An interesting opinion dropped from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this week. In the case, an undercover police officer was surveilling a sports bar in Houston known for its well documented history of drug busts. In actuality, under the guise of surveillance, the police officer was probably profiling customers at the local bar. One unlucky man stopped at the bar and stayed for what the officer stated was in the range of three to five minutes and then left. The officer followed the man and then called for a marked car to make the bust so as not to blow his cover. The marked police car then pulled the man over for an alleged lane change without a turn signal. Before stopping the car, the officer noticed the man making furtive gestures around the console in the vehicle. This is a ruse officers use to try and make a search. As if a person in a car behind you can see what you are doing in front of them in your car at night. Please. The uniformed officer then arrested the man and searched his vehicle. In the search, the officer finds two baggies of cocaine. One in the center console and one between the console and the passenger seat.
The attorney for “citizen accused” filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the search in the trial court but the motion was denied. The man subsequently entered into a plea agreement for three years deferred adjudication but preserved his right to appeal the ruling of the trial court. Under the Fourth Amendment, a search of a person or property is not reasonable without a warrant without a specifically defined exception. One of these exceptions is termed the “automobile exception.” Under the automobile exception, police may search your car without a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband.
The court of appeals considered the issue of probable cause in this matter. There, the Court used the following facts to justify the search. First, the officer was performing surveillance on a bar known for drug sales. Second, while the man was stopped in a turn lane, with marked police car behind him, and an undercover officer beside him. Staring. Said the man made furtive gestures in his car. Okay, so two cops have you boxed in and are staring you down. You’re supposed to act cool, right? Sure. The court of appeals affirmed the finding of the trial court. The ruling that being at a bar known for drug activity and making furtive gestures while being boxed in by two cops was enough for probable cause to arrest you. Fair, right?