Thursday, April 8, 2010

Texas appellate court turns 4th Amendment on its ear

Here's a head-scratcher for you. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals held that when arguing that a warrantless arrest is invalid that the defendant has the burden to show that the police acted unreasonably.

In State v. Woodard, Docket No. 2-09-052-CR (Tex.App.--Fort Worth, Apr. 1, 2010), officers from the Burkburnett Police Department arrested David Woodard after receiving an anonymous phone call about a car in a ditch. The officers approached Mr. Woodard walking away from the scene and asked him if he had been driving the car. Mr. Woodard admitted to driving the car.

The officers, believing that Mr. Woodard was intoxicated, began investigating the scene of the accident. After administering police coordination exercises to Mr. Woodard, the police arrested him on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

Mr. Woodard moved to suppress the arrest and all evidence gathered as a result of the arrest on the grounds that the warrantless arrest was invalid because the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him or probable cause to arrest as they had no independent knowledge that he had been driving the car, that he had consumed alcohol and that he operated the car while intoxicated.

The trial court granted Mr. Woodards's motion to suppress and the state appealed, arguing that the arrest was valid under the community caretaking exception or that it was valid because the interaction between the officers and Mr. Woodard was voluntary.

While the Court disagreed with the state's position on the community caretaking exception, the Court did find that the encounter was voluntary on Mr. Woodard's part, that the police can question a person absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause and that Mr. Woodard failed to produce evidence that the warrantless arrest was invalid.

Whatever happened to the notion that a warrantless search and seizure is deemed unreasonable absent evidence from the state that the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity was afoot or probable cause to arrest? I guest that silly little thing called the Fourth Amendment has just been causing a bit too much trouble for the state here of late.

How can a court put the burden on the defendant to show that a warrantless arrest is invalid when Fourth Amendment puts the burden on the government?Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 548 (1968). This court seems to conflate the burden of going forward and the burden of proof. The burden of going forward is satisfied by one sentence in a motion to suppress: "The defendant was subjected to a warrantless search (or arrest)."
Even more disturbing is the continued systematic destruction of a citizen's constitutional rights if he is suspected of driving while intoxicated - a misdemeanor, just one step above a traffic ticket.

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