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Date: 02-22-2021

Case Style:

Salvador Garcia v. The State of Texas

Case Number: 08-19-00176-CR



Plaintiff's Attorney: Hon. Jerry L. Phillips
Hon. Laurie K. English

Defendant's Attorney:

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El Paso, Texas - Criminal defense attorney represented Salvador Garcia with a Possession of a Controlled Substance charge.

On December 18, 2012, Appellant was traveling on Interstate 10, in Pecos County when
law enforcement initiated a traffic stop.
In a pretrial motion to suppress, Appellant did not dispute
that law enforcement had reasonable suspicion to initiate that traffic stop based on several apparent
traffic violations. He also did not dispute that he was driving on a suspended New Mexico driver’s
license at the time. Rather, he argued that the traffic stop was concluded when the officer decided
to issue a warning citation, and any search conducted after this point was illegal.
A. Sergeant Rangel’s Testimony
At the suppression hearing, Texas DPS Sergeant Daniel Rangel testified that he
encountered Appellant’s black pickup truck on I-10 pulling a loaded flatbed trailer with a red
pickup truck on top of it. Sergeant Rangel initiated a traffic stop after he observed Appellant
illegally drive on the improved shoulder of the interstate and because the license plate on the trailer
was obscured. Once he initiated the stop, Sergeant Rangel also discovered that the license plate
for the black pickup truck was illegally obscured, because it was placed on the heavily tinted rear
Sergeant Rangel noted that Appellant seemed a bit uneasy and reported feeling tired. In
addition, Appellant’s hands and body trembled as he provided a state identification instead of the
requested driver’s license, and he indicated that the black pickup truck belonged to a friend.
Appellant initially led Sergeant Rangel to believe that he recently purchased the red pickup
truck in Sullivan City, Texas, and was towing it back to his home in Albuquerque. After the officer
commented that the red truck had a New Mexico registration, Appellant provided a confusing
2 Appellant committed the offense in December 2012, and the State indicted him in June 2015. The trial court issued
a capias and rescinded Appellant’s bond after he left the courthouse during a recess of his trial in 2018, which
continued in his absence. Law enforcement arrested Appellant in New Mexico in May 2019, and he was returned to
Texas where the trial court pronounced his sentence.
explanation: that he previously towed the red truck from Albuquerque to Sullivan City, and it broke
He left the truck in Sullivan City, and had just returned to Texas to tow the truck back to
Albuquerque. Appellant also stated that he traveled the back roads throughout the night and did
not drive through San Antonio. Through his training and experience, Sergeant Rangel learned that
people involved in criminal activity commonly circumvent the major highway border checkpoints
and travel at night so that they encounter tired border patrol agents.
Appellant’s wife, a passenger in the truck, offered a different explanation about the red
pickup in that it belonged to Appellant’s friend. These inconsistent stories caused Sergeant Rangel
to further suspect criminal activity.
Sergeant Rangel informed Appellant that he would issue a warning citation for the traffic
violations. The officer thereafter returned to his patrol unit to draft the citation and run a records
check on Appellant’s driver’s license, criminal history, and the vehicle registrations. From that
records check, he learned that Appellant’s driver’s license was suspended in New Mexico, which
gave Sergeant Rangel probable cause to arrest. Appellant also had a multistate criminal history
that included convictions for drug charges, evading arrest, and assault.
While Sergeant Rangel performed the records check, Appellant stood outside and
continued to display uneasy behavior even though he was told he would only receive a warning
citation. During the thousands of traffic stops that Sergeant Rangel had conducted, a driver’s
nervousness usually decreased when he received a warning. Appellant’s behavior thus caused the
officer to question if he was involved other illegal activity. Sergeant Rangel called for assistance
because Appellant committed an arrestable offense, he had prior convictions for assault and crimes
3 Appellant claimed he towed the truck from Albuquerque to Sullivan City a month prior. Sergeant Rangel questioned
how a vehicle that was not driven could break down, and why Appellant did not tow the truck back to Albuquerque
when he traveled home the month prior.
against officers, and Appellant’s wife and child were present. The officer thereafter issued
Appellant the warning citation. Appellant’s nervousness increased at this point and he began
talking excessively, stating that his behavior was caused by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder and the medication he was prescribed. Appellant then stated that he had not yet been
“given” medication for the condition.
After Appellant signed the warning, Sergeant Rangel explained that another duty of law
