Houston Court of Appeals affirms State’s right to rigged DWI trials
Being a DWI defense lawyer, or defendant, is tough in Texas. One reason is that our appellate courts will go to almost any length to uphold a DWI conviction. We have pro-conviction judicial activism to an amazing degree in Texas. Don’t believe me. Let’s go to the case of the day,
Kristen Aleia Simpson v. The State of Texas
Kristen was convicted of DWI after a jury trial. But it was a rigged trial. Rigged in the fact that the judge allowed jurors who expressed a bias towards the State to remain in the jury pool. Did you think that jurors are not supposed to be biased? That they are supposed to be fair and neutral? That’s only fair right?
Wrong. Bias is fine in Texas, as long as a juror is biased in believed that law enforcement witnesses are always credible, or more credible than other non cop witnesses. What happened?
From the opinion-
During Simpson’s trial, potential juror number three stated that he was good friends with a police officer, he believed officers were more credible witnesses, and the officers’ training caused their testimony to “carry [ ] more weight,” in his opinion. However, after additional instruction from the trial court, he affirmed that he would not prejudge the credibility of any witness and would presume the defendant innocent.
Likewise, potential juror number eight began voir dire stating that he felt police officers had more credibility as witnesses. He explained that if he was unsure who to believe—after listening to all the testimony—he would go with the police officer’s testimony because police officers are more credible. After the trial court explained the importance of waiting until a witness testifies to determine that witness’s credibility, the potential juror agreed that he would not prejudge any witness.
So we have juros who already have the State winning the case before it starts. So the defense objects. Now here is a typical move judges make in a DWI trial to save pro-state witnesses. The judge will ask a biased juror if they can “be fair and impartial and wait until they hear all the evidence before making a decision”. And guess what, every potential juror says yes to the judge. First, because jurors are afraid to disagree with the judge, and second, because jurors always think they are fair and impartial, even after admitting their biased for the State.
This is allowed because our appellate courts want to uphold convictions at all costs, so we’ve got case after case explaining how it’s ok for pro-State biased jurors to serve.
From the opinion-
The Court of Criminal Appeals repeatedly has addressed challenges for cause against potential jurors who state a belief that police officers are more credible witnesses. See, e.g., Feldman, 71 S.W.3d at 747; Ladd v. State, 3 S.W.3d 547, 560 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999); Smith v. State, 907 S.W.2d 522, 530–31 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995); Jones v. State, 982 S.W.2d 386, 389 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998). In doing so, that Court has refused to require complete impartiality. See Jones, 982 S.W.2d at 389.
Did you read that last sentence? I’ll go ahead and bold it for you. Ok. There. See where our State’s highest criminal court has declared that complete impartiality isn’t required for jurors. That is, it’s ok if they are biased for the State, this is Texas and we have a conviction machine to maintain.
More terrible caselaw from the opinion-
Thus, a potential juror who says that he would tend to believe a police officer…more than another witness may serve on a jury. See Ladd, 3 S.W.3d at 560. A potential juror who says he would give more credibility to the testimony of a Texas Ranger, likewise, may serve on a jury. See Smith, 907 S.W.2d at 530–31. As long as these veniremembers agree that they can follow the law as explained to them, regardless of their personal beliefs and leanings, it is within the trial court’s discretion to find them suitable for jury service and deny the challenge for cause. See Feldman, 71 S.W.3d at 747; Davis v. State, 329 S.W.3d 798, 811–13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) .
So it’s ok for jurors who have already decided that the State’s witnesses are more credible than anyone else to serve on a jury as long as a judge can get them to say “ok” after some boilerplate questions about being fair.
But wait, I’m not done yet. The judge in this case proudly displayed a MADD plaque on the bench. So not only is a biased jury ok, so is a biased judge.
From the opinion-
In her fifth and sixth issues, Simpson complains that the trial judge refused to remove a small MADD plaque that was leaning against the back wall behind the judge’s chair during her DWI trial. Simpson objected to the display of the plaque and requested the trial court remove it for the duration of trial. The trial court denied the request.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the defense lawyer objected and asked that the judge recuse himself since he is obviously biased against DWI defendants if he is a member of MADD. But again, this is Texas and the appellate court found nothing wrong with having a judge tell the jury how he expected them to rule with his MADD plaque. You have a right to a jury trial in Texas, just not a fair one.