Judge: In Texas, Search Warrants Can Now Be Based on a "Prediction of a Future Crime"
Police in Parker County had been watching Michael Fred Wehrenberg's home for a month when, late in the summer of 2010, they received a tip from a confidential informant that Wehrenberg and several others were "fixing to" cook meth. Hours later, after midnight, officers walked through the front door, rounded up the people inside, and kept them in handcuffs in the front yard for an hour and a half.
The only potential problem, at least from a constitutional standpoint, was that the cops didn't have a search warrant. They got one later, before they seized the boxes of pseudoephedrine, stripped lithium batteries, and other meth-making materials, while the alleged meth cooks waited around in handcuffs, but by then they'd already waltzed through the home uninvited. They neglected to mention this on their warrant application, identifying a confidential informant as their only source of information.
Wehrenberg's lawyers argued during materials that the seized materials had been taken illegally and shouldn't be allowed as evidence. The motion was denied -- the trial court cited federal "independent source doctrine," which allows illegally seized evidence a third party told them about beforehand -- and Wehrenberg pleaded guilty to one count of possession and one count of intent to manufacture, getting five years in prison.
The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth wasn't so eager to overlook what appeared to be a clear case of police misconduct and overturned the lower court's ruling.
But it's the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that has the final say, and last week they agreed with the trial court. In a majority opinion, Judge Elsa Alcala wrote that, while Texas' "exclusionary rule" bans illegally seized evidence from trial, federal precedent dictates that it can be introduced if it was first confirmed by an independent source.
Find out what experts say about the case after the jump.