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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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Warrantless Search Mattress Protective Sweep Texas

Warrantless Search Under a Man’s Mattress Held Constitutional

By | Search & Seizure

United States v. Garcia-Lopez (5th Circuit, 2016)

Warrantless Search Mattress Protective Sweep TexasFACTS: On February 5, 2014, the Wharton County Deputy Sheriff’s Department served a felony arrest warrant on Yonari Garcia at his father’s trailer home. Yonari’s father told law enforcement that Yonari was not home, however, consented to a search of the trailer. Upon entry, Garcia-Lopez, Yonari’s brother, made a beeline for a bedroom, closing and locking the door. Law enforcement followed Garcia-Lopez and demanded that the door be unlocked. Garcia-Lopez opened the door and the police entered, continuing the search for Yonari. Garcia-Lopez asked if he could sit on his bed and eat his dinner while police searched the room. The police obliged the odd request. A minute later, law enforcement discovered two sets of bullet-proof vests in plain sight, prompting a background check. Garcia-Lopez was a convicted felon and having the body armor was a violation for being a felon in possession of body armor, U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). The police arrested Garcia-Lopez after being in the home a total of three minutes. After the arrest, police continued searching the Garcia-Lopez’s room. Concerned Yonari might be sheltered in a hollowed-out mattress, the police lifted the bed up, discovering ammunition and three handguns sandwiched between the mattress and box springs. After a total of seven minutes inside the trailer, the police left with Garcia-Lopez under arrest.

See the 5th Circuit’s full opinion in United States v Garcia Lopez.

Garcia-Lopez Indicted for Federal Firearms Charges

In March 2014, Garcia-Lopez was indicted on six counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of USC §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). During an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied Garcia-Lopez’s motion to suppress the guns found under the mattress because law enforcement was originally in the trailer for a legitimate purpose and they had a right to search the home pursuant to the valid arrest warrant for Yonari. The court added that upon the valid search of the premises, law enforcement found contraband and arrested Garcia-Lopez. Further the court stated that upon his arrest, law enforcement had the right to make a protective sweep, so long as it did not last an unreasonable amount of time. Additionally, there was testimony that indicated that suspects have been known to hide in hollowed-out mattress to evade arrest. According to the district court, the search for Yonari and seizure of the guns was proper in every way. Garcia-Lopez was sentenced to forty-six years imprisonment and two years of supervised release. Garcia-Lopez appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that law enforcement’s belief that Yonari might have been hiding in the bed was unreasonable, and thus, unconstitutional.

Was Lifting the Mattress an Unconstitutional Search or a Lawful Protective Sweep?

The Court of Appeals must determine whether the act of “lifting up the mattress” and seizing the guns violated Garcia-Lopez’s constitutional rights. In other words, was lifting the mattress an unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures?

Under the Fourth Amendment, warrantless searches are pre se unreasonable. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 474-75 (1971). A protective sweep may be conducted with [a lower threshold of] reasonable suspicion, probable cause is not necessary. Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325-27 (1990). “There must be articulable facts which, taken together with the rational references from those facts, would warrant a reasonably prudent officer in believing that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing danger to those on the arrest scene.” Id. A protective sweep [must be] quick and…limited to the safety of the police. Id. Evidence seen in plain view during a lawful sweep can be seized and admitted into evidence during trial. United States v. Jackson, 596 F. 3d 236, 242 (5th Cir. 2010).

5th Circuit Holds that the Warrantless Search of the Mattress was Reasonable

Here, the Court of Appeals held that the district court’s finding of reasonable suspicion was correct because of the amount of evidence supporting such a claim. First, law enforcement became suspicious because of the standoff over the locked door. Second, Garcia-Lopez’s odd request to sit back down on the bed while the police conducted the search is suspicious in light of the circumstances. Third, the belief that a suspect could be hiding in a hollowed-out mattress is reasonable given police training and data supporting such a claim. Fourth, the search lasted a total of seven minutes—a reasonable amount of time to conduct a protective sweep. In sum, the Court says it was logical under the specific facts of this case to suspect that Yonari might have been hiding in the mattress. The Court affirms the district court’s judgment—the warrantless search under Garcia-Lopez’s mattress was not unconstitutional under the circumstances.

Recording Conversations Wiretapping Texas

Can I Record a Conversation Without the Other Party’s Consent in Texas?

