In a scene straight out of "Minority Report," cops in one Texas county are now getting warrants before crimes are even committed.
The Dallas Observer relayed background earlier this week on a Texas court decision handed down in the case of Wehrenberg v. State. As highlighted by the blog Grits For Breakfast, Parker County police obtained a 2010 tip suspecting that Michael Freed Wehrenberg was involved in a ring of folks "fixing to" cook meth. The cops didn't have a search warrant but ended up walking into his home, seizing boxes of pseudoephedrine and other meth-making materials. A warrant eventually arrived, but it failed to mention any interaction beyond that initial confidential tip.
According to the Observer, lawyers argued in a trial court proceeding that the materials were illegally obtained and thereby could not stand as evidence. But the motion was denied on the grounds of "independent source doctrine" -- the seizure of evidence that became known from a third-party source. Wehrenberg was sentenced to five years in prison.
The Second Court of Appeals disagreed with that lower court ruling, overturning it on the grounds that illegally-seized evidence should have been excluded. But final say was in the hands of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – which ruled that federal precedent allows illegally seized evidence to be used if first confirmed by a third-party source.
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 ruling. We reverse and remand.
This is completely inconsistent with the idea that the officers had to conduct the unwarranted entry because of exigent circumstances or to prevent destruction of evidence. Had such circumstances actually existed, the officers would have proceeded immediately to the residence rather than delaying for the number of hours that they did. There was more than enough time to secure a search warrant before the officers’ intrusion into the premises, but they deliberately chose not to attempt to obtain it until after they had conducted the unlawful entry.