4th Amendment Archives | Page 2 of 4 | Fort Worth Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and Family Law

HIPAA Medical Record Search Warrant DWI

HIPAA Does Not Bar Admissibility of Private Medical Records in Criminal Case

By | DWI, Evidence

Does HIPAA Impact Fourth Amendment Standing When the State Obtains Medical Records in a Criminal Investigation?

HIPAA Medical Record Search Warrant DWIWe’ve all signed the “HIPAA” privacy statements at the doctor’s office before treatment. The HIPAA Privacy Rule mandates nationwide standards to protect our medical records and personal health information by establishing safeguards, such as disclosure rules, patient authorization, and uniform protocols for the electronic transmission of medical data. HIPAA also grants patients the right to their own health information, but what about others? Does HIPAA prohibit the release of health information in a criminal investigation? What if that information is obtained via a grand jury subpoena?

State v. Huse (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)

One Month After Car Accident, Man is Charged with DWI

On February 13, 2010, Hayden Huse ran off the road and crashed into a cotton field at two in the morning. When law enforcement responded to the scene, they smelled alcohol on Huse’s breath. Instead of giving him a sobriety test, they transported him to the local hospital for injuries he sustained. During the medical exam, the hospital ran routine blood work. A few hours later during an interview with law enforcement, Huse admitted that he consumed six or seven alcoholic drinks the previous evening. However, he refused law enforcement’s request for a breath or blood specimen for blood alcohol analysis.

One month later, based upon the police report taken of Huse’s car accident, a Lubbock County Assistant District Attorney filed an application for a grand jury subpoena to obtain Huse’s medical records from the hospital, even though no grand jury had been investigating Huse. The hospital complied with the subpoena, providing Huse’s medical records, along with a business records affidavit. The records revealed that approximately two hours after the car accident, Huse’s blood alcohol concentration was .219—an amount well above the legal limit.

Huse Files a Motion to Suppress the Evidence

Huse filed a motion to suppress the records at a suppression hearing. The trial court granted his motion to suppress on the grounds that the records were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the Assistant District Attorney misused the grand jury subpoena process. The State appealed to the Seventh Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s suppression order because “[Huse] lacked standing to raise a Fourth Amendment challenge…and [because] the State did not acquire [Huse’s] medical records through an unlawful grand jury subpoena.” State v. Huse, No. 07-12-00383-CR, 2014 WL 931265 (Tex. App.—Amarillo Mar. 6, 2014). Huse filed a petition to the Court of Criminal Appeals for a discretionary review of his case.

The Two Big Issues for The Court of Criminal Appeals

The Court of Criminal Appeals set out to determine whether the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) impacts Fourth Amendment standing when the State obtains medical records in a criminal matter, and, whether the State acquired Huse’s records via a grand jury subpoena that potentially violated HIPAA.

The Fourth Amendment and Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Under the Fourth Amendment, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. CONST. amend. IV. “The provision protects people, not places.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967). In order to raise a Fourth Amendment claim, a person must have legal standing, that may be “predicated on…a reasonable expectation of privacy principle.” United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012); Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013).

State v. Hardy: The Precedent Case for the CCA

In Hardy, the CCA recognized that when the State itself extracts blood from a DWI suspect, and then subsequently conducts a blood alcohol analysis, then two “discrete searches” have occurred for a Fourth Amendment analysis. State v. Hardy, 963 S.W.2d 516 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). The State neither extracted the sample nor conducted the blood alcohol analysis. As a result, the CCA concluded that the “Fourth Amendment does not apply to a search or seizure, even an arbitrary one, effected by a private party on its own initiative.” Skinner v. Railway Labor Exec. Assn., U.S. 602, 624 (1989). Further, “society [does not] recognize a reasonable expectation of privacy in privately-generated and maintained medical records that would show the result of a blood alcohol analysis [in a DWI investigation].” Hardy, 963 S.W.2d at 525-27.

