) in 2008 gave analysts twelve questions prosecutors should ask analysts when they take the stand.10 The answers to be memorized are two or three sentences long, and every answer uses the word “science” at least once—and in some answers as many as three times (“the purpose of the scientific study of blood pattern analysis . . .”11).

The instructions go on to state that “an answer should reference the use of mathematics and scientific principles from biology and physics . . .”12 That statement is particularly deceptive in that there is no instruction in either biology or physics in the three classes required to become an expert.

Blood pattern examiners, who prefer to be called analysts because it sounds more scientific, tell the jury that pattern interpretation involves the use of math, trigonometry, and even fluid dynamics and physics. Yet the single operation in which interpreters use trigonometry is in calculating the Area of Origin (which is the heart of the analysis), and they use an irrelevant trigonometric formula—the Tangent Method—which was derived to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle. A glance at classic architecture will tell you why.

The Tangent Method and Its Misuse

The Tangent Method is accurate when it is used in the applications it was intended for, but not when it is used to calculate the origin of blood stains. The Tangent Method gives only the maximum length of the hypotenuse of a triangle—which, in turn, gives at best the maximum height from which the drop could have traveled on a straight plane and does not allow for the parabolic arc of droplets in flight caused by gravity. Gravity simply cannot be left out of the equation and replaced with guesswork. Gravity is altering the course of the drop every nanosecond as it flies through the air.

Importantly, physicist Varney and Gites proved that “even when its vertical axis is known, however, the height of a source is not deducible from the location and impact angle of individual drops.”13 That single statement proves blood pattern analysis to be a false pretense of science.

Blood pattern instructors teach that the analyst should ignore the results of the calculations of the Tangent Method after performing them and instead fantasize an area the size of a volleyball as the Area of Origin. In other words, since the trigonometry doesn’t provide what you want, discard it and make a self-confirming guess at where the blood originated. This approach is anything but scientific no matter how much adoration one pretends to pay to Scientific Method.

When the witness says that he or she “estimates an area about the size of a volleyball,” he or she is literally admitting to wild-guessing at where the Area of Origin was located. Passing those guesses off as scientific conclusions is deceptive. The volleyball could as easily be a beach ball or the box a refrigerator came in. So where should the analyst hold the volleyball in the possible area? Wherever he or she wants to hold it. The point is that the current calculation of the origin using the straight-line Tangent Method is irrelevant and would seem to be fraud if the analyst tries to foist it on a jury.

Confirmation Bias

The “holistic”14 approach to blood pattern analysis teaches that the totality of evidence the police have gathered—reports, witness statements, physical evidence, etc.—should be part of the evidence the analyst uses to analyze blood patterns. Few, if any, true scientists would agree with that proposition.

William C. Thompson, in an article for Scientific Testimony, an online journal, stated: “Forensic DNA analysts often rely on subjective judgment when interpreting test results. Whether a test is interpreted as a damning incrimination or a complete exculpation may depend entirely on a subjective determination. If analysts were blind to the expected result when they made these determinations, then their reliance on subjective judgment would create few problems.”

He then goes on to point out: “Analysts often are in direct contact with detectives and hear all about the case at least from the police perspective. They may even see themselves as part of the law enforcement team, whose job it is to help ‘make the case’ against an obviously guilty suspect. These circumstances create a danger that analysts may intentionally or unintentionally be biased toward the police theory of the case when making subjective determinations.”15

Paul Kish, a more scientifically inclined analyst, tested the holistic theory and found that examiners who were exposed to contextual information, such as police reports and other evidence, were more vulnerable to Confirmation Bias and, as a result, misclassifying stains. “This means that at the stage of pattern classification, additional case specific information such as medical findings, case circumstances, and even witness testimony is being allowed to factor into analysts’ interpretations.” Kish et al. found that “it seems prudent for practitioners and agencies to take steps to minimize the effects of contextual information.”16

Research by other analysts comes to the same conclusion about confirmation bias in blood pattern analysis. “Like many forensic disciplines, Blood Pattern Analysis shows all three of the characteristics that converge to form ‘perfect’ conditions for contextual bias: ambiguity, a rich contextual environment, and subjective methodology.”17

Allan Jamieson, director of the Forensic Institute, warns: “The traditional approach at crime scenes has been for the investigator to be briefed on arrival of the story or stories circulating at the time of their arrival. This briefing has been included in many procedural documents and is accepted practice in many cases. It is, however, contrary to the approach proposed here because it inevitably channels the investigator’s thinking and could introduce bias in the investigation.”18

In his article “Mistakes I’ve Made,”19 Tom Bevel attributes serious errors in his logic that led to wrongful convictions in his cases to a holistic approach and the fact that “the existing case files possessed a concentration of documents which naturally suggested that the suspects were guilty. The files possessed many fewer documents offering other alternatives.” He says, “I unreflectively allowed myself to think that way as well.”

This is the danger of the so-called holistic approach to Blood Pattern Analysis. Bevel’s problem is the very definition of confirmation bias resulting from exposure to contextual information. It is the reason that blood pattern analysis should be performed scientifically and not holistically. Those cases were real-life disasters for defendants that resulted from subjective, biased thinking instead of objective scientific reasoning.

Jamieson proposes a methodology in which “the scientist must begin at the level of the smallest practical piece of physical evidence, initially without reference to any other piece of evidence.” Such an approach would disallow a great percentage of the subjective unverified interpretations made by analysts and presented as fact in courts.

There are further errors in blood pattern analysis methodology. “Accuracy” and “precision” are two fundamental standards in scientific measurement. Without them, measurements would be inexact and ambiguous. Accuracy refers to how close measurements are to the true value, while precision describes how close repeated measurements are to each other. The Tangent Method cannot precisely or accurately measure the Area of Origin of blood from the patterns created by a bloodletting.

A third key word in scientific research is “reproducibility,which means that when one scientist’s measurements or research is replicated by other scientists the results should come out the same. Yet blood pattern experts often show up in court with no report or with a report that doesn’t contain actual reproducible calculations and measurements that were used to determine the Area of Origin. Presumably, no measurements were even made.

What the Trigonometry and Volleyball Pretenses Get Wrong

In the diagram above, Tangent Method does not give a trajectory anywhere near the actual trajectory of the blood drop. The Tangent Method gives a Point of Origin that is far removed from the actual Point of Origin. Calling it an “Area of Origin” does not close the gap.

Yet, while the Tangent Method miscalculates this measurement, the Volleyball Pretense only compounds the problem.

Volleyball Pretense

By holding a volleyball halfway along the hypotenuse imposed by the Tangent Method, two mathematical functions are in error. First, the hypothesis created by the Tangent Method delineates the highest possible point of the location of the Point of Origin, yet the volleyball holder could place it above that point, an impossible flight path. Secondly, the volleyball imposes hundreds of angles from the Z axis to the stain that have no mathematical support whatsoever. This could make the difference between a man on his knees and a man standing fully upright.

Is There a Formula to Accurately Define an Area of Origin?

In February 2011, physicists Christopher Varney and Fred Gites published an article20 that shook up the world of blood pattern analysis. Varney and Gites had experimented with blood spatter and derived an equation that would pinpoint the origin of a pattern. The equation is:

Z0 = (t1 – t2) / 2r2 – 2r1

The new equation uses physics to reverse-calculate height by finding an elevation consistent with two blood drops. If enough of the pairs of drops approximately agree (indicating that they flew off the victim at a similar angle), then the investigator can state an accurate Area of Origin. Unlike the Tangent Method, the new equation will determine the actual Point of Origin.

Unfortunately, Gites and Varney found the blood pattern community unreceptive to the new equation.21 Blood pattern instructors are still teaching police officers the Volleyball Pretense. If the opposing expert on the stand has told the jury that blood pattern analysis involves the use of physics, ask him or her to explain Gites and Varney’s formula.

