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Criminal Defense Dog Scent Lineup

Fort Bend County Loses the Dog Scent Lineup Issue Again

By | Dog Scent Lineup

Criminal Defense Dog Scent LineupLast year, I posted about a murder case wherein a Fort Bend County dog handler used three bloodhounds to conduct a “dog scent lineup” to match a suspect’s body scent to the scent of certain evidence from the crime scene.  In that case, the CCA ruled that the scent evidence was not enough to establish that the suspect had committed the murder.  The CCA did not comment on the admissibility of scent lineup evidence.

Today, the First District Court of Appeals (Houston) issued an opinion in State v. Dominguez, another case involving the Fort Bend County dog handler.  Much like the last case I posted about, the dog handler was used to match a murder suspect’s scent with the scent of certain evidence from the crime scene.  This time, however, the scent lineup evidence did not even make it to the trier of fact.  After hearing the views of competing experts, the trial judge ruled that the evidence was inadmissible as unreliable.  Some of the flaws in the dog handler’s methodology that the court noted were:

  • He carries around his “blind” non-suspect scent samples (called foil samples) in ziplock bags;
  • His foil samples are old samples, while the scent sample of the suspect is fresh;
  • He does not do negative runs where the sample of the suspect is excluded;
  • He uses multiple dogs during each test rather than allowing the dogs to work alone; and
  • He is mostly self-taught and his methodology is something he created.

On appeal, the State argued that the trial judge abused his discretion in refusing to admit the evidence.  The First District upheld the trial judge’s ruling, holding that it was reasonable for the trial court of conclude that the scent lineup evidence was unreliable.

Now the courts have intervened twice to smack down the Fort Bend County dog handler’s “dog scent lineup” evidence.  The question is: will they keep using the dogs in Fort Bend or will there be three former police bloodhounds on Craigslist by the end of the week?

Fort DWI Blood Draw Lawyers

CCA Upholds DWI Search Warrant, Overturns Lower Courts

By | Search & Seizure

In a recent case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, encourages trial judges to take off the hypertechnical blinders and consider the totality of the circumstances when reviewing the propriety of search warrants and their accompanying affidavits.

State v. Jed Jordan – (29 June 2011) Judge Womack writing for a unanimous court:

An affidavit for a DWI search warrant to search an accused’s blood began with a statement that the officer had “good reason to believe that heretofore, on or about the 6th day of June, 2008, [the suspect] did then and there commit [the offense of DWI.] The affidavit then went on to describe the specific conduct that the suspect exhibited that gave rise to the DWI arrest. However, when describing the conduct, the officer did not state that the conduct also occurred on the 6th of June, 2008. The magistrate issued the warrant and blood was drawn indicating that the suspect had, indeed, driven while intoxicated.

At trial, the court suppressed the results of the blood test, ruling that the DWI search warrant was deficient as it failed to allege the specific date and time the officer observed the conduct giving rise to the arrest. The 3rd District Court of Appeals (Austin) affirmed.

The CCA took the time in its opinion to distinguish prior caselaw on this subject and held:

The observations of driving and intoxication described in the second part of the affidavit were the elements of the offense alleged in the first part of the affidavit (where the time of the offense was alleged). Under the circumstances of this case, it was a reasonable inference that the observations occurred on the same day that the offense was alleged to have occurred. We therefore hold that the Court of Appeals erred in failing to consider the totality of the circumstances contained within the four corners of the affidavit in reviewing the magistrate’s basis for determining probable cause.

The CCA went on to do some “math for lawyers” that was apparently missing at the trial level:

We also find that the magistrate had a substantial basis for determining probable cause despite the failure of the affiant to specify that time of the stop. Because the warrant was issued on June 6th at 3:54 am, less than four hours could have elapsed between the observation of the offense, and the issuance of the warrant.

Calling on the trial court (and the 3rd Court below) to focus on the totality of the affidavit, the CCA remanded the case to the trial court, where, they might just have themselves a DWI trial after all.

Texas Consensual Police Encounter Law

Perpetuating the Fiction of the Consensual Police Encounter

By | Consensual Encounter, Criminal Defense

Is there really such a thing as a Consensual Police Encounter that ends with an arrest?

Texas Consensual Police Encounter LawIn a case released yesterday from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (State v. Castleberry), the CCA went to great lengths to defend and perpetuate the fiction of the consensual police encounter.

In Castleberry, the defendant and a friend were walking behind an Uncle Julio’s restaurant in Dallas. They were not engaged in and did not appear likely to engage in criminal conduct. A Dallas police officer approached them and asked for identification. The defendant reached for his waistband. The police officer then ordered appellant to place his hands in the air. The defendant grabbed a baggy of cocaine from his waistband and tossed it on the ground. The trial court suppressed the cocaine, reasoning that the officer did not have “reasonable suspicion” to justify the stop. The 5th District Court of Appeals agreed.

The CCA, on the other hand, held that the lower courts applied the wrong legal standard and characterized the stop as a consensual police encounter. Writing for the majority, Judge Keasler, stated:

Even if the officer did not tell the citizen that the request for identification or information may be ignored, the fact that a citizen complied with the request does not negate the consensual nature of the encounter…We conclude that a reasonable person in [the defendant’s] position would have felt free to decline [the officer’s] request for identification and information.

The obvious question then becomes, what would the CCA preferred the defendant to do? “No, thanks officer, I prefer not to provide any identification or tell you what I am doing. Thank you. Have a nice night.” Had the appellant said that, there is no doubt the court would now be using his noncompliance to justify a more intrusive search. There is absolutely no way for the defendant to win here.

The opinion goes on to suggest police officers (even when they are in uniform) are just like any average citizen.

Because an officer is just as free as anyone to question, and request identification from, a fellow citizen, [the officer’s]conduct shows that the interaction was a consensual encounter.

Ultimately, the CCA reasons that because the defendant could have been reaching for a weapon when he reached into his waistband, the officer’s further pat-down search was justified under Terry.

The CCA concludes:

The Court of Appeals failed to separate [the encounter] into two distinct parts: (1) [The officer’s] initial approach of [the defendant], which was a consensual encounter; and (2) [The defendant’s] act of reaching for his waistband, which provided [the officer] with reasonable suspicion to detain and frisk [the defendant]. We therefore reverse the court of appeals’s judgment, hold the seized contraband to be admissible, and remand the cause to the trial court.