Case Number: 04-16-00790-CR
Judge: Sandee Bryan Marion
Court: Court of Appeals - 4th District | Bexar County, TX
Plaintiff's Attorney: Heather Hines
Christopher M. Eaton
Description: We review a trial court’s decision to deny a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion.
Ex Parte Moore, 395 S.W.3d 153, 158 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013); Shepherd v. State, 273 S.W.3d
681, 684 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). A trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress is reviewed under
a bifurcated standard of review. Valtierra v. State, 310 S.W.3d 442, 447 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010).
First, we afford almost complete deference to the trial court’s determination of historical facts,
“especially if those are based on an assessment of credibility and demeanor.” Crain v. State, 315
S.W.3d 43, 48 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). We afford the same deference with respect to the trial
court’s rulings on application of the law to questions of fact and to mixed questions of law and
fact, if resolution of those questions depends on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. Id.
Second, we conduct a de novo review of mixed questions of law and fact that do not hinge on
credibility or demeanor determinations. Id. When, as here, the trial court does not make express
findings of fact, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling, and
will assume it made implicit findings that are supported by the record. Brodnex v. State, 485
S.W.3d 432, 436 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). We will sustain the trial court’s decision if we conclude
the decision is correct under any applicable theory of law. Arguellez v. State, 409 S.W.3d 657,
662-63 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013).
MOTION TO SUPPRESS William Wallie testified he was driving on County Road 320 in Wilson County when he
thought he saw a man standing next to a parked vehicle hitting someone inside the vehicle. Wallie
saw the man, whom he identified in court as appellant, pull a woman out of the car. He said
appellant and the woman spoke, and then they both got back into the car and drove away. Wallie
later told the sheriff’s deputy he initially thought appellant had pulled a body out of the car and he
thought appellant had killed someone. However, Wallie admitted the woman did not ask for help,
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he did not hear her scream, and she was not restrained in any way. As Wallie followed appellant,
he called the Sheriff’s Department and provided a license plate number and description of
Deputy Richard Lee Nichols, a Wilson County Sheriff’s Department investigator, testified
he responded to the “be on the lookout” call regarding a man possibly assaulting a woman. Deputy
Nichols eventually stopped appellant’s car, at which time he asked appellant for his driver’s
license. Nichols asked appellant to get out of his car, and when he did so, Nichols asked appellant
to explain what happened. Appellant told Deputy Nichols that he and his girlfriend had been
arguing because she was jealous. Appellant told the deputy he did not hit the woman. Deputy
Nichols said the woman was crying, she was not wearing shoes, her pants were unbuttoned and
the zipper was down, and her neck appeared red. However, the woman did not ask the deputy for
help; instead, she asked him to go away.
Deputy Nichols then contacted dispatch with appellant’s identifying information and was
told appellant had two active warrants, one from the Parole Board for his return to prison. Nichols
then arrested appellant and placed him in handcuffs. Nichols patted down appellant’s pockets and
found a small zip-locked baggie containing methamphetamine. Appellant told the deputy he did
not know what was in his pocket. Following Deputy Nichols’s testimony, the trial court heard
arguments on appellant’s motion to suppress, which it denied.
On appeal, appellant asserts Deputy Nichols’s actions exceeded the time needed to
investigate the matter that initiated the stop—an alleged assault. According to appellant, the
deputy’s investigation should have ended the moment he confirmed appellant did not assault the
woman in the car.
Appellant does not argue the deputy’s action was not justified at its inception. Therefore,
we determine only whether the search and seizure was reasonably related, in scope, to the
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circumstances that justified the stop in the first place. The general rule is that an investigative stop
can last no longer than necessary to effect the purpose of the stop. Kothe v. State, 152 S.W.3d 54,
63 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). “In other words, if a driver is stopped on suspicion of driving while
intoxicated, once the police officer determines that the driver is not impaired, he should be
promptly released.” Id. “However, there is an additional component to a routine traffic stop—the
license and warrants check.” Id. “On a routine traffic stop, police officers may request certain
information from a driver, such as a driver’s license and car registration, and may conduct a
computer check on that information.” Id. “It is only after this computer check is completed, and
the officer knows that this driver has a currently valid license, no outstanding warrants, and the car
is not stolen, that the traffic-stop investigation is fully resolved. It is at this point that the detention must end and the driver must be permitted to leave.” Id. at 63-64.1
Here, the license check revealed appellant had two outstanding arrest warrants, at which
point Deputy Nichols placed appellant in handcuffs and conducted a search incident to arrest. On
appeal, appellant does not contest the validity of the search incident to his arrest. See State v.
Ballard, 987 S.W.2d 889, 892 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999) (“If an officer has probable cause to arrest,
a search incident to arrest is valid if conducted immediately before or after a formal arrest.”). We
conclude Deputy Nichols’s actions did not exceed the time needed to complete his investigation.
Therefore, the trial court did not err by denying appellant’s motion to suppress.
Outcome: We overrule appellant’s issue on appeal and affirm the trial court’s judgment.