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A Case Law Update On Search and Seizure Opinions From The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States

Rocio Murillo Nov. 17, 2015

United States Supreme Court


Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015). Decided in April of this year, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Rodriguez v. United States, which dealt with the use of extended traffic stops and dog sniffs. This case arose out of an incident in Nebraska where an officer pulled over Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder. After the officer attended to everything related to the traffic stop, the officer then asked if he could walk his dog around the vehicle. Upon Rodriguez’s refusal, the officer detained him until a second officer arrived. He then retrieved his dog, which alerted the officer that drugs were in the vehicle. The ensuing search of the car revealed methamphetamine. Approximately seven to eight minutes elapsed from the time the officer concluded the traffic stop and until the dog alerted the officers to the presence of the drugs. While acknowledging prior Supreme Court rulings that held a dog sniff in and of itself does not constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable seizures, the Court held that “a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution's shield against unreasonable seizures.” Therefore, while an individual still may be detained upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and then subjected to a dog sniff, a simple traffic stop predicated on nothing more than a traffic violation may not be extended beyond the time necessary to issue the traffic citation.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

State v. Villarreal, 2014 WL 6734178 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). In this case, Villarreal was stopped for a traffic violation when an officer observed signs that the defendant may have been intoxicated. Villarreal refused to perform the standardized field sobriety tests and was arrested. The officer then requested that the defendant provide a blood specimen, advising him that if he refused, his refusal may be admissible in any subsequent prosecution and would result in the suspension of his driver’s license for at least 180 days. The defendant still refused. After running a background check, the officer discovered that Villarreal had been convicted of a DWI on multiple occasions. Based on this information, the officer prepared a written report stating that he had probable cause to believe that Villarreal had committed the offense of DWI. The report also stated that under Texas Transportation Code § 724.012(b), the officer was requiring the suspect to submit to the taking of a specimen of the suspect’s blood.[1] A qualified technician drew Villarreal's blood, which, upon testing, revealed a blood-alcohol level of .16. The issue before the Court of Criminal Appeals was whether the warrantless, nonconsensual drawing of blood from a drunk-driving suspect, conducted pursuant to the implied-consent and mandatory-blood-draw provisions in the Texas Transportation Code, violates the Fourth Amendment. Reasoning that a blood draw is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes and the implied consent statutes do not create an irrevocable consent that would function as an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, the court held that it is unconstitutional to perform a blood draw on a suspect without a warrant when the driver has explicitly stated he does not consent to the draw.

           State v. Le, 463 S.W.3d 872 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). This case arose around the time the Supreme Court’s issued their holding in Florida v. Jardines that use of a drug-dog on the front porch of a home without a warrant constituted a Fourth Amendment violation. In this case, even without the illegal front-porch dog sniff, the Court of Criminal Appeals looked to the totality of the circumstances, holding that police officer’s human odor detection was valid and gave rise to sufficient probable cause necessary to issue a warrant.

           State v. Jackson, 464 S.W.3d 724 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Upon suspecting that the defendant was involved in drug trafficking, officers placed a GPS tracking device on the defendant’s car. Because the device notified officers when the car was moving, officers were able to tell how fast the defendant was driving and pulled him over for speeding. After consenting to a search of his vehicle, the officer uncovered methamphetamine. The Court of Criminal Appeals noted that the installation of a tracking device on a vehicle, coupled with use of GPS device to monitor vehicle's movements, constituted "search" within meaning of Fourth Amendment. However, the independent verification of the defendant’s speeding violation constituted an “intervening circumstance,” resulting in the search and confession that the methamphetamine was the defendant’s being held valid.

State v. Story, 445 S.W.3d 729 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). In this case, officers responded to a report of a vehicle chasing and attempting to run over a man in a nearby field. After speaking with the alleged victim, Kuykendall, the defendant approached, saying that Kuykendall had gotten out of the car because they were having and argument and that they were following him trying to get him to get back in the car. Officers arrested the defendant and a deputy walking past the car thought he saw marijuana sitting on the seat of the car in plain view. Though the marijuana was Kuykendall’s, the officer’s conducted a search of the entire vehicle, revealing the defendant’s forged checks for which he was subsequently prosecuted. The State argued that searching the defendant’s vehicle was incident to Kuykendall’s arrest for possession of marijuana. The court held, however, that the defendant’s warrantless arrest was unlawful because the officers did not establish sufficient probable cause. To that effect, the court stated that additional facts and circumstances were necessary and the report about the car chasing Kuykendall was not sufficient to constitute a basis for probable cause. Therefore, because the trial court did not err in finding that the defendant’s arrest was unlawful, it accordingly did not err in concluding that evidence obtained as a result of that arrest was inadmissible.

[1]Section 724.012(b) “establishes that, when certain aggravating factors are present during a DWI stop, a suspect may not refuse to submit to a specimen and, even if a suspect refuses, an officer is required to obtain a specimen.” (citing Tex. Trans. Code § 724.012(b)). 

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