So, Is Blood Pattern Analysis a Science, a Quotidian Skill, or a Deceptive Practice?

As to determining the point, or area, of origin, the analytic methodology is mere chicanery that does not determine the position in space for which it is used. The Volleyball Pretense is the rabbit in the hat.

Except for determining the Area of Origin in a bloodletting incident, Blood Pattern Analysis is an effective skill to use in crime-scene investigation. From the blood patterns, the examiner might determine approximately where a person was standing, about where the person moved in the scene, if the person was repeatedly struck with a sharp or blunt object, and estimate how many times the person was struck. It can reveal if an artery was breeched, what the person touched as they moved about the room, as well as approximating how much blood was lost—and, with the help of DNA analysis, how many persons were bleeding in the scene. Basically, analysis can help approximate what happened in a scene.

What blood pattern interpretation cannot do is give accurate answers to the question of the Area of Origin of blood to a scientific certainty as is routinely claimed in court. In fact, some of the most popular textbooks on blood patterns fail to convince scientists that the text’s authors have even a competent understanding of science.22

Blood pattern interpretation, as it is currently taught in blood pattern textbooks and classes, is at best a skill that can be taught to persons with no scientific education. In the hands of a non-scientist, no matter how grand his or her titles or certifications granted by the IABPA, analysis remains a skill that may be developed into an art and possibly, at best, an applied science, but it is largely subjective and parts of it are illusory.

As the NAS pointed out in its Report, Rule 702, 2000 Amendment, Federal Rules of Evidence: If scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.23

Rule 702 does not distinguish between scientific and other forms of expert testimony. Nothing in the amendment is intended to suggest that experience alone—or experience in conjunction with other knowledge, skill, training, or education—may not provide a sufficient foundation for expert testimony.24

Therefore, a person with specialized knowledge and training in blood pattern analysis does not have to be a scientist to qualify as an expert.

This argument that blood pattern analysis as currently practiced is a skill rather than science is supported by the National Academy of Science’s summary assessment:

a. Scientific studies support some aspects of bloodstain pattern analysis.
b. The uncertainties associated with analysis are enormous.

In view of the NAS perspective on blood pattern interpretation, perhaps the best title for an on-scene practitioner is Blood Pattern Technician.

One Last Note

For too many years, blood pattern authors have been teaching their students, who never question them, that it is “blood spatter” rather than “blood splatter” because spatter is a noun and splatter is a verb.25 No one bothered to look it up. Actually, spatter and splatter can both be used as a noun or a verb. Spatter connotes a light sprinkling, whereas splatter connotes a heavier splashing. In a scene where there is scant blood, only a sprinkling of a few drops, the proper word would be “spatter.” Where there was a stabbing or clubbing to death, the proper word would more likely be “splatter.”


1. Young, TW.

2. Sec. 37.03. AGGRAVATED PERJURY. (a) A person commits an offense if he commits perjury as defined in Section 37.02, and the false statement:

(1) is made during or in connection with an official proceeding; and
(2) is material.

Sec. 37.04. MATERIALITY. (a) A statement is material, regardless of the admissibility of the statement under the rules of evidence, if it could have affected the course or outcome of the official proceeding.

3. McDonnell, Herbert L., Flight characteristics and Stain Patterns of Human Blood, National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, Us Dept of Justice 1971.

4. The lists of precisely what information can be learned by the interpretation of bloodstain patterns are similar for James and Eckert, Hueske, Slemko, Bevel and Gardner, and Sutton.

5. MacDonnell, H. “No More Strings, No More Computers, Just Simple Mathematics, That’s All It Takes.” IABPA News, Vol. 12 March 1996.

6. Baltzhazard, V., Piedelievere, R., Desolille, H., and Derobert. L’Étude des Goutes de Dang Projecte, XXII Congress of Forensic Medicine 1939.

7. SWGSTAIN Working Group on BPA, Forensic Science Communique, FBI, January 2008, Volume 10, No 1.

8. Bevel, T., and Gardner, R. M. Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, 2d Edition, CRC Press, Boca Raton 2002, page 70.

9. National Research Council 2009, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States,” National Academy Press, Washington, DC, page 178.

10. SWGSTAIN Working Group on BPA, Forensic Science Communique, FBI, January 2008, Volume 10, No 1.

11. Ibid.

12. SWGSTAIN Working Group on BPA, Forensic Science Communique, FBI, January 2008, Volume 10, No 1.

13. Christopher Varney and Fred Gites, “Locating the source of projectile fluid droplets,” Dept of Physics and Astronomy, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-2814.

14. hölistik/ Adjective Philosophy: characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.

15. Thompson, William C. “Examiner Bias in Forensic RFLP Analysis,” Scientific Testimony, An Online Journal.

16. Terry Laber, Paul Kish, Michael Taylor, Glynn Owens, Nikola Osborne, James Curran, “Reliability Assessment of Current Methods in Bloodstain Pattern Analysis,” Author(s): Document No.: 247180, June 2014

17. Rachel Zajac, Niki Osborne, LeeAnn Singley, and Michael Taylor. “Contextual Bias: What Bloodstain Pattern Analysts Need to Know,” Journal of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis 11, Vol. 31 No. 2, September 2015

18. Allan Jamieson, Director of the Forensic Institute. “The science behind forensics,”

19. “Mistakes I’ve Made and the Use of a Memory Aid to Assist in Self-Correction and More Effective CSR Analysis,” Tom Bevel, TBI, LLC, Volume 14 April–June, 2008 Issue 2, Norman, OK.

20. Christopher Varney and Fred Gites, “Locating the source of projectile fluid droplets.” Dept of Physics and Astronomy, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-2814.

21. NAS National Research Council 2009, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, page 93, The National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

22. Ristenbatt, R. Ill J Forensic Sci. January 2009, Vol 54 No 1, Bevel T, Gardner RM, Blood Pattern Analysis with an Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction, 3rd Ed. Boca Ratoon 2008.

23. NAS National Research Council 2009, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, The National Academy Press, Washington, DC, page 93.

24. NAS National Research Council 2009, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, The National Academy Press, Washington, DC, page 94.

25. Bevel, Tom, Gardner, Ross M., Bloodstain Pattern Analysis, 2nd Ed., CRC Press, Boca Raton 2002. p 71: “spatter is used singularly as a verb, whereas splatter is used as both a noun and a verb.”

Representation of Mentally Impaired Clients: An Ethical Issue


Consider the following scenario, which is all too common: A defendant is arrested and is obviously mentally ill upon arrest, as well as having a long mental health history. The person is housed in a mental health unit within the jail and tells you, as counsel, “I don’t want to go to no hospital.”

However, you fear that he will not be able to get through a plea agreement. And, even if the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor and not a felony, you know that at the very least it will require 30 days to obtain a competency evaluation—if not longer. As well, were the defendant found incompetent the person would languish for 3 months awaiting space in a competency restoration program, which itself would last another 60 days, at best. Thus, even with a misdemeanor matter, be it a Class B or Class A, the likelihood is that the person will remain longer in custody—because he or she is mentally ill—than would have occurred had mental illness not been a factor, or had been brought to the attention of the court and the person pled out.1

Moreover, the foregoing in-custody period is exacerbated by the shortage of space in restoration programs. What do you do?


Representing mentally impaired clients inherently creates a conflict between the expressed desires of the client and activity by counsel in the best interest of the client. Herein, I will explicate this conflict and proffer at least one solution to the dilemma: “Do I act solely as my client wishes, or do I try to find an outcome which is in his/her best interest, even if the client is opposed?” And, if so, under what conditions?

Duty of Counsel

Tex. Disciplinary Rules Prof’l Conduct R. 1.02 plainly states:

(a) Subject to paragraphs (b), (c), (d) and (e), (f), and (g), a lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions:

(1) concerning the objective and general methods of representation;
(2) whether to accept an offer of settlement of a matter, except as otherwise authorized by law;
(3) in a criminal case, after consultation with the law­yer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive jury trial, and whether the client will testify.

The necessity for zealous representation, respecting the client’s wishes, is not a laudable goal to which only lip service is given, but the very essence of justice. The presupposition, however, is that the client is not legally incapacitated—either in the civil sense, which would require appointment of a guardian,2 nor in the sense of being incompetent to stand trial. See Koehler v. State, 830 S.W.2d 665 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1992), for a discussion of the differences between incompetence in a criminal proceeding and incapacity in the civil sense.

The aforementioned scenario captures the heart of the conflict. Examine, however, the comment to Rule 1.02(12), which states that the lawyer is legally authorized to represent the client and such is “established and maintained by consenting adults who possess the legal capacity to agree to the relationship.”3 That section, however, does not address the circumstance of the person who has legal capacity in the civil sense, but is believed, and later opined and found, to be incompetent to stand trial in a criminal proceeding, inasmuch as the person is lacking either a rational and/or factual knowledge of the proceedings against them—or is unable to relate to their attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.4 The Disciplinary Rules, however, contain a requirement that counsel always demonstrate attention and respect, even to the most disabled client. See Rule 1.03(5).

When a lawyer reasonably believes a client suffers a mental disability or is not legally competent, it may not be possible to maintain the usual attorney-client relationship. Nevertheless, the client may have the ability to understand, deliberate upon, and reach conclusions about some matters affecting the client’s own well-being. Furthermore, to an increasing extent, the law recognizes intermediate degrees of competence. . . .The fact that a client suffers a disability does not diminish the desirability of treating the client with attention and respect.

Counsel’s duty regarding disclosure of information that is confidential and may be privileged concerning the defendant’s mental state is admittedly not discussed in the Disciplinary Rules. Such information may well include the defendant’s desire to avoid treatment, though such would but perpetuate the defendant’s disturbed behavior and place the defendant in a position where he or she would be harmed by others, if not themselves. However, by analogy, just as counsel would be obliged to disclose to the court information appertaining to the defendant’s plan to commit a crime, harm others or even self, the Rules cite Rule 5.03(d)(1), Tex. R. Evidence, “indicate the underlying public policy of furnishing no protection to client information where the client seeks or uses the dictates of lawyer to aid in the commission of a crime or fraud.” So, similarly, no protection should exist for information disclosed in the interest of protecting the defendant from himself or herself, or others.

Related, though more narrowly focused, is the circumstance in which counsel has reason to believe that introduction of the client’s history of mental illness is the only viable defense, but the client objects to any suggestion he is mentally ill. Such was the case in the Kaczynski case.5 In that case, the 9th Circuit ultimately held that the trial court acted properly, though the defendant had argued that in exchange for the United States renouncing its intention to seek the death penalty, his guilty plea was involuntary because his counsel insisted on presenting evidence of his mental condition, contrary to his wishes, and the court denied his Faretta request to represent himself. The 9th Circuit also held that a criminal defendant in a capital case has no constitutional right to prevent his appointed defense counsel from presenting evidence in support of an impaired mental state defense at trial.

The Kaczynski case should put to rest the notion that defense counsel could be censured for introducing to the court any evidence of the defendant’s mental state in connection with the offense. To be sure, an insanity defense would require the consent of the defendant to go forward, though such is also predicated on the fact that at the time of trial the defendant is also competent. In that regard, note that it would be impossible to engage a defendant in his/her thinking at the time of the act with which charged unless the person is both competent and consenting. Nonetheless, Ross6 is quite correct that “no ethical code or rule dictates which course a criminal must take when a client, her judgment apparently clouded by mental illness, resists following counsel’s advice. This is one of those cases that is at the margins of ‘ethical decisionmaking.’”

But even speaking more narrowly as to the issue of competence, I am inclined to argue that counsel’s role should be tightly circumscribed, such that even if a decision arose when the court’s attention were to be called to the defendant’s history of mental illness and current mental state, counsel could rely upon information readily available to all parties—e.g., jail mental health screening, history of any jail-based mental health services, and general references to inability to relate to the defendant or the defendant’s obvious behavior, such as inattention to personal hygiene, disturbances created in hold-over prior to appearing before the court, as well as any utterances by the defendant to the court that are patently strange, if not bizarre (any of which would constitute that modicum of information necessary to trigger an informal inquiry, and likely competency evaluation).7

In the foregoing illustration, counsel’s duty is met without necessity for abrogation of any otherwise privileged information. The next element related to duty, of course, is to carefully read the examination provided by the court-appointed examiner—as examiners may not always follow the exact language of Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46B.024 and .025 viz. the content of competency examinations. An opinion of incompetency, and finding of same, will trigger a mandatory competency restoration commitment—to outpatient services if the person can be safely treated on an outpatient basis (and such is available), otherwise to a jail-based program (again if available, and only to an inpatient restoration program if other options are not available or if the examiner recommends such).8

Discussion of the Ethical Dilemma

When counsel acts in a fashion as described earlier, with the full knowledge that the defendant harbors quite different wishes, then counsel is exercising what in health law or probate settings is called “substituted judgment,” as counsel is substituting his/her judgement for that of the client—i.e. surrogate decision-making. And thus, inherently, counsel is acting in manner that diminishes the client’s autonomy.9 Ross speaks eloquently of the weight of such a decision and argues convincingly, I believe, of the necessity to limit the scope thereof. She says, “At a minimum, criminal defense lawyers should reserve surrogate decision-making for those occasions when a mentally ill client’s best interests outweigh the client’s right to autonomous decision-making.”

This means looking long term at therapeutic interests as having greater weight to establish autonomy and functioning—even if hospitalization for restoration is required, and even if that hospitalization results in a somewhat longer period of “confinement” (to the extent that hospitalization is considered “confinement”) than might occur were the defendant to take a plea, with such supports by counsel and preparation as would make it possible for the person to get through a plea agreement with any degree of rational understanding. To do otherwise is to argue that society has no parens patriae duty to provide treatment services to persons sorely in need of same, though the parents patriae doctrine has long been the basis of involuntary or court-ordered mental health services, going back to the time of Edward I in the 13th century.10 Like marriage, decisions to exercise substitute judgment by counsel “are not to be entered into unadvisedly . . . but discreetly.” And, perhaps, as well, with a certain degree of humility based on the fact that in any particular case, counsel may well be wrong—practically speaking, though not unethical.

I would further argue that in addition to duties to the mentally disturbed client, counsel has a duty to the court. That duty is part of the constitutional protections provided to defend, and so that failure to disclose that a defendant has not the requisite mental state to be able to participate in the proceedings, knowledge of same, or capacity to relate to counsel would constitute a constitutional violation and a fundamental breach of counsel’s duty to the client, including the duty of ethical and zealous representation. Moreover, when counsel raises the issue, then there is an opportunity for that entity which is legally authorized to evaluate the defendant’s state of mind to offer an opinion—providing another set of eyes who see the defendant from a professional perspective. Evaluation of defendants for whom there is some evidence of incompetency constitutes another set of protections for the rights of the person.


The upshot of the foregoing is that raising the issue of a defendant’s possible incompetency is proper, affords constitutional protections to the defendant, honors the legal process, and, in fact, is part and parcel of the duty of zealous representation and satisfies counsel’s duty to the court as well. However, any disclosures should be circumscribed and limited insofar as possible to asking the court to take notice of behaviors exhibited by the defendant which are readily available to all parties. Moreover, exercise of substituted judgment does diminish, to a greater or lesser extent, the autonomy of the defendant but is in the defendant’s best interests.


