In a recent case out of Texas, police violated a defendant’s civil rights during a traffic stop, which led to the case being sent back and a motion to suppress being granted.
The case of United States of America v. Robert Macias Jr. shows why an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney is critical to making sure law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions.
Especially when you are dealing with gun charges in Jacksonville, where prison sentences await and defendants are governed by the state’s 10-20-Life law and three strikes law — both allow for steeper penalties when guns are involved.
This gun charge came down to a traffic stop that resulted in a defendant’s rights being cast aside by an officer who just couldn’t shut up. According to the ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Macias was driving down the interstate in a pickup truck when he passed a state trooper waiting in the median on a November 2009 day.
The trooper noticed the man wasn’t wearing a seat belt — a violation of Texas law — so he pulled the man over. When he walked up to the vehicle, he noticed the passenger also wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He asked for identification and insurance and the man provided an ID, but said it was his girlfriend’s truck and he didn’t have the insurance on him.
Three different times, the trooper asked the man about the insurance, even though he clearly explained several times he didn’t have it. The trooper also asked where they were traveling and about his work status — all irrelevant questions to a traffic stop for not having a seat belt on. The interaction was recorded by his dashcam video.
During testimony in a motion to suppress hearing, the trooper said he asked so many questions because the man seemed nervous. He asked the man to walk to his cruiser and began asking him more questions about his work, his travel and other questions in an effort to pinpoint why the man was nervous.
How about because he had just been pulled over by police?
After talking with the driver, the trooper again acted out of order by questioning the passenger, the daughter of the man’s girlfriend. He launched into a serious of questions about their relationship, how long they had been traveling, what they intended to do once they got to the Texas city they were heading to after driving straight through from Arizona. He also asked where their stuff was in the truck, why the man’s girlfriend wasn’t with them and other irrelevant questions.
After telling Macias he was going to cite him for the seat belt and insurance infractions, the trooper ran a background check, minutes after coercing out of the man that he had served time in prison for an attempted murder charge. The trooper had vaguely asked if he ever been in “trouble” before. After running the background check, a possession of marijuana charge came up. The man explained that the charge had been dismissed and it had been nearly two decades since he had used marijuana.
The trooper then asked the man if he had anything illegal in the truck, like drugs or large amounts of money. He protested that there was nothing, but the trooper asked for permission to search the vehicle. After finally consenting, though nervous because it wasn’t his vehicle, and 45 minutes after the initial stop for a seat belt violation, the trooper found an unloaded gun and ammunition in a bag.
Some 1 hour and 39 minutes after the stop, the man was arrested. The man was indicted and during a motion to suppress the evidence, the judge denied it, saying the man was free to leave after getting the citations. The man later pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to 33 months in prison and three years on supervised release.
On appeal, the court ruled that the search wasn’t consensual and therefore, all evidence should have been suppressed. The extensive questioning violated Macias’ rights and the conviction was vacated and the man ordered freed from his sentence.
The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for more than a decade and is here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one requires a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.
More Blog Entries:
Gun, Drugs Seized at Duval County Courthouse: August 28, 2011
Teen Faces Attempted Murder Charge in Westside Shooting: August 18, 2011