By | Criminal Defense

Recording Conversations Without Consent in Texas | Wiretapping Laws

Recording Conversations Wiretapping TexasWith red light cameras at nearly every street corner, video surveillance in businesses and homes, web cams on computers, and recording capabilities on mobile phones – we must navigate carefully in a digital world. We’ve seen titillating news reports exposing a secret audio tape of a public figure having scandalous phone conversations, or video surveillance of questionable traffic stops that escalate in shocking fashion. You may have had a suspicious feeling that you were being recorded, or on the other hand, felt as if you needed to record a conversation with another for your own protection.

With privacy seemingly harder to come by as compared with days long past—what does Texas law say about recording conversations? Is it illegal to record a phone conversation with another person? What about in person?

The short answer is: YES, you can record a conversation with another person without that person’s consent. But this answer requires more explanation.

Recording Phone Calls in Texas | Texas is a One-Party Consent State

Under Texas Law, it is a crime intercept or record any wire, oral or electronic communication without the consent of at least one party. The good news is that you count as one party and if you’re recording then you have probably given yourself consent to record the conversation. Generally speaking, state wiretapping laws turn on whether the state is a one-party consent state. While some states require the consent of all of the parties to a conversation prior to recording, Texas permits the recording of telephone calls, so long as the consent of one of the parties is obtained. As stated, if you are one of the parties on the phone call, then you may consent to having your own conversation recorded—you need not alert the other party. Additionally, a parent may give vicarious consent to the recording of a child’s conversation if the parent has a good faith objectively reasonable belief that the recording is necessary for the welfare of the child.

However, if during a phone call there are multiple parties who are in different states, then be aware that other state laws may require pre-recording consent of all of the parties. In this scenario, if the recording party obtains consent from the other parties before the recording begins, then the recorder is not in violation of wiretapping laws.

See this link to learn more about the various state wiretapping laws.

Recording In-Person Conversations in Texas | Can I Record Someone Else’s Public Conversation?

Texas law (Penal Code §16.02) does not permit you to record in-person communications when the parties have an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception (i.e. If there is a reasonable expectation of privacy). If you wish to record a conversation to which you are not a party, all of the parties must give consent before the recording device is turned on. If you are a party to the conversation, record away.

Further, you are able to record in-person communication at a public place, like a mall food court or at a football game for example, where parties do not have the expectation of privacy. Remember—if you say it in a public place, within earshot of others who may overhear, you do not have an expectation of privacy in those statements. Generally, such statements may be recorded without violating that state’s wiretapping laws.

A Word of Caution of Recording Conversations in Texas

Please be aware that there are both federal and state wiretapping laws that may limit your ability to making recordings of telephone calls or in person conversations. This article addresses state wiretapping laws in Texas only. Additionally, if a person has violated a state or federal wiretapping statute, he may be both charged criminally and be sued civilly by the damaged party.

Further, while a person may have successfully recorded a conversation under state and federal wiretapping laws, the act of disclosing the recording to other third parties could be, in and of itself, punishable criminally or civilly under other legal theories (such as slander, for example).

If you are faced with a wiretapping charge, or have questions about wiretapping, please contact an attorney who will address both the state and federal regulations as they are related to the facts of your specific case. Wiretapping charges are potentially serious felonies that could land a person in jail or prison, with fines ranging from $200 to $10,000. If you are faced with charges related to wiretapping in Texas, please contact our offices at (817) 993-9249 for a consultation.

Summary on Texas Wiretapping

  • A person can record a conversation to which you are a party in Texas without violating wiretapping laws, so long as the other party is in a “one party consent” state.
  • A person can record a conversation (to which he is not a party) if one of the participants gives him permission.
  • A person can record a conversation when, in a public setting, the participants do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • It is almost always illegal to record a phone call or private conversation to which one is not a party, does not have consent from at least one of the parties, and could not naturally overhear the conversation.

This article is for educational purposes only and should never be substituted for legal advice.

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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.

Fort Worth Warrantless Search

Endless Justifications for Warrantless Search & Seizure

By | Search & Seizure

Warrantless Search & Seizure Upheld Under Exception to the Constitutional Warrant Requirement

Fort Worth Warrantless SearchThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people’s right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search & seizure.”  Most people believe that a search without a warrant is an automatic violation of the 4th Amendment.  Not so.  Through years of criminal cases, the courts have crafted numerous exceptions to the warrant requirement.  Below is a case brief from a recent federal case in which several of these exceptions to the warrant requirement were employed against the defendant.

