Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In December 2019, a taxicab driver, Phillip Palmer, shot a heavily intoxicated passenger, Nicholas Young, following a dispute over cab fare. The incident escalated into a physical altercation at a gas station, where Young shoved Palmer twice, causing him to fear for his life. Palmer, who had begun carrying a gun in his cab after hearing about a driver who had been shot by a passenger, fired two shots at Young, hitting him in the neck. Young survived his injuries. At trial, Palmer admitted to the shooting but claimed self-defense. The trial court denied Palmer's request for a self-defense jury instruction, finding Palmer's statements about his means of escape not credible and determining that a reasonable person would not have believed they were in danger of being killed by Young under the circumstances. Palmer was acquitted of attempted murder but found guilty of felonious assault and a firearm specification.The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the decision of the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, which had affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Supreme Court determined that the trial court had improperly weighed the evidence when performing a sufficiency analysis. The court found that Palmer had presented legally sufficient evidence for each element of self-defense and was therefore entitled to a self-defense jury instruction. The evidence presented, if believed, could convince a trier of fact that Palmer was acting in self-defense. Therefore, the case was remanded for a new trial on the felonious-assault charge and accompanying firearm specification. View "State v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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In Texas, the appellant was stopped by an officer for failing to remain in a single lane of traffic. After the officer smelled alcohol on the appellant's breath and observed signs of intoxication, he obtained a warrant for a blood sample, which showed a blood alcohol content of .174. The appellant was subsequently indicted for felony driving while intoxicated. The appellant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. The trial court denied the motion, and the appellant was convicted. The appellant appealed, and the Third Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that the stop was unlawful because the appellant's failure to maintain a single lane was not unsafe.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas considered whether a mistake of law should apply when an officer conducts a search or seizure under an ambiguous law. The court held that the officer's reasonable misinterpretation of the law did not undermine the reasonable suspicion required to conduct the traffic stop. The court noted that at the time of the stop, there was no controlling interpretation of the relevant section of the Texas transportation code from the Court of Criminal Appeals and the intermediate courts were split in their interpretations. The court therefore reversed the court of appeals' decision and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Daniel v. State" on Justia Law

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In this case, Patrick Tvrdy was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 to 16 years' imprisonment following a vehicle-motorcycle collision that resulted in the death of the motorcycle driver, Brady Sweetser. Tvrdy appealed on three grounds: that the district court used erroneous jury instructions relating to motor vehicle homicide instead of manslaughter, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, and that the sentence imposed was excessive.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the jury instructions correctly stated the law and were not misleading. The court noted that the law in Nebraska does not consider a victim's negligence as a defense to manslaughter unless that negligence is the sole proximate cause of the death. This principle was correctly reflected in the jury instructions.Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, the court found that there was enough evidence to support Tvrdy's conviction. The court emphasized that an appellate court does not resolve conflicts in the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or reweigh the evidence. The court found that there was sufficient evidence of Tvrdy's intoxication and that there was never enough time for Tvrdy to complete his left turn without causing Sweetser, who had the right of way, to collide with him.As to the sentence, the court found no abuse of discretion by the district court. Tvrdy's sentence was within the statutory limits for his offense, and the court noted his criminal history of multiple speeding and possession of marijuana offenses, as well as a driving under the influence offense. View "State v. Tvrdy" on Justia Law

