Texas Supreme Court Reverses Drug Conviction After Illegal Search
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects residents from unreasonable search and seizure of their property by law enforcement. The legal remedy for a defendant whose constitutional rights are violated in this context is the exclusion of any evidence found in such a search from their criminal prosecution. Although this rule seems straightforward and beneficial to Americans who are accused of crimes, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are known to violate this rule and usually do all they can to admit evidence collected as a result of illegal searches. A Texas appellate court recently reversed a lower court decision allowing evidence to be admitted against a drug defendant that had come from an illegal search.
In the recently decided case, the defendant was stopped by an officer for operating a motor vehicle without registration tags. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant stopped his vehicle in a well-lit area near a gas station and was outside of the vehicle when the officer approached him. After making contact with the defendant, the officer requested that he put his hands behind his back so he could perform a “pat down” for weapons. As the officer attempted to put his hands inside one of the defendant’s pockets, the defendant began to resist, breaking free from the officer and fleeing behind a dumpster. The officer followed the defendant, placing him under arrest and finding a small bag of drugs on the ground, which was presumably dropped by the defendant after he was out of the officer’s line of sight.
The defendant was arrested and charged for drug possession. Before trial, the defendant challenged the admission of the drug evidence against him, arguing that he did not consent to a search and that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to reach into his pocket during the pat down. The prosecution claimed that the search was legal and consented to by the defendant, and even if it was an illegal search that the defendant’s own conduct in fleeing from the officer and throwing the drugs on the ground himself meant that the evidence was not found in the course of the search. The trial court accepted the prosecution’s arguments and ultimately convicted the defendant and sentenced him to 5 years of incarceration.