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Reasonable Suspicion Brodnex Texas 2016

Turns Out That Walking Late at Night in a High-Crime Area Is Not Criminal Activity

By | Reasonable Suspicion, Search & Seizure

Reasonable Suspicion Brodnex Texas 2016Frequently the public’s perception as to what officers can and cannot do during encounters is convoluted and even wrong. Many people are unaware of what their 4th Amendment rights actually afford them when it comes to contact with police officers. First, it’s important to know that an officer is completely free to approach whomever he wants and have a consensual encounter with someone whether or not he has a specific reason. However, an officer cannot detain you on a simple hunch, the police officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Then comes the question of what exactly is reasonable suspicion.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

According to Fourth Amendment law, reasonable suspicion exists when there are specific articulable facts that, when combined with rational inferences from the facts, would lead a reasonable officer to believe crime was afoot. The police officer must have more than a hunch that a crime was in progress. If a police officer detains, frisks, or searches someone without reasonable suspicion that officer has violated the 4th Amendment and evidence coming from that unlawful detention must be suppressed.

The 4th Amendment in Action – Brodnex v State of Texas (2016)

In a case just decided by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, the Court overturned a conviction because it found the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant, thus, violating the 4th Amendment.

In Brodnex v. State, the defendant was arrested and convicted of possession of a controlled substance. The arresting officer observed Brodnex and a female walking in an area known for narcotic activity around 2 a.m.. The officer approached the two individuals, asked them their names and what they were doing. When Brodnex identified himself, the officer asked him “Didn’t you just get picked up?” and Brodnex replied “Hell no.” The Officer then searched Brodnex and found a cigar tube with crack cocaine.

The Officer’s reasons for detaining Brodnex were:

  • The time of day;
  • The area’s known narcotic activity, and
  • His belief, based on what other officers had told him, that Brodnex was a “known criminal.”

Brodnex filed a motion to suppress challenging both the stop and search. The trial court denied the motion and the appellate court affirmed.

The CCA Overturns the Conviction for Lack of Reasonable Suspicion

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas held that Brodnex was illegally detained because at the time of detention, under the totality of the circumstances, the facts apparent to the officer “did not provide him with a reasonable suspicion for the detention.” Therefore, the crack cocaine should have been suppressed. The court’s holding relied on the fact that the officer had simply seen Brodnex walking, not doing anything that would suggest he was engaged or about to engage in criminal activity. Additionally, the court found that the officer’s limited personal knowledge of Brodnex’s criminal history was not enough to support the belief that Brodnex was lying about not being picked up.

Know Your Rights

This case explains that the officer must have sufficient information that links the suspect to a particular crime before reasonable suspicion exists. While the time of day and high-crime area are factors that Texas courts consider, those alone are insufficient to develop reasonable suspicion. Since reasonable suspicion is based on the totality of the circumstances, it is often not completely clear as to whether a particular set of facts rises to the level of reasonable suspicion.

If you are facing criminal charges that resulted from a detention or search that might not have been supported by reasonable suspicion, any evidence found from might be able to be suppressed. Contact our criminal defense team today to discuss your case and determine whether a reasonable suspicion issue is present.

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Houston Crime Lab Scandal

More Aftermath from the Houston Crime Lab Scandal

By | Drug Crimes

CCA Says “No Relief” for Defendant Who Accepted Plea Deal, even though the Court Infers Defendant’s Lab Reports Were Falsified

Houston Crime Lab ScandalSee the CCA opinion in Ex Parte Barnaby 

Setting the Stage: The Houston Crime Lab Scandal

In January of 2012, the Texas Rangers investigated a Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) Crime Laboratory technician, Jonathan Salvador, for allegedly tampering with crime lab evidence. The Rangers questioned DPS technicians and reviewed evidence records, bringing information that pointed to Salvador’s mishandling of lab results to Harris County’s District Attorney’s office. However, after an extensive investigation, the grand jury did not indict the technician. Subsequently, the DPS Office of Inspector General issued a report, stating that Salvador “failed to properly follow laboratory protocols…misidentified substances, and dry-labbed [falsified] samples.” Following the report, Salvador was terminated from his position at the Houston Crime Lab.

