An important case out of the San Antonio area (Bexar County) was decided by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in April 2013. The Court considered whether a police officer was justified in forcibly entering the apartment of a man who possessed marijuana while living with a six-month-old baby. This type of issue will come up across the State of Texas, particularly in urban areas like Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton Counties, and similar cases will probably be decided by the Dallas and Fort Worth Courts of Appeals.
When the police were informed of the odor of marijuana coming from the apartment, an officer went to the apartment and knocked on the door. The resident of the apartment cracked open the door, and the officer asked if the six-month-old baby or the baby's mother were at home. The resident answered that neither of them were home, and the officer left.
Shortly after that, the officer returned to the apartment with a fellow officer. Believing that if he left to obtain a warrant, the resident would try to destroy the marijuana, one of the officers forced his way into the apartment. The officer pointed a Taser gun at the resident, then handcuffed and searched him. Marijuana was found in the resident's backpack, and he was placed under arrest.
At trial, the resident asked that the marijuana be suppressed as evidence, claiming that the police officers performed an illegal search and seizure when they discovered it. The State answered that the police officers were justified in entering the apartment without a warrant because the destruction of the marijuana was imminent. The trial court agreed with the State and admitted the seized marijuana as evidence against the resident.
The Fourth Court of Appeals at San Antonio, which includes Bexar County, reversed the trial court's decision. The court of appeals said that there was no evidence indicating that the resident would have destroyed the marijuana had the police officers left to obtain a warrant.
When the State appealed, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the court of Appeals. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures; when a police officer enters a residence without a warrant, his search of the residence presumptively violates the Fourth Amendment. The officer must then show that the circumstances were such that he would have been unable to obtain a warrant in time to prevent a crime or destruction of evidence. In this case, no such evidence was ever presented.