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In Bowie County, Texas, Zimbabwe Raymond Johnson was involved in a car accident where he collided with a utility pole and an antique truck. He continued to drive away from the scene until his vehicle was no longer operational. Upon the arrival of the police, Johnson provided identification information but did not have insurance. Consequently, he was charged with failure to comply with duties to provide information after an accident and was convicted of attempting to commit those offenses. The trial judge imposed a $200 fine for each offense and ordered Johnson to pay restitution of $200 for the utility pole damage and $10,000 for the vehicle damage.On appeal, Johnson contested the restitution order, arguing that the offenses for which he was convicted did not cause the pole and truck damage. The court of appeals agreed and deleted the restitution awards. The State of Texas petitioned for a discretionary review of the decision by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. The court held that, under Article 42.037 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, restitution could be ordered only when the offense for which the defendant was convicted caused the damage. The court stated that there was no evidence to suggest that Johnson's failure to comply with his duties of providing information after the accident caused any of the damage. Although the court acknowledged that in some situations, a failure to provide information could cause damage (such as by delaying necessary medical help), such was not the case here. The court dismissed the State's concern that limiting restitution might motivate overcharging just to obtain restitution, stating that such concern could not dictate the resolution of the issue. View "JOHNSON v. STATE OF TEXAS" on Justia Law

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Appellant California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) appealed from a judgment granting Plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandate (judgment). DMV contends the issues presented on appeal are whether the trial court erred in overturning the suspension of Plaintiff’s driver’s license (1) “by applying [former] Government Code section 11440.30.   The Fifth Appellate District affirmed the “Judgment Granting Petition For Writ Of Mandate And Awarding Costs And Attorney Fees To Petitioner” and remanded the cause to the court below, with directions to modify the judgment to provide that the matter shall thereafter be remanded to the DMV for further proceedings. The court concluded that former Government Code section 11440.30 was applicable to Plaintiff’s DMV driver’s license suspension hearing. Said former statute is fully consistent with other relevant statutes, including, without limitation, Vehicle Code sections 14100 through 14112 and Government Code section 11501. Further, the court concluded that both CCR section 115.07 and former Government Code section 11440.30 were mandatory and not merely directory. Moreover, substantial evidence supports an implied finding that Plaintiff was prejudiced by DMV’s failure to adhere to former government code section 11440.30. View "Ramirez v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Defendant crashed his plane when he attempted to fly over Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range in Alaska. During both the investigation and Defendant’s appeal of the revocation of his airman certificate, Defendant claimed that the plane was climbing through 5,500 to 5,700 feet with a target altitude of 6,000 feet as it approached the pass. GPS data showed that the plane was flying at an altitude more than 1,000 feet lower than what Defendant claimed. The proceeding in Count One was the NTSB investigation. The proceeding in Count Two was the appeal before the NTSB of the FAA’s revocation of his airman certificate. Challenging his conviction on Count One, Defendant argued that the NTSB’s accident investigation was not a pending “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction on two counts of obstructing a pending proceeding and affirmed the district court’s assessment of a $5,000 fine. The panel wrote that even if it were not reviewing for plain error, it would affirm, holding that the NTSB’s investigation of Defendant’s plane crash was a “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The panel held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on the materiality element. The panel held that the district court did not commit clear error in finding Defendant able to pay the $5,000 fine, as there was no evidence before the district court showing that Defendant was unable to pay the fine, or was likely become unable to pay it. View "USA V. FOREST KIRST" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) set up a commercial vehicle inspection program authorized by Subsection 4704(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code. The inspection program was scheduled approximately one month in advance and occurred at a Clinton County landfill located in the Village of McElhatten. Appellant Jeffrey Maguire’s truck was stopped at the checkpoint by Pennsylvania State Police. The trooper conducted a “Level Two” inspection, which included a review of Appellant’s documents and a walk-around inspection of the truck, checking its lights, horn, wipers, tires, and wheels. During the course of this conversation, the trooper detected the smell of alcohol on Appellant’s breath. Following the inspection, the trooper had Appellant exit the truck, told him that he smelled of alcohol, and asked whether he had been drinking. Appellant stated that he drank one beer on his trip to the landfill. At that point, the trooper noticed a cooler on the floor of the truck near the gearshift, the contents of which were a yellow plastic bag that was wet from ice, three twelve-ounce cans of beer, and one or two bottles of water. Appellant failed field sobriety testing. Appellant was arrested, transported to the Jersey Shore Hospital for blood testing, and ultimately charged with several counts of driving under the influence (“DUI”), as well as five counts of unlawful activities. In Commonwealth