Thursday, January 13, 2011

DWI Appeal of the Day (DAD) - Blood Search Warrant Insufficient

Rarely does any DWI reported out of the Texas appellate courts end well for the defendant. This is one of those rarities. In Farhat v. State of Texas, --- S.W.3d ----, 2011 WL 56056 (Tex.App.-Fort Worth), the defendant was arrested for DWI by Corporal Finley. Corporal Finley then prepared a sworn affidavit for a blood-draw search warrant, and the magistrate subsequently signed a search warrant based on the affidavit.

The case presents a good summation of search warrant law, both federal and state:

The police may obtain a defendant's blood for a DWI investigation through a search warrant. * * * A search warrant cannot issue unless it is based on probable cause as determined from the four corners of an affidavit. * * * Under the Fourth Amendment and the Texas constitution, an affidavit supporting a search warrant is sufficient if, from the totality of the circumstances reflected in the affidavit, the magistrate was provided with a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed. * * * Article 18.01(c) requires an affidavit to set forth facts establishing that (1) a specific offense has been committed, (2) the item to be seized constitutes evidence of the offense or evidence that a particular person committed the offense, and (3) the item is located at or on the person, place, or thing to be searched. * * * No magical formula exists for determining whether an affidavit provides a substantial basis for a magistrate's probable cause determination. Tolentino, 638 S.W.2d at 501. Instead, when a court reviews an issuing magistrate's determination, the court should interpret the affidavit in a commonsense and realistic manner, recognizing that the magistrate may draw reasonable inferences.

The affidavit in support of the blood warrant states, in total,

On 01-11-2008 at approximately 0050 hours, I, Cpl. Finley # 516 was driving eastbound in the 1900 block of Justin road and visually observed a vehicle turning from Sellmeyer onto Justin road. I turned around at the light and started westbound when I could see a vehicle driving very slow approximately 30 miles an hour in a 40 mile per hour zone. I pulled my patrol vehicle behind the vehicle a silver BMW with dealer plates. The vehicle was weaving from sided [sic] to side and continued for about a half a mile in the left lane. As the vehicle approached the KFC parking lot the vehicle turned on the right turn signal and crossed over the left lane into the parking lot. I activated my overhead lights and conducted a traffic stop in the parking lot at 2180 Justin road KFC. I noticed two pill bottles in the center console and asked where the driver later identified as Farhat, Samuel David, A/M DOB 05-04-1966 the defendant [sic]. I asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle to check to see if he was ok to drive. The defendant refused to do any road side test and was placed in double locked properly spaced handcuffs.

The appellate court reversed the trial court's finding that the affidavit established probable cause, making such statements as the following:

In other words, we hold that the meager facts contained within the four corners of the affidavit did not provide the magistrate with a substantial basis to conclude that there was a fair probability or substantial chance that Farhat had committed the offense of DWI or that evidence of intoxication would be found in Farhat's blood.* * * trial court's findings of fact state that Corporal Finley suspected Farhat of DWI “based on the erratic driving behavior, the pills in the console, and the Officer's opportunity to personally observe the driver.” But the affidavit contains no mention of what those personal observations were. * * * “It is one thing to draw reasonable inferences from information clearly set forth within the four corners of the affidavit ... [but] it is quite another matter to read material information into an affidavit that does not otherwise appear on its face.” * * * Because the affidavit is totally devoid of any of the officer's specific personal observations of Farhat, the affidavit contains no facts within its four corners from which the magistrate could have reasonably inferred from Farhat's demeanor, behavior, or appearance that there was fair probability or substantial chance that Farhat had committed the offense of DWI or that evidence of intoxication would be found in Farhat's blood. * * * The magistrate's probable cause determination cannot be a mere ratification of Corporal Finley's conclusions.* * * We cannot agree with the trial court's finding that a reasonable interpretation of Corporal Finley's statement in his affidavit that Farhat “continued for about a half a mile in the left lane” was that Farhat “was driving in the wrong lane, to wit: the oncoming traffic.” Why would an officer follow a vehicle that is driving into oncoming traffic for half a mile without immediately turning on his patrol vehicle's overhead lights and executing a stop? The affidavit clearly demonstrates that Corporal Finley did not activate his overhead lights during that one-half mile; he waited until after Farhat turned into the KFC parking lot to initiate a stop. * * * We do not know from the affidavit the extent of Farhat's weaving or whether he was weaving outside of his lane or into oncoming traffic nor is it reasonable to infer such facts.* * * Too many inferences must be drawn and too many facts must be read into the affidavit in this case, which result in at most “a tenuous rather than a substantial basis” for the issuance of a warrant.

In finding that the affidavit fell short of proving probable cause, the appellate court also determined that the error was 'not harmless':

Having found error, we must conduct a harm analysis to determine whether the error calls for reversal of the judgment. * * * Because the error involved is of constitutional magnitude, we apply rule 44.2(a) and reverse unless we determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to Farhat's conviction or punishment. * * * The question is whether the trial court's error in denying Farhat's motion to suppress was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. * * * In applying the “harmless error” test, our primary question is whether there is a “reasonable possibility” that the error might have contributed to the conviction. * * *

The only evidence that Farhat was intoxicated came from the results of a blood test, obtained in violation of Farhat's constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure. We are thus unable to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the trial court's error in denying Farhat's motion to suppress did not contribute to Farhat's conviction or punishment for DWI. See Williams, 958 S.W.2d at 195. We sustain Farhat's sole point.

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