The fallout from Salvador’s actions, “call…into question the veracity and reliability of many cases handled by Salvador…[and as a result courts have] granted relief on several writs of habeas corpus, finding that each case involved a presumptive violation of due process.” Ex Parte Turner, 394 S.W.3d 513 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013) (per curiam); Ex Parte Hobbs, 393 S.W.3d 780 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013) (per curiam). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (“CCA”) has since “retreated from a presumption that due process was violated in every Salvador case, [instead] requir[ing] a showing of falsity and materiality.” Ex Parte Coty, 418 S.W.3d 597, 605.

How to Demonstrate a Due Process Violation from the Houston Crime Lab Scandal

In order for a defendant to prove that due process has been violated, the defendant must show (1) falsity—that his evidence from the lab or lab report was falsified; and, (2) materiality—that such falsifications/false reports were material to the outcome of the guilty verdict. Ex Parte Weinstein, 421 S.W.3d 656, 665 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

Falsity

The defendant bears the initial burden of showing falsity; the CCA “has implemented a five-part protocol to be used when a [defendant] raises an inference of falsity.” Coty, 418 S.W.3d at 605.
A defendant shows falsity when:

  1. The technician in question is a state actor
  2. The technician has committed multiple instances of intentional misconduct in another case or cases;
  3. The technician is the same technician that worked on the [defendant’s] case;
  4. The misconduct is the type of misconduct that would have affected the evidence in the [defendant’s case]; and,
  5. The technician handled and processed the evidence in the [defendant’s] case within roughly the same period of time as the other misconduct.

Materiality

A defendant bears the burden of persuasion with regard to materiality. Id. at 606. Materiality of false evidence is measured by the impact it had on the defendant’s decision to plead guilty. Id. In cases involving plea agreements, the court examines the voluntariness of the plea—whether there is a reasonable likelihood that [the plea] affected the defendant’s decision to plead guilty, [but] not whether it affected the conviction or sentence. Id. The Court ponders questions like, “if the defendant had known that the lab reports were falsified, would he have plead guilty, or would he have gone to trial?” A plea, however, is not involuntary simply because a defendant does not correctly assess every relevant factor entering into his decision [to take the plea]. Ex Parte Evans, 690 S.W.2d 274, 277 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985); Brady v United States, 397 U.S. 742, 757 (1970). The CCA implies that the decision to “go to trial” is an indicator that the false evidence is indeed material; the decision to “take a plea deal” is a soft indicator that the false evidence is not material.

Applying this to Ex Parte Barnaby

On March 13, 2009, Kemos Marque Barnaby was stopped for a traffic offense. During the traffic stop, police smelled an odor of marijuana coming from inside the car. Barnaby was asked to exit the vehicle, and he consented to a pat-down search. With dashboard cameras rolling, a small plastic bag with white rocks, which tested positive for cocaine during a rapid field test, was found in Barnaby’s pants. The bag was delivered to the Houston Crime Lab, where Jonathan Salvador issued a drug analysis report, identifying the white rocks as cocaine. Instead of going to trial, Barnaby plead guilty to four separate offenses of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver in exchange for four concurrent fifty-year sentences. Barnaby appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that because of Salvador’s false report, his guilty plea was involuntary, and had an impact on his decision to take the plea deal.

Here, the Court examines falsity to determine whether due process was violated. Using the five-part falsity protocol, the Court says, (1) Salvador was a state actor; (2) Salvador had multiple instances of misconduct; (3) Salvador worked on Barnaby’s case; (4) Salvador’s misconduct is the type of misconduct that would have affected the evidence in Barnaby’s case; and, (5) Salvador handled Barnaby’s evidence in the same time period as the other misconduct at the Houston Crime Lab. The State conceded that Barnaby was able to raise the inference of falsity, and accordingly the Court infers that Salavador’s report in this case is false, carefully noting that an ‘inference of falsity’ is not an affirmative finding of a negative cocaine test result.