The CCA Decides Whether HIPAA Trumps the Holding In Hardy?

Here, the CCA says that the State neither extracted nor analyzed Huse’s blood sample—the third-party hospital did. Huse, therefore, has no Fourth Amendment standing because he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his privately-generated and maintained medical records. Further, “whatever interests society may have in safeguarding the privacy of medical records, [such interests] are not strong to require protection of blood-alcohol test results taken by hospital personnel solely for medical purposes after a traffic accident.” Id. But what about HIPAA? Does HIPAA trump the holding in Hardy?

The CCA explains that while HIPAA “might support a broader claim that society recognizes that patients have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their own medical records, generally, HIPAA does not undercut the Court’s holding in Hardy.” Further, the CCA states, “HIPAA expressly permits the disclosure of otherwise protected health information when it is sought by grand jury subpoena.”

In sum, Huse had no expectation of privacy in third-party generated and maintained medical records for a Fourth Amendment claim, and, no provisions in HIPAA specifically deny the disclosure of health information in the event of a criminal investigation. The CCA affirms the judgment Seventh Court of Appeals that Huse’s medical records shall not be suppressed.

Limiting Consent – Your 4th Amendment Right

By | Warrantless Search

Is it a violation of one’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable warrantless search and seizure if an officer finds drugs in a vehicle through a nonconsensual search?  The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit said YES in United States v. Cotton.

U.S. v. Cotton– In February 2011, Appellant was driving his rental car when he was pulled over by a police officer who had received a tip that Appellant may be carrying drugs. The officer conducted a traffic stop and asked Appellant twice for consent to search his car. Appellant replied both times that the officer could search only his luggage. After searching through Appellant’s luggage, the officer examined the driver side rear door, which had loose screws and tool marks. The officer pried back the door panel and discovered crack cocaine inside. The officer arrested Appellant who then made incriminating statements to the officer.

The 5th Circuit held that the officer impermissibly extended his search beyond the scope of the Appellant’s consent and therefore violated the Appellant’s Fourth Amendment right. According to the 5th Circuit, “when conducting a warrantless search of a vehicle based on consent, officers have no more authority to search than it appears was given by consent.” Appellant’s consent allowed the officer to only search luggage in areas of the car where luggage might be found. The officer exceeded the bounds of his limited consent when, instead of only searching the luggage, he searched the entire vehicle for drugs.

The 5th Circuit compared Cotton to U.S. v. Solis, which involved an officer who unexpectedly came across heroin during a consensual search of a defendant’s bedroom. When the officer moved a cooler to use as a step, heroin was revealed. The defendant sought to suppress the evidence but the 5th Circuit held that because the cooler was moved only to effectuate the search for the gun, for which consent had been voluntarily given, the officer did not exceed the scope of the consent. Therefore, the heroin was admissible evidence.

However, in Cotton, after searching Appellant’s luggage, the officer expanded his search by examining other parts of the car. The 5th Circuit held that because the officer did not have authority to search discrete locations where luggage would not likely be found, evidence of the crack cocaine must be suppressed as the officer violated Appellant’s Fourth Amendment right.

If your 4th Amendment rights have been violated and you are facing criminal prosecution, give us a call for a free consultation.  Our attorneys will aggressively defend your rights against government intrusion.

Taint from Unlawful Stop and Frisk in Texas

Purging Unconstitutional Taint from Unlawful Search

By | Unlawful Search

Taint from Unlawful Stop and Frisk in TexasAlthough the Fourth Amendment acts as a safeguard against unlawful search and seizures, the State can still use evidence it finds against a defendant in a consensual search of their property if the search is sufficiently detached from an illegal search that purges any unconstitutional taint. Accordingly, such a search is valid if the search was voluntary and an independent act of freewill.  In order to determine whether a search was an independent act of freewill, the Court analyzes several factors, none of which are controlling by themselves:

  1. the temporal proximity of the illegal conduct and the consent,
  2. the presence of intervening circumstances, and
  3. the purpose and flagrancy of the initial misconduct.

