X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 2000, appellant drove his vehicle off the road and into the porch of a house located in rural Wharton County. After the accident, Department of Public Safety Trooper William Sulak arrested appellant for driving while intoxicated in violation of Texas Penal Code �49.04. After his motion to suppress evidence was denied, appellant pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement, and the trial court sentenced him to 180 days in jail, probated for one year. Appellant appealed, asserting that the trial court had erroneously denied his motion to suppress evidence. Appellant argued that his custodial interrogation violated both the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 38.22, and that probable cause sufficient to justify his warrantless arrest for DWI did not exist. The court of appeals, relying on Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420 (1984), found that appellant’s responses to Sulak’s initial questions were admissible because appellant was not in custody for Miranda purposes and that Sulak had failed to articulate sufficient facts to support probable cause to arrest appellant. The court of appeals reversed the judgment and sentence and remanded the cause to the trial court. HOLDING:The court of appeals’ judgment is affirmed. The evidence in this case indicates that facts establishing probable cause to arrest appellant were not shown. The arrest was based on opinions expressed to Sulak by the county sheriff’s deputies who were at the scene. The deputies’ unexplained opinions about whether appellant was intoxicated did not give Sulak personal knowledge of, or reliable information about, facts or circumstances sufficient to justify appellant’s arrest. The sheriff’s deputies did not articulate supporting facts upon which their opinions were based. Rather, the deputies merely asserted that appellant appeared to them to be intoxicated. The deputies did not testify at the suppression hearing. Sulak also lacked any personal knowledge about the accident or the circumstances surrounding it. He did not testify that he asked appellant whether he had been drinking or that he had administered any field sobriety tests to confirm the sheriff’s deputies’ suspicions, nor did he testify that he smelled the odor of alcoholic beverages on appellant’s breath or that he observed common signs of intoxication such as slurred speech or problems with balance. The only question posed by Sulak to appellant was to inquire how the accident occurred, and appellant responded that he was unfamiliar with the road and had made a wrong turn. This one question and answer is insufficient to show probable cause to believe that appellant was intoxicated. The state also argues that, according to State v. Marquez, 725 S.W.2d 217 (Tex. Crim. App. 1987), the probable-cause requirement is met here because police officers are inherently reliable. However, opinions, even those of police officers, cannot be transformed into facts without supporting evidence. The probable-cause requirement is grounded on a factual examination of the totality of the circumstances. In Marquez, the presumption of reliability was based on the facts stated in probable-cause affidavits, not the bare conclusions and opinions of police officers. The court recognizes that, generally, police officers are reliable sources of information. However, Marquez should not be interpreted to mean that the opinions of police officers are reliable even if those opinions are expressed without articulation of supporting facts and circumstances. Considering the facts and circumstances that were known personally to Sulak or which had been conveyed to him by reasonably trustworthy sources, probable cause to arrest appellant did not exist, the court concludes. OPINION:Johnson, J. delivered the opinion of the court, in which Price, Womack, Keasler, Hervey and Cochran, JJ., joined. DISSENT:Meyers, J. “Because I feel that the officer in this case had probable cause to arrest the appellant, I respectfully dissent.” DISSENT:Holcomb, J.; Keller, P.J., joined. “According to Sulak’s testimony, at the moment he arrested appellant, he knew (1) that appellant, in the wee hours of the morning, had just left an establishment known as”Lucky’s'; (2) that appellant had driven his vehicle off the public roadway 150 feet and had then collided with a house; (3) that appellant’s only explanation for this bizarre circumstance was his”unfamiliarity’ with the public roadway and his accidental”wrong turn’ off that roadway; and (4) that two deputy sheriffs at the scene, who had obviously been talking with appellant, had concluded that he was”very intoxicated.’ Given this information, a reasonable law enforcement officer could scarcely have come to any conclusion other than that appellant had probably been driving while intoxicated. Indeed, even in the absence of the deputy sheriffs’ opinions regarding appellant, Sulak could have reasonably concluded that, more likely than not, appellant’s explanation for the accident was less than completely truthful and that appellant, had he had the normal use of his mental and physical faculties, would not have turned off the county road as he did, would not have driven 150 feet toward a private residence as he did, and would not have crashed into that residence as he did.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.