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How Far Does the Good Faith Exception Go? Answers From Wheeler v. State:

When police officers act in “objective good faith,” while obtaining evidence with a search warrant, the Texas exclusionary rule (Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 38.23) allows that evidence in court. In the case of Wheeler v. State, No. PD-0388-19 (Tex. Crim. App. 2021), however, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided the exception requires objective good faith instead of subjective good faith.

More specifically, the arresting officer in the case failed to take an oath and swear to a probable cause affidavit when applying for a blood-alcohol search warrant. After this mistake, the state of Texas wanted to rely on the good faith exception from the Texas exclusionary rule to avoid suppression of evidence. The court decided that “no objectively-reasonable officer would execute a search warrant knowing that it was procured through an unsworn probable-cause affidavit.”

As a result, the good faith exception did not apply. Overall, the court decided that when officers do not use their search warrants appropriately, they cannot bring blood-alcohol evidence into court. While some mistakes may be made in objective good faith, sworn affidavits and the oath-swearing process are a crucial part of justice that has existed for more than a century. Officers learn the necessity of an oath in the police academy, the requirement appears several times in state legislature, and case law repeatedly emphasizes the requirement.

Failing to swear in an affidavit is not a good faith mistake, especially for an invasive procedure like blood-alcohol testing.

Details of Wheeler v. State

In Wheeler v. State, the officer in question arrested a defendant for driving while intoxicated. The defendant refused to submit to field sobriety tests, as well as blood and breath tests. As a result, the officer took the defendant to the police department to obtain a search warrant.

The officer then used a preprinted, fill-in-the-blank form for the probable-cause affidavit and search warrant. Although the form explicitly stated the requirement of a sworn oath, the officer did not swear to the affidavit in front of a jurat or any other party. The officer submitted the document to the magistrate, unsworn. The magistrate did not notice the error, signed the search warrant, and returned it to the officer, who executed the warrant immediately.

Once formally charged, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the improperly obtained blood-alcohol evidence. The trial court denied the motion after hearing testimony from the arresting officer. Fortunately, the defendant appealed, and the court of appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the appellant’s motion to suppress. In trial court, multiple members of law enforcement discussed the importance and procedural ease of swearing in an affidavit. These facts were reiterated in appellate court, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a 14-page opinion siding with the appellant and reversing the trial court’s decision.

Get Help With the Details

When it comes to criminal defense, every detail is important. If your arresting officer did not adhere to procedural requirements or any other members of law enforcement made mistakes along the way, your charges may not be valid.

That is why you need an experienced, detail-oriented legal team like the one at Zendeh Del & Associates, PLLC. We have more than 60 years of combined experience, and as former prosecutors with training in field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests, we know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system. Additionally, we offer free consultations, so we can evaluate your case and get to know you before you hire us.

Tell us more about the problem you’re facing at (409) 204-5566 or contact us online to find out what our attorneys can do for you.