Money Laundering Charge Dismissed…

One of my clients was stopped by in Oldham County in April of 2011 for an alleged traffic violation. During the course of the traffic stop, the state trooper asked for consent to search the vehicle. My client consented. During the search of the vehicle, the trooper found a considerable sum of cash. Thereafter, the State of Texas filed money laundering charges against my client and also filed a civil forfeiture action seeking to forfeit $45,000.00 in United States currency.

Just short of one year from the date of the traffic stop, the State dismissed the criminal charges, dismissed the civil forfeiture action and returned $45,000.00 to my client. Needless to say, my client was quite happy.

Factors that made these cases challenging for the State were: (1) my client did not have a criminal history; (2) no illegal drugs were found in the vehicle; (3) the money was not wrapped in a manner to avoid detection by a drug-sniffing canine; and (4) my client was headed east on Interstate 40 [The rule in drug-trafficking is: drugs go east – money goes west].

Traffic Stops – What Officers May Lawfully Do…

A law enforcement officer may lawfully stop a vehicle and conduct a brief investigation when he observes a traffic violation. Strauss v. Texas, 121 S.W.3d 486, 490 (Tex.App. – Amarillo 2003, pet. ref’d.). In general, the decision to stop a vehicle is reasonable when the officer has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. Walter v. State, 28 S.W.3d 538, 542 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000).

During a routine traffic stop, the officer may require the driver to identify himself and produce a valid driver’s license and proof of liability insurance. Strauss at 491. The officer may direct the driver to step out of the vehicle, Estrada v. State, 30 S.W.3d 599, 603 (Tex.App. – Austin 2000, pet. ref’d.), detain the driver to check for outstanding warrants, Walter at 542, inquire about the registration of the vehicle, Sieffert V. Texas, 290 S.W.3d 478, 483 (Tex.App. – Amarillo 2009), and ask about the destination and the purpose of the trip. Haas v. State, 172 S.W.3d 42, 50 (Tex.App. – Waco 2005, pet. ref’d.).

The officer may also question any passenger in the vehicle. Duff v. State, 546 S.W.2d 283, 286 (Tex.Crim.App. 1977).

Once the purpose of the traffic stop has been completed, the officer may then ask the driver if he possesses any illegal contraband and may also ask for voluntary consent to search the vehicle. Strauss at 491. If consent to search is not given, the officer may no longer detain the vehicle or its occupants unless reasonable suspicion of some other criminal activity exists. Sieffert at 484.

New Blog Content – Case Dismissed…

Every year I have several cases that are dismissed either through negotiations with the State, as a result of a court suppressing the State’s evidence, or through the appellate process.

I have therefore decided to add a new section to my blog entitled “Case Dismissed” where I will post information on these cases. In each post, I will include factors that were beneficial to my client or that were challenging for the State.

Terry Stops – Unreasonable Searches & Seizures…

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, §9 of the Texas Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. It is well established that the basic purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to safe guard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasion by governmental officials. Hayes v. State, 475 S.W.2d 739, 741 (Tex.Crim.App. 1971). The same is true of Article 1, §9 of the Texas Constitution. Kolb v. State, 532 S.W.2d 87, 89 (Tex.Crim.App. 1976).

There are three recognized categories of interactions between law enforcement officers and other individuals: (1) encounters, (2) investigative detentions, and (3) arrests.

An encounter is a friendly exchange of pleasantries or mutually useful information. In an encounter, a law enforcement officer is not require to possess any particular level of suspicion and the individual is free to walk away and not answer any questions asked by the law enforcement officer. Hawkins v. State, 758 S.W.2d 255, 259 (Tex.Crim.App. 1988).

An arrest occurs when an officer takes an individual into custody. A law enforcement officer must have probable cause to arrest an individual if there is no warrant to arrest that person. In order to establish probable cause for an arrest, the facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which he had reasonably trustworthy information must be sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the individual had committed or was committing a crime. Parker v. State, 206 S.W.3d 593, 596 (Tex.Crim.App. 2006).

The concept of investigative detentions originated with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968) which sought to ensure police action that fell technically short of an arrest was not immune from Fourth Amendment protection. In an investigative detention, also known as a Terry stop, the officer must have articulable facts that, in light of his experience and personal knowledge, together with inferences from those facts, would reasonable warrant the intrusion on the freedom of the individual stopped. Terry, 392 U.S. at 21. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that some unusual activity is occurring or has occurred, and the person he has detained is connected with the activity and that the activity is related to the commission of a crime. Hoag v. State, 728 S.W.2d 375, 380 (Tex.Crim.App. 1987); Daniels v. State, 718 S.W.2d 702, 704 (Tex.Crim.App. 1986, en banc); Johnson v. State, 658 S.W.2d 623, 626 (Tex.Crim.App. 1983). An investigative detention is a seizure under which the individual is not free to leave. Francis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 176, 178 (Tex.Crim.App. 1996, en banc).

A traffic stop is a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Brigham, 382 F.3d 500, 506 (5th Cir. 2004, en banc). Because a routine traffic stop is more analogous to an investigative detention than a custodial arrest, traffic stops are analyzed as a Terry stop. Haas v. State, 172 S.W.3d 42, 50 (Tex.App. – Waco 2005, pet. ref’d.).

Therefore, for a traffic stop to be lawful in Texas, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that some unusual activity is occurring or has occurred, and the person he has detained is connected with the activity and that the activity is related to the commission of a crime; the crime being a violation of the traffic laws of Texas.