The Court of Appeals neglected to address the validity of Cheryl Pierce's argument because, relying on some dicta in our previous opinion, it concluded that we had already resolved the issue. We must decide whether dicta can resolve a disputed legal issue in a case. We conclude that it cannot.
We previously set forth the facts of this case as follows:
Deputy Sheriff Miller was driving on a four-lane highway in Dallas when he saw [Pierce's] vehicle overtake him in the left lane and swerve in front of him in the right lane. He was forced to apply his brakes to avoid [Pierce's] vehicle. He pursued [Pierce] and she pulled her vehicle to the side of the road. Deputy Miller approached [Pierce] and smelled alcohol. About that time Dallas Police Officer Topp, who was passing by, offered assistance. He administered some sobriety tests and arrested [Pierce].
The unusual feature of this case is that Miller was a deputy of the Sheriff of Bosque County. He had gone to Dallas on a training exercise, and was returning home when he encountered [Pierce]. (1)
Pierce was indicted for driving while intoxicated. She filed a motion to suppress arguing that her arrest was illegal. The trial court denied the motion. Pierce was then tried before a jury. The judge instructed the jury that it should disregard any evidence related to the arrest if it found the arrest to be illegal. The jury found Pierce guilty of driving while intoxicated and the judge sentenced her 180 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Pierce appealed, arguing among other things that the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress. The Court of Appeals held that "the jury's implied finding supplant[ed] the trial court's denial of the motion" and that, since Pierce did not complain of the jury's consideration of the evidence, she presented "nothing for review." (2)
We granted Pierce's petition for discretionary review and reversed the Court of Appeals. We held that "[w]hen a trial court has denied a motion to suppress evidence, the verdict of guilty from a jury that was charged to disregard illegally obtained evidence does not prevent the defendant from appealing the court's ruling." (3) We recognized that "[t]his was the procedure followed in another case" and we stated that this procedure "should be followed in this case." (4) We remanded the case to the Court of Appeals "for further consideration consistent with this opinion." (5)
On remand, the Court of Appeals said that, in our opinion, we had "determined" that "the evidence was undisputed" that Miller stopped Pierce for traffic violations. (6) The appellate court said it was "bound" by our "decision" in that regard. (7) It concluded that "the sole issue" before it was "whether an out-of-county deputy sheriff could legally stop or detain [Pierce] for a traffic violation." (8) And since it believed that we had already "determined that Miller stopped [Pierce] solely for traffic violations," it was left to conclude that "the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress." (9)
We granted the State's petition for discretionary review to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of our previous opinion. We agree with the State that the Court of Appeals erred, and we remand the case once again.
In our previous opinion, the issue before us was whether "a trial judge's ruling on an objection to illegally-obtained evidence [is] rendered moot by a guilty verdict from a jury that was instructed to disregard illegally-obtained evidence." (10) We did not purport to address the validity of the stop or the arrest.
The Court of Appeals concluded that we had resolved that issue based on some language we used in explaining why the jury's role is to "be a backup protection against erroneous judicial rulings . . ., not to supplant them." (11) In providing an "illustration" of that concept, we elaborated on the facts of the case and said that "the only offense for which Miller legally could have arrested [Pierce] was driving while intoxicated" and that "Miller had no evidence that [Pierce] was intoxicated." As the State points out, this language was dicta, unnecessary to the resolution of the issue before us. (12) The Court of Appeals erred in relying upon it and concluding that we had already resolved the issue of the validity of Pierce's arrest.
The legality of Pierce's arrest and the ensuing correctness of the trial court's ruling on the suppression motion remain unresolved. We remand this case to the Court of Appeals to decide those issues, which are presented in Pierce's first point of error.
DATE DELIVERED: October 8, 2003
DO NOT PUBLISH
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.
1.Pierce v. State, 32 S.W.3d 247, 248 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000) (Pierce II).
2.Pierce v. State, 1999 WL 956301, No. 05-95-00725-CR, 1999 Tex. App. LEXIS 7775, * 8 (Tex. App. - Dallas, October 18, 1999) (not designated for publication) (Pierce I).
3.Pierce II, 32 S.W.3d at 253.
6.Pierce v. State, 2002 Tex. App. LEXIS 5195, * 3 (Tex. App. - Dallas, July 24, 2002) (not designated for publication) (Pierce III).
9.Id. at * 4.
10.Pierce II, 32 S.W.3d at 248.
11.Id. at 253 (internal quotation marks omitted).
12.See Brabson v. State, 976 S.W.2d 182, 186 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).