In US v. Montgomery, the Defendant was stopped by a police officer and frisked during a traffic stop in front of the Defendant’s house. As the officer frisked the Defendant, the Defendant pushed the officer’s hands away from his pockets after the officer felt a bulge. The Defendant revealed that the bulge was cocaine, prompting his arrest and Mirandizing. The Defendant, eventually, consented to a search of his house. During the search, the Defendant was allowed into the house to obtain medicine and made several requests to officers on scene for his cell phone to erase some “naked pictures” that he did not want his father to find. The Defendant consented to one of the officers using his phone to delete the pictures, but the officer found what appeared to be child pornography. The Defendant was later indicted for possession of child pornography.

At trial, the Defendant claimed that the frisk and seizure of cocaine that led to his arrest was unlawful, which tainted his consent for the officer the see his cell phone. Nevertheless, the Court held that even if the frisk and seizure were illegal, the Defendant’s several voluntary and independent acts of freewill relieved the search of the Defendant’s phone of any unconstitutional taint, specifically, the Defendant asking several times to see his cell phone so that he could delete the naked images, and the Defendant consenting to a search of his phone after being Mirandized. Nothing was presented at trial that showed the police officers even wanted to search his cell phone. In the words of the Court, “[The Defendant] broached the phone search himself.” Moreover, the Court also cited several intervening events and factors establishing that the Defendant’s “consent was sufficiently detached from the arrest to purge any taint” such as the officers reading the Defendant his Miranda rights, the Defendant’s criminal record, and the Defendant going into his house to retrieve his medicine.

Yet another reason why we advise NEVER GIVE CONSENT TO SEARCH, period.

Fort Worth Criminal Lawyers Warrantless Search

When is a “No-Knock” Entry Legal?

By | No-Knock Entry

Can Police Enter a House Without Knocking or Obtaining a Warrant | No-Knock Entry Defense Lawyers, Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Criminal Lawyers Warrantless SearchThe Fourth Amendment, generally, protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Nevertheless, there are exceptions that allow police officers the ability to enter one’s home without a warrant or notice. These instances are commonly called “No-Knock” entries and are permitted only when a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their entry would be dangerous or futile.

In Trent v. Wade, the Defendant, a police officer, witnessed two all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) racing on a closed section of a freeway. He attempted to pull over the two ATV riders, but they both fled, and the Defendant followed one rider to the Plaintiff’s house. The Defendant parked outside and entered the house without a warrant, upon which he encountered the Plaintiff and discovered that his son was the person riding the ATV. The Defendant arrested the son, and the Plaintiff sued the Defendant under 42 U.S.C § 1983 claiming that the Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures by entering his house unannounced and without a warrant.

The Defendant argued that because he was in hot pursuit of the Plaintiff’s son, the hot pursuit exception authorized his unannounced warrantless entry into the Plaintiff’s house. However, in order to justify a “no-knock” entry, the police officer must reasonably suspect that knocking and announcing his or her entry would be dangerous or futile. Such an entry is futile when the occupants of a house are already aware of the police officer’s presence outside. The Court ultimately held that while the Plaintiff’s son was aware of the Defendant’s presence, there was a question of fact about whether the other occupant’s of the house were aware of his presence.

Consequentially, the Defendant was denied qualified immunity.

Fort Worth Criminal Defense Child Victim

Search & Seizure: Officer’s Mistake of Law

By | Search & Seizure

United States Supreme Court | Search and Seizure Update

Fort Worth Criminal Defense Child VictimWe expect that police officers know the law.  After all, they are charged with upholding the law.  But what happens when an officer makes a traffic stop based on an incorrect understanding of the law and then finds evidence of another crime during his improper stop?  The Supreme Court recently considered this scenario in the case outlined below:

In Heien v. North Carolina, a North Carolina police officer stopped a man for driving with one broken brake light.  The driver later gave consent to the officer to search his vehicle. The officer discovered cocaine charged the driver with trafficking cocaine. The driver argued that the officer made a mistake of law for stopping him on one faulty brake light and not two (which is what NC law requires) therefore evidence should be suppressed.  The NC vehicle code makes clear that the officer was mistaken when making the traffic stop.