v. Tarbert, 535 A.2d 1035 (Pa. 1987) (plurality), and Commonwealth v. Blouse, 611 A.2d 1177 (Pa. 1992), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted guidelines for assessing the constitutionality of government-conducted systematic vehicle checkpoints to which the entirety of the public are subjected. Before the Court in this case was the issue of whether the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines were applicable to statutorily authorized warrantless inspections of commercial vehicles. The Court determined they were not: such inspections should be scrutinized in accord with the test outlined by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987), adopted in Pennsylvania in Commonwealth v. Petroll, 738 A.2d 993 (Pa. 1999). Because a panel of the Superior Court, in a two-to-one majority decision, reached the correct result, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment, which reversed a trial court’s order granting appellant’s motion to suppress evidence. View "Pennsylvania v. Maguire" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellee Ollisha Easley was onboard a Greyhound bus from Claremont, California, to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when the bus made a scheduled stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Greyhound passenger list showed that Easley’s reservation included a second woman identified as “Denise Moore” - both Easley and Denise Moore had one checked bag and both tickets were purchased with cash. No one named Denise Moore boarded the bus in California, but her suitcase was stowed in the luggage hold of the Greyhound and was identified with the same reservation number and telephone number as Easley’s luggage. While the bus was stopped in Albuquerque, Special Agent Jarrell Perry of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and his partner that day, Special Agent Scott Godier, observed the luggage in the bus’s cargo hold. Agent Perry later testified that the use of a so-called “phantom passenger” is a common method of narcotics trafficking. Ultimately, the agents identified the bags traveling with Easley, searched them and found small bags of methamphetamine in the Denise Moore bag. Easley denied ownership of the bag, denied knowing the bag's owner, and denied ever having seen the bag before. She would be indicted for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Easley moved to suppress the evidence seized from the bag, and to exclude a confession she made to Agent Perry. The district court granted Easley’s motion holding that : (1) Easley had not established her bags were illegally searched while the bus was in the wash bay; (2) nor had she established that the bus was subject to an unreasonable investigatory detention; however, (3) under the totality of the circumstances, Easley had been illegally seized. The court found that Easley’s abandonment of the Denise Moore suitcase was the product of a Fourth Amendment violation, so it suppressed the evidence seized from the suitcase. The court also determined the earlier Fourth Amendment violation tainted Easley’s subsequent confession and suppressed her inculpatory statements. In reversing the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agents’ search of the Denise Moore suitcase was a valid search of abandoned property; and there was preceding constitutional violation to taint Easley’s confession, suppression of her inculpatory statements. The parties did not brief or argue any other ground to support the district court’s decision on appeal, so the case was remanded to the district court to resolve the admissibility of Easley’s confession in the first instance. View "United States v. Easley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence resulting from a stop by an Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE) officer, holding that the IDOT MVE lacked the authority to stop and arrest Defendant.The MVE in this case stopped Defendant for speeding in a construction zone. After determining that Defendant’s driver’s license had been revoked the MVE arrested Defendant and took him to jail. Defendant was convicted of driving while revoked. On appeal, Defendant argued that IDO MVE officers lacked authority at the time he was stopped to engage in general traffic enforcement under Iowa Code chapter 321 and that the stop and arrest could not be sustained as a citizen’s arrest under Iowa Code 804.9. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that today’s decision in Rilea v. Iowa Department of Transportation, __ N.W.2d ___ (Iowa 2018), required that Defendant’s conviction be vacated and this case remanded for further proceedings. View "State v. Werner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held tha before May 11, 2017, Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE) officers lacked authority to stop vehicles and issue speeding tickets or other traffic citations unrelated to operating authority, registration, size, weight, and load.In 2016, two motorists were separately cited by MVE officers for speeding in a construction zone. In declaratory order proceedings, the IDOT concluded that MVE officers possessed authority to stop vehicles and issue these citations. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, prior to May 11, 2017, IDOT peace officers were conferred only limited authority by chapter 321 of the Iowa Code to enforce violations relating to operating authority, registration, size, weight, and load of motor vehicles and trailers. View "Rilea v. Iowa Department of Transportation" on Justia Law