Next, the Court examines materiality to determine whether the false lab report was material to the decision to take a plea bargain and whether the value of the undisclosed information was outweighed by the benefit of accepting the plea offer. Ferrara v. United States, 456 F.3d 278, 294 (1st Cir. 2006). Here, the Court says that Barnaby, a habitual offender, was faced with four drug charges, on top of having two prior felony convictions, thus, enhancing sentencing guidelines ranging from 25 to 99 years imprisonment for each charge. On top of that, Barnaby was also charged with three additional charges of possession with intent to deliver in a drug-free zone, all of which were also enhanced to the habitual-offender statute. The plea resolved all four of those charges in exchange for four concurrent fifty-year sentences; “even if the falsity of the laboratory report had come to light…the State could have still prosecuted [Barnaby] for the three other [drug-free zone] cases. “[Barnaby’s] assertion that he would not have plead guilty had he known of the falsity of the laboratory report is unpersuasive in light of the benefit he received from the plea bargain.”

Even though the Court infers “that the laboratory report in [Barnaby’s] case was falsified, [the Court] finds that [such] falsity was not material to [Barnaby’s] decision to plead guilty,” adding that he received a benefit of a lighter prison sentence by choosing to take the plea deal. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals denies relief to Barnaby.

We’ve recently seen experienced drug lab problems in Fort Worth as well.  The problems have impacted countless drug and DWI cases in Tarrant County.  Any case that involves an outside crime lab must be scrutinized carefully by the criminal defense attorney.  While bad lab techniques (or technicians) might not mean an acquittal, but it could mean considerable relief for the defendant.

Dangerous Weapon Enhancement

Federal Sentence Enhanced for Presence of Dangerous Weapon Even Though the Defendant Had No Knowledge of the Weapon

By | Sentencing

Should a defendant charged with possession of drugs be punished for a “dangerous weapon” found at the scene of the drug trafficking and owned by a co-conspirator, when he did not know about the gun in the first place?

Dangerous Weapon EnhancementThe Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals thinks so.  See the Court’s opinion in United States v. Guerrero.

On September 5, 2012, police were investigating a ranch in McAllen, Texas as a possible stash house for drug-trafficking. Officers observed Adrian Rodriguez-Guerrero coming and going from the ranch along with three other men in a caravan. When the officers stopped the caravan, “because the vehicles appeared weighed down,” a dog alerted to the presence of drugs. The police found “boxes of limes with bundles of marijuana concealed among the limes.” The defendants subsequently consented to a search of the McAllen ranch. (I’m always left wondering why people, especially those in possession of drugs, consent to a search.) “There the [police] found…clothing…a loaded shotgun and 125 shotgun shells…plastic cellophane, limes, packing tape…lime boxes, latex gloves, a large scale, and several bundles of marijuana.” In a written statement accepting responsibility, Rodriguez-Guerrero said he was hired to do landscaping at the residence, but was asked to “load the marijuana into a truck at the [ranch]…acknowledg[ing] the [ranch] as a stash house [for drugs].”

Conspiracy to Possess and Distribute Marijuana Enhanced for Possession of a Dangerous Weapon

At trial, he pled guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, receiving a “guidelines-range sentence of 104 months” imprisonment and four years of supervised release. His sentence included a two-level enhancement for possession of a dangerous weapon—the shotgun found at the McAllen ranch. The district court noted, “[the Court] is not finding Rodriguez-Guerrero possessed the shotgun; rather, it was reasonably foreseeable…that there would be a weapon involved in…the… drug trafficking crime.” The district court added, “the shotgun was a tool of the trade and it [is] reasonably foreseeable to [Rodriguez-Guerrero] that there would have been a weapon, especially [to] a person with the experience that he has in drug trafficking.” Rodriguez-Guerrero appeals to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, stating that there was no evidence to support a finding that either he or a co-conspirator possessed the shotgun—possession which lengthened his prison sentence.

