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Date: 04-20-2019

Case Style:

Brian Keith Blair v. The State of Texas

Case Number: 09-18-00209-CR

Judge: STEVE McKEITHEN

Court: Court of Appeals Ninth District of Texas at Beaumont

Plaintiff's Attorney: William Lee Hon
Kirby Wills

Defendant's Attorney: John W. Williford Jr.

Description:








In his motion to suppress, Blair asked the trial court to suppress evidence
seized from his locked bedroom and locked safes located at a residence in Onalaska,
Texas. The items Blair sought to suppress included (1) methamphetamine, (2)
marijuana, (3) scales, (4) cellular telephone, (5) United States currency, and (6)
checks. Blair asserted in his motion that the search was conducted without valid
consent and without a valid search warrant because the supporting affidavit failed to
demonstrate legally sufficient facts to support probable cause. The trial court
conducted a hearing on Blair’s motion to suppress.
During the hearing, the trial court admitted a copy of the search warrant and
its supporting affidavit. In the affidavit, Lieutenant Andy Lowrie, a Detective with
the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, stated that he had probable cause to believe that
methamphetamine, marijuana, scales used to weigh the methamphetamine and
marijuana for distribution, and other items used to distribute or use
3

methamphetamine were at a residence located at a particular residence in Onalaska,
Texas. Lowrie averred that Blair and Terry Goff were among the suspected persons
who had charge and control over the residence, and they had concealed
methamphetamine and marijuana on the property and in the residence. According to
Lowrie, his probable cause was based on an investigation conducted by the Polk
County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Division, which included a tip from an informant
concerning the use and distribution of marijuana and methamphetamine at the
described residence. The tip indicated that Blair had a safe in the kitchen where he
kept marijuana and methamphetamine and the proceeds from the sale of both.
Lowrie also stated that probable cause was based on (1) Goff’s consent to
search the residence; (2) marijuana and methamphetamine being located inside the
residence; (3) the apprehension of a fugitive inside the residence; and (4) Lowrie’s
personal observations, which included smelling burnt marijuana and locating two
locked safes in the kitchen and a locked bedroom that Goff indicated belonged to
Blair. Lowrie sought a search warrant allowing him and other officers to search the
property for the purpose of obtaining evidence related to the investigation at hand
and for the search of methamphetamine, marijuana, and other items relating to a
criminal matter. The search warrant signed by the magistrate approved Lowrie’s
request.
4

At the hearing, the trial court heard the arguments of counsel. Defense counsel
argued that the search warrant affidavit was legally insufficient to support probable
cause because it contained conclusory statements and was “bare-bones[.]” Defense
counsel maintained that because there was no evidence concerning reliability of the
tip or the credibility of the informant, the tip was conclusory, had no basis of
knowledge, and lacked a nexus to Blair’s bedroom or safes. According to defense
counsel, Blair was never seen at the residence, and although the police saw and
smelled marijuana in the common areas of the residence, nobody in the residence
reported that there were drugs in Blair’s locked bedroom or locked safes. Defense
counsel further argued that Lowrie only mentioned Blair in the affidavit because
Goff had reported that the two locked safes in the kitchen and a locked bedroom
belonged to Blair. Lowrie averred that the tip had also indicated that Blair was
keeping methamphetamine, marijuana, and the proceeds from the sale of both in the
safe located in the kitchen. According to defense counsel, Lowrie’s affidavit does
not contain any information that would have given the magistrate probable cause to
believe that Blair likely had marijuana or any other contraband in his locked
bedroom or safes.
The State maintained that the search of Blair’s locked bedroom and safes was
valid. The State argued that the tip from the informant spotlighted the residence that
5

was the subject of the warrant, and when officers arrived at the residence, they
developed probable cause when they saw marijuana in plain sight. The State further
argued that Goff gave the officers written consent to search the residence and
informed the officers that Blair rented the locked bedroom and owned the two locked
safes in the kitchen, and the officers corroborated Goff’s statement with the initial
tip that Blair kept locked safes in the residence. The trial court denied Blair’s motion
to suppress.
ANALYSIS
In his sole appellate issue, Blair argues that the search of his locked bedroom
and locked safes violated his constitutional rights because the search was conducted
without valid consent and without a valid search warrant. Blair argues that the
supporting affidavit failed to demonstrate legally sufficient facts to support probable
cause. According to Blair, the totality of the circumstances contained within the four
corners of the affidavit failed to show a fair probability or substantial basis that
contraband or evidence of a crime would be found in his bedroom or safes.
Generally, we review a trial court’s ruling on a motion to suppress using a
bifurcated standard of review. State v. McLain, 337 S.W.3d 268, 271 (Tex. Crim.
App. 2011). We give almost total deference to the trial court’s determination of
historical facts and mixed questions of law and fact that rely on credibility
6

determinations, but we review de novo questions of law and mixed questions of law
and fact that do not rely on credibility determinations. Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d
85, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). When a trial court finds probable cause to support
the issuance of a search warrant based solely on an affidavit, there are no credibility
determinations to make because the trial court ruled based on the facts that fall within
the four corners of the affidavit. McLain, 337 S.W.3d at 271. Thus, in reviewing a
magistrate’s decision to issue a search warrant, we apply a highly deferential
standard of review because of the constitutional preference of a search conducted
under a warrant over a warrantless search. Id.
“Probable cause for a search warrant exists if, under the totality of the
circumstances presented to the magistrate, there is at least a ‘fair probability’ or
‘substantial chance’ that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found at the
specified location.” Flores v. State, 319 S.W.3d 697, 702 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010)
(quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 238, 243 n.13 (1983)); see Rodriguez v.
State, 232 S.W.3d 55, 60 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). We will uphold the magistrate’s
probable cause determination so long as the magistrate had a substantial basis for
concluding that probable cause existed. McLain, 337 S.W.3d at 271. We analyze the
affidavit with common sense, recognizing that the magistrate may draw reasonable
inferences from the facts and circumstances contained within the four corners of the
7

affidavit. Id. If in doubt, we defer to all reasonable inferences that the magistrate
could have made. Id.
Here, Blair argues that the tip was a mere conclusory statement that gave no
basis for the trial court’s probable cause determination because there was no
allegation that the informant had given recent and credible information. A tip by an
informant of unknown reliability, standing alone, is not a sufficient basis for a
magistrate’s probable cause determination. State v. Duarte, 389 S.W.3d 349, 353,
360-61 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012); Rivas v. State, 446 S.W.3d 575, 579 (Tex. Crim.
App.—Fort Worth 2014, no pet.). While the reliability, veracity, and the basis of
knowledge of an informant are not absolutely required, they are highly relevant
considerations in analyzing the totality of the circumstances. Gates, 462 U.S. at 233.
Corroboration of an informant’s tip through independent police investigation is also
relevant in the magistrate’s determination of probable cause. Valadez v. State, 476
S.W.3d 661, 668 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2015, pet. ref’d). Although Lowrie’s
affidavit did not include an allegation that the informant was credible and reliable,
the affidavit contained other verifying information that corroborated the informant’s
tip, allowing the magistrate to reasonably conclude that the informant was credible.
See id. at 668-69; Rivas, 446 S.W.3d at 579-80.
8

Regarding the staleness of the informant’s tip, time is less important when an
affidavit references ongoing drug activity at a residence. See Jones v. State, 364
S.W.3d 854, 860-61 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012); Rivas, 446 S.W.3d at 579, 581. Here,
the record does not support Blair’s assertion that the information was stale; rather,
the record shows that the informant indicated that Blair was involved in ongoing
drug activity at the residence. See Jones, 364 S.W.3d at 860-61; Rivas, 446 S.W.3d
at 579, 581.
Under the high level of deference we are to give an issuing magistrate’s
determination, and based on the totality of the circumstances as presented in
Lowrie’s affidavit, we conclude that the magistrate had a substantial basis for
determining that probable cause existed to search Blair’s locked bedroom and locked
safes. See McLain, 337 S.W.3d at 271-72; Jones, 364 S.W.3d at 860-61; Rivas, 446
S.W.3d at 579, 581. We further conclude that the trial court did not err in overruling
Blair’s motion to suppress. See McLain, 337 S.W.3d at 271.

Outcome: Accordingly, we overrule Blair’s sole issue and affirm the trial court’s order denying Blair’s motion to suppress.1

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