Society

Cops Get Warrant in The Middle of Search, Sending Man to Prison

| by Allison Geller

A Texas man faces five years in prison for possession and intent to manufacture meth, despite the fact that the police found the evidence when they searched his home without a warrant.

Parker County police had been watching Michael Wehrenberg’s home for a month. When they received a tip that Wehrenberg and others were “fixing to” cook meth, they entered his house and searched it, after handcuffing Wehrenberg and the people he was with. 

The officers made the handcuffed occupants stand on the lawn for an hour and a half while one officer went to find a judge to obtain a search warrant. Only then did they seize meth-making materials found in the house, including pseudoephedrine, a chemical used for manufacturing meth, and stripped lithium batteries. The officer didn’t mention the first, unwarranted entry in the affidavit, only citing their anonymous tipster.

When the case first went to trial, Wehrenberg's lawyers argued that the materials shouldn’t be used as evidence since they were taken illegally. The trial court denied the motion to due federal "independent source doctrine," which dictates that if a third party tells police about it beforehand, illegally seized evidence is fair game. Wehrenberg pleaded guilty to one count of possession and one count of intent to manufacture and was handed a five-year prison sentence.

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The Second Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, but finally, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the first court’s decision. While illegally seized evidence can’t be used in trial, since it was confirmed by a source, Wehrenberg’s meth materials could be used to incriminate him.

Only one judge dissented—Laurence Meyers. Meyers wrote in his opinion, "it is obvious to me that this search warrant was obtained based upon the officers' unlawful entry into [Wehrenberg]'s residence," pointing out that if the police had first found the occupants of the house “baking cupcakes” they wouldn’t have bothered to obtain a warrant.  They needed, he wrote, to “cover their tracks and collect the evidence without the taint of their entry.”

Sources: Grits for Breakfast, Dallas Observer