Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio
the 186th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial
Court No. 2015CR4068 Honorable Andrew Carruthers, Judge
C. Martinez, Patricia O. Alvarez, Luz Elena D. Chapa,
Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice.
case stems from Appellee Lauro Eduardo Ruiz's ten-count
indictment charging Ruiz with attempted production of sexual
performance by a child. Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 43.25(d)
(West 2016) ("A person commits an offense if, knowing
the character and content of the material, he produces,
directs, or promotes a performance that includes sexual
conduct by a child younger than 18 years of age."). The
trial court granted Ruiz's motion to suppress and
excluded all photographs, evidence, and data obtained from
the search of Ruiz's cell phone. This State's appeal
and Procedural Background
February 26, 2014, two female students at a private high
school notified Dean of Students Dolores Rodriguez that Ruiz,
a substitute teacher, was acting inappropriately. The
students provided images of Ruiz's cell phone, placed on
top of his bag, near the podium, with the camera facing up,
and allegedly capturing images from underneath the female
students' skirts. Rodriguez contacted Academic Dean and
Vice Principal Steven Hayward; Hayward summoned Ruiz to the
administrative offices. Principal Gilbert Saenz was not on
campus at the time.
Principal Saenz's return to campus, Rodriguez and Hayward
began investigating the allegations. Rodriguez posed the
initial question to Ruiz-whether "anything happened that
day in the classroom." A very nervous Ruiz acknowledged
"he had a problem." Ruiz's nervousness and
"fidgeting" with his cell phone led Rodriguez to
fear the possible deletion of information. Rodriguez
requested that Ruiz place the cell phone on Saenz's desk;
both Rodriguez and Hayward testified that Ruiz complied
without incident, comment, or objection. Shortly thereafter,
Principal Saenz arrived. All three administrators testified
that Ruiz again admitted that "he had a problem"
and that there were inappropriate images on his cell phone.
Saenz terminated Ruiz's employment and informed Ruiz that
law enforcement would be notified.
Saenz advised Ruiz that the cell phone would be turned over
to law enforcement authorities. Pursuant to his own request,
Ruiz retrieved several phone numbers from the cell phone. At
some point, Saenz saw approximately twenty videos or images
on the cell phone. After Ruiz obtained the information from
his cell phone, he returned the cell phone to Saenz, and
Saenz placed the cell phone in a manila envelope and sealed
the envelope. Consistent with his statement to Ruiz, Saenz
contacted the Castle Hills Police Department, made a report,
and turned the cell phone over to the officers. Pursuant to a
search warrant, the Castle Hills Police Department officers
viewed and secured several images depicting the area
underneath the students' skirts. Ruiz was subsequently
charged with multiple counts of attempted production of
sexual performance by a child.
December 31, 2015, Ruiz filed a motion to suppress any and
all tangible evidence seized in connection with the case
asserting that Principal Saenz did not obtain a warrant and
no exception to the warrant requirement applies. The State
filed a memorandum of law in opposition to the motion to
suppress on March 11, 2016. Following an evidentiary hearing
on March 9, 2016, and on April 7, 2016, the trial court made
the following oral findings of fact, see State v.
Cullen, 195 S.W.3d 696, 699 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006)
(explaining that trial court's findings on a motion to
suppress may be written or oral):
• "the information obtained from Ruiz's cell
phone was a result of a private citizen seizing [Ruiz's]
• "Ruiz may or may not have consented to leaving
his cell phone with school authorities;"
• "Ruiz did not consent to [Saenz's search of
Ruiz's cell phone];"
• "Saenