The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that police can obtain search warrants based on the “prediction” of a supposed crime. This ruling is a violation of citizen rights and extends Texas law enforcement’s power beyond its rightful place.
The ruling stems from a 2010 drug case from Parker County, Texas. County police searched the home of Michael Wehrenberg after receiving an informant tip that Wehrenberg and others planned to cook crystal meth. The informant was correct as police found ingredients to produce crystal meth, but they performed the search without a warrant.
During Wehrenberg’s trial, his defense argued that police illegally seized evidence from the defendant’s home and was not admissible in court. Citing the “independent source doctrine,” the court threw out the defense’s motion and Wehrenberg pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison.
The “independent source doctrine” states that evidence found in an unlawful search is admissible in court if “later obtained independently through activities untainted by the illegality.”
The case was later overturned by the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth saying that “the federal ‘independent source doctrine’ conflicts with Texas’ statutory exclusionary rule.”
However, the case reached the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) and, having the last word, overturned the Second Court’s ruling. The majority opinion held that:
Because the independent source doctrine does not circumvent or avoid the statutory exclusionary rule’s requirement that evidence obtained in violation of the law be suppressed, we conclude that the court of appeals erred by rejecting that doctrine as a basis for upholding the trial court’s suppression.
Dissenting panel member Judge Lawrence Meyers vehemently disagreed with his fellow judges’ opinion. He believed that the majority’s opinion was wrong because the investigating officers had no legal basis to conduct the search in the first place.
“Had the officers entered the home and found the occupants only baking cupcakes, the officers would not have bothered to then obtain the warrant at all,” wrote CCA Judge Lawrence Meyers. “It was only after unlawfully entering and finding suspicious activity that they felt the need to then secure the warrant in order to cover their tracks and collect the evidence without the taint of their entry.”
This Texas state precedent violates citizens’ rights and is a cause for grave concern. Informant tips are meant to guide police into gathering more information on suspected crimes, not give them the keys to your door. Texas police now have the right to search homes on the basis of speculation and hear-say.
Parker County police broke the law, simply and outright. Yet, the Texas courts bent to their favor and excused constitutional violations.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.