Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reasonable Suspicion Standard Exists in Name Only in San Antonio

Ask any police officer in San Antonio and I'm sure he can tell you that in order to initiate an investigatory detention, he/she must have "Reasonable Suspicion" that a person is, has been, or will soon be engaged in criminal activity.  Great, at least we know that a standard exists.  The problem, however, is the application of the legal standard to the facts of a particular case.  The problem is that "Reasonable Suspicion" is a conclusory title slapped onto any fact scenario law enforcement happens to encounter.  Well, Justice Rebecca Simmons of the 4th District Court of Appeals (San Antonio) has had enough (at least in one case she did)!
Never has this court upheld an investigative stop based on such a paucity of facts.
These the unflinching words of Justice Simmons' dissent to the Court's denial of a request for an en banc consideration in Martinez v. State.  Chief Justice Stone joined the dissent, which explained:
As a matter of law, the totality of the circumstances did not provide reasonable suspicion for the investigative stop of Martinez. ...I also believe the opinion conflicts with this court’s prior opinion in State v. Simmang, 945 S.W.2d 219 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1997, no pet.).
Well, let's see.  What exactly was it about this reasonable suspicion stop that so ruffled the feathers of these two jurists?  As a starting point, you must remember that to support an investigative detention, the officer must point to "specific articulable facts, which, when combined with rational inferences from those facts, would lead him to reasonably conclude that a particular person actually is, has been, or soon will be engaging in criminal activity."  Texas case law requires that these facts amount to "more than a mere hunch or suspicion."

Here's how the officer explained it at trial:
[based on an anonymous tip] dispatch put out a call that a vehicle had stopped and someone supposedly put some bicycles in the back of a pickup truck in a general area of town.  The caller was simply a passerby.  All I got from the dispatch was a vehicle description (blue Ford pickup) and a male driving the vehicle.  Dispatch repeated twice that the pickup was blue.
First of all, is it illegal to put bicycles in the back of a pickup?  Perhaps, but I put my bicycle in the back of my pickup several times a week. For the sake of argument, let's just assume that this activity is evidence of larceny.  Ok - Got it.  A blue Ford pickup, with some bicycles in the back, driven by a male.  But who did the officer stop? 

He stopped the only Ford pickup he could find in that area of town.  He stopped a male driving a GREEN pickup.  Add to that, the pickup didn't even have any bicycles in it!  And what does this investigatory detention (for a possible larceny, mind you) yield...a DWI conviction.  We can expect that the officer believes he had "reasonable suspicion" initiate the stop (an officer always thinks he has reasonable suspicion), but, as the dissent points out:
Surprisingly, this court concludes [the officer] had reasonable suspicion to stop Martinez...
I must have been traveling this winter when this opinion was released by the Court.  Thankfully, these justices highlighted the Court's questionable reasoning for us.  We'll be sure to keep our eye on this case to see what the CCA has to say.  Even our conservative and prosecution-friendly CCA might reverse this one!