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Taking Burglary Seriously in Texas

Although burglary is often portrayed in a somewhat comical light–think of the masked man wearing stripes and carrying a sack with a dollar sign on it–in reality is a serious crime. Indeed, burglary involving a residence or other “habitation” is a second-degree felony in Texas. In plain terms, if you enter someone’s house and steal their stuff, you could be facing up to 20 years in prison.

Court Upholds Search, 20-Year Prison Sentence

That is exactly what happened to one defendant in a recent burglary case from Walker County, Texas. The defendant was charged with stealing electronics equipment from a number of apartments in the Huntsville area. Because the defendant had prior burglary convictions–and police started to notice a string of thefts after he was released from jail–they decided to place him under surveillance.

It was in the course of this surveillance that police officers said they observed the defendant entering and exiting an apartment complex “carrying a very large object resembling a television screen” and “several other items.” After the defendant traveled to two more apartment complexes, the officers decided to initiate a traffic stop.

During the stop, the officers at the scene overheard a radio report of a burglary at one of the apartments the defendant had just visited. The officers then searched the defendant’s vehicle–without a warrant–and found the stolen merchandise. The defendant was arrested and convicted of burglary following a jury trial.

On appeal, the defendant argued the stop and warrantless search of his vehicle was unconstitutional. The appeals court disagreed. While police normally do have to get a warrant from a judge before searching someone’s car, the courts have carved out a number of exceptions to this rule. As applicable here, the police may initiate a warrantless search as part of an “investigatory detention.”

What exactly is an investigatory detention? It basically refers to a situation where police do not have probable cause to arrest a suspect but nonetheless have a “reasonable suspicion” that the individual “has been, or soon will be, engaged in criminal activity.” There must be some “objective basis” for the officer’s suspicion.

In this case, the appeals court said the police had more than enough objective information to satisfy reasonable suspicion, starting with the fact the defendant was under surveillance due to his prior record, and extending to the officers’ observations of his comings-and-goings on the night in question. Accordingly, the appeals court affirmed the defendant’s conviction and 20-year sentence.

Have You Been Charged With Burglary in Houston?

Although the courts said the warrantless search in this case was legal, there are many other instances where the police do overstep their bounds and violate a suspect’s constitutional rights. That is why if you are accused of burglary or any other serious felony, you need to work with a Houston criminal defense attorney who will stand up for your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates to speak with a Texas burglary lawyer today.