Terry Stop Officer Pat Down Search

“Acting Suspicious” is Not Enough to Justify a Pat Down Search

By | Search & Seizure | No Comments

Does an Officer’s Testimony That a Person was “Acting Suspicious” Establish Reasonable Suspicion to Support a Terry Stop?

Terry Stop Officer Pat Down SearchThe Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently handed down an opinion concerning the reasonable suspicion standard required for law enforcement officers to conduct a Terry stop—an exception to the warrant requirement. The issue facing the Court was whether merely “acting suspicious” is enough to establish reasonable suspicion to justify a law enforcement officer to initiate a Terry stop.

United States v. Monsivais, 848 F.3d 353 (5th Cir. 2017)

The Facts — District Court Found the Terry Stop to be Lawful Based On the Defendant’s Demeanor, Remarks, and for Officer-safety Reasons

While on patrol in a marked police car, two officers observed Monsivais walking down the side of the I-20 interstate away from an apparently disabled truck. The officers stopped in front of Monsivais and activated the car’s emergency lights in order to ask Monsivais if he needed roadside assistance. As Monsivais approached, he ignored the officers and walked past their patrol car. At this point, the officers exited their vehicle, and asked Monsivais where he was going and if he needed any help. Monsivais told the officers he was heading to Fort Worth (even though his vehicle was pointed towards Abilene). During questioning, Monsivais appeared nervous and repeatedly placed his hands in his pockets; however upon the officer’s request, Monsivais removed his hands. Additionally, Monsivais responded politely to all of the officers’ questions. After approximately four minutes, one of the officers advised Monsivais that he was going to pat Monsivais down for weapons because of his behavior, inconsistent statements and for officer safety reasons. Shortly thereafter, Monsivais told the officer that he had a firearm in his waistband. The officer seized the firearm and Monsivais was later charged with possession of a firearm while being unlawfully present in the United States.

Monsivais filed a motion to suppress the firearm and other evidence, arguing that the officer violated the Fourth Amendment because he did not have reasonable suspicion to believe Monsivais was involved in criminal activity when he detained him. The district court denied Monsivais’ motion to suppress, holding only that the “consensual encounter was transformed into a lawful Terry frisk due to the Defendant’s demeanor, remarks, and for officer-safety reasons.”

The Court of Appeals Reversed the District Court’s Decision—Holding the Officers Lacked a Basis to Reasonably Suspect Monsivais of a Criminal Act

The Court first determined that the officer seized Monsivais for Fourth Amendment purposes when he told Monsivais that he was going to pat him down. At this point, the officer converted the roadside assistance “welfare check” into an investigative detention—otherwise known as a Terry stop.

“The Fourth Amendment generally requires officers to obtain a warrant before searching or seizing an individual.” However, pursuant to a narrow exception announced in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 (1968), police officers may briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if under the totality of relevant circumstance they can point to “specific and articulable facts” that give rise to reasonable suspicion that a particular person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. United States v. Hill, 752 F.3d 1029, 1033 (5th Cir. 2014).

Here, the Court found that while Monsivais’ behavior might not have been typical of all stranded motorists, the officers could not point to any specific and articulable facts that Monsivais had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime before seizing him.

The court explained that Monsivais’ nervous demeanor alone was insufficient to create reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to justify a Terry stop. In fact, the Court gives little or no weight to an officer’s statement that a suspect appeared nervous. United States v. Portillo–Aguirre, 311 F.3d 647, 656 (5th Cir. 2002). Moreover, the Court held that evidence of Monsivais placing his hands in his pocket is of little significance. The Court noted that any number of people walking down the street might have their hands in their pockets. Additionally, the Court determined there were no inconsistencies in Monsivais’ story; and, even if there were, the inconsistencies would not connect Monsivais with any reasonably suspected unlawful conduct. Moreover, Monsivais’ choice to ignore the officers’ presence by merely walking past them, not fleeing, did not give rise to criminal activity.

In conclusion, the officer testified that he never suspected Monsivais was involved in any criminal activity, but rather that Monsivais was just acting “suspicious.” As such, the court found that the officer seized Monsivais without reasonable suspicion and that the evidence obtained from the unlawful seizure should have been suppressed.

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest Texas

May a Person Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

By | Criminal Defense | No Comments

Resisting Arrest: How is it defined under Texas law?

Resisting Arrest Unlawful Arrest TexasIn general, resisting arrest occurs when a person attempts to interfere with a peace officer’s duties. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code defines resisting arrest as: a person who intentionally prevents or obstructs a person he knows is a peace officer or a person acting in a peace officer’s presence and at his direction from:

  • Effectuating an arrest;
  • Carrying out a search; or
  • Transporting a person accused of a crime.

Resisting arrest requires the person to have used force against the arrest, but it does not require the officer to be acting lawfully in making the arrest. To be guilty of resisting arrest, the force need not only be directed at or toward the officer but is also met with any force exerted in opposition to, but away from the officer, such as a simple pulling away. Thus, even small uses of force can give rise to a charge of resisting arrest. However, non-threatening statements of disagreement with the officer’s actions usually are not enough to qualify as resisting arrest.

Some examples of resisting arrest include:

  • Preventing a cop from handcuffing you;
  • Struggling against an officer who is trying to arrest you; and
  • Engaging in violent action against the officer, like punching, kicking or inflicting harm with a weapon

Can You Resist an Unlawful Arrest in Texas?

One of the most important cases on this point is Ford v. State, 538 S.W.2d 633 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976).

What Ford provides, in short, is that you may not resist an arrest—whether lawful or unlawful. Historically, American citizens were legally entitled to use reasonable force to resist an unlawful arrest. Several states have now eliminated – either by statute or by judicial decision – the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest. Section 38.03 of the Texas Penal Code eliminated this right. Furthermore, subsection (b) of Section 38.03 specifically states it is no defense to prosecution that the arrest or search was unlawful.

In Ford, the Court held “the elimination of the common law right to resist arrest reflects a growing realization that the use of self-help to prevent an unlawful arrest presents too great a threat to the safety of individuals and society to be sanctioned.” The Court reasoned that the line between an illegal and legal arrest is too fine to be determined in a street confrontation; it is a question to be decided by the courts. Furthermore, the Court has concluded that by limiting the common law right to resist an unlawful arrest, the Legislature has not limited the remedies available to the person arrested, and thus, there is not a violation of the person’s constitutional rights.

Potential Consequences

Regardless of whether a person is guilty of the underlying charge that prompted the attempted apprehension, resisting arrest is a serious charge in Texas (many time more serious than the underlying offense). A person can face a significant fine and jail time.

Typically, resisting arrest, search, or transportation is prosecuted as a Class A Misdemeanor. An individual convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor may be sentenced to up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $4,000.

However, the charge may be enhanced to a felony of the 3rd degree if you use a deadly weapon, such as a gun or a knife, to resist the arrest or search. An individual convicted of a felony of the 3rd degree may be sentenced to 2-10 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and a fine up to $10,000.

Our advice is to comply with the officer’s demands calmly and politely and let us work out the legality of the arrest later.