United States v. Conlan – U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit

Over a one-year period, defendant Conlan sent a series of threatening emails and text messages to a woman he dated as a teenager. The police issued an arrest warrant for Conlan for harassment, and learned that he was registered in a local motel. After the officers saw Conlan’s vehicle in the parking lot, they had the motel manager call Conlan to the front desk where they arrested him. When an officer asked Conlan if he wished to get anything from his room before being taken to the police station, Conlan said yes. Officers accompanied Conlan to his room and retrieved his wallet. While in Conlan’s room, the lead investigator saw a laptop computer and two cell phones lying on the bed and ordered another officer to seize them. A subsequent search revealed the cell phones had been used to call the victim’s workplace and obtain directions to her house, and the laptop used to conduct Internet searches for the victim’s name. The officers also searched Conlan’s car, which was located in the motel parking lot and seized a loaded handgun and riot stick. 

A trial, Conlan filed a motion to suppress the items seized from his motel room. By having the manager summon him to the front desk, Conlan argued the officers created the situation where he would be without his effects and forced into requesting a return to his room. Conlan also argued the officers unlawfully searched his car without a warrant.

First, the court held that if the officers wanted access to Conlan’s room, they could have executed the arrest warrant there. In addition, the court found there was no evidence to suggest the officers pressured Conlan into returning to his room. Finally, when Conlan told the officers he wanted to return to his room, the officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment by accompanying him there.

Next, the court held the officers made a lawful plain view seizure of Conlan’s cell phones and laptop computer because the incriminating nature of these items was immediately apparent. The incriminating nature of an item is “immediately apparent” if an officer has probable cause to believe that the item is either evidence of a crime or contraband. Here, the lead investigator who ordered the seizure of Conlan’s laptop and cell phones had first-hand knowledge of Conlan’s harassing electronic communications; therefore, he had probable cause to believe these items constituted evidence of the crime of harassment.

Finally, the court held the warrantless search of Conlan’s vehicle was lawful. Before locating Conlan at the motel, the officers knew that Conlan had recently driven his car past the victim’s house. This act formed part of Conlan’s course of criminal conduct and provided the officers with probable cause to believe the vehicle was evidence and an instrumentality of the crime of harassment. Consequently, the officers were entitled to impound and search Conlan’s vehicle.

Warrantless Search Defense Attorneys – Fort Worth, Texas

If you believe that you have been the victim of an unlawful search and you are currently under investigation or charged with a crime in Texas, contact a criminal defense attorney today. Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC offers free consultations on all criminal cases.

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.

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort Worth

Warrantless DWI Blood Draw Held Unconstitutional By Fort Worth Court

By | DWI

DWI Blood Draw Defense Lawyers Fort WorthMosquitoes are pesky little things. They land on you, insert a sharp needle-like nose into your arm and suck your blood without even asking for permission. Well, like the hard slap of a hand on top of one of these pests, Texas courts are finally falling in line behind the Supreme Court’s ruling in Missouri v. McNeely (133 S. Ct. 1551 (2013)) striking down warrantless blood draws of a driver’s blood in DWI cases.

Last month, the Second District Court of Appeals in Burks v. State held that a warrantless, nonconsensual blood draw – even conducted pursuant to the mandatory-blood-draw and implied-consent provisions of the Texas Transportation Code violates the Fourth Amendment to the United State’s Constitution.

The defendant in the Burks case was pulled over for changing lanes without signaling. A North Richland Hills police officer pulled him over and developed probable cause to arrest him for DWI. Because the defendant had been convicted twice before for DWI, the officer relied on Texas Transportation Code 724.012 to take the defendant’s blood without consent and without a warrant. Texas Transportation Code 724.012 provides that an officer may obtain a blood sample from a defendant without consent and without a warrant if the defendant on two or more occasions had been previously convicted or placed on community supervision for Driving While Intoxicated.

The Second Court of Appeals specifically held that this type of blood draw, despite being authorized by a state statute, still violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition to the Supreme Court’s ruling in McNeely, the court here relied on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in State v. Villarreal (No. PD-0306-14, 2014 WL 6734178 (Tex. Crim. App. Nov. 26, 2014), which held also that a warrantless, nonconsensual draw of a DWI suspect’s blood does not categorically fall within any recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, nor can it be justified under a general Fourth Amendment balancing test.

What does all this mean? As we’ve said in the past, the demise of warrantless blood draws for drivers in Texas continues to remain imminent and cases like Burks continue to reinforce the fact that the teeth of the United State’s Constitution bite much harder than the needle of an unreasonable search and seizure.

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.