Thursday, September 11, 2008

Significant decisions by the Courts of Appeal, August 2008

Honking your horn too loudly could give rise to reasonable suspicion

In Rogers v. State (No. 2-06-345-CR), the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that the act of honking one's horn loudly and continually while screaming and making wild gestures gives an officer reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop.

At approximately 2:30am on March 4, 2006, Sgt. Kelly Velder of the Arlington Police Department heard a car horn repeatedly blowing for up to 15 seconds at a time, and he saw the driver leaning into the steering wheel, shouting and gesturing wildly at an intersection.  He detained the driver and, after conducting his investigation, arrested her on suspicion of DWI.  

The Court held that making unreasonable noise in a public place was disorderly conduct and gave the police reasonable suspicion to conduct a temporary investigative detention.

A prescription drug and its metabolites are dangerous drugs

In Harkins v. State (No. 2-06-412-CR), the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that a drug that may only be dispensed with a prescription meets the statutory definition of a dangerous drug.

On March 25, 2006, a concerned citizen called 911 to report that the defendant was driving erratically.  A blood test revealed soma and its metabolite in her system.  Ms. Harkins was charged with DWI -- caused by a dangerous drug.  At trial, the defendant argued that her impairment was not caused by soma but was caused by physical ailments and drowsiness due to sleep apnea.

The defendant argued that the metabolite of soma was not a dangerous drug by the statutory definition, but the Court held that since soma could only be dispensed by prescription, its metabolite was also a dangerous drug.

Putting another motorist in actual danger can give rise to a finding that a car was used as a deadly weapon

In Woodall v. State (03-05-00850-CR), the Austin Court of Appeals held that there must be evidence that another person (or persons) were actually in danger to uphold a finding that a vehicle was used as a deadly weapon.

On February 8, 2003, another driver  witnessed the defendant driving erratically.  The witness saw the defendant hit a barrel divider, almost hit the witness' car and then swerved, hit the curb on multiple occasions and kept driving. The witness followed the defendant to a restaurant and reported what he saw to Officer Mitchell.  The officer approached the defendant and asked him some questions.  He then went outside and looked at the defendant's vehicle -- seeing scratches that seemed consistent with hitting a barrel divider.  Officer Mitchell administered field sobriety tests and arrested defendant on suspicion of DWI.

A jury convicted the defendant of felony DWI and found that he was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon.

Section 1.07(a)(17)(B) of the Texas Penal Code defines deadly weapon as "anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury."  The Court held that as the defendant almost hit the witness that the witness was in actual danger at the time the defendant was driving.

Failing to maintain a single lane by itself is insufficient to warrant a traffic stop

In Fowler v. State (No. 2-06-06183-CR), the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that a driver's failure to maintain a single lane absent evidence that it was unsafe to do so is insufficient to give an officer reasonable suspicion to detain the driver.

The Court also held that reasonable suspicion cannot be based on an officer's mistaken understanding of traffic laws.  Section 545.060(a) states that a driver shall drive within a single lane and may not move from that lane unless the movement can be made safely.  As the officer failed to produce any evidence that the defendant's movements were not made safely, there was no traffic code violation.

The Court did say that the failure to maintain a single lane when coupled with a driver's leaving a bar, driving into oncoming traffic or weaving over an extended period of time would, however, give an officer reasonable suspicion.

Weaving into oncoming traffic, however, is 

In Keenan v. State (No. 06-08-00086), the Texarkana Court of Appeals held that failing to maintain a single lane and swerving into oncoming traffic did give rise to reasonable suspicion.

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