1. “Can police lawfully detain someone for violating a law that is suspended by the governor under the Texas Disaster Act?”
2. “Is the governor required to issue an executive order and file it with the secretary of state in order to invoke the suspension-of-laws provision of the Texas Disaster Act?”
GRANTED ON THE COURT’S OWN MOTION
“Did the Texas Disaster Act, Texas Government Code §418.016(a), authorize the governor to suspend Texas Transportation Code §§502.407 & 502.473?”
Shirley was driving in Houston in June 2020 when an officer ran his vehicle’s temporary license tag and received a response that it was expired. Officers attempted to pull him over but Shirley ignored the emergency lights, drove from officers until he wrecked his vehicle, and then continued fleeing on foot. He was ultimately charged with evading arrest or detention, which requires that the officer’s attempted detention or arrest be lawful.
Because Shirley was on deferred probation at the time, the State moved to adjudicate based on the new evading offense. Shirley argued that, at the time he fled, DPS had suspended enforcement of expired license tags because of the pandemic and thus the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him. The testimony relevant to this issue came from the officers—one testified he was not sure whether DPS had waived renewal of license tags (but acknowledged they would be required again in April 2021), and the other testified that the police department was still conducting traffic stops for expired registrations. The trial court ruled that Shirley’s attempted detention was lawful because the officer still had a right to investigate an alleged license-tag expiration.
On appeal after his adjudication, Shirley argued that the Governor had suspended the vehicle registration laws in a press release in March 2020 and thus there was no expired registration offense at the time he was driving. The State argued the press release was not legally binding because it was not an executive order or filed with the Secretary of State. The court of appeals sidestepped that issue and concluded solely from the testimony that there was evidence officers reasonably believed a violation was in progress.
Shirley contends that the State did not dispute that (1) the Governor issued an order suspending the statutes concerning vehicle registration and promised to help ensure law enforcement officers were aware of the waivers, and (2) the suspension was heavily publicized in the media with assurances that drivers would not be pulled over. He argues that the Texas Disaster Act does not require an executive order or filing with the Secretary of State in order to suspend laws and relies on an attorney general opinion that the Governor’s suspension of driver-license-renewal requirements (also by press release) was legally effective. He further argues that, even if officers mistakenly believed that the vehicle registration laws were in effect, the State failed to prove that their mistake was objectively reasonable under Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54 (2014).