enforcement involved looking for illegal firearms, stolen property, or drugs, in order to ensure that
nothing illegal was afoot. Appellant responded that he was not in possession of such contraband.
Sergeant Rangel requested permission to search the vehicles, and Appellant consented.
Sergeant Rangel first searched the red pickup truck. As soon as he opened the driver’s side
door, he discovered a small clear plastic baggie that contained what appeared to be cocaine. He
arrested Appellant for possession of a controlled substance after discovering the baggie and
conducted the remainder of the vehicle searches at the Fort Stockton station. The State introduced
a DVD recording of Sergeant Rangel’s dash cam video of the traffic stop and roadside search of
Appellant’s vehicle at the suppression hearing, which as we explain below, corroborated Sergeant
Rangel’s testimony.
Appellant’s trial counsel argued that the traffic stop “was over” when Sergeant Rangel
decided to issue Appellant a warning citation. And because Appellant’s “license had been cleared”
at the time Sergeant Rangel requested consent, the vehicle search violated Appellant’s Fourth
Amendment rights. The State responded that a traffic stop is not completed before law
enforcement runs the defendant’s license and criminal history, which Sergeant Rangel had not
done at the time he indicated that he would issue Appellant a warning citation. The State contended
that the traffic stop was reasonably extended after Sergeant Rangel ran a background check and
learned that Appellant was driving on a suspended license.
B. Trial Court’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law
After watching the dash cam video, the trial court made explicit findings of fact as to the
length of time Sergeant Rangel took to conduct the records check, issue the warning citation, and
initiate the discussion of possible contraband with Appellant. The court explicitly found that
Sergeant Rangel initiated the traffic stop because Appellant’s two left tires swerved into the lefthand shoulder and the license plate was partially obscured, and noted that the dash cam video
depicted these traffic violations. The trial court found that the duration of the detention was
reasonable because Sergeant Rangel only continued the traffic stop upon learning that Appellant’s
driver’s license was suspended, and this new information provided a reason to continue the
detention. Based on its findings, the trial court denied the motion.
Appellant argues that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress, because
Sergeant Rangel requested consent to search after he issued the warning citation and the traffic
stop had concluded. The State responds that Sergeant Rangel did not unreasonably detain
Appellant, because the totality of circumstances demonstrated a reasonable suspicion that
Appellant was involved in criminal activity. Specifically, Appellant provided a state identification
rather than the requested driver’s license, his nervousness did not lessen when he learned that he
would receive only a warning citation, and his reasons for travel and travel route were odd.
Sergeant Rangel also had probable cause to arrest Appellant for driving on a suspended license at
the time he requested consent to search. We agree and conclude that Appellant’s argument does
not warrant relief.
A. Standard of Review
Appellate courts review a trial court’s ruling on a motion to suppress under a bifurcated
standard. See State v. Arellano, 600 S.W.3d 53, 57 (Tex.Crim.App. 2020). A trial court’s findings
of historical fact are afforded almost total deference if they are reasonably supported by the record.
See id., citing Sims v. State, 569 S.W.3d 634, 640 (Tex.Crim.App. 2019). The same deferential
standard of review is applied to a trial court’s determination of fact that is based upon a video
recording admitted at the suppression hearing. See State v. Duran, 396 S.W.3d 563, 570
(Tex.Crim.App. 2013). A reviewing court must also defer to the trial court’s factual findings
concerning whether a witness actually saw what was depicted on a video. See id. at 571.
A trial
court’s application of the law of search and seizure is reviewed de novo. See id.
When the trial court makes findings of fact, a reviewing court determines whether the
evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the court’s ruling, supports those findings. See
Abney v. State, 394 S.W.3d 542, 547 (Tex.Crim.App. 2013). The winning side is afforded the
“strongest legitimate view of the evidence,” along with all reasonable inferences that can be
derived from it. Duran, 396 S.W.3d at 570, quoting State v. Weaver, 349 S.W.3d 521, 525
(Tex.Crim.App. 2011). The trial court is the “sole trier of fact and judge of credibility of the
witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony.” State v. Ross, 32 S.W.3d 853, 855
(Tex.Crim.App. 2000) (en banc).
4 Appellate courts may review “indisputable visual evidence” contained within a video recording de novo, assuming
the video does not pivot on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. See Duran, 396 S.W.3d 563, 570
