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Case Law Update

Some brief summaries of new cases that I prepare for Tarrant County Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association:




Byram v. State of Texas, 2017 Tex. Crim. App., PD-1480-15 (2017)

On the 4th of July, a police officer sees an SUV pull up next to him at stop light. The officer claims to have smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage as soon as the truck pulled up next to him. He looks over and sees the person in the passenger seat appears to be unconscious, so he asks the driver if the passenger is ok. When the driver does not respond he pulls the SUV over and investigates. The passenger refused treatment but the driver was arrested for DWI-open container.

CCA held this was part of the community caretaking exception to the 4th Amendment.


United States v. Zavala, 15-10357 (5th Cir. 2017)

Officers saw a hispanic male walking along I-20 away from a stalled pickup truck. They attempted to do a “welfare check,” but he ignored them and continued walking. Officers stopped him and asked him where he was headed. Officers testified that his story did not make sense, he was acting nervous, and he kept putting his hands in his pockets. Officers did a pat down search for officer safety and found a gun and some drugs. The man was later convicted of possession of a firearm while being unlawfully present in the United States.

The 5th Circuit held the man was detained once the officers initiated the pat down search, and at that point there was no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

The Court held the Government "attempt[ed] to put an ominous gloss on what appears almost entirely ordinary."

United States v. Cruz-Romero, No. 15-51181 (5th Cir. 2017)

Cruz-Romero was plead guilty to possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. The Government promised not to oppose his safety valve adjustment if he entered a guilty plea. The adjustment would have lowered his range of punishment from a 60 month minimum to 37 to 46 months.

The safety valve adjustment requires a Defendant to “truthfully provide[] to the Government all information and evidence [he] has concerning the offense or offenses that were part of the same course of conduct or of a common scheme or plan.” The Defendant stipulated to his involvement with the offense, but refused to provide the government with more information, such as who he was working for, and who he was planning to sell the marijuana to.

The government opposed his safety valve adjustment and he waived his right to appeal in connection with the deal.

The 5th Circuit said the government did not breach the agreement because their actions were consistent with both parties’ reasonable understanding of the agreement.

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