U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines Application When a Dangerous Weapon is a “Tool of the Trade”

The United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual provides a two-level sentencing enhancement if “a dangerous weapon was present, unless it is clearly improbable that the weapon is connected with the offense.” U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1), cmt. n.11(A). “The government must prove weapon possession by a preponderance of the evidence…[and can do so] by showing a temporal and spatial relationship of the weapon, the drug trafficking activity, and the defendant.” United States v. Zapata-Lara, 615 F.3d 388-90.

Here, the Fifth Circuit Court reasons, the McAllen ranch was a stash house for drug-trafficking, used to “package and transport marijuana.” The ranch was a warehouse to store and move drugs, not a residence “in which drugs were also stored.” Next, several bundles of marijuana were found in the ranch’s master bathroom, making it “plausible [the Court reasons] to find that either Rodriguez-Guerrero or another co-defendant accessed the master bedroom, where the shotgun was found.” Further, the rounds of ammunition suggest that the gun was connected with the drug trade. Lastly, the gun and rounds of ammunition were found on the same day that police observed Rodriguez-Guerrero and the co-defendants at the ranch.

The Court concludes that the “facts identified by the [district] court plausibly establish a temporal and spatial relationship between the weapon, the drug-trafficking activity, and Rodriguez-Guerrero.” The purpose of the sentencing enhancement is to punish because of increased danger and violence when drug traffickers possess weapons. U.S.S.G. § 2D1.1(b)(1), cmt. n.11(A). “The mere fact that a weapon cannot be attributable to any specific drug trafficker does not decrease the danger of violence.” Even though Rodgriguez-Guerrero may not have possessed shotgun, or that he may not have known about the shotgun is irrelevant. The Court states, “there was [sufficient] evidence to support that the weapon must have been possessed by one of the conspirators in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

In short, the Court says that establishing the “temporal and spatial” relationship is enough for possession in these types of drug trafficking cases; and, possession of a weapon could lead to enhanced, or increased prison sentences in federal courts.

Knowing Possession of Drugs in Texas

Trace Amounts of Drugs Inside Pipe Not Enough For Knowing Possession of Drugs

By | Drug Crimes

What Does it Mean to Be in Knowing Possession of Drugs in Texas?

Knowing Possession of Drugs in TexasPolice found George Williams sitting behind an air conditioner unit of a business building. Even though it was a cool morning, Williams had his shirt off and was sweating profusely. After doing a pat-down of Williams, police found a crack pipe in his pocket that was later determined to have cocaine residue in it by police and a chemist.

The Trial Court convicted Williams of knowingly possessing a controlled substance. The elements are:

  1. that appellant exercised actual care, control and management over the contraband; and
  2. that appellant had knowledge that the substance in his possession was contraband.

The 14th Court of Appeals (Houston) wanted to look further to see whether the evidence would support a reasonable inference that the defendant knowingly possessed the contraband. When the quantity of a substance possessed is so small that it cannot be measured, there must be evidence other than mere possession to prove that the defendant knew the substance in his possession was a controlled substance.

Read the Case:  Williams v. State (14th District Court of Appeals – Houston, 2015)

In other cases, the defendant was convicted because the State proved that there was saliva on the crack pipe, suggesting that it had recently been smoked and that the defendant was intoxicated at the time the police found him. Another example is a defendant being found in a well-known drug house holding a syringe with cocaine in it in a manner that he was about to insert, or had just inserted it, into his body.

In this case, the Court of Appeals found that the only evidence was that Williams had his shirt off and was sweating. The Court of Appeals held that this was not enough to prove Williams had recently used the pipe or knew of its purpose as a crack pipe. The Court of Appeals reversed this case in the favor of Williams.

This signals that it takes more than just merely being found with a pipe containing trace amounts of a drug to be convicted of knowingly possessing the drug. There must be more evidence such as intoxication, recent usage, or being found in a known drug house.

Fort Worth Drug Crimes Attorneys | Free Case Consultation

If you have been charged with possession of a controlled substance or any other drug crimes, contact our attorney today for a Free consultation of your case. We will take the time to speak with you about the incident and answer your questions about the criminal justice process in Tarrant County. Contact our office at (817) 993-9249.