The client in this matter has already faced charges in the trial court where he was convicted of possession of a controlled substance, and had his conviction affirmed by the Court of Appeals. At the present time, a decision must be made as to whether there is any basis for pursuing further appeal. If it is determined that a further appeal is justified, the next action that must be taken is to file a petition for discretionary appeal with the Texas Supreme Court.
Simmons was stopped and subsequently arrested for littering on the Houston public streets. Pursuant to his arrest, a routine protective search was conducted by the arresting officer during which a small bottle was found in the defendant's shirt pocket. As a result of the search, the defendant was also arrested for possession of a controlled substance for which he eventually stood trial and was convicted. Prior to the trial, the defendant filed a Motion to Suppress based on what the defendant believed was an illegal detention and arrest. A hearing was held on the Motion but the trial court denied the defendant's motion.
At trial Mr. Simmons was not represented by counsel. He represented himself during trial and it is apparent from the transcript that Mr. Simmons made a number of procedural evidentiary errors that may have seriously jeopardized his case. As time is running relative to the filing of a petition with the supreme court, a decision must be made in short order.
There are essentially two legal issues available for review based on the facts in this case. The first issue is relative to the initial stop and arrest of the defendant. It is arguable whether the arresting office had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify his stopping the defendant, arresting him, and then conducting a search of the defendant. Arguably, if the stop and detention were unlawful, then the subsequent search would not have been performed and the cocaine would not have been discovered and the defendant would not have been convicted of a felony.
The second issue addresses the admissibility of forensic analysis of the contents of the bottle found on Mr. Simmons at the time of his arrest. The defendant in representing himself at trial objected to the chain of custody regarding the bottle but he failed to properly object to the lab being properly certified under applicable Texas statutes. The trial court overruled the defendant's chain of custody objection. On appeal, the defendant, through appointed counsel, raised the issue of the lab's being uncertified but the Appeals Court ruled that the Appellant waived his objection by not raising said issue at the appropriate time either at or before trial.
What must be determined at this time is whether or not any further action is justifiable given what has already happened in this case and based upon the legal issues present in this case. The client has already exhausted all of his direct appeal rights and his only option is to consider filing a petition for discretionary review by the Supreme Court. In order to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court the appellant must be able to demonstrate the Court of Appeals committed an error in rendering its decision. Under normal circumstances this is not an easy task but, given the facts in this case, this will be particularly difficult.
As to the initial stop, detention, and arrest the Defendant's chances of convincing the Court that the District and Appeals Court were in error relative to the law on this matter are minimal. Although there may be a pragmatic question as to whether or not the arresting officer actually possessed a reasonable suspicion sufficient to stop the defendant is a question of fact and the testimony offered by the officer provides the necessary information to justify the stop. The defendant's refusal or inability to provide identification placed the officer in a difficult position and forced him to arrest the defendant. The courts have relaxed the requirements as to when an officer may search a defendant and limited search subsequent to an arrest has been recognized as acceptable in order to protect the safety of the arresting officers. Unfortunately for Mr. Simmons, this limited search uncovered highly incriminating evidence. There is likely not much that can be done on this issue and, as a result, filing a further appeal on this issue would not be justified.
As to the second issue there is some limited hope. Although the Appeals Court denied the Appellant relief on this matter its denial addressed the chain of custody argument and did not fully address the possibility that the Appellant may have raised a proper objection at trial on the admissibility of the lab report. The Appeals Court simply denied that the Appellant failed to properly object and did not address the possibility that his having cross-examined the representative of the lab regarding the lab's accreditation was sufficient to preserve his objection on this issue. This may represent the client's best line of attack on any appeal to the Supreme Court and, given the fact that the client is facing a potential 55 years in prison, there is a strong enough legal argument to justify considering a further appeal.
The client's decision to represent himself at trial was a dangerous and risky one. Not unexpectedly, he made several errors that cannot be undone. These errors were detrimental and contributed to his conviction.
Appeals to the Supreme Court are difficult and usually unsuccessful but in light of the sanctions being imposed and the uniqueness of the legal issues presented the filing of a petition for review should be filed with the Supreme Court forthwith.
Memorandum on Law
The first issue presented in this case addresses whether the arresting officer properly stopped and detained the defendant and, subsequently, whether the prosecution of the defendant should have proceeded based on evidence that was obtained through a stop and detention that was illegal. The difference between an investigatory detention and an arrest is a matter of the degree between the intrusion involved and the different legal justifications for each action and distinguishing between the two is not always easy. The instant case, however, does not really address this distinction; instead, the instant case goes beyond this question and raises the issue of when a warrantless search can be conducted when the arrest involves neither a felony nor serious misdemeanor. The defendant in this case was stopped for a minor misdemeanor for which ordinarily no arrest would have been made. The matter, however, becomes complicated by the fact that the defendant denied possessing any form of identification. This moved the matter into another area of concern for the arresting officer and caused him to abandon the option of merely issuing a citation and forced him to arrest the defendant. Complicating the matter, further, is the fact that the defendant's identification was found at the same time that the officer found the alleged bottle of cocaine. At this point the question must be asked, "which was found first, the bottle or the identification?" If the identification documents were found first should the search have ended or had the arrest already been made and the search be allowed pursuant to such arrest? Unfortunately, the facts of this case do not allow this issue to be decided.
Historically, however, the chance of the likelihood of the defendant being able to prevail on the argument that the officer lacked probable cause to execute the search is not a strong one. The trend in the courts for many years has been an expansion of the government's arrest and search powers and the facts in this case are not supportive of the defendant's argument even if he could overcome the potential procedural problems in the way that he fashioned his objections.
The stronger argument for Mr. Simmons is the fact that through his cross-examination of the representative from the forensic laboratory that conducted the testing on the contents of the bottle found on the defendant at the time of the arrest Mr. Simmons was able to advise the Court that the laboratory was uncertified. The Appeals Court in ruling on Mr. Simmons' appeal issue that the report should not have been admitted simply argued that Mr. Simmons did not properly object, however, there is an argument to be made that through the testimony of the laboratory representative the objection has been brought to the attention of the Court adequately to qualify as an objection. Such issue was not addressed by the trial court.
As scientific information has become more widely accepted the courts have taken care to ensure that such evidence is both reliable and relevant
. The persuasive effect of such evidence can be quite compelling and, therefore, its admission has been carefully guarded. In the instant case, the fact that the Court was made aware of the uncertified nature of the lab results…