Friday, August 26, 2011

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Texas Third Court of Appeals Upholds YFZ Ranch Defendant's Conviction

AUSTIN – The Third Court of Appeals in Austin today affirmed Michael George Emack’s conviction for sexually assaulting a child. The state appeals court rejected Emack’s appeal and ruled that law enforcement authorities’ April 2008 search of the YFZ Ranch in Schleicher County was properly based on adequate probable cause and therefore legally justified. Emack attempted to avoid his seven-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old female by arguing that authorities’ search violated his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

“Today’s Third Court of Appeals decision rejected Michael Emack’s attempt to avoid imprisonment after he pled guilty to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old child,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “The search warrant authorizing law enforcement to enter the YFZ Ranch was legally proper – and ultimately led to the indictment and conviction of multiple men, including Warren Jeffs, who sexually assaulted children. With today’s decision, which also rejected the Emack’s baseless attempt to defend his illegal conduct as an exercise of religion, the State’s efforts to extinguish widespread sexual abuse at the YFZ Ranch secured a significant victory.”

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Texas Third Court of Appeals

Emack’s appeal challenged the constitutionality of the April 3 search warrant that authorized Texas law enforcement officials to access the YFZ Ranch in Schleicher County. The defendant argued that information obtained by investigators during that initial search was improperly used to support a second search warrant that law enforcement executed on April 6.

Rejecting the defendant’s legal arguments, the Third Court of Appeals’ opinion stated: “We do not address the merits of appellant’s challenges to the April 3 search ... because the information gathered during the search was not critical to a finding of probable of cause to issue the April 6 warrant.”

The Third Court of Appeals also dismissed Emack’s claim that the documentary evidence collected by law enforcement during the second search on April 6 should have been suppressed. Additionally, the court rejected the defendant’s claim that the law enforcement officer’s April 6 probable cause affidavit omitted “material facts” – such as the identity of the caller who originally prompted the State’s investigation into illegal conduct at the YFZ Ranch.

Emack also failed to convince the court that the searches of the YFZ Ranch violated his constitutional rights under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Rejecting the defendant’s attempt to insulate himself from criminal prosecution by invoking his purported religious beliefs, the court ruled:

“Appellant does not point to evidence that would support a finding that the searches conducted at the YFZ Ranch curtailed his ability to express adherence to his faith through a particular religiously motivated act or that the searches otherwise pressured him to modify his religious conduct. Similarly, appellant has not shown that the searches at issue limited his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religious faith.”

“The judgment of conviction is affirmed,” the Third Court of Appeals concluded.