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Becerra v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Twelfth District, Tyler

April 28, 2017

SALVADOR BECERRA, APPELLANT
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE 244TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT ECTOR COUNTY, TEXAS (Tr.Ct.No. C-43, 743)

          Panel consisted of Worthen, C.J., Hoyle, J., and Neeley, J.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Brian Hoyle Justice.

         Salvador Becerra appeals his convictions for improper sexual activity with a person in custody. In his sole issue, Appellant contends that the trial court erred by denying Appellant's motion for change of venue. We affirm.

         Background

         Appellant was a police officer in Odessa, Texas. As part of his official duties, Appellant patrolled Odessa and investigated potential violations of the law. On many occasions, Appellant deemed it necessary to question women. And on a few of those occasions, Appellant inappropriately touched women he was investigating.[1]

         Eventually, one woman complained to the Odessa Police Department, and the department investigated Appellant. After the investigation, Appellant was charged with six counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody and one count of sexual assault. Local news sources in Odessa deemed the allegations against Appellant newsworthy. Appellant was the subject of several newspaper articles, and television and radio reports. The allegations against Appellant were also discussed on social media.

         Claiming that he could not receive a fair trial in Ector County, [2] Appellant filed a motion for change of venue. Appellant argued that he could not receive a fair trial because of the pretrial publicity and his status as a former police officer. After an evidentiary hearing on the motion, the trial court denied Appellant's motion for change of venue. However, the trial court also ordered that Appellant's motion would be reconsidered after voir dire of the jury panel.

         At voir dire, the trial court, the State, and Appellant questioned the panel regarding their familiarity with the case. All further questioned the potential jurors on any preconceived notions that they may have had of Appellant's guilt, and whether any aspect of the case that they learned from media reports may have made them an unfit juror for the case. While several panel members were deemed unfit to serve on the case, more than enough of the jury panel remained for each side to exercise their peremptory strikes and for a jury to be seated. Moreover, the trial court again denied Appellant's motion for change of venue. Thereafter, a jury was empaneled.

         At the conclusion of a trial on the merits, the jury found Appellant "guilty" of five counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody.[3] The jury then returned a verdict on punishment, [4] and the trial court sentenced Appellant in accordance with the jury's verdict. This appeal followed.

         Motion to Change Venue

         In his sole issue on appeal, Appellant contends that the trial erred by denying his motion for change of venue. He also appears to argue that the trial court did not make a further order denying his motion for change of venue after voir dire of the panel members.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's denial of a motion for change of venue for an abuse of discretion. DeBlanc v. State, 799 S.W.2d 701, 705 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990). A trial court does not abuse its discretion so long as the trial court's ruling is within the zone of reasonable disagreement. See Gonzalez v. State, 222 S.W.3d 446, 449 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). Under an abuse of discretion standard, we give deference to the trial court's ruling which is in the best position to make credibility ...


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