Based Upon Training And Experience

In a remarkable decision, Chief Justice Brian Quinn of the Texas Court of Appeals, Seventh District at Amarillo, does something that could destroy the very foundation of the criminal justice system. He’s intellectually honest.

A logical reasoning sequence based upon some “training and experience” — because drug traffickers have been seen breathing, then breathing is an indicia of drug trafficking. Because they normally have two hands, then having two hands is an indicia of drug smuggling. Silly — maybe, but one can wonder if that is the direction we are heading. Whether it be driving a clean vehicle, Contreras v. State, 309 S.W.3d 168, 171 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2010, pet. ref’d), or looking at a peace officer, Gonzalez- 2 Galindo v. State, 306 S.W.3d 893, 895-96 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2010, pet ref’d), Contreras v. State, 309 S.W.3d at 171; or looking away from a peace officer, GonzalezGalindo v. State, 306 S.W.3d at 896; or a young person driving a newer vehicle, Gonzalez-Galindo v. State, supra; or someone driving in a car with meal wrappers, Deschenes v. State, 253 S.W.3d 374, 383 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2008, pet. ref’d); or someone driving carefully, Contreras v. State, supra; or driving on an interstate, see Clatt v. State, No. 07-07-0130-CR, 2008 Tex. App. LEXIS 7250, at *2 (Tex. App.— Amarillo September 29, 2008, no pet) (mem. op., not designated for publication) (wherein the official testified that I-35 was a “drug corridor”), most anything can be considered as indicia of drug trafficking to law enforcement personnel. Maybe this is because drug smugglers just happen to be human beings and being such, they tend to engage in the same innocuous acts in which law abiding citizens engage. See Gonzalez-Galindo v. State, 306 S.W.3d at 896 (observing that “[c]riminals come in all makes and colors. Some have hair, some do not. Some are men, some are not. Some drive cars, some do not. Some wear suits, some do not. Some have baseball caps, some do not. Some want attention, some do not. Some have nice cars, some do not. Some eat spaghetti, some do not. And, sometimes, some even engage in innocent activity.”).

Whoa. And what, you may ask, makes a spaghetti eater suspicious?

That is the hurdle we once again face here, and it is made difficult to clear due to the unasked questions by the State about the “knowledge, experience, and training” of its sole witness.

A police officer takes the witness stand and testifies as to what aspect of the defendant’s conduct gave rise to a reasonable, articulable suspicion that he might be engaged in criminal conduct, thus justifying the seizure or extension of the seizure. The first step is stating something, like “he drove the speed limit, which is typical of drug dealers seeking to avoid attention from police.”

How does he know this?  Based upon his training and experience. It’s tattooed in every cop’s brain.

Makes perfect sense, right? If you’ve got 20 keys of coke in the trunk, wouldn’t you want to avoid drawing the attention of police? Of course, if you don’t, and you just obey the speed limit, your conduct looks just like this drug mule’s conduct. Ruh roh.

Whether those innocent activities is enough to create reasonable suspicion that crime is afoot depends on whether they indicate the imminence of criminal conduct when viewed as a whole….

To reiterate what we said in Gonzalez-Gilando, just because that bald guy committed a crime while wearing a suit and after eating spaghetti does not mean that other bald guys who wear suits while eating spaghetti are about to engage in crime too.

The word “rhetoric” is often used, especially here, to explain the distinction between a logical argument and stringing words together that give rise to some superficially viable contention that is unproven. Rhetoric is the art of persuasive communication. It doesn’t have to be true or accurate, just sufficient to be persuasive. And the less demanding we are, the less persuasive it has to be to suffice.

To one trained and experienced in the fields of law enforcement, smuggling, human behavior, and drug interdiction, each of the aforementioned indicia have special significance, opined by the deputy here. Yet, what of the deputy’s training and experience and knowledge — what does the record say about it. Our answer is, not much.

Chief Justice Quinn goes on to detail the officer’s recitation of his law enforcement “experience,” which provides no substance to explain much of anything.  Notably, the court takes for granted that even if he did go into his training and experience in great depth, it would be accurate and truthful.

Labels themselves mean little, and care must be taken to avoid assigning some level of substance to them merely because they may sound important. And, aside from the deputy simply invoking his “knowledge, training and expertise,” the State did little to illustrate of what it consisted or how it was garnered.

Labels are rhetorical shortcuts. They save us from the burden of having to endure lengthier rhetoric. How, then, to salvage the criminal justice system? More rhetoric:

One cannot ignore the fact that when it comes to uncovering or investigating crime, law enforcement personnel approach the status of experts. Such are not areas or fields generally within common knowledge.

The reasoning may be inductive. The rhetoric may apply with equal force to everything such that no matter what’s observed, there is a spin that will create the appearance that it’s somehow evidence of nefarious conduct afoot. But the message is proffer more rhetoric to bolster the label of “expert” and take the burden off the judge of having to think too hard.

Chief Justice Brian Quinn’s opinion reflects intellectual honesty. The upshot is that the legal system will still believe any nonsensical lie told by a cop on the stand if the prosecution fleshes it out with enough background fluff to satisfy the demand of creating the appearance of expertise.

Now, there’s honesty for you. You’re still screwed, but it will take another fifteen minutes of unprovable crap to make it stick.


10 thoughts on “Based Upon Training And Experience

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s one measly suppression with a roadmap on how to avoid it ever happening again. What’s not to like?

  1. JAV

    And what, you may ask, makes a spaghetti eater suspicious?

    Knowledge, training, and experience of the oeuvre of Martin Scorsese.

  2. albeed

    “But the message is proffer more rhetoric to bolster the label of “expert” and take the burden off the judge of having to think too hard.”

    Apparently Justice Quinn himself in his “intellectual honesty” is lacking the expertise, training and experience that is self-evident to his other black-robed brethren. As any expert judge will admit in private, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet, and self-deceive to get the “bad guys”.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s just a short cut. Imagine all the needless effort expended to have to craft a fully reasoned decision to get the bad guys? There would be no time to write acceptance speeches when they win “Greatest Judge Ever” awards.

  3. Mark M.

    Place the table limit on a reversal by the CCA. “Prosecutors with robes” doesn’t begin to describe the contortions the Court will engage in to see that the team gets the bad guy. Electing judges is swell.

  4. REvers

    Based on my training and experience, I’m aware that the judge will happily swallow whatever load of bullshit I feel like dumping out that day, because I’m a cop.

    1. SHG Post author

      “But I insist you tell me verifiable details about your roll in each of the 549 narcotics arrests you claim you made” said no judge ever.

      1. Charles

        “And while you’re at it, tell me about all the times where your training and experience led you to believe that you would find drugs, but you were wrong. And all those times when you thought you just were making a traffic stop and found drugs by coincidence.”

        When you only have to count your wins, having a perfect record is easy.

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