HPD Chief Art Acevedo said a search warrant affidavit, which led to the shooting death of two people, contained “material untruths or lies.”
Apparently, an unnamed officer exaggerated facts to obtain a search warrant. The department recorded a 911 call in which a woman claimed there was drug activity in a particular residence. The officer submitted a search warrant affidavit which claimed that a confidential informant had witnessed a drug transaction at that residence. Based on the affidavit, a judge issued a warrant. But there was no such informant.
When officers served the warrant, a shootout ensued which wounded four officers and killed both the occupants of the dwelling.
Search Warrant Requirements
In colonial times, Americans complained bitterly about British writs of assistance. These documents were basically blank search warrants. They allowed officials to search anywhere they pleased for any reason they wanted. So, the search warrant requirement is one of the most important rights in the Constitution.
Most drug warrants rely, at least in part, on confidential informants. Judges scrutinize these applications closely, because situations like the one in the above story do not just happen in Houston and they are not just isolated incidents. They happen everywhere, and they happen a lot.
There is no uniform standard in this area. When evaluating an informant’s reliability, a judge may take several factors into account, including:
Relationship between the informer and the requesting officer,
Informant’s track record,
Nature of the investigation, and
The benefit the informant receives (usually money or leniency).
Judges also scrutinize requesting officers. If the officer has made false applications in the past, a judge might want additional verification.
At trial, a criminal defense attorney can use these same factors to argue that the judge never should have signed the warrant.
How Defective Warrants Affect a Case
If the warrant is defective, the judge must exclude any evidence connected with the warrant. Less admissible evidence makes it much harder for prosecutors to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Defective search warrants also improve negotiating leverage. Normally, prosecutors do not like to raise red flags. They do not want to taint an officer’s name in front of the judge. Otherwise, every subsequent warrant that officer requests will go under a microscope. So, prosecutors are often motivated to make deals.
These deals usually involve a plea of guilty or no contest in exchange for a lighter sentence and/or reduced charges.
For both prosecutors and defense lawyers, search warrants are a key part of a criminal case. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. Convenient payment plans are available.