(Tex.Crim.App. 2013); Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 332 (Tex.Crim.App. 2000) (declining to afford almost
total deference to trial court finding of defendant’s consent to be searched when video showed that the defendant was
surrounded by four officers who had him backed up with his hands against the hood of his car and officer was reaching
for defendant’s pants). Appellant does not argue that the dash cam video offers indisputable visual evidence that
Sergeant Rangel did not have reasonable suspicion to detain him, or that this Court should review the recording under
a de novo standard of review.
B. The Seizure of a Traffic Stop
The Supreme Court has recognized that “[a] seizure for a traffic violation justifies a police
investigation of that violation.” Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. 343, 354 (2015). Beyond
determining whether to issue a traffic citation, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop includes
“ordinary inquiries incident to [the traffic] stop.” Id. at 355, quoting Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S.
405, 408 (2005). Such inquiries typically involve determining whether there are outstanding
warrants against the driver, running a records check on the driver’s license, and inspecting the
vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance. See id. (noting that these checks serve the same
purpose as enforcement of the traffic code by ensuring vehicles are operated safely), citing
Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 658-59 (1979).
Because traffic stops are “especially fraught with danger to police officers,” law
enforcement may order a driver to exit a vehicle lawfully detained for a traffic violation without
violating the Fourth Amendment. Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 330-31 (2009), citing
Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 111 n.6 (1977) (per curiam). The officer may also pat
down the driver if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the driver might be armed and
dangerous. See id. at 331-32, citing Mimms, 434 U.S. at 112; Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113, 117-
18 (1998).
“Reasonable suspicion to detain a person exists when a police officer has ‘specific
articulable facts that, when combined with rational inferences from those facts, would lead him to
reasonably conclude that the person detained is, has been, or soon will be engaged in criminal
activity.’” Ramirez-Tamayo v. State, 537 S.W.3d 29, 36 (Tex.Crim.App. 2017), quoting Furr v.
State, 499 S.W.3d 872, 878 (Tex.Crim.App. 2016). A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere
hunch; the standard requires considerably less proof of wrongdoing than a preponderance of the
evidence, and obviously less than is necessary for probable cause. See Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct.
1183, 1187 (2020) (noting that reasonable suspicion falls considerably short of 51% accuracy),
citing Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393, 397 (2014). This standard disregards the actual
subjective motive of the arresting officer and instead determines if there was an objectively
justifiable basis for the detention. See Ramirez-Tamayo, 537 S.W.3d at 36; Whren v. United States,
517 U.S. 806, 809-810 (1996). Because the law prohibits only “unreasonable searches and
seizures,” an officer’s objectively reasonable mistake of fact or law is tolerated. Heien v. North
Carolina, 574 U.S. 54, 57, 67 (2014); see United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 682 (1985)
(indicating that the Fourth Amendment does not guarantee against all searches and seizures, only
unreasonable searches and seizures).
The seizure of the driver “ordinarily continues, and remains reasonable, for the duration of
the stop.” Johnson, 555 U.S. at 333 (indicating that a traffic stop normally ends when law
enforcement have no further need to control the scene and inform the driver he is free to leave).
But an officer’s inquiries into “matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop . . . do not
convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure,” so long as they do not
“measurably extend the duration of the stop.” Id., citing Muehler v. Mena, 544 U.S. 93, 100-01
(2005). An officer may not prolong the stop, however, absent reasonable suspicion. See
Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 356 (holding that reasonable suspicion is required to continue an otherwise
completed traffic stop in order to conduct a canine sniff).
C. Objective Fourth Amendment Analysis
In Ohio v. Robinette, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not require
that a lawfully seized defendant be advised he is free to leave before his consent to search may be
deemed voluntary. See 519 U.S. 33, 35, 40 (1996). After the officer in Robinette initiated a traffic
stop, a records check indicated the respondent had no prior violations. Id. at 35. The officer
requested Robinette exit his vehicle, issued a verbal warning for speeding, and returned
Robinette’s driver’s license. Id. At that point the officer asked, “One question before you get
gone: [A]re you carrying any illegal contraband in your car? Any weapons of any kind, drugs,
