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.

The defendant appealed the lower court ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, challenging the trial court’s ruling that the evidence should be admitted. The high court agreed with the defendant, finding first that the search was not consented to–as the defendant immediately began to resist once the officer reached into his pocket. Because the defendant did not consent to the search and the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to perform a search without consent, the search was found to be illegal. Furthermore, the Texas Supreme Court found that the defendant’s conduct in fleeing and tossing the drugs on his own did not eliminate or outweigh the constitutional violation that was the illegal attempted search. Because the evidence would not have been found if the officer had honored the defendant’s constitutional rights, the court reversed the lower court ruling, and the defendant will likely be cleared of the charges against him.

Have You Been Charged with a Crime in Texas

If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with a Texas drug crime, it’s important to understand the rights that you have. Although the Constitution is designed to protect Americans who have been accused of a crime from government overreach, without a skilled advocate on your side, your rights may be abused or ignored by prosecutors and the courts. The qualified Texas criminal defense lawyers at Guest and Gray can help you stand up for your rights. Our skilled Dallas criminal defense attorneys have successfully suppressed evidence in hundreds of criminal cases, frequently resulting in the dismissal of charges. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, contact our offices at 972-564-4644 and schedule a free consultation today.

Contact Information