1. Torrey, E. F., Steiber J., Exekiel, J., et al. Criminalizing the Seriously Mentally Ill: The Abuse of Jails as Mental Hospitals. Washington, DC: Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, 1992. See also Teplin L. Criminalizing mental disorder: the comparative arrest rate of the mentally ill. Am Psychol 39:794–803, 1984 23.

2. Tex. Disciplinary Rules Prof’l Conduct R. 1.02(12) and (13).

3. Ibid., 1.02(12)

4. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46B.003

5. United States v. Kaczynski, 239 F3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2001) cert. denied 535 U.S. 993 (2002). See also Ross, Josephine (1998). Autonomy vs. a Client’s Best Interests: The Defense Lawyer’s Dilemma When Mentally Ill Clients Seek to Control Their Own Defense. 35 Am. Crim. Law Rev. (1997–1998).

6. Ibid., Ross at 1345.

7. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 46B.004 would allow the issue of competency to be raised by either party, and only a “suggestion” of incompetency which means “a representation of incompetency from any credible source” would trigger an informal inquiry by the court. In contrast to an earlier period “the court is not required to have a bona fide doubt as to the competency of the defendant in order to order an examination.”

8. Ibid., art. 46B.071

9. Op. cit. Ross at 1345.

10. See discussion by Custer, Lawrence B. (1978) The Origins of the Parens Patriae Doctrine. 27 Emory L. J. (1978)

Protecting Your Flank: What is a record and how to make sure your argument is preserved for appeal.

Nobody wants a one-word verdict at trial. But as bad as a “guilty” at trial is the one-word verdict on your brilliant appellate argument: waiver. If it’s not preserved, it’s not going to win the day for your client. The purpose of this article is to try to avoid future waiver of our brilliant arguments by knowing two things: 1) What is a record, and 2) how do you make it. From pretrial procedure to motions for a new trial, make your appellate counsel happy by giving them as much to work with as you can.

I. What Is a Record?

For a criminal case, “The Record” consists of two things: the Clerk’s Record and the Reporter’s Record. Tex.R.App.P. 34.1.

A. The Clerk’s Record

The clerk’s record is exactly what it sounds like—the materials that have been filed with the clerk of the court. Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 34.5 lays out the mandatory contents of the clerk’s record. It includes this: the indictment or information; any special plea or defense motion that was presented to the court and overruled; any written waiver; any written stipulation; where a plea of guilty or nolo contendere was entered; any plea documents; the court’s docket sheet(s); the court’s charge and the jury’s verdict; the court’s judgment or other order that is being appealed; any request for findings of fact and conclusions of law; any post-judgment motion and the court’s order on the motion; the notice of appeal; any formal bill of exception; any request for a reporter’s record; any request for preparation of the clerk’s record; the trial court’s certification of the defendant’s right of appeal; and any filing that a party designates to have included in the record. Tex.R.App.P. 34.5. In addition to the required items, either party may file a request to have specific items included in the clerk’s record. Tex.R.App.P. 34.1(b).

For an appeal, the date a clerk’s record is due to be filed depends on if a motion for new trial is filed. If no motion for new trial is filed, or if the motion for new trial is filed and granted (State’s appeal), the record is due to be filed 60 days from the date of the judgment. Tex.R.App.P. 35.2. If the motion for new trial is filed and denied, either by order or by operation of law, the record is due to be filed 120 days from the date of the judgment. Id.

If any relevant item has been omitted from the clerk’s record, then the trial court, appellate court, or any party may direct the trial court clerk to prepare, certify, and file in the appellate court a supplement containing the omitted item. Tex.R.App.P. 34.5(c). Your motion will need to be very specific about exactly what is missing. Examples of where documents may be missing include when there are different cause numbers, such as if a case was re-indicted and a new case number assigned, or if there are additional cause numbers that are pertinent to the appeal. For best practices, ALWAYS keep a file-stamped copy of any pleadings you file for your records.

B. The Reporter’s Record

The reporter’s record includes all trial testimony, all exhibits admitted into evidence, and anything the attorneys said in open court in the presence of the reporter. This can include stenographic recordings or electronic recordings of the proceedings in court. Tex.R.App.P. 34.6(a). For an appeal you must request, in writing, the record to be prepared and file that request with the clerk of the trial court. Tex.R.App.P. 34.6(b)(2). The request must also designate the exhibits to be included in the reporter’s record. Deadlines for the reporter’s record to be filed are the same as for the clerk’s record, and depend on whether a motion for new trial is filed. Tex.R.App.P. 35.2.

In the same way that a clerk’s record can be supplemented, any party can request the reporter’s record be supplemented if something is missing. Tex.R.App.P. 34.6(d). In addition to missing items in the record, inaccuracies in the record can be corrected either by agreement of the parties or by the trial court. Tex.R.App.P. 34.6(e). If inaccuracies are discovered after a record is filed in the appellate court, that court may send the case back to the trial court for resolution.

If there are discrepancies between a written judgment and the oral pronouncement of judgment, the oral pronouncement controls. Coffey v. State, 979 S.W.2d 326, 328 (Tex.Crim.App. 1998). A court of appeals may reform a judgment to make the record “speak the truth” when it has the necessary information to do so. Tex.R.App.P. 43.2(b); Bigley v. State, 865 S.W.2d 26, 31 (Tex.Crim.App. 1993).

How far back can you go to get a reporter’s record? If there is no appeal, a court reporter is required to file the untranscribed notes of a proceeding with the district court clerk within 20 days after the time to perfect the appeal has expired. Tex.R.App.P. 13.6. The district court clerk is obliged to retain those notes for 15 years from the date they were filed. Id.

So what happens if the reporter’s record is not there? A defendant may be entitled to a new trial if the reporter’s rec­ord is lost or destroyed. Banks. v. State, 312 S.W.3d 42 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, pet. ref’d). In order to receive a new trial, the Defendant must establish that 1) they timely requested a reporter’s record; 2) due to no fault of their own, a significant exhibit or portion of the reporter’s notes or records have been lost or destroyed; 3) the lost, destroyed, or inaudible portion of the reporter’s record is necessary to the appeal’s resolution; AND 4) the parties cannot agree on a complete reporter’s record. Id. citing Tex.R.App.P. 34.6(f). If only part of the record is lost or destroyed a reversal is not automatic. Rather, a harm analysis is conducted to determine if essential portions of the record are missing. Issac v. State, 989 S.W.2d 754, 756–57 (Tex.Crim.App. 1999).

II. How Do I “Make” a Record?

So now that we know what a record is, the next question is how do we make it correctly? The best place to start is to think about why we make objections and get them on the record. We object in order to make the trial judge and opposing counsel aware of an issue or perceived error and allow the judge or counsel the opportunity to fix it. We make sure those objections are on the record so that when the trial court does not fix the error, the appellate court can. All error for purposes of appeal is preserved in the trial court by way of (1) written motion, (2) objection, or (3) specific request. Tex.R.App.P. 33.

A. Raise It or Waive It

No matter how correct, amazing, or fundamental an appellate issue is, if it’s not on the record, then for the most part, it does not matter. Failing to call the trial court’s attention to an error and permitting the judge the opportunity to rule on it waives the error. Appellate courts have no latitude to reverse a trial court’s decision on new theories of law not previously presented to the trial court for its consideration. State v. Mercado, 972 S.W.2d 75, 77–78 (Tex.Crim.App. 1998). This rule applies equally to both parties. Martinez v. State, 91 S.W.3d 331, 336–37 (Tex.Crim.App. 2002) (noting that the waiver rule applied equally to “goose and gander”—i.e., the State and the defendant). Even constitutional error can be waived. Dewberry v. State, 4 S.W.3d 735, 752 (Tex.Crim.App. 1999).

