Friday, March 5, 2010

The Poisonous Tree Beareth No Fruit: Officers Unlawfully Seize Property, Find Drugs, But CCA Refuses to Suppress

If you enjoy reading interesting opinions from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (as do I), State v. Powell will not disappoint. See majority opinion HERE.

Powell involved a lawful search of two safes preceded by a warrantless seizure of these safes.
The police obtained a warrant to search appellee’s home and to seize, among other things, “checks and materials to make forged checks.” While executing this search warrant at appellee’s home, the police found two safes which no one disputes the police could have lawfully searched since the safes could have contained “checks and materials for making forged checks.”  The police seized these two safes and took them to the police station where they searched them the next day and found in one of the safes the methamphetamine that is the subject of this prosecution. The trial court and the court of appeals decided that the seizure of these two safes violated appellee’s Fourth Amendment rights because these safes were not “particularly described” in the search warrant as items to be seized.
Relying on the Supreme Court's holding in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006), which emphasized the difference between a "privacy" interest and a "possessory" interest under the 4th amendment, the CCA reversed the 2nd Court of Appeals (and the trial court), stating:
We believe that this record, viewed in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling in favor of appellee, fairly demonstrates that the police would have searched the safes whether or not they took them to the police station ... We also note that the invasion of appellee’s privacy interests in the safes by the police search of the safes was exactly the same whether the police searched these safes at the home or at the police station (Footnote 17) ... This otherwise lawful search of the safes was “wholly unrelated” to any prior unlawful seizure of these safes.
The CCA ultimately held that the "massive" remedy of exclusion of the methamphetamine is not required.  In a more shocking note (and a slap in the face of the appellee, in my opinion) the court closed with this:
We believe that, as the defendant’s remedy in Hudson was a civil suit for damages for his broken door, any remedy that appellee might have is also a civil suit for damages for his alleged unlawfully seized safes. See Hudson, 547 U.S. at 596-99.
Judge Price dissented (see HERE) because, in his view, the warrant DID authorize the seizure of the safes (albeit implicitly).