The disturbing result of State v. Mazcua.
Tex. _____ S.W. 3d _____ (PD-1035-11 (May 25, 2012)).
The second highest court in Texas on Wednesday signaled support for police
who make up phony reasons to pull over motorists. A sharply divided Court
of Criminal Appeals declined to sanction officers for pulling over Alvaro
Mazuca because his yellow Mustang had "defective tail lights."
The Mustang’s lights were just fine.
On December 11, 2008 at around 10pm, El Paso Police Officers Mike Chavez
and Christopher Grijalva were out looking for people to ticket at the
Sunland Park Mall when the brightly colored Ford caught their eye. They
performed a traffic stop in the parking lot of Linens n Things, admitting
they had no suspicion that the driver had committed any crime. It turned
out that Mazuca had drugs on him along with an outstanding arrest warrant,
but his lawyer moved to suppress the evidence because the initial stop
Mazuca had installed a modified set of clear tail lights on his vehicle
five years ago. Although the lenses were clear, its bulbs were red and
could only emit a red light. The setup had always passed the yearly state
safety inspection, but Officer Grijalva insisted they did not appear red
when the brake pedal was pushed.
"There was mostly white," Grijalva testified. "From what
I distinctly saw it was mostly white. I don’t recall if we got close
and saw that there was any red. But the white dominated the red color."
The trial judge found the police officers’ version of events was
"not credible" and that the stop was flagrantly illegal. Prosecutors
immediately appealed to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court
finding. A three-judge panel reasoned that if it sanctioned the arrest,
police would be encouraged to go on fishing expeditions, stopping drivers
randomly on the hunt for people with warrants.
The next highest court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, had a different
view. On Wednesday, the majority ruled that the Fourth Amendment exclusionary
rule should not apply, citing the "attenuation of taint" doctrine
that makes illegally obtained evidence admissible if that evidence is
not closely connected with the illegal methods used.
"In the present case, we conclude that the temporal proximity between
the first illegal arrest and the second legal arrest does not bear on
the attenuation," Judge Tom Price wrote for the majority in the 5-4
decision. "This factor has been cited and considered exclusively
in cases where confessions or statements were obtained from a suspect
subsequent to an illegal arrest. We also reason that, unlike the confession
cases, where the statements can be seen as a psychological product of
the arrest, the diminution of the likelihood of the discovery of physical
evidence as a result of the illegal arrest cannot be a function of the
passage of time. Thus, we conclude that the temporal proximity factor
is of no moment in this case."
Four of the nine judges sided with the earlier rulings.
"The result fashioned by the majority opens the door for police to
ignore the probable cause requirement and make traffic stops without adequate
grounds for doing so," Judge Lawrence E. Meyers wrote in a dissent.
"The majority’s analysis of the weight of the Brown factors
may be correct, but the result discounts the trial court’s findings
as to the credibility of the officers."
Judge Cheryl Johnson blasted her colleagues for taking lightly the seriousness
of the police misconduct here.
"Ignorance of the law is no defense," Johnson wrote. "We
have all heard that statement many times, usually in the context of a
defendant who claims not to have known of the law he or she is charged
with violating. If an average citizen cannot plead ignorance of the law,
how are we to condone a law-enforcement officer, who is charged with knowing
the law he or she enforces, using that excuse to justify a traffic stop
that is blatantly improper?"
In Essence — the Court of Criminal Appeals has just slam-checked
reasonable suspicion into the boards. Let’s hope Mr. Mazcua appeals
to the U.S. Supreme Court or the requirement for reasonable suspicion
and credible officer testimony in Texas may be dead.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced
criminal defense attorney for your Denton County case or arrest in Denton
County, contact the offices of Tim Powers today. There is no charge or
obligation for the initial consultation. 940.580.2899.
*Tim Powers is an attorney licensed to practice law by the Supreme Court
of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For
legal advice about any specific legal question you should directly consult