Venzantv.State

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District, HoustonApr 13, 2006
No. 01-04-00915-CR (Tex. App. Apr. 13, 2006)

No. 01-04-00915-CR

Opinion issued on April 13, 2006. DO NOT PUBLISH. Tex.R.App.P. 47.4.

On Appeal from the 10th District Court, Galveston County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. 03CR2094.

Panel consists of Justices NUCHIA, KEYES, and HANKS.


MEMORANDUM OPINION


GEORGE C. HANKS, JR., Justice.

After his pretrial motion to suppress evidence was denied, appellant, Darrell Eugene Venzant, pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine in an amount of more than one gram but less than four grams, with two enhancements. Pursuant to a plea bargain agreement, the trial court assessed appellant's punishment at 15 years' confinement in jail. In his sole issue, appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized during his arrest. We affirm.

Background

During the evening hours of May 10, 2003, City of Galveston Police Sergeant Gomez was approached by Leonce Pierre who said that appellant had assaulted him at a nearby motel room and that two other individuals were also in the room. Sergeant Gomez could see that Pierre had a bloody and bruised face. After calling for assistance, Sergeant Gomez followed Pierre back to the motel where the alleged assault occurred. Sergeant Gomez and Pierre knocked on the door of the motel room, and the door was answered by appellant. Sergeant Gomez testified that, from past experiences, he recognized appellant as a very violent person. Once the other officers arrived, Pierre was ordered away from the motel room so that the officers could investigate the situation. Sergeant Gomez testified that, for the safety of the officers, he did a pat-down weapons search of appellant and placed him in handcuffs. During a short interview, appellant admitted that Pierre had been in the motel room, but denied that anyone else was there. Later, officers found two other individuals in the motel room. While Sergeant Gomez was interviewing appellant, City of Galveston Police Officer Watson went back to his car to check for any outstanding warrants on appellant. Officer Watson testified that he found that appellant had warrants, so he returned to the motel room to place appellant under arrest. Officer Watson's search of appellant incident to the arrest produced a cigarette wrapper in appellant's back pocket that contained crack cocaine. This cocaine is the evidence subject to appellant's Motion to Suppress. After a hearing, the trial court denied appellant's motion.

Motion to Suppress

In his sole issue, appellant contends that, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the cocaine because the evidence was seized without a warrant, probable cause, or other lawful authority.

Standard of Review

In reviewing the trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we apply a bifurcated standard of review. Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 327 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000). We give almost total deference to the trial court's determination of historical facts that depend on credibility, while we conduct a de novo review of the trial court's application of the law to the facts. Id. Where, as here, there are no findings of fact, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling and assume that the trial court made implicit findings of fact that support its ruling as long as those findings are supported by the record. See State v. Ross, 32 S.W.3d 853, 855 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000). If the trial court's decision is correct on any theory of law applicable to the case, the decision will be upheld. Id. at 856. The fact finder is the sole judge of the witnesses' credibility and may accept or reject any or all of the witnesses' testimony. Taylor v. State, 945 S.W.2d 295, 297 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1997, pet. ref'd). In this case, appellant argues that the officers lacked probable cause to detain him by handcuffing him based on an accusation of Pierre, whom he referred to as "a known drug user." Detention for the purpose of investigating possible criminal behavior is lawful where the officer can point to specific and articulable facts that, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S.1, 21-22; 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968); Garcia v. State, 43 S.W.3d 527, 530 (Tex.Crim.App. 2001). Such a detention is lawful so long as the officer's action is: (1) justified at its inception and (2) reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place. Terry, 392 U.S. at 19-20, 88 S. Ct. at 1879. Sergeant Gomez testified that, when Pierre approached him to report the alleged assault, there was so much blood on his face that Gomez did not immediately recognize Pierre, even though he knew him from past experiences. Pierre told Sergeant Gomez that he had been assaulted by appellant in a motel room, and he led Sergeant Gomez to that room, where appellant opened the door. In this case, these are specific, articulable facts that reasonably warranted appellant's detention. Appellant further contends that he was not merely detained, but unlawfully arrested when the officers handcuffed him while they checked for warrants. We disagree. There is no bright-line test providing that mere handcuffing is always the equivalent of an arrest. Rhodes v. State, 945 S.W.2d 115, 118 (Tex.Crim.App. 1997). Instead, when evaluating whether an investigative detention is unreasonable, "common sense and ordinary human experience must govern over rigid criteria." Id. In this case, the officer placed appellant in handcuffs because he feared for his own and the other officers' safety. This safety concern was reasonable, given the circumstances: Sergeant Gomez testified to knowing about appellant's violent nature from past experience, and he had seen the extent of the injuries sustained by Pierre. The officers in this case did what was reasonably necessary to ensure their own safety while investigating appellant's possible involvement in the assault. Moreover, only a limited search for weapons was initially performed while appellant was being detained, and that search did not result in the seizure of any items. The cocaine that was the subject of appellant's Motion to Suppress was discovered during a more thorough search of appellant after he was placed under arrest for outstanding warrants. Once the police have lawfully arrested a person, they may conduct a warrantless search of the person and of objects immediately associated with him. See Jones v. State, 640 S.W.2d 918, 921 (Tex.Crim.App. 1982). We conclude that the investigative detention and pat-down search of appellant were reasonable and justified under the circumstances and did not constitute an unlawful arrest. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the detention and search incident to his arrest. We overrule appellant's sole issue.

Conclusion

We affirm the judgment of the trial court.