Sunday, June 26, 2011

DWI Appeal - Texas Jury Instruction on Refusals Flawed

In Galinas v. State of Texas, Not Reported in S.W.3d, 2011 WL 2420858 (Tex.App.-El Paso), the defendant was stopped because he allegedly had a red light illuminating his rear license plate (the law requires white) and because he failed to signal while exiting a private driveway onto a public road. With regard to the light above the plate, the videotape of the stop showed that the light above the plate was actually white, as required by law. Trooper Marquez stated that at the time of the traffic stop, he believed Appellant's failure to signal out of the private driveway constituted a traffic violation. It was ultimately determined that the officer incorrectly believed that Texas law required the use of a signal while turning from a private driveway. He also stopped the vehicle because of a red license plate light. After the traffic stop, Marquez noticed that there was also a white light illuminating the license plate. At the time of the stop, he saw only the red light. A white light illuminating a license plate must be visible from at least fifty feet. With regard to the license plate light, he could not tell whether the light was “white”; he could only tell that it was “faint.” The trial court denied the motion to suppress.

In Texas, apparently the jury is also instructed to decide whether a stop was illegal and whether evidence should therefore be suppressed. The defendant on appeal complained that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to give the requested suppression instruction to the jury (which admittedly correctly stated Texas law):

"If you the jury find that Trooper Diego Marquez illegally stopped the defendant on February 16, 2007, or have any reasonable doubt thereof, you are instructed to exclude all evidence obtained by the trooper from and after the illegal stop from—during your deliberations."

Instead, the jury was wrongfully instructed to the opposite:

"...if you find from the evidence that on the occasion in question the Defendant, JAMES HENRY GELINAS, was driving his vehicle on a public road immediately preceding his stop and detention by the officer and you find from the evidence that his vehicle failed to comply with the Texas Transportation Code Provision, which requires a white light to illuminate the vehicle's license plate or you have a reasonable doubt thereof, then such stopping of the accused would be illegal and, if you find the facts so to be, or if you have a reasonable doubt thereof, you will disregard this testimony of Trooper Marquez relative to his stopping the defendant and his conclusions drawn as a result thereof, and you will not consider such evidence for any purpose whatsoever."

The State argued on appeal that, even though the jury instruction was wrong, the arguments of counsel corrected the defect. In rejecting that argument, the court wrote:

"The Hutch majority quickly rejected the contention that legal arguments could cure charge error:

The United States Supreme Court, when faced with the assertion that a prosecutor's argument on a presumption of innocence cures a jury charge deficient in that instruction, wrote ‘arguments of counsel cannot substitute for instructions by the court.’ [Citation deleted]. And, we have similarly noted that ‘jury argument is not a substitute for a proper jury charge.’

Id. at 173–74. The majority then recognized that because the application paragraph was so flawed as to charge the jury on the opposite of what the law actually provides and because the legality of the stop was a hotly contested issue, the error could not be cured by jury arguments. Id. at 174. Because the error vitally affected Hutch's defensive theory, the court reversed and remanded.

The right to a trial by jury in criminal matters is among those fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitutions. In order to effectuate this valuable right, there is a minimal requirement that the instructions to the jury not be exactly opposite of what the law actually is."

Due to the error, the appeals court reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Looking for a Top DUI DWI Attorney? Visit Americas Top DUI and DWI Attorneys at or call 1-800-DIAL-DUI to find a DUI OUI DWI Attorney Lawyer Now!

No comments:

Blog Archive