The Supreme Court granted cert to review the case and the question of whether an officer who makes a mistake of law still gives rise to reasonable suspicion. They Court ruled that the officer’s mistake of law was objectively reasonable and that ultimately, the Officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop.  In so holding, Chief Justice Roberts wrote “The Fourth Amendment requires government officials to act reasonably, not perfectly, and gives those officials ‘fair leeway for enforcing the law.'”

While not dealing with specific state law in Texas, the ruling in this case did address reasonable suspicion as it relates to unreasonable searches prohibited by the 4th Amendment.  Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states:

No evidence obtained by an officer or other person in violation of any provisions of the Constitution or laws of the State of Texas, or of the Constitution or laws of the United States of America, shall be admitted in evidence against the accused on the trial of any criminal case.

While Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure provides an exception if an officer is acting in objective good faith reliance on a warrant, it does not give a reasonable suspicion exception to conduct a search.  Clearly, the Heien opinion will be cited by the State to support searches even when the initial stop is conducted illegally.  We will just have to wait and see how our Texas Courts will react in light of Heien v. North Carolina.

Fort Worth warrantless cell phone search

No More Warrantless Searches of Cell Phones

By | Search & Seizure

Is it a violation of the 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search & seizure for a police officer to search a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant?

Fort Worth warrantless cell phone searchU.S. Supreme Court Holding: YES – The 4th Amendment prohibits officers from searching a suspects cell phone for information without a warrant.

Riley v. California; U.S. v. Wurie, (Consolidated by the Supreme Court in one case) 2014 U.S. LEXIS 4497 (U.S. June 25, 2014)

Riley v. California: In this case, Police officers arrested Appellant and searched the cell phone he was carrying incident to his arrest. The officers discovered photographs and videos on Appellant’s cell phone that were admitted as evidence against him at trial. As a result, Appellant was convicted. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction, holding that the warrantless search of Appellant’s cell phone incident to his arrest was lawful.

U.S. v. Wurie: In this case, Police officers arrested Appellant for distribution of crack cocaine and seized two cell phones from him. Officers searched the call log on one of the cell phones and determined the phone number labeled “my house” was associated with a nearby apartment. Officers went to the apartment and saw the name “Wurie” written on the mailbox. The officers obtained a warrant, searched the apartment and found drugs and firearms.

Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from his apartment, arguing the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by searching his cell phone incident to arrest. In reversing Appellant’s conviction, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held the search incident to arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement did not authorize the warrantless search of data on cell phones seized from individuals arrested by police officers.

The Supreme Court consolidated the cases, holding that police officers generally may not search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested, without first obtaining a warrant.

Previously, the court held police officers could conduct warrantless searches of arrestees and possessions within the arrestees’ control, incident to a custodial arrest. The court concluded such searches were reasonable in order to discover weapons or any evidence on the arrestee’s person so that evidence could not be concealed or destroyed.

The court concluded this rationale does not apply to modern cell phones. First, digital data stored on a cell phone cannot be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or aid an arrestee in escaping. The court emphasized that police officers may still examine the physical aspects of phone to ensure that it will not be used as a weapon. For example, the court noted a police officer may examine a cell phone to determine whether there is a razor blade hidden between the phone and its case. However, once an officer has secured a phone and eliminated any potential threats the data on the phone cannot harm anyone.

Second, the court stated the government provided little evidence to believe that loss of evidence from a seized cell phone, by remote wiping of the data on the phone, was a common occurrence. Even if remote wiping were a concern, the court listed two ways remote wiping could be prevented. First, the officer could turn the phone off or remove its battery. Second, the officer could put the phone inside a device, called a Faraday bag, that would isolate the phone from radio waves. The court added that Faraday bags are cheap, lightweight, and easy to use and a number of law enforcement agencies already encourage their use. In addition, the court commented that if a police officers are truly confronted with individualized facts suggesting that a defendant’s phone will be the target of an imminent remote wiping attempt, they may be able to rely on exigent circumstances to search that phone immediately.

The court further recognized that cell phones are different from other objects that an arrestee might have on his person. Before cell phones existed, a search of an arrestee generally constituted a small intrusion on the arrestee’s privacy. However, modern cell phones are, in essence, mini-computers that have immense storage capacity on which many people keep a digital record of nearly aspect of their lives. Consequenly, the warrantless search of a cell phone consitutes a significant intrusion upon a person’s privacy. If police officers wish to search a cell phone incident to arrest, they need to obtain a warrant.

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort Worth

Warrantless Search: DWI Blood Draw Struck Down as Unconstitutional

By | DWI, Warrantless Search

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort WorthIssue before the Court: “In the absence of exigent circumstances or consent, does Texas Transportation Code §724.012(b)(3)(B) violate the Texas and U.S. constitutional prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures where the statute requires law enforcement officers to seize a specimen of a DWI arrestee’s blood without a search warrant in all cases where the officer believes the arrestee has been previously convicted of DWI two or more times?”

Sutherland v. State (2014)- On the night of February 2, 2011, Austin PD Officer Housmans initiated a traffic stop after a vehicle changed lanes without using a turn signal.  Once the vehicle had pulled over, Housmans approached the driver, appellant Sutherland, and, after speaking with him for “a bit,” asked the appellant to step out of the vehicle.  Housmans administered field sobriety tests on appellant, and arrested appellant based on his performance on the tests and on his suspicion that the appellant was driving while intoxicated.  Appellant refused to provide a breath specimen. Dispatch provided Housmans with Texas DPS records showing that appellant had two or more previous convictions for DWI.  The appellant was then transported to the Travis County jail where, ultimately, a blood sample was drawn without appellant’s consent and without a warrant.

Following the trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence of his intoxication, appellant pleaded guilty to the charges but reserved his right to appeal the trial court’s ruling.  The appellant appealed his conviction for felony DWI.  The appellant challenged the constitutionality of the procedure and authority under which a sample of his blood was taken without his consent.  Appellant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the results of the testing done on the sample of his blood taken in such a manner.

Housmans claimed that he relied on the provision of the Texas Transportation Code that required him to obtain a sample of a suspect’s blood whenever he learns that the individual has been convicted two or more times of DWI.  Appellant maintained that, regardless of the mandatory language of the Transportation Code, constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures require that a warrantless search be supported by an established exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, in this case, the exigent circumstances exception.  Appellant further contended that no established exception-exigent circumstances or otherwise – applied here.

According to the Seventh Court of Appeals- Amarillo, the arresting officer was not faced with exigent circumstances such that the natural dissipation of alcohol from appellant’s bloodstream would support a warrantless seizure of a specimen of appellant’s blood.  The arresting officer did not describe any factors that would suggest he was confronted with an emergency or any unusual delay in securing a warrant.  He testified that he made no effort to obtain a warrant because he believed that the law required that he obtain a blood sample under the circumstances presented to him.  The appellant was not transported to the hospital for medical care, the scene of the traffic stop was not very far from the booking facility, and transportation time was not a factor that could be said to lend to the exigency of the circumstances.  Furthermore, while the unavailability of a magistrate may affect whether an exigency exists to justify a warrantless blood draw, a magistrate is available twenty-four hours a day, every day at the Travis County central booking facility.  Therefore, based on these facts, the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress.  Reversed and remanded.

