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Chambers v. State

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

May 4, 2017


         On appeal from the 103rd District Court of Cameron County, Texas.

          Before Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Longoria



         Appellant John Chambers was convicted on fourteen counts of tampering with governmental records with intent to defraud or harm, each a state jail felony. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.10(c)(1) (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.). He was sentenced to two years in state jail and a $2, 800 fine, with the jail sentence suspended and community supervision imposed for five years. On appeal, Chambers argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, that the trial court lacked jurisdiction, and that the trial court erred in denying a requested jury instruction. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Chambers served as the chief of police for the small community of Indian Lake in Cameron County.[1] He was the sole paid employee of Indian Lake's police department for most of the year, though during the winter months the department would sometimes employ one other full-time officer. The department also included some twenty to thirty reserve officers appointed by Chambers who were not paid by the department but rather worked other full-time jobs mostly outside of law enforcement. See Tex. Loc. Gov't Code Ann. § 341.012 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.) (authorizing the establishment of a police reserve force by the governing body of a municipality).

         In January 2015, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) conducted an audit of Indian Lake's police department. Derry Minor, a TCOLE field agent, administered the audit by examining the department's paperwork regarding, among other things, criminal background checks, firearms qualifications, and medical and psychological testing of the officers. Minor reviewed records for fifteen of the reserve officers and he determined that firearms qualifications records for eight of the reserve officers were missing. Believing that the department was required by law to keep such records, Minor notified Chambers of the deficiency via a preliminary audit report dated January 13, 2015. Chambers signed the report, which stated that he had until January 23, 2015 to correct the deficiency.[2]

         According to trial testimony, Chambers then instructed Alfredo Avalos, the only other full-time officer with the department at the time, to fill out firearms qualifications forms for fourteen different Indian Lake reserve police officers. The forms indicated that each reserve officer had passed a "firearms qualification practical pistol course" on September 20, 2014 using a. 40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol with a serial number registered as belonging to Chambers.[3] Each of the fourteen named reserve officers testified at trial that they did not, in fact, pass a firearms course on September 20, 2014 using a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol.

         Chambers was charged by indictment with fourteen counts of knowingly making false entries in governmental records with the intent to defraud or harm the State of Texas. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.10(c)(1). The jury, having been instructed on the law of parties, see id. § 7.02 (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.), found Chambers guilty on all fourteen counts. This appeal followed.

         II. Discussion

         A. Governmental Record

         By his first issue, Chambers argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's verdicts because the falsified documents in this case were not "governmental records." See id. § 37.10(a)(1).

         In reviewing sufficiency of the evidence, we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Hacker v. State, 389 S.W.3d 860, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013); see Brooks v. State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 895 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (plurality op.) (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). A sufficiency review sometimes "involves simply construing the reach of the applicable penal provision in order to decide whether the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to conviction, actually establishes a violation of the law." DeLay v. State, 443 S.W.3d 909, 912 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014). "If the evidence establishes precisely what the State has alleged, but the acts that the State has alleged do not constitute a criminal offense under the totality of the circumstances, then that evidence, as a matter of law, cannot support a conviction." Id. (citing Williams v. State, 235 S.W.3d 742, 750 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007)).

         We measure sufficiency by the elements of the offense as defined by a hypothetically correct jury charge. Malik v. State, 953 S.W.2d 234, 240 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). Such a charge would instruct the jury in this case that Chambers is guilty of tampering with governmental records as alleged in the indictment if, as a principal or as a party, he "knowingly ma[de] a false entry in . . . a governmental record." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.10(a)(1); see id. § 7.02. In accordance with the definition provided in the penal code, the jury was instructed that "governmental record" means "anything belonging to, received by, or kept by government for information" or "anything required by law to be kept by others for information of government." See id. § 37.01(2)(A), (B) (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.).

         Chambers contends specifically that the firearms qualifications forms at issue here are not "governmental records" because they are not legally required to be kept. He notes that, according to regulations promulgated by TCOLE, a police agency is required to keep firearms qualifications records only for each "peace officer" that it "employs, " and he argues that this excludes reserve officers. See 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 218.9(a) (West, Westlaw through 42 Tex. Reg. No. 1288) ("Each agency or entity that employs at least one peace officer shall: (1) require each peace officer that it employs to successfully complete the current firearms proficiency requirements at least once each calendar year for each type of firearm carried . . . [and] (3) keep on file and in a format readily accessible to the commission a copy of all records of this proficiency."); see also Tex. Occ. Code Ann. § 1701.001(3), (4), (6) (West, Westlaw through 2015 R.S.) (defining "officer" as "a peace officer or reserve law enforcement officer" and defining the two types of officers differently). Chambers further argues that, under the Texas Local Government Code, the appointment and qualifications of reserve municipal police officers are not governed by TCOLE but instead are under the sole purview of the municipality's police chief. See Tex. Loc. Gov't Code Ann. ยง 341.012(g) (stating that a reserve municipal police officer who is not a "peace officer" as defined in code of criminal procedure article 2.12 may carry a weapon "only when authorized to do so by the chief of ...

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