anything like that?” Id. at 35-36. Robinette responded that he was not. Id. at 36. The officer
requested consent to search the vehicle, which Robinette granted, and law enforcement discovered
illegal drugs in the automobile. Id. Robinette unsuccessfully sought to suppress the evidence and
was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance. Id.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted and reversed a portion of the state supreme court
decision asserting similar arguments to those Appellant makes here: specifically, that the detention
became unlawful when the officer determined not to give Robinette a citation, but returned to
Robinette’s vehicle and asked him to exit the automobile. Id. at 38. Citing to Whren v. United
States, the Court noted that the subjective intentions of the officer did not render the continued
detention of Robinette illegal so long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justified the
officer’s actions. See id., citing Whren, 517 U.S. at 813 (holding that the subjective intentions of
an officer play no role in ordinary, probable-cause Fourth Amendment analysis). Under these
circumstances when the officer had initiated a traffic stop for speeding, the Court held that law
enforcement was objectively justified in requesting Robinette exit the vehicle, subjective thoughts
notwithstanding. See id. at 38-39; citing Mimms, 434 U.S. 111 n.6.
D. The Dash Cam Video Supports the Trial Court’s Findings
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court’s findings, the record
does not provide a basis upon which this Court can invalidate the trial court’s findings. See Abney,
394 S.W.3d at 547. The video documents the several traffic violations that caused Sergeant Rangel
to initiate the traffic stop in the first place (driver’s side tires of the trailer either touching or
crossing over the yellow line; failure to activate turn signal; the license plate not visible on the
The dash cam depicts that once pulled over, Appellant exited his truck, wearing black
slacks, black shoes, and a blue oxford dress shirt. Sergeant Rangel requested Appellant stand in
the grass in the right shoulder of the road. Sergeant Rangel explained that he initiated a traffic
stop because Appellant drifted onto the shoulder and the registration on the red pickup was hard
to read.
Appellant responded that he was tired and that he was traveling with his wife and daughter.
He stated that the black truck he was driving belongs to a friend. He produced proof of insurance
for the vehicles and the trailer, and Sergeant Rangel commented that the license plate number listed
on the insurance documents for the trailer did not match the plates on the trailer. Appellant
explained that he was driving back to his home in Albuquerque after visiting his parents for a few
days in Sullivan City, where he retrieved his red truck. He towed the red pickup to Sullivan City
a month ago after it broke down in New Mexico, so he could “show it to [his] dad.”
At time stamp 7:58 on the video, Sergeant Rangel informed Appellant that he provided a
state identification instead of the requested driver’s license, and questioned why Appellant
appeared so nervous. Appellant responded that he was “real tired.” The officer then conversed
with Appellant’s wife and again separately with Appellant. Both conversations were in Spanish.5
5 We do not consider any portion of the dash cam video that is conducted in Spanish, because nothing appears in the
record that would be an accurate translation of the Spanish conversations, and Appellant did not object to the
introduction of the recording containing a foreign language. Cf. Leal v. State, 782 S.W.2d 844, 849 (Tex.Crim.App.
1989) (en banc) (indicating that after an objection is raised at trial, an interpreter must be sworn to translate a tape
recording of a conversation in a foreign language, pursuant to Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 38.30).
Sergeant Rangel returned to his patrol unit at time stamp 14:39 and stated that Appellant
was “very nervous.” At 17:00, Sergeant Rangel initiated a call to check records for Appellant and
the vehicles. He relayed Appellant’s birthdate and driver’s license number at 18:57, and at 20:18,
he provided the records check unit with the registration of all three vehicles. The records check
unit responded at 23:09.
Sergeant Rangel called in for a second records check on the vehicles at 24:00. Thirty
seconds later, he stated that the red pickup was registered to Appellant, while the black truck and
trailer were not. He stated that Appellant’s wife reported that the red truck belonged to a friend.
He also commented that Appellant could not stand still and kept yawning.
At 26:10, Sergeant Rangel stated that Appellant had a criminal history, and he radioed a
fellow officer for backup, in case he needed assistance. From time stamp 26:58 to 30:13, the
records check unit informed Sergeant Rangel that Appellant’s driver’s license was suspended and
that the had prior arrests for assault, fugitive from justice, multiple instances of possession of
