Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Just looking for an excuse to affirm

In 2012, Milton Kay was driving in Orange, Texas without wearing his seatbelt and without having a current registration sticker on his windshield. He was pulled over by Officer McDonald of the Orange Police Department.

While conducting the stop, Officer McDonald smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage on Mr. Kay's breath and noticed that Mr. Kay was slurring his words.

So, of course, what started out as a routine traffic stop turned into a full-blown DWI investigation -- even without any evidence of impairment while driving. As (bad) luck would have it, Mr. Kay had two prior DWI convictions - one in 1989 and one in 2000 - that turned a routine traffic stop into a felony DWI arrest.

Section 724.012 of the Texas Transportation Code states that if a person with two or more prior DWI convictions is arrested for a DWI and refuses to provide a breath or blood sample, a police officer may require the motorist to submit to a blood draw. In case you didn't know it, when you walked away from the DPS office with your driver's license you told the state that it was okay from them to jab a needle in your arm if you declined to cooperate in a DWI investigation.

And you thought that Fourth Amendment thingie applied, didn't you?

Well, of course it didn't apply in Mr. Kay's case because his alcohol concentration was .024 - three times the legal limit.

At trial Mr. Kay argued that the blood draw was illegal because he didn't agree to it and because there was no showing by the state of exigent circumstances per McNeely. The trial court wasn't inclined to ignore a high blood test result so Mr. Kay's objections to the admissibility of the blood test results were denied. Mr. Kay was subsequently sentenced to 19 years in prison which, if I may editorialize, was absurd given the circumstances surrounding the arrest.

The 1st Court of Affirms Appeals in Houston then got there shot at the case. In Kay v. State, No. 01-13-00595-CR (Tex.App.--Houston [1st] 2014) Justice Rebecca Huddle pointed out that Mr. Kay never specifically mentioned that the blood draw violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the Court affirmed the conviction and told Mr. Kay to enjoy his time in prison.

Here is the relevant portion from Mr. Kay's motion to suppress the blood test result...
[E]vidence in this case has been illegally obtained . . . in violation of the United States Constitution, the Texas Constitution, and Texas Statutory Laws . . . [T]he blood specimen was extracted from [Kay] without his permission and without a search warrant. Generally, tak[ing] of a blood sample is a search and seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution . . . Article I, section 9 of the Texas Constitution requires that a search warrant be issued . . . In addition, Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure forbids any evidence obtained in violation of the law to be admitted against an accused. 
Let's see, Mr. Kay mentioned that the blood draw violated the US Constitution. He mentioned that it violated the Texas Constitution. He mentioned that a warrantless blood draw falls under the purview of the Fourth Amendment. He even cited the Texas Statutory Exclusionary Rule.

Yet, to the First Court of Appeals, that wasn't enough to invoke the protections of the Fourth Amendment and the McNeely case.

Just the other day I praised the legal reasoning of Marc Brown in suppressing some pretty damning evidence because the police violated the accused's Fourth Amendment rights. I wrote that Justice Brown made his decision not on the evidence that was in question, but, instead, on the way in which the evidence was gathered.

Well so much for that type of legal reasoning from Justice Huddle. Instead of looking at whether the evidence was obtained legally, she looked for any reason she could find to justify the trial court's decision to deny Mr. Kay's motion to suppress. What she found makes a mockery of her title of "Justice."

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