Consent search Fort Worth Criminal Defense

When The Police May Search a Home Over Occupant Objection

By | Warrantless Search

Can police obtain consent from a co-tenant to conduct a warrantless search a dwelling after another co-tenant, who objected to the search, is lawfully removed?

Consent search Fort Worth Criminal DefenseThe Supreme Court said YES in Fernandez v. California.  Read more below to see what happened and when the police can search a home without a warrant over a tenant’s objection.

Fernandez v. California (2014) – Police officers observed a suspect in a violent robbery run into an apartment building, and heard screams coming from one of the apartments.  The officers knocked on the door and Roxanne Rojas answered.  She appeared to be battered and bleeding.  When the officers asked Rojas to step out so that they could conduct a search of the apartment, Fernandez came to the door and objected to the search.  Suspecting that he had assaulted Rojas, the officers removed Fernandez from the apartment and placed him under arrest. He was later identified as the perpetrator in the earlier robbery and taken to the police station. An officer later returned to the apartment and, after obtaining Rojas’s oral and written consent and searched the premises where he found several items linking petitioner to the robbery.

At trial, Fernandez moved to suppress the evidence seized in the warrantless search.  The trial court denied Fernandez’s motion to suppress the evidence, and he was convicted.  The California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.  It held that because Fernandez was not present when Rojas consented to the search, the exception to permissible warrantless consent searches of jointly occupied premises that arises when one of the occupants present objects to the search, Georgia v. Randolph, did not apply, and therefore, Fernandez’s suppression motion had been properly denied.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers may enter and search a home without a warrant as long as one occupant consents, even if another resident has previously objected.  Here, the Court said that Fernandez did not have a right to prevent the search of his apartment once Rojas had consented.  Although an officer usually needs a warrant from a judge to search a home, home searches are legal whenever the officers are able to obtain consent from an occupant.  According to the Court, “A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the 4th Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant.” Furthermore, “Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would show disrespect for her independence.” The judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.

Criminal Attorneys Fort Worth

CCA Reverses a “Nonconsensual” Police Encounter

By | Search & Seizure

Illegal Search and Seizure Defense Attorneys

Criminal Attorneys Fort WorthWhat exactly is a “Consensual Encounter” between a police officer and a citizen?  The trend in Texas search and seizure law over the past several years seems to indicate that any time a police officer does not have reasonable suspicion to justify a detention of an individual (or probably cause to arrest), the courts label the unreasonable detention as a “consensual encounter,” thereby justifying the illegal search and sustaining the investigative actions that follow.  The courts reason that the citizen was free to leave at any time during the officer’s questioning so the 4th Amendment is not implicated.

My question has always been” “Exactly what do you think the officer would have done if the person tried to leave during this encounter?” In the case that follows, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals takes a huge step in the right direction against “consensual encounters.”

Johnson v. State – One night, a resident of an apartment complex called 911 to report a suspicious person- an unidentified black male who was sitting out front of the leasing office watching cars.  In response to her call, a Houston Police officer went to the complex.  Although the officer did not see anyone outside the leasing office, he noticed a vehicle that was backed into a parking space with its lights on.  The officer parked his car in a manner in which the appellant would have had to maneuver around the car to leave and shined his high-beam spotlight in the car.  Believing that appellant could be the suspect, the officer approached the driver side door where he smelled an odor of marijuana.  Despite the fact that the appellant’s clothing did not match the description given by the resident, the officer spoke to the appellant using a ‘loud authoritative voice.’  During the officer’s interaction with the appellant, he smelled an odor of marijuana coming from inside the car.  The officer did not see the marijuana until after he asked appellant to step out of the car.  The officer arrested the appellant and charged him with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Appellant filed a motion to suppress asserting that his seizure was made without any reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in any criminal activity and that the acquisition of the evidence was not pursuant to a reasonable investigative detention or pursuant to an arrest warrant.  The trial court denied the motion holding that appellant had been detained and that the officer acted reasonably under the circumstances and did have articulable facts that justified the minimal detention.  The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment holding that a reasonable person in appellant’s position would have believed that he was free to ignore the officer’s request or terminate the interaction, thus making the initial interaction a consensual encounter rather than a Fourth Amendment seizure.