There are some very limited exceptions to the waiver rule. Issues that can be raised for the first time on appeal are generally fundamental—those rights which are absolute and non-forfeitable. The Court of Criminal Appeals has established three general categories of error: absolute rights, non-forfeitable rights, and forfeitable rights. Marin v. State, 851 S.W.2d 275, 278–280 (Tex.Crim.App. 1993), overruled on other grounds by Cain v. State, 947 S.W.2d 262 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997). The reason some rights are so fundamental is not because of the harm that is caused when they are violated, but because violation undermines the adversarial system as a whole. Proenza v. State, 541 S.W.3d 786 (Tex.Crim.App. November 15, 2017).

Absolute rights are those rights considered so fundamental to the proper functioning of the adjudicatory process that they cannot be forfeited by inaction alone. Id. For example, a conviction under a statute later held unconstitutional can be challenged for the first time on appeal. Smith v. State, 463 S.W. 3d 890 (Tex.Crim.App. 2015).

Non-forfeitable rights are rights that can be surrendered, but not solely by inaction. For example, a deaf or non-English-speaking defendant has the right to an interpreter, and a judge has an independent duty to implement this right in the absence of a knowing and voluntary waiver by the defendant. Garcia v. State, 149 S.W.3d 135, 145 (Tex.Crim.App. 2004).

Lack of jurisdiction is a fundamental error and is reviewable at any time, even if raised for the first time on appeal. Stine v. State, 908 S.W.2d 429, 431 (Tex.Crim.App. 1995). A challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting a conviction cannot be forfeited for failure to object at trial. See Moff v. State, 131 S.W.3d 485, 489 (Tex.Crim.App. 2004). An illegal sentence—one outside the statutory range of punishment—may be challenged at any time. See Ex. Parte Rich, 194 S.W.3d 508, 511 (Tex.Crim.App. 2006). “A Judge’s improper commentary on the evidence cannot be forfeited by inaction alone.” Proenza, 541 S.W.3d 786, 801.

Failure to object to a jury charge error is not an absolute bar to appellate review, Warner v. State, 245 S.W.3d 458, 461 (Tex.Crim.App. 2008), but it does make it harder to prevail. See Almanza v. State, 686 S.W.2d 157 (Tex.Crim.App. 1985). When an objection is made, the standard for review is “some harm.” Id. at 172. When no objection is made, the error is reversible only if it is egregious—it creates such harm that it deprives the accused of a “fair and impartial trial.” Id. Ineffective assistance of counsel claims may be raised for the first time on appeal.

Do not rest on the hope that an objectionable action is a fundamental error that can be raised for the first time on appeal. Most rights of criminal defendants fall into the third category: If you don’t raise it, you waive it.

B. Guideline to Preserving Error

Now we know what a record consists of, and that we want our issues in the record, how do we make sure that the issues are properly preserved?

1. WWH: What, Why, How

In order to preserve an issue in the record, you must tell the court 1) what you want, 2) why you want it, and 3) how do you get it. First, state what you want. Your request for what you want has to be specific. The record must show that the attorney “stated the grounds for the ruling that the complaining party sought from the trial court with sufficient specificity to make the trial court aware of the complaint.” Tex.R.App.P. 33.1(a)(1)(A). Just saying “I object!” is not sufficient.

Second, you must state why you want what you want. Share your supporting legal theory with the trial court. Be careful, though! An objection stating one legal theory at trial cannot be used to support a different legal theory on appeal. Wilson v. State, 71 S.W.3d 346, 349 (Tex.Crim.App. 2002). For example, objecting to the introduction of an extraneous offense on remoteness will not preserve a point of error that the evidence is more prejudicial than probative.

Finally, state how you get to this ruling. What authority are you relying on for your objection? State every ground you have to object to some testimony or evidence. For example, when moving to suppress evidence, don’t just cite the 4th Amendment to the United State Constitution when you can object on the 4th and 14th amendments, Article I, Section 9, of the Texas Constitution, Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and the litany of case law you have at your fingertips. Throw it all out there. It may get you what you want, and if not, it’s there for appeal.

Don’t let this intimidate you. If the specific grounds for an objection are apparent from the context, a lack of specificity can be excused. Tex.R.App.P. 331.(a)(1)(A). There are no magic words that you have to say to preserve an error for appeal as long as the correct ground for the objection was obvious to the judge and opposing counsel. See Zillender v. State, 557 S.W.2d 515, 517 (Tex.Crim.App. 1977).

2. Know When to Object

Unfortunately, the amazing objection that pops into your mind at 3:00 a.m. the morning after court is a little late. “A defendant must make a timely objection in order to preserve an error in the admission of evidence.” Dinkins v. State, 894 S.W.2d 330, 355 (Tex.Crim.App. 1995). The “contemporaneous objection rule” is that an objection must be made at the first opportunity to do so. Tex.R.App.P. 33.1; Lagrone v. State, 942 S.W.2d 602, 618 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997). Usually this occurs when the evidence is admitted. Wilson v. State, 511 S.W.2d 531, 532 (Tex.Crim.App. 1975). For testimony, however, “a defendant should make an objection before the witness responds.” Dinkins, at 355. Failure to timely object waives the error. Id.

(aka The Texas Three Step)

Any objection, motion, or request must be called to the trial court’s attention and ruled on adversely in order to preserve error. Tex.R.App.P. 33.1. Something is only preserved for appeal if you don’t get what you want. The key is the adverse ruling.

If you object, and the objection is overruled, YOU ARE DONE. Your issue is preserved for appeal.

If you object, and your objection is sustained, you have to keep going. To do the Texas Three Step, you have to continue by 1) requesting an instruction to disregard and 2) requesting a mistrial. Until the judge denies you something, either your instruction or the mistrial, your issue is not preserved for appeal.

Remember, “Move along counsel,” or, “The jury will remember the testimony,” are not rulings. Be persistent, and get your judge to rule. If your judge fails to rule or refuses to rule, an objection must be made to that refusal to rule. Tex.R.App.P. 33(a)(2)(B).

While probably easier, but just as important, make sure to get a ruling on any written motions. Just filing the motion and proposed order is not enough. Get a ruling. Do not rely on the docket sheet. Docket sheet entries are not sufficient rec­ord rulings because they are inherently unreliable and lack the formality of orders and judgments. State v. Shaw, 4 S.W.3d 875, 878 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1999, no pet.)

4. “Running Objections”

Standing up and objecting to a continuing line of questioning or even to an entire witness can be tedious and distracting. It is possible to lodge one objection to an entire line of questioning or even an entire witness, known as a running objection. A timely and specific “running” objection will preserve error. Sattiewhite v. State, 786 S.W.2d 27, 283, 284–85 n. 4 (Tex.Crim.App. 1989) (stating “as long as the running objection constituted a timely objection, stating the specific grounds for the ruling . . . then the error should be deemed preserved by an appellate court”). Make sure, as discussed above, to make your objection and the grounds for it clear. Also, be careful not to waive the error later by a “no objection” statement.

5. Specific Motion Requirements and Limitations

Some motions have specific requirements that must be met in order to properly call the matter to the trial court’s attention. If those specific requirements are not met, the issue is not preserved for appeal.

For example, a motion for continuance must be in writing and sworn to by a person having personal knowledge of the facts. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Arts.§ 29.03 and § 29.08. An oral motion for continuance preserves nothing. Anderson v. State, 301 S.W.3d 276, 279 (Tex.Crim. App. 2009).

A motion for new trial, jurisdictionally, must be filed within 30 days from the date of the judgment. Tex.R.App.P. 21.4(a). The motion must be acted on within 75 days from the date of the judgment and must be done by written order; a docket entry will not suffice. Tex.R.App.P. 21.8(a) and (b). This means that if you wait until the 30th day to file your motion for new trial, it must be ruled on within 45 days or it is overruled by operation of law. A trial court cannot extend the time to file a motion for new trial. See Morris v. Morris, 250 S.W.3d 119, 120 (Tex.App.—Tyler 2003, no pet.).

