Most DWI arrests occur when a police officer stops a motorist and orders them to pull over to the side of the road. But what if a drunk driving suspect returns home before the officer has a chance to initiate a stop? Can the officer proceed to make an arrest at the suspect’s home without first obtaining a warrant?
Houston Appeals Court Rejects Drunk Driving Defendant’s Challenge to Arrest
The Texas First District Court of Appeals, which oversees DWI cases from the Houston area, recently addressed this question. The case, Arrington v. State, began with a 911 call to the Harris County sheriff’s office. The caller told the operator he saw an SUV “going extremely fast”–i.e., in excess of 100 miles per hour–and swerving “back and forth” in traffic.
Responding to the call, a sheriff’s deputy located the SUV as it turned into a residential driveway. The deputy then spoke to the caller, who had also followed the SUV continuously since informing 911, before a second officer arrived at the scene.
At this point, the defendant was seen “stumbling” out of the SUV and struggling to walk towards the house. The second deputy ordered the defendant not to enter the house. When the defendant ignored this instruction, the deputy tased him. The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with DWI.
Before the trial court, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence related to his arrest. He maintained there was no “probable cause or exigent circumstances” justifying his arrest without a warrant. And since the defendant was already with the “curtilage” of his home, it was illegal for the deputy to arrest him without a warrant or exigent circumstances.
The trial judge rejected the motion to suppress. On appeal, the First District agreed with the trial court. “Under the circumstances,” the appeals court said, the defendant “could not avoid an arrest by fleeing into his house.” The “circumstances” in this case referred to the “immediate and continuous pursuit” of the defendant beginning with the 911 call.
More to the point, the police had a “reasonable suspicion” to detain the defendant for drunk driving, based on the 911 caller’s eyewitness testimony and the deputies personal observations of the defendant before he attempted to enter his home. As the appeals court observed, the first deputy personally witnessed the defendant speeding and driving dangerously before he even reached his house. This by itself created “probable cause to arrest [the defendant] without a warrant.”
Additionally, once the defendant defied the second deputy’s instruction to not enter the house, this qualified as an “attempt to evade” his lawful detention. This created an “exigent circumstance” justifying the police’s decision to enter the property and arrest the defendant without a warrant.
Contact a Houston DWI Defense Lawyer Today
When you are stopped by the police on suspicion of drunk driving, the worst thing you can do is try to evade or avoid arrest. Instead, you need to exercise your right to remain silent and contact a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate assistance at (281) 280-0100 .