8/2/2010Texas: Court Rules Home Offers No Escape From DUI Arrest
Texas appeals court rules that making it home is not enough to escape a drunk driving charge.
A Texas man thought he could avoid being hit with a driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) charge by reaching his home before the cops could arrive. It did not work, the state court of appeals ruled last Tuesday. Joe Cruz Banda, Jr. was behind the wheel of his Ford Taurus in May 2008 after having had too much to drink. He veered into oncoming traffic and nearly hit motorist William White.
White followed the Taurus while calling 911. The Taurus eventually parked in a residential driveway and entered a garage where several other people were gathered. Officer Miguel Daniel arrived on the scene within ten minutes, walked up to the open garage and asked who had been driving the Taurus. Banda came forward. As Banda spoke to Daniel on the driveway, White identified Banda to a second policeman, Officer Charles Bartlett, as the one who nearly had run him off the road. Banda failed field sobriety tests and was arrested for DUI.
The Harris County Criminal Court sentenced Banda to thirty days in the county jail, and Banda appealed his conviction on the grounds that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause for their warrantless arrest. None of the officers had seen him driving, and Banda did not resemble the physical description relayed to the 911 operator. A three-judge appellate panel was not convinced by his arguments because Banda came out voluntarily to speak with the police.
"So long as the citizen remains free to disregard the officer's questions or go about his business, the encounter is consensual, and reasonable suspicion is unnecessary," Justice Leslie Brock Yates wrote for the court. "After reviewing these facts under the totality of the circumstances, we conclude the initial interaction between appellant and Officer Daniel constituted a consensual encounter. Following his conversation with White, Officer Daniel was free to approach appellant's open garage, inquire who had been driving the Taurus, and ask to speak with appellant after appellant acknowledged driving the vehicle."
Banda next argued that his arrest was unlawful because none of the officers had seen him driving. The court found the independent witness trustworthy.
"Reasonable suspicion, however, may be supplied by information acquired from another person and need not arise from an officer's personal observations," Yates wrote. "Officer Bartlett possessed sufficient facts to form a reasonable inference that appellant drove while intoxicated based on the background facts provided by White and appellant and appellant's performance during the field-sobriety tests."
The court concluded by pointing out that Texas law allows for the warrantless arrest of a suspect found in a "suspicious place."
"Any place may become suspicious when an individual at the location and the accompanying circumstances raise a reasonable belief that the individual committed a crime and exigent circumstances call for immediate action or detention by the police," Yates wrote. "A key factor used to justify the determination of a place as suspicious is whether the time frame between the crime and the apprehension of the suspect is short.... Because the totality of the circumstances show that the police possessed probable cause, appellant was found in a suspicious place, and exigent circumstances called for immediate action, we conclude appellant's warrantless arrest is justified."
The appellate court upheld the trial court's judgment. A copy of the ruling is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.