Police and citizens may engage in three distinct types of interactions: consensual encounters, investigative detentions, and arrests. Consensual police-citizen encounters do not implicate Fourth Amendment protections.  But, when a seizure takes the form of a detention, Fourth Amendment scrutiny is necessary and it must be determined whether the detaining officer had reasonable suspicion that the citizen is, has been, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.

On review of the denial of appellant’s motion to suppress evidence that led to his marijuana conviction, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the court of appeals erred in holding that the officer did not detain the appellant.  Under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person would not have felt free to leave.  When the officer (1) shined his high-beam spotlight into appellant’s vehicle, (2) parked his police car in such a way as to at least partially block appellant’s vehicle, (3) used a “loud authoritative voice” in speaking with appellant, (4) asked “what’s going on,” and (5) demanded identification, a detention manifested.  The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the court of appeals to consider the trial court’s determination that the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain the appellant and to decide whether that detention was valid.

Reliable Enough for Probable Cause

By | Probable Cause

Fort Worth warrantless arrest attorneysWhen a probable-cause affidavit describes a “controlled purchase” that was performed by an individual whose credibility or reliability were unknown, is that (or can it be) sufficient to sustain a probable-cause determination?  The Court of Criminal Appeals said YES in Moreno v. State.

Moreno v. State: After receiving a tip from the Clovis, New Mexico Police Department that Appellant, Dimas Moreno, was distributing narcotics from his home, the Lubbock police department orchestrated a controlled purchase of drugs from Appellant. Officers enlisted the help of a confidential informant (“CI”), who was familiar with cocaine deals, to purchase crack cocaine from Appellant. The CI approached an unknowing participant in an effort to purchase the crack cocaine. The individual told the CI that he would go to Appellant’s house to pick up the crack cocaine. Police observed the individual go to Appellant’s house, enter, and exit a few minutes later. The unknowing participant then drove to the predesignated location and delivered the crack cocaine to the CI.

On the basis of these facts, a magistrate issued a warrant to search Appellant’s residence for crack cocaine and any other related contraband. After executing a warrant, police found the drugs and arrested Appellant. Appellant was subsequently charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance in an amount of four or more but less than 200 grams. Appellant filed a motion to suppress, challenging the sufficiency of the affidavit. He claimed that there could be no probable cause when an affidavit describes a controlled purchase in which an unidentified individual of unknown credibility and reliability purchased the drugs.

The trial court held a hearing and denied Appellant’s motion. Appellant preserved his right to appeal, pled guilty and was sentenced to fifteen years’ confinement. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the affidavit was sufficient because probable cause was based upon police observations rather than upon any statements made by the unknowing participant.

To issue a search warrant, a magistrate must first find probable cause that a particular item will be found in a particular location. The magistrate must “make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the ‘veracity’ and ‘basis of knowledge’ of persons supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.”

In this case, the court of criminal appeals held that the police observations of the controlled purchase and the reasonable inferences therefrom were sufficient to support a finding of probable cause. It was reasonable for the magistrate to infer that the unknowing participant obtained the crack cocaine from Appellant’s house based on “common-sense conclusions about human behavior.” While it was possible that the third party obtained the cocaine from another source, Appellant presented no persuasive argument as to why the magistrate’s inference was unreasonable or whether the unknown participant had a motive to mislead the police. Therefore, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed.

Search & Seizure Defense Lawyers | Fort Worth, Texas

If you or a loved one were the subject of an unconstitutional and illegal search, seizure, or arrest, please contact us today for a free consultation of your case.