A Motion in Limine preserves nothing for appellate review. “To preserve error regarding the subject matter of the motion in limine, the attorney must object at the time the subject is raised during the trial.” Fuller v. State, 253 S.W.3d 220, 232 (Tex.Crim.App. 2008). Even an objection that the evidence “violates the motion in limine” is usually not enough. Webb. V. State, 760 S.W.2d 263, 275 (Tex.Crim.App. 1988). You have to explain at the time why the evidence is not admissible.

6. Pretrial Rulings and Rulings Outside the Presence of the Jury

Unlike your motion in limine, rulings on pretrial motions or rulings outside the presence of the jury do not need to be re-urged to preserve them for appeal. See Tex.R.Evid. 103(b); Moraguez v. State, 701 S.W.2d 902, 904 (Tex.Crim.App. 1986). Just because you don’t have to make your objection again doesn’t mean you don’t want to make your objection again. If additional testimony comes out at trial that supports your previously denied motion, re-urge the motion to the court. Also, remember that issues like probable cause can be presented to a jury with a 38.22 jury instruction. Take as many bites at that apple as you can. A fairly recent Court of Criminal Appeals case held that a trial objection asserting a specific ground not included in an earlier motion was sufficient to preserve a claim of error on appeal. See Gibson v. State, 541 S.W.3d 164 (Tex.Crim.App. Nov. 8, 2017).

Beware of inadvertent waiver! When an attorney states during trial that they have “no objection” to the admission of evidence that was the subject of a pretrial motion to suppress or other objection designed to exclude that evidence, it has been found to waive any error in the trial court’s admission of that evidence despite the prior ruling. See Estrada v. State, 313 S.W.3d 274, 302 (Tex.Crim.App. 2010); Harris v. State, 656 S.W.2d 481, 484 (Tex.Crim.App. 1983).

However, the current rule regarding inadvertent waiver is not as harsh. “The rule that a later statement of ‘no objection’ forfeits an earlier-preserved error is context-dependent.” Thomas v. State, 408 S.W.3d 877 (Tex.Crim.App. 2013). Your error will still be preserved if the record otherwise establishes that no waiver was either intended by the attorney or understood by the trial court. Id. at 885.

Be safe. Practice this at home. “No further objections, your honor.”

7. Keeping Your Record Clean, and Making Sure It’s There

The record of your trial is not a video. It is a list of documents and dates from the clerk and a transcript of what the court reporter hears. It’s important that everything you want your appellate counsel, and more importantly the Court of Appeals, to hear is in that record and is as clear as possible.

Consider the Abbott and Costello issue on a transcript:

Q: So when you first heard the gunshot, where were you when you saw the defendant with the gun?
A: I was standing right here.
Q: Right there?
A: Right here.
Q: Right there?
A: Yes.

Especially in this age of digital display and electronic rec­ords, it is important to either include a hard copy of notations on exhibits to give context to testimony, or use descriptive language in the question and answer to paint a picture for appellate counsel and courts.

Remember that if the court reporter is not present, or isn’t taking down what is being said, it is not part of the record and not preserved for appeal. If an attorney wants the bench conference recorded, they must ask the reporter to take it down. Valle v. State, 109 S.W.3d, 500, 508 (Tex.Crim.App. 2003). A pretrial motion asking that the court reporter record all bench conferences is similar to a motion in limine and will not preserve error. Moore v. State, 999 S.W.2d 385, 298 (Tex.Crim.App. 1999).

If there is a bench conference, or a conference in chambers or any other place the court reporter is not taking everything down, you must memorialize the substance of what was requested and the trial court’s ruling once proceedings are back on the record.

III. What Does This Mean for Appellate Counsel?

The question to keep in the back of your mind is why are we doing this at all? The answer is so that a trial and its proceedings can be reviewed. The written record is all there is to work with on appeal. All preservation occurs at the trial court level. If any matter does not appear in the written record, an appellate court will presume that it did not happen. Where an issue has not been properly preserved for appeal, an appellate court should not address the merits of that issue. Ford v. State, 305 S.W.3d 530, 533 (Tex.Crim.App. 2009).

So make your record. Make it clear. And for that every once in a while when we don’t get a win from the jury, preserve everything to protect your flank.

Credit for the original research and paper goes to former Dallas County Public Defender Appellate Division Chief Katherine A. Drew.

The Ultimate Mistrial: A War Story

Anyone who has tried cases to a jury has at one time or another had a mistrial. I recall a time when I tried a murder case involving a very young man who shot another student to take a sports jacket. Sad case, but I needed something to shake the state up and get a better offer. No such offer ever came, and I prepared for trial. The trial commenced in Dallas County with two experienced prosecutors.

The jurors came in and voir dire began. On looking at the juror information, I noticed a lady who had put down her religion as “New Age.” Now, I did not then and do not now know what the specifics of that particular religion are, but perhaps there would be some kind of disruption of the system. I did not make all my strikes to keep her within the range of jurors, and I did not question or mention her religious choice. I hoped the State did not notice and would not strike her, as she appeared perfectly normal among the group. She made the jury panel.

The trial lasted a bit longer than two days, and we began deliberations on the morning of the third day around 9:30 a.m. I got some lunch from the cafeteria and waited through lunch. About 3:00 p.m., the prosecutors went to a meeting upstairs.

In Dallas County at that time, the jurors had a button that set off a blinking red light on the wall next to the judge’s bench in the courtroom when they had a question, a request, or some other matter. I was in the courtroom by myself—no bailiff, no judge, and no prosecutors.

I noticed the blinking red light. I went to the rear courtroom door to the hallway where the jury room and judge’s office were to alert the judge of the light. I opened the door and stepped into the hallway. The first thing I noticed was the judge running down the hallway about 50 feet to my right, robe billowing, and a woman screaming and also running. To my left I noticed the door to the jury room was open, and a bailiff was in the doorway holding in screaming jurors. I decided I needed to be in the courtroom more than I did in the hallway.

I had just walked into the courtroom when the two prosecutors came hurriedly in and asked me what happened. I told them what I had seen. Shortly the judge came in and instructed us to return to our seats and told a bailiff to bring in the jury. Eleven came in, obviously upset, and sat in the jury box. Two bailiffs then came in and set the remaining juror in the witness chair. Sure enough, it was the “New Age” lady.

The judge identified the foreman and asked if the jury could reach a verdict. The foreman said he thought it impossible. The judge declared a mistrial, instructed the eleven jurors to remain seated, and waived to the two deputies with the remaining juror to take her from the courtroom. The judge then began telling the jurors how much he appreciated their time and efforts, how the legal system could not work without citizens such as themselves, etc. The remaining bailiff got the word that New Age lady had left the building and alerted the judge. After being thanked again, the jurors were allowed go home and the jury box emptied.

I hung around a bit and asked the judge, an old friend, what had happened. It seems New Age lady was examining all the evidence through colored glass disks to determine what it all meant that the non-believers were missing, and arguing with everything two school-teacher jurors said or believed could be drawn from the same evidence. Finally, after arguing all day, one of the school teachers grabbed at her across the table, telling New Age lady she was going to kill her. That set off the chaos that ended the trial.

So far as I know, I am the only lawyer who got a mistrial because one juror threatened to kill another.