controlled substance, multiple instances of transferring a stolen vehicle, escape from a peace
officer, battery and assault of a household member, receipt of a stolen vehicle, receipt of stolen
property. Throughout this time, Appellant stood in front of the patrol unit, repeatedly yawning
and rubbing his hands against his eyes and head.
Sergeant Rangel exited his patrol unit and approached Appellant at 30:30. Appellant stated
that the black pickup belonged to “Ernesto.” At 31:13, Sergeant Rangel informed Appellant that
he should not be driving because his driver’s license was suspended in New Mexico. Appellant
volunteered that he did not travel through San Antonio, but rather took State Highway “83” out of
Sergeant Rangel issued Appellant a citation warning at time stamp 32:50. As Appellant
handed the signed warning citation back to Sergeant Rangel, he volunteered that “medication” is
“getting [him] all drowsy.” He indicated that he took medication for “HDHD.” Appellant first
claimed, “yes, I take, uh, they used to give me Ritalin and now its Adderall,” but then stated that
he did not currently take medication and was trying to get a prescription for Adderall. At time
stamp 33:49, Sergeant Rangel then explained that he had a duty to ensure nothing further illegal is
occurring, and that Appellant’s behavior had raised a suspicion. The officer asked Appellant if he
was engaged in any illegal behavior, and Appellant responded negatively. Appellant
acknowledged that he was previously arrested for possession of methamphetamine and he had
struggled with addiction since 2007. Sergeant Rangel requested consent to search Appellant and
the vehicles at 35:11, and Appellant consented.
E. No Trial Court Error
Appellant did not argue that the trial court erred by finding that his initial seizure for the
traffic stop was illegal. Sergeant Rangel was performing an ordinary inquiry incident to the traffic
stop when he ran a records check on Appellant’s license. Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355. Through
this constitutionally permissible seizure, the officer obtained probable cause to arrest Appellant
for driving on a suspended license. See TEX.TRANSP.CODE ANN. § 521.457(f)(1); see also
Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355 (noting an officer’s duty to ensure that vehicles are operated safely and
In addition to probable cause for driving on a suspended license, Sergeant Rangel
objectively possessed reasonable suspicion that Appellant was engaged in criminal activity. See
Ramirez-Tamayo, 537 S.W.3d at 36. When Sergeant Rangel requested Appellant provide his
driver’s license, Appellant produced a state identification card. Appellant did not own the black
pickup truck that he was driving or the trailer he was towing, and the license plates were not clearly
visible on either vehicle. The license plate on the trailer did not match the plate numbers indicated
on the insurance documents for the vehicle. He and his wife gave conflicting stories concerning
who owned the red pickup truck. Appellant provided an odd story about towing the red truck from
New Mexico to Texas and leaving the truck in Texas while he returned home. He was wearing
dress clothes while towing a truck and driving through the night. Appellant also traveled through
smaller cities, avoiding San Antonio. Sergeant Rangel’s training and experience taught him that
drivers involved in criminal activity often travel at night and avoid border checkpoints in larger
cities. See United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002) (indicating that officers may draw
on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences about the cumulative
information when forming reasonable suspicion). The officer’s experience also indicated it was
odd that Appellant’s nervousness did not decrease when he learned he would receive a warning
citation. Finally, Sergeant Rangel requested consent to search as Appellant returned the warning
citation, so the duration of the stop was not measurably extended. See Johnson, 555 U.S. at 333
(holding that a traffic stop remains lawful so long as unrelated investigations do not “measurably
extend the duration of the stop”), cited with approval in Rodriguez, 575 U.S. at 355.
Appellant has not shown that the trial court erred in its factual findings. Indeed, he does
not argue that the trial court erred in finding any specific fact. He argues only that the trial court
erred by concluding that Sergeant Rangel had reasonable suspicion to request consent to search.
Considering the totality of circumstances, however, which requires consideration of the facts taken
together, they warranted further investigation. See United States v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266, 274-75
(2002); United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 9 (1989) (concluding that factors which were “quite
consistent with innocent travel” by themselves collectively amounted to reasonable suspicion).
The trial court thus did not err by denying Appellant’s motion to suppress.

Outcome: Having overruled Appellant’s issue on appeal, we affirm the trial court’s judgment
adjudicating guilt.

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