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Date: 08-10-2018

Case Style:

Ernesto Javier Lopez v. The State of Texas

Case Number: 04-17-00359-CR

Judge: Rebeca C. Martinez

Court: Fourth Court of Appeals San Antonio, Texas

Plaintiff's Attorney: David L. Reuthinger, Jr.
Isidro R. Alaniz

Defendant's Attorney: Roberto Balli

Description: Juan Leal, a traffic officer with the Laredo Police Department (“Department”), testified for
the State. According to Leal, while on a routine patrol in a marked Department vehicle, he was in
a left-turn-only lane approaching a red light at an intersection when he observed the vehicle
directly in front of him move to the right-turn-only lane without signaling. From the right lane,
the vehicle then proceeded into the intersection to turn left onto the highway, both disregarding
the red light and the left-turn lane restriction on the right lane. The vehicle was driven by Lopez.
After observing these traffic violations, Leal activated his vehicle’s red and blue overhead
lights and sirens to conduct a traffic stop. According to Leal, Lopez then sped through the
intersection so fast that Lopez spun out and lost control, nearly colliding with a pedestrian on the
side of the road. Leal testified that at this point Lopez was about one block to half a block away
from him. Lopez then righted his vehicle and accelerated down the highway, leaving a “big dust
cloud” in his wake. All the while, Leal was in pursuit, trying to safely navigate his way through
the intersection and maneuvering around other vehicles that had moved to the side to let him pass,
but “[could] see the vehicle the whole way” and was only about two blocks away from Lopez as
Lopez proceeded south down the highway. With his lights and sirens still activated, Leal
accelerated down the highway in pursuit of Lopez. Leal’s dash-cam video was played for the jury
and it showed Lopez’s vehicle in front traveling next to another vehicle that was going about the
same speed. The video showed the other vehicle slow down and pull to the side of the road, while
Lopez’s vehicle maintained its speed and continued traveling down the highway. The video also
showed several other vehicles pulling to the side of the road and letting Leal pass. Leal testified
that there were multiple safe places for Lopez to pull over, but that Lopez never attempted nor
showed any signs of pulling over.

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After disregarding another red light, Leal testified that Lopez continued driving south on
the highway, but that Lopez then activated his turn signal and turned right. Following the right
turn, Lopez did not slow down, but picked up speed. But then, according to the dash-cam video,
five seconds after making the right-hand turn Lopez stopped and pulled over to the side of the
road. Based on the video, the amount of time that passed between the activation of Leal’s lights
and sirens to when Lopez pulled over was approximately forty-five seconds.
Antonio Guardiola testified for the defense. Guardiola was not a witness to the event in
question, but discussed his opinions based on his observations of the dashcam video, his recreation
of the drive therein, and his prior police experience. Guardiola testified that, in his opinion, Lopez
did not run the initial red light or display any abnormal, erratic, or evasive actions. Guardiola
further testified that Lopez never reached speeds above the speed limit, and that Lopez stopped at
the first safe place he was able to. According to Guardiola, for a person to be considered evading
arrest, he has to make evasive actions, such as speeding up or away from the officer, and Lopez
never did that. Guardiola testified that for the majority of the pursuit, Leal was at a distance too
remote for Lopez to have known Leal was attempting to detain or arrest him.
SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE In a legal sufficiency challenge, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
jury’s verdict and determine whether, based on that evidence and any reasonable inferences
therefrom, a rational jury could have found the defendant guilty of all the essential elements of the
offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); Merritt v.
State, 368 S.W.3d 516, 525 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012). We recognize that “our role is not to become
a thirteenth juror. This Court may not re-evaluate the weight and credibility of the record evidence
and thereby substitute our judgment for that of the [jury].” Isassi v. State, 330 S.W.3d 633, 638
(Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (quoting Dewberry v. State, 4 S.W.3d 735, 740 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999)).

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“Rather, we defer to the responsibility of the [jury] to fairly resolve conflicts in testimony, to weigh
the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.” Isassi, 330
S.W.3d at 638. “When the record supports conflicting inferences, we presume that the jury
resolved the conflicts in favor of the verdict and defer to that determination.” Merritt, 368 S.W.3d
at 525-26.
A person commits the offense of evading arrest or detention if he intentionally flees from
a person he knows is a peace officer attempting lawfully to arrest or detain him. TEX. PENAL CODE
ANN. § 38.04(a). Evading arrest or detention is heightened to a third-degree felony offense if the
person uses a vehicle to flee. Id. at § 38.04(b)(2)(A). Fleeing “is anything less than prompt
compliance with an officer’s direction to stop.” Horne v. State, 228 S.W.3d 442, 446 (Tex. App.—
Texarkana 2007, no pet). Although speed, distance, and duration of the pursuit may be factors in
determining whether a defendant intentionally fled, “no particular speed, distance, or duration is
required to show the requisite intent.” Griego v. State, 345 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. App.—Amarillo
2011, no pet.). “The statute does not require high-speed fleeing, or even effectual fleeing. It
requires only an attempt to get away from a known officer of the law.” Mayfield v. State, 219
S.W.3d 538, 541 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2007, no pet.) Thus, “fleeing slowly is still fleeing.” Id.
In challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence, Lopez specifically argues the evidence
is insufficient to show that he intentionally fled from a person he knew was a peace officer who
was attempting to arrest or detain him. We disagree.
“Proof that an officer in a vehicle is attempting to arrest or detain a person generally
consists of the officer displaying authority by the use of overhead/emergency lights and siren.”
Duvall v. State, 367 S.W.3d 509, 513 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2012, pet. ref’d). The dashcam
video and Leal’s testimony established that Leal had both his overhead lights and sirens activated
for forty-five seconds while in pursuit of Lopez. Thus, it was reasonable for the jury to conclude

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that Lopez was aware Leal was attempting to detain or arrest him. See id.; Lopez v. State, 415
S.W.3d 495, 497 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2013, no pet.) (“From the officers’ testimony that their
lights and sirens were activated for 0.6 miles or approximately one and one-half minutes, the jury
could reasonably infer that [the defendant] was aware the officers were attempting to detain him .
. .”). Although Guardiola testified that Leal was at a distance too remote for Lopez to know Leal
was attempting to detain him, the jury, as the sole judge of the witnesses’ credibility, was free to
disbelieve him. See Isassi, 330 S.W.3d at 638. In addition, the evidence established that other
vehicles on the highway responded to Leal’s lights and sirens by pulling to the side of the road,
but that Lopez did not. See Houston v. State, No. 04-15-00513-CR, 2016 WL 3362055, at *3 (Tex.
App.—San Antonio June 15, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op., not designated for publication) (holding a
jury could rationally conclude appellant was intentionally fleeing from an officer when the
surrounding vehicles responded to the officer’s lights and sirens, but appellant did not). Although
Guardiola testified that Lopez was not speeding, driving recklessly, or evasively, fleeing “is
anything less than prompt compliance with an officer’s direction to stop,” and “fleeing slowly is
still fleeing.” Mayfield, 219 S.W.3d at 541.
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the judgment and deferring as we must
to the jury’s credibility and evidentiary assessments, the jury could have rationally found that
Lopez intentionally fled from Officer Leal, a peace officer who Lopez knew was attempting to
lawfully arrest or detain him. We hold the evidence is sufficient to support Lopez’s conviction for
evading detention with a motor vehicle.

Outcome: Based on the foregoing, we overrule Lopez’s sole issue on appeal and affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Plaintiff's Experts:

Defendant's Experts:


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