Fourteenth Court of Appeals - Texas Courts
Case Number: 14-16-00956-CR
Judge: Tracy Christopher
Court: Fourteenth Court of Appeals - Texas Courts
Plaintiff's Attorney: Eric Kugler
Kim K. Ogg
Defendant's Attorney: Juan M. Contreras
Description: While patrolling Interstate 10, Deputy Jose Quintanilla of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department observed a maroon Mazda 3 with Kentucky license plates veer unsafely out of its lane several times. He signaled the car’s driver to pull over. When the driver rolled down the car window, Quintanilla smelled marijuana. Quintanilla previously had observed that, in addition to the driver, there was a passenger in the back seat, but when Quintanilla leaned down to speak to the driver, he saw a second passenger—appellant—in the front passenger seat. Appellant was leaning against the car door, apparently asleep. In response to requests for her license and registration, the car’s driver, LaShonda Henderson, gave Quintanilla a vehicle rental agreement showing that she had leased the vehicle. As Quintanilla later testified, people dealing in drugs or stolen property often use rented vehicles to transport contraband. Quintanilla asked Henderson to exit the car, then questioned her as they stood on the left side of the vehicle. He then asked the rear-seat passenger Jasmin Brown to exit, and he and Brown moved to the front of the car so that he could keep Henderson and appellant in view while questioning Brown. As Quintanilla and Brown moved to the front of the vehicle, appellant, in the front passenger seat, rolled down the window and leaned against the glass if listening to their conversation. Henderson and Brown gave inconsistent answers to Quintanilla’s routine questions such as where they were traveling and where they had begun. This
indicated to Quintanilla that the women were trying to hide something, so he asked if there were narcotics in the vehicle. At this, appellant immediately leaned forward and reached toward the car’s floorboard. Quintanilla told appellant to put his hands on the dashboard and appellant refused. Quintanilla repeated the instruction and although appellant looked at Quintanilla and nodded, he did not put his hands on the dashboard but continued leaning forward doing something with his hands. Alarmed that appellant was moving in a way “that goes with someone placing a round in a gun and racking a slide,” Quintanilla unholstered his weapon and called for backup. Appellant did not place his hands on the dashboard until Quintanilla had demanded four or five times that he do so. This exchange was recorded by the dashboard camera in Quintanilla’s patrol car, and the recording was played for the jury. Sergeant Miranda arrived and removed appellant from the car. Appellant said he had been trying to put his shoes back on, but according to Quintanilla, appellant’s shoes were still on the floorboard of the car even though appellant could have slipped them on without any delay because the tongues of the shoes were pulled all the way forward and the laces had been loosened. With appellant removed, Quintanilla searched the area where appellant had been sitting. Quintanilla found that the carpet beneath the car’s glove compartment had been pulled down and a Girl Scout cookie box protruded two or three inches from beneath the front passenger seat. Inside the box were three plastic bags containing pills, which Quintanilla believed to be the drug Ecstasy. When another deputy arrived with a narcotics test kit, Quintanilla tested a sample from each bag, and the samples tested positive for methamphetamine or Ecstasy. The total weight of the pills was just over 200 grams. Although Quintanilla testified that the amount of Ecstasy a person might have for personal use would be two or three pills, he
estimated that there were more than 900 pills in the bag. Brittany Disiere from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences testified that the three plastic bags contained a total of 1,188 tablets and that all of the tablets tested contained methamphetamine. Disiere explained that most Ecstasy-style tablets contain methamphetamine, so that a methamphetamine tablet could yield a positive result in a field test for Ecstasy. The jury was charged on both possession with intent to deliver and simple possession, and it found appellant guilty of the lesser offense, assessing punishment at five years’ confinement and a $10,000 fine.
II. Sufficiency of the Evidence In his first issue, appellant challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence that he knowingly possessed the methamphetamine. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals has eliminated independent review of the factual sufficiency of the evidence, we review the evidence only for legal sufficiency. See Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 912 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (plurality op.). To decide whether legally sufficient evidence supports a conviction, we assess all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether any rational juror could find the crime’s essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt. See Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979); Evans v. State, 202 S.W.3d 158, 161 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006). A person commits the offense of possession of methamphetamine if the person “knowingly or intentionally possesses” the substance. See TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE ANN. § 481.115(a) (West 2017). “‘Possession’ means actual care, custody, control, or management.” TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 1.07(a)(38) (West Supp. 2017). Thus, the State was required to prove that appellant (a) knew the substance was
contraband; and (b) exercised control, management, or care over it. See Evans, 202 S.W.3d at 161. A person’s presence at the scene where drugs are found is insufficient to establish possession, absent other direct or circumstantial evidence supporting such a finding. See id. at 162. Reviewing courts may refer to such supporting evidence of the accused’s knowing possession as “links.” Id. at 161 n.9. The number of links is not determinative; it is the “logical force” of such circumstances and the reasonable inferences to be drawn from them that may establish the elements of the offense. Id. at 166. Such links may include, but are not limited to, whether the place where the drugs were found was enclosed, whether there was an odor of contraband, whether the person made furtive gestures, the person’s proximity to and accessibility to the contraband, and whether the person’s conduct indicated consciousness of guilt. See id. at 162 n.12; Olivarez v. State, 171 S.W.3d 283, 291 (Tex. App.–Houston [14th Dist.] 2005, no pet.). Consideration of such factors can help guide the reviewing court’s analysis in determining whether “the combined and cumulative force of the evidence and any reasonable inferences therefrom” would rationally justify the jury in finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Tate v. State, 500 S.W.3d 410, 414 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). Here, the drugs were found in the enclosed space of a rented vehicle’s cabin, and Deputy Quintanilla explained to the jury that drug traffickers frequently use rented cars to transport narcotics because such vehicles are unlikely to be seized. Quintanilla further testified that he smelled marijuana—another contraband
substance—when the driver of the vehicle rolled down the car window. He described how appellant appeared to be listening to Quintanilla’s questioning of Brown, and when Quintanilla asked Brown if there were narcotics in the car, appellant immediately leaned toward the car’s floorboard making furtive gestures. When told to put his hands on the dashboard, appellant refused to comply. Even when appellant acknowledged the instruction by nodding at Quintanilla, appellant continued making furtive gestures while leaning toward the floorboard. When Sergeant Miranda arrived and removed appellant from the car, Quintanilla observed that the carpet under the car’s glove compartment had been pulled back, and on the floorboard Quintanilla saw the box containing the drugs protruding a few inches from under appellant’s seat. Although Quintanilla stated that the box was “wedged” more than halfway under the seat, he agreed that the box remained protruding far enough to be “in plain view,” and he testified that the place where the box had been pushed partially under the seat would have been “between [appellant’s] legs.” Jurors also viewed the videotape of the traffic stop, and having seen how the situation escalated in the face of appellant’s continued failure to put his hands on the dashboard, could consider for themselves what was the most likely reason for appellant’s delay. From all of the evidence, and the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, a rational jury could find that appellant knew about the methamphetamine tablets, and that when he heard Quintanilla ask Brown if there were narcotics in the car, appellant exercised control over the drugs by attempting to hide them. We accordingly hold that the evidence is legally sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.
III. Inaccuracies in the Judgment Although appellant was charged by indictment with the first-degree felony of possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine weighing more than four but less
than two hundred grams, he was convicted of the lesser-included offense of possession of that amount of the substance, which is a second-degree felony.1 The judgment, however, incorrectly states that appellant was convicted of the greater offense. In appellant’s second issue, he asks that we reform the judgment to correct these inaccuracies; in the State’s response brief, it joins in appellant’s request. We accordingly reform the judgment to reflect the jury’s true verdict and the degree of the offense for which appellant was convicted.
Outcome: The evidence is legally sufficient to support the jury’s verdict, and we reform the judgment to reflect that appellant was convicted of the second-degree felony of possession of methamphetamine weighing more than four but less than two hundred grams. As reformed, we affirm the judgment.