Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
Appeal from Criminal District Court No. 1 Tarrant County,
Texas Trial Court No. 1515753D
Kerr, Birdwell, and Bassel, JJ.
broke out in appellant Casey Allen Martin's apartment,
and firefighters entered to battle the blaze. Firefighters
saw drug paraphernalia inside, and they called police in to
observe the scene. Officers then obtained a search warrant,
which led to the discovery of the methamphetamine that was
the basis for Martin's conviction.
issue, Martin appeals the denial of his motion to suppress.
Martin does not dispute that the fire permitted firefighters
to enter the apartment. But he contends that the same exigent
circumstances did not also authorize officers to enter and
observe, in plain view, the same contraband that firefighters
had already seen. Because we disagree, we affirm.
August 30, 2017, at approximately 10:47 p.m., the Bedford
Fire Department ("BFD") was called to a fire at an
apartment complex. Firefighter Darren Cook located the source
of the fire as an apartment on the second floor, with smoke
and water flowing from the door. Cook contacted the tenant,
Martin, who indicated that he fell asleep while cooking on
made entry and extinguished a small fire on the cooktop. Cook
then began efforts to ventilate the apartment. Cook attempted
to open a window in the back bedroom, kneeling on a futon to
reach the window, and his knee touched a firearm. Cook became
concerned about his safety and the safety of the other
firefighters. The firefighters began to look around the
apartment and observed other firearms and ammunition
scattered throughout the apartment, giving Cook additional
safety concerns. Cook also saw multiple items of drug
paraphernalia sitting on dressers, tables, and a shelf in an
open closet-all in plain view. Cook decided to call the
police due to his safety concerns and the drug paraphernalia.
Hunter Hart of the Bedford Police Department was dispatched
to the scene. When Officer Hart arrived, he made contact with
the BFD battalion chief. The chief told Officer Hart that BFD
could not ventilate the back bedroom of the apartment because
there were blankets over the windows and that BFD had located
guns and drug paraphernalia inside the apartment. The chief
told Officer Hart that he was concerned about the safety of
BFD due to what they had observed, and he wanted Officer Hart
to secure the apartment.
Hart went into the apartment and inspected each room, ending
with the back bedroom. In the bedroom, he observed drug
paraphernalia in plain view. Officer Hart described the
paraphernalia as a pipe or bong containing drug residue, a
plastic baggie containing drug residue, and additional
plastic baggies commonly used to contain narcotics. Based on
the items of drug paraphernalia, Officer Hart believed that
an offense had been committed, and he "froze" the
apartment as a crime scene. Officer Hart exited the apartment
approximately two minutes after his initial entry and
determined that there was no one inside who could pose a
safety risk. BFD remained at the scene while Officer Hart
entered and exited the apartment.
officers went into the apartment to observe the contraband
and to determine if they should obtain a search warrant for
the apartment. The police did not seize any evidence at that
time. The officers talked to Martin, who stated that he was
the only one residing in the apartment. Martin was arrested
for possession of drug paraphernalia.
Hart then left the scene, and Bedford police obtained a
search warrant at 3:12 a.m. on August 31, 2017. In the
warrant affidavit, an officer alleged that Cook and BFD had
located what they believed to be drug paraphernalia inside
the residence. Police executed the search warrant and found
the methamphetamine that is the subject of this case.
hearing the evidence, the trial court denied suppression and
entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. In its
conclusions, the trial court stated that the
firefighters' entry into the apartment was lawfully
related to exigent circumstances: combatting an ongoing fire.
The trial court observed that under Supreme Court precedent,
the firefighters would have been within their rights to seize
the drug paraphernalia that they saw in plain view.
trial court also concluded that Officer Hart's entry was
justified, though it noted that the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals had yet to address this issue. The trial court
reasoned that firefighters should be permitted to call on
officers to secure the scene of a fire and to observe, in
plain view, the same evidence that firefighters were entitled
to seize. As support, the trial court cited cases from
several other jurisdictions, and it noted that "the
overwhelming majority of courts that have addressed this
issue have concluded that the police may step into the shoes
of the firefighter to seize the contraband without first
obtaining a warrant." The ...