26 Years Ago This Week: Naff v. State

By Ben Gibbs

Naff v. State, 946 S.W.2d 529, decided May 15, 1997, is a useful case for municipal court practitioners because it addresses three common arguments and spells out clear legal reasons for its decision. Although not binding statewide authority, the Naff opinion relies heavily on Texas Court of Criminal Appeals authority and uses clear and comprehensible language.

This case started like many in municipal court: David Allen Naff was convicted and fined for four traffic offenses in municipal court and assessed fines and costs of more than $1,200. The offenses included fail to maintain financial responsibility, no driver’s license, no motor vehicle registration, and no motor vehicle inspection (which is no longer a separate offense in Texas). He appealed to the county court at law in Wichita County, where the court affirmed all four convictions and the fine amounts. Naff then appealed to the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.

At the second court of appeals, Naff argued three points: the complaints, because they were not signed by a person with personal knowledge of the underlying facts, were deficient; the prosecution was illegal because it was conducted by a municipal court prosecutor (and city attorney) rather than by the County Attorney as required by the Texas Constitution, article V, section 21; and that regulation of his person or his vehicle while on public roadways was a violation of his right to travel.

The court held that, because personal knowledge is not listed as a requirement in the statutes prescribing the form of complaints, it is not necessary. An affiant is permitted to base the accusations in a complaint on information derived from a police report.

The court held that prosecution in municipal court by a municipal prosecutor is also not legal error. Article V, section 21 states that all prosecutions in district and inferior courts shall be conducted in counties which do not elect a district attorney. Wichita county does, in fact, have a district attorney. The district attorney’s jurisdiction is defined by statute, and so may be delegated to other attorneys, as has been done in municipal courts.

Finally, the court held that reasonable regulation of Naff’s traveling is not an infringement of his right to travel, but is rather a reasonable regulation of the privilege to drive an automobile on a Texas highway. Regulating licensing and registration laws and requiring proof of financial responsibility are a proper subject of police power, and not a denial of due process.

Published by markgoodner

General Counsel & Director of Education, TMCEC

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