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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: Warrantless Arrest Designed to Elicit a Confession Constitutes Flagrant Misconduct Requiring Suppression of Confession

On April 16, 2016, police arrested Martinez shortly after midnight. The police did not have a warrant, and he was arrested for the purpose of questioning him about the disappearance of his friend, Tristan Mina.

Inside the interrogation room at the police station, Detectives Michael Lara and Rex Parsons read Martinez his Miranda rights. Martinez invoked his right to counsel. Detectives terminated the interview and told Martinez he was under arrest for murder. The Detectives then moved Martinez into a holding cell and handcuffed him to a bench.

Less than 15 minutes later, Martinez signaled to the detectives and told them he would give a statement. He was returned to the interrogation room and was again read his Miranda rights. Martinez agreed to talk and then gave an hour-long videotaped statement in which he implicated himself, Jose Andrade, and Samuel Rico in the murder of Mina.

Martinez was charged with murder, and he filed a motion to suppress his confession. At a hearing on the motion, Lara testified that he believed he had probable cause to arrest Martinez based on “Rico’s statement.” Lara didn’t detail Rico’s statement but testified that it implicated Martinez “in almost the same fashion” as Martinez’s post-arrest statement did. However, Lara did not secure an arrest warrant based upon the purported statement from Rico.

The trial court concluded that Martinez’s confession was voluntary and denied the motion to suppress. Martinez pleaded guilty to murder, conditioned on his appeal of the denial of the motion. The COA analyzed Martinez’s claim under the four factors set forth in Brown: (1) were Miranda warnings given, (2) the temporal proximity of the arrest and confession, (3) the presence of intervening circumstances, and (4) the flagrancy of the official misconduct.

The COA determined that factor (1) weighed in the State’s favor because Miranda warnings were given twice. Factor (2) weighed in Martinez’s favor because a short time elapsed between the illegal arrest and the confession. Factor (3) “weighed heavily in the State’s favor” because “Martinez’ re-initiation of communication with Detective Lara was an intervening circumstance borne of his own free will.”

As to factor (4), the COA observed that Lara did not disclose the contents of Rico’s statement. But Lara testified that Martinez’s statement mirrored the one given by Rico. The COA analyzed Martinez’s confession and determined it supported a belief of probable cause. The COA concluded the detectives had probable cause to arrest Martinez based on Rico’s statement; therefore, the failure to secure an arrest warrant wasn’t flagrant misconduct, so the fourth factor weighed in the State’s favor. The COA held that the State met its burden of proving the confession was sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful arrest. The TCCA granted further review.

The Court observed “[t]he burden is on the State to establish the reasonableness of a warrantless arrest.” Torres v. State, 182 S.W.3d 899 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). Probable cause must be based on facts and circumstances within the officer’s personal knowledge, and probable cause to arrest is not shown when officers do not articulate facts supporting their opinions. Id. When reviewing a warrantless arrest to determine the existence of probable cause, the courts look to facts known to the officers at the time of arrest; subsequently discovered facts or later acquired knowledge will not serve to provide probable cause at the time of arrest. Amores v. State, 816 S.W.2d 407 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991).

In the instant case, the COA relied on Lara’s testimony that Martinez’s confession implicated Martinez in “almost the same fashion” as Rico’s. Because Lara never testified as to what Rico had stated, the COA looked to Martinez’s confession to see if probable cause to arrest existed. The Court determined that was error because Lara was not aware of the contents of Martinez’s confession until after the unlawful arrest. The State at the suppression hearing failed to disclose the contents of Rico’s statement, and the Court “will not engage in conjecture as to the existence of facts which are critical to a finding of probable cause and which the State bore the burden of proving.” Amores.

As to Brown’s third factor, the Court explained: “If the time between an illegal arrest and a confession is short, it allows little time for attenuation of taint and indicates that there may be a causal connection between the illegal arrest and the confession. ‘The taint of the illegal arrest is more likely to be attenuated if the suspect has had time to rest, reflect, eat, and time to exercise options and free will.’” Brown. The few minutes that elapsed while Martinez was chained inside a holding cell before summoning the detectives did not attenuate his confession from the illegal arrest, the Court determined.

Additionally, Brown’s fourth factor (the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct) is one of the most important factors. Self v. State, 709 S.W.2d 662 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986). The failure to get a warrant before making an arrest is official misconduct. Monge v. State, 315 S.W.3d 35 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). An arrest without probable cause that is investigatory or designed to cause fright, surprise, and confusion is flagrant police misconduct. Brown. Picking up a suspect from home in the middle of the night may be considered more flagrant if no reason or need for doing so is shown. Duncan v. State, 639 S.W.2d 314 (Tex. Crim. App. 1982).

In the instant case, the detectives arrested Martinez in the middle of the night without a warrant for the sole purpose of obtaining a confession when there was no need to do so. If Rico’s statement had provided probable cause, officers could have secured a warrant. The Court concluded that the detectives’ engaged in flagrant misconduct. When Martinez invoked his right to counsel, the detectives arrested him for murder, locked him in a holding cell, and chained him to a bench. The Court noted that the arrest was designed to cause fear, surprise, and confusion for the purpose of getting a confession and that, too, was flagrant misconduct.

The Court explained that the COA erred in its analysis of the third and fourth Brown factors as well as looking to Martinez’s statement for probable cause. Thus, the Court ruled that Martinez’s “statement was the fruit of his illegal arrest, and nothing broke the causal connection between the illegal arrest and the statement. The statement should have been suppressed.”

Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the COA and remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with the Court’s opinion. Martinez v. State, 620 S.W.3d 734 (Tex. Crim. App. 2021). 

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