June 2019 Complete Issue – PDF Download



22 | Blood Pattern Analysis: Esoteric Science, Quotidian Skill, or Deceptive Practice? – By Louis Akin
28 | Representation of Mentally Impaired Clients: An Ethical Issue – By Floyd L. Jennings
32 | Protecting Your Flank: What is a record and how to make sure your argument is preserved for appeal – By Clifford P. W. Duke
37 | The Ultimate Mistrial: A War Story – By Bill Trantham

6 | President’s Message
8 | Executive Director’s Perspective
10 | Editor’s Comment
12 | Ethics and the Law
14 | Federal Corner
18 | Shout Outs

5 | CLE Seminars and Events
39 | Significant Decisions Report

President’s Message: Family and Friends – By Kerri Anderson Donica


And so, it begins! Here I sit behind this desk in my office realizing what an awesome, overwhelming year looms ahead of me. I guess it is sort of how I felt in the weeks before my older son was born—knowing I was prepared, but also aware that the job ahead of me was going to be both thrilling and terrifying. I never imagined I’d have the privilege of claiming “I am the President of Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association!” Nor did I imagine five years ago—when I was fortunate enough to be selected for the “officer chain”—what a tremendous responsibility it was going to be. I want to use this first President’s Message to tell you about me, about my hopes for this coming year, and what TCDLA is all about.

Of course, before I begin talking about me, I want to talk about outgoing President Mark Snodgrass. I want to thank him for his unselfish service to TCDLA. I know his family also had to sacrifice to enable him to serve all of us so generously. He likely had a few grumbling clients when he was again off to the races to take care of TCDLA, but he did it and I’m thankful that he did. I know he will continue to be there to take my calls and talk me down off the ledge when it all seems like too much. Thank you, Mark, and I love you with all my heart.

Now on to this year—a little about me! With close to 3,500 members, I know there may be a few of you whom I haven’t had the privilege of meeting, so let me share: I’m a Baylor girl—undergraduate and law school. I ended up in the District Attorney’s office initially, and I fell in love with criminal law. It wasn’t long before I was ready to shift to the side of saviors and represent the citizen accused. And that’s what I’ve done now for over 30 years—and all that time I’ve been a proud, card-carrying member of TCDLA.

Of what am I proud? Of the sisters and brothers who stand beside me every single time I walk into a courtroom; whether they are available in person, on the phone, or via email and the listserve, they are there with me. I’m proud of our members’ commitment to our organization, committees, Strike Force, and to each other. I have developed friendships through TCDLA that can never be replaced. TCDLA is my family.

This year, I have three primary goals. First, I hope to continue the amazing work of our membership committee as we continue to grow this group. I also hope to have a strategic plan for TCDLA—an annual plan as well as a long-term strategic plan—in place by the end of the year. And thirdly, I have already begun the process of enabling us to better market TCDLA and increase our visibility and, therefore, viability. We are utilizing a marketing person who is currently doing a marketing “audit” for TCDLA to begin this objective. I’m really excited about our future with all three of these targets.

So please join me this year—get involved! Ask to participate in a committee, become a mentor or a mentee, ask where you can step in today! I’m always just an email or a phone call away, and I want YOU to be in this with me.

There is nothing we cannot do for our clients with all of us in this together. In the words of one of my favorite coaches in the universe, Matt Deggs, “It’s only impossible until somebody does it.” That somebody is us! I’m thankful for every one of you and for EACH one of you. My prayer is that you will love TCDLA as much as I do.

Executive Director’s Perspective: Remembering Rusty – By Melissa J. Schank


Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

—Robert Brault

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association is proud to announce its 32nd Annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course, scheduled for June 13–15, 2019, in San Antonio. Named for the late Honorable M. P. “Rusty” Duncan III of the Court of Criminal Appeals, this course is designed to cover state law and scholarly topics as well as cases from the past year that impact your practice today. Who is Rusty Duncan? you ask.

Honorable Maurice Palmer “Rusty” Duncan III celebrated life between 1945 and 1990. He ended his career as a judge in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 1987–1990. Before becoming a judge, Rusty was Board Certified in Criminal Law and practiced criminal defense out of Denton, Texas. He volunteered in a number of ways: Chair, State Bar’s Committee on the Study of the Insanity Defense in Texas, 1982–1983; Co-Chair, State Bar’s Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Committee, 1982–1984; Member, Senate Committee on Development of a Criminal Code of Evidence, 1983–1984; Editor, Voice for the Defense, 1984–1987.

I recently had an opportunity to talk to Bob Hinton, Dan Hurley, David Botsford, and Chuck Lanehart about Rusty’s life. I truly enjoyed all of the war stories and wanted to share a few.

He was a highly competitive, prolific reader, a loving father, and someone who always put himself last. He was instrumental in criminal defense—from his time as an attorney through his stint as a sitting judge on the Texas CCA.

Often when everyone was winding down with a nightcap, Rusty could be found reading a book. He was a professor of literature, one of his passions at St. Edwards University. Bob recalls a time he had his shoulder in a brace and sutures in a half-shaven head. Bob was, like, What on earth happened to you? He said he was playing racquetball and charged into the wall and separated his shoulder and sliced his scalp.

Another time they were skiing and stopped for a liquid lunch—skis were left outside. After lunch, they hit the Black Diamond, a very steep slope. Rusty wiped out, hitting hard, though the skis kept going to the bottom of the hill. Tim Evans, the best skier of the bunch, went to retrieve them while everyone else helped Rusty. He returned with Rusty’s skis—and boots, which were not buckled in.

David mentioned Stearnes v. Clinton, the 1989 landmark case establishing that a judge cannot “unappoint” counsels who previously had been appointed to an indigent defendant merely because appointed counsels are actively and aggressively performing their duties.

Stearnes was a capital murder case, and Carlton McLarty and Chuck Lanehart had been appointed to represent Stearnes. After the DA’s office complained to the judge about Carlton having the audacity to interview the State’s key witness without the DA’s permission, Judge Clinton “unappointed” Carlton and Chuck.

Members of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association passed the hat so LCDLA President Mark Hall and Chuck could to fly to Austin for assistance. There, they met with TCDLA President Ed Mallett, David Botsford, and others, and the TCDLA Strike Force waded in. Botsford, along with LCDLA member Ralph H. Brock, led the charge, filing an original writ of mandamus/prohibition in the Court of Criminal Appeals to keep Carlton and Chuck on the case. After oral argument, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ, prohibiting the “unappointment” and directing that Carlton and Chuck stay on the case. Carlton and Chuck subsequently won the case at trial via a directed verdict from a different district judge.

The back story, known by few, is that Rusty was the driving force on the court, convincing his fellow judges (who had originally but tentatively decided against it) to actually grant relief. So, while Rusty’s name does not appear as the author of Stearnes, he was directly responsible for the law that all of us still hold so precious: Once appointed, you cannot be “unappointed” by a judge for doing your job as a rigorous advocate.

Dan shared many of these war stories and had our group laughing—and in awe of this amazing man and his character. He remarked how Rusty was always helping, displaying heart in everything he did, from criminal defense work to interactions with the people he surrounded himself with. And it saddened me to think that I never got to meet him.

Rusty was one of the only exceptions when it came to naming seminars after members, simply because he was so closely involved in the development of criminal defense in Texas. He was an excellent writer and speaker, always exceeding all expectation, and I’m sure that if he were graded today for a presentation he would rate all fives.

When he was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, he couldn’t stay active in TCDLA, yet he remained an advocate for criminal defense attorneys. On the bench, he was instrumental in writing and rewriting the code of criminal procedure—and authored numerous other significant decisions—in no small part because he was respected by all he interacted with.

The tragedy that led to his unexpected death devastated the community. He was taken from us in a car accident caused by a drunk driver on a country road between Austin and Houston—while leaving one funeral to attend another. The ambulance arrived and took his girlfriend and him to the hospital. But he was so concerned for his girlfriend, who had a broken arm, that he insisted they take her first and see to her needs. When they returned to Rusty in the waiting room, he had fallen out of his seat in the waiting room and died because of internal bleeding. He was laid to rest at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

We are thankful for great men like Rusty and for those who can, in these reminiscences, remind us why we continue to do the little things that have such a significant impact, whether to one person or to a whole community.

Editor’s Comment: Summer Breeze – By Sarah Roland


It’s summertime again! That means it’s time to pass the mantle again, time for another great Rusty Duncan, and time to raise our voices in unison to proclaim the guarantees of our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights throughout the state. Please lend your support to our new president and join your voice along with other TCDLA members throughout the state on or around July 3 when we proudly and publicly celebrate our Declaration of Independence.

Take some time for yourself and take some time to be with the people you love—even if it’s just for a long weekend or a few hours here and there. Dockets don’t stop and emails are endless but take some time. Slow down, rest, reenergize, and reset if possible. We must remember to (and actually do) take care of ourselves so that we can take care of those who depend on us. We must take care of ourselves to stay sharp.

Let’s take some time as we sit in seminars to think about how to be more effective advocates for our clients. We can (and should) always strive to be better. We can always be more effective advocates. Let’s take time to see our clients—really see them—in order to help them. Let’s remember that often we are the very last person to stand up for them. Let’s really stand up and let’s try to find the good in each person we help—it’s there.

And as we slow down even for a minute this summer, let’s take time to build each other up. Let’s take time to help each other and have each other’s back. We are so fortunate to have the constant assistance of a tremendous Strike Force anytime we are in trouble. Remember, we are not alone. We are in this together.

Please know that this publication, like every other function of TCDLA, is designed to serve our members. Its viability and relevance depend on contributions from our members. This month, Dr. Jennings’ article addresses the very real dilemma we often find ourselves in with mentally ill clients. It’s a great follow-up to Micah Belden’s article on mental health last month. And, Louis Akin’s article on blood pattern analysis reminds us to be ever vigilant with any kind of forensic science. We must never be complacent when scientific evidence is offered. Cliff Duke’s article on preserving error is a reminder of the steps we need to take to ensure our clients’ cases receive the full attention of the law

You can expect to have a legislative update on relevant criminal law changes from our lobbyists, Shea and Allen Place, in the coming issue, so stay tuned. Thank them for the tireless work they do to help effectuate real change that we can see and feel in our practice. And, be sure to thank Craig Hattersley, longtime TCDLA communications director, for the countless hours he puts in behind the scenes to deliver a timely publication. Our regular contributors—Buck Files, Robert Pelton, Stephen Gustitis, and Michael Mowla—put in tremendous work for the benefit of all of us, too. We are all better for the knowledge they continually impart to us. Thank them.

Finally, as always, please send me any suggestions on how to continue to make this publication a reflection of the greatness of TCDLA, and keep the articles coming in!

Happy summer!

Ethics and the Law: Mayday


Mayday took over in the age of direct voice communications. Whenever a ship and its crew find themselves in a dangerous situation, they can lead every message with either two or three calls for mayday! This tells all listeners that the following message will contain urgent, life-or-death information and that they have to drop everything to provide assistance to this distraught crew.

Mayday provides in two sounds a clear and distinct message about the status of a ship, her crew, and the urgency of their situation. Similar vocal codes exist to share other kinds of information, such as “Pan-Pan,” which also signals distress. But unlike mayday, a ship signaling Pan-Pan is telling the world that they are experiencing difficulties, but that these problems are not life and death. It may mean a mechanical breakdown or a non-serious medical situation. Mayday, on the other hand, is the naval equivalent of dialing 911. Anybody who broadcasts a mayday is telling the world to come running, there are lives in danger.

The TCDLA Hotline has become a mayday for lawyers. We get calls from despondent lawyers, some on the verge of going off the deep end with worry about how to handle an ethical dilemma.

I am happy to report since I created the Ethics Hotline in 2011, many lawyers have called and their issues have been resolved in a satisfactory manner. If you have a mayday situation, call (512)646-2734. Put this number on your phone, and remember: We operate 24/7.

Below are some examples of the calls we get.

The Hotline gets many calls about discovery and what a lawyer should do when the issue of sharing an offense report arises. The lawyer is in control. The lawyer must make the decision on who can review a copy of the offense report. Read 39.14 carefully to avoid any ethical problems. This and an actual call are discussed below.

(e)   Except as provided by Subsection (f), the defendant, the attorney representing the defendant, or an investigator, expert, consulting legal counsel, or other agent of the attorney representing the defendant may not disclose to a third party any documents, evidence, materials, or witness statements received from the state under this article unless:

(1) a court orders the disclosure upon a showing of good cause after notice and hearing after considering the security and privacy interests of any victim or witness; or

(2) the documents, evidence, materials, or witness statements have already been publicly disclosed.

(f)    The attorney representing the defendant, or an in­ves­tigator, expert, consulting legal counsel, or agent for the attorney representing the defendant, may al­low a defendant, witness, or prospective witness to view the information provided under this article, but may not allow that person to have copies of the information provided, other than a copy of the witness’s own statement. Before allowing that person to view a document or the witness statement of another under this subsection, the person possessing the information shall redact the address, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, date of birth, and any bank account or other identifying numbers contained in the document or witness statement. For purposes of this article, the defendant may not be the agent for the attorney representing the defendant.

Here’s the synopsis:

Client is charged with a misdemeanor and our office is appointed to represent her on the criminal case. Discovery is made available to us, which includes several body-cam videos, etc. After a bit, we are contacted by a local attorney who does both criminal defense and civil rights. He asks if there is any video in the criminal discovery that shows an assault against the client by the cop. We responded that we would be happy to identify the specific video and timestamp for him, but that my reading of 39.14 precludes us from providing actual copies absent a court order. His response is that he can be “consulting legal counsel” and share the videos, specifically mentioning this is how they’ve worked with 39.14 in the past.

I would love to give him ALL the video—this cop is a wrongful shooting waiting to happen. Serious anger issues . . .  But I read 39.14 to be “consulting legal counsel” in the criminal case.

Can I give him copies of the videos?

(1) His response is that he can be “consulting legal counsel.”

Hi, Lawyer!

As for (1), my response for (2) below assumes that the client contacted him first and retained him. If he cold-called you and the client doesn’t know, be careful. Make certain you aren’t unintentionally getting yourself involved in a backdoor type of barratry situation merely because you’re trying to help your client.

As for (2), that’s my understanding of the law. This is not a smokescreen. He is in fact consulting on the criminal case since he will need to communicate with you to give his opinion on whether any possible plea deal (or evidence you may want to present) could harm his civil case, giving his opinion and advice on any issues he spots on the criminal case. Plus, you need information from him to make sure he is not doing anything in the civil case that could hurt your client’s position in the criminal case. Protecting the client and making sure the client obtains relief if a civil rights violation occurred takes cooperation and coordination between the client’s attorneys.

Michael Mowla

Let me just add: Confirm with client that client has hired civil-rights attorney, for if client has not, do not share 39.14 discovery with requesting civil attorney; (2) document your file with answer to (1) and send letter to client describing client’s answer to your question; and provide video to civil-rights attorney, if client answers (1) in the affirmative. Affirmatively document in writing the taking of each above step in case anyone files a misconduct or grievance against you personally. CYA prevention now is bettering than those you help now later replying “I don’t remember it that way,” when you and your law license are the BULLSEYES being hunted for by others seeking to do injustice to you!

Joseph A. Connors III
Lawyer in McAllen, Texas

I completely endorse what Michael said. Lawyer, please be so very careful. Just a reminder.

Keith S. Hampton
Attorney at Law

Another caller had an issue about affidavits filed in a Motion for New Trial. After consulting with the lawyer and another smart lawyer, we were able to answer the questions. Thanks to the lawyer calling the Hotline, we were able to assist in a small way in the granting of a Motion for New Trial in a felony case. All parties were happy.

Thanks to Michael Mowla, Keith Hampton, Joseph Connors, and Terry Gaiser.