Law Offices of Tim Powers
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Rules That Blood-Draw Search Warrant In DWI Case Cannot Be Issued By Statutory County Court Judge Of Another County.
In Sanchez v. State of Texas, the Court of Criminal Appeals recently upheld the ruling of the First Court of Appeals that a Montgomery County, Texas county court improperly issued a search warrant to be executed in Harris County. The case involved a man who was involved in a single-car accident in Harris County. The man told officers he had had a few beers and the officers claimed that he exhibited several clues of intoxication during field sobriety tests. The man was arrested and taken to "central intox." There the man refused a breath test and the officers sought a search warrant to compel a blood draw. For unknown reasons the search warrant compelling the blood draw of the DWI suspect in Harris County was signed by a statutory county court judge of neighboring Montgomery County, Texas.
The man moved to suppress the blood evidence based on this point but the trial court denied his motion. The man subsequently pled guilty to DWI. On appeal the First Court of Appeals agreed with the man that the search warrant compelling his blood draw was invalid. The State of Texas then appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest criminal court in Texas.
The issue turns on statutory interpretation and the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that statutory county court judges are "magistrates" and as magistrates their duty is "to preserve the peace within [their] jurisdiction." The Court noted that the Texas Legislature has the power under the Texas Constitution to establish the jurisdiction of statutory county courts. The Court noted that no statute gives statutory county courts authority to issue search warrants statewide. Further, the Court noted that while there is no statute expressly forbidding a statutory county court from issuing a search warrant in another county, the Legislature has "consistently limited or elected not to expand the jurisdiction of statutory county courts." Lastly, the Court noted that Article 1.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure lists the judicial positions that have statewide authority throughout Texas and that this list omits statutory county court judges.
Summarizing the Court stated: "Here, the record reflects that the warrant executed in Harris County was signed by a statutory county court judge from Montgomery County. The Montgomery County judge did not have jurisdiction to issue a search warrant for an individual 'to be found in Harris County' because such action reached beyond the Montgomery County line. Therefore, the search warrant for Appellant's blood draw was invalid."
The Court of Criminal Appeals went on to reject the State's argument that the blood draw search warrant in this DWI case should be treated as an arrest warrant. In doing so the Court of Criminal Appeals noted the different interests protected by arrest warrants vs search warrants. Specifically the Court noted that an arrest warrant is issued to seize the person of an individual and that the statewide reach of an arrest warrant is "based upon the assumption that a person is not likely to stay in the geographical proximity of his alleged offense for an extended time." On the other hand, a search warrant implicates a person's privacy interests and is more intrusive than a mere arrest.
This is an interesting case but it is unlikely to have a great impact in many Texas DWI cases. As the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals noted, there is no indication in the record why a Montgomery County judge signed off on the blood draw search warrant to be executed in Harris County. This is an unusual scenario and in light of this ruling we expect it will become much more unusual in DWI arrests for law enforcement to seek a search warrant from a neighboring county.
If you are seeking aggressive criminal representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney for your Denton County criminal 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 an attorney.