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State v. Haworth

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

May 4, 2017

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellant,
v.
WESLEY WOLFE RACLIFF HAWORTH, Appellee.

         On appeal from the County Court at Law No. 8 of Hidalgo County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Rodriguez and Hinojosa.

          OPINION

          LETICIA HINOJOSA Justice.

         The State appeals from the trial court's granting of a motion to suppress filed by appellee, Wesley Wolfe Racliff Haworth. In two issues, the State complains that the trial court's granting of Haworth's motion to suppress constituted error in that: (1) the trial judge presided and ruled despite having become a witness as to evidentiary facts in dispute and thus did not act as an impartial arbiter of the facts; and (2) the ruling was based on matters not within the evidentiary record. We reverse and remand.

         I. Background

         During an early morning hour, Van Slusser, a sergeant with the University of Texas System Police Department, witnessed Haworth's vehicle make a U-turn when the vehicle's turn lane was allegedly controlled by a red light. Slusser initiated a traffic stop, conducted field sobriety tests, and arrested Haworth on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Haworth refused to provide a breath or blood specimen, and he was later charged by criminal complaint with one count of driving while intoxicated. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 49.04(a) (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.).

         Haworth moved to suppress, among other things, all evidence seized by law enforcement officers or others in connection with his detention and arrest. At the suppression hearing, the State called Slusser to testify and a dash-cam video from Slusser's police unit was introduced by Haworth and admitted by the trial court. Haworth argued that Slusser could not have seen the turn signal because his view was obstructed by a tree, and he pointed to the dash-cam video as evidence in support of his argument. The trial court set the matter for hearing at a later date.

         At the later hearing, the trial court stated:

This is the motion to suppress that was from UTPA where the officer was parked in front of-one of the administrative buildings and he noticed that Mr. Haworth was hanging a u-turn there in front of the Dairy Queen.
I had a chance, not only to review the video, but I had a chance to go out there and inspect the location myself. I do that. And it seemed- I'm not going to use the word that I want to use, but it seemed pretty "impossible" to be able to see from where he was parked. And I know where he was parked because there's only one way to come out from the driving area to where he was witnessing that u-turn. And it must be no less than from here to Ramon Garcia's office, through trees.
So after reviewing that, and after taking into consideration the testimony and the video of the officer your motion to suppress at this [time] is granted.

         The trial court signed an order granting Haworth's motion to suppress the following day. The State requested findings of fact and conclusions of law. However, none were filed.[1] This appeal followed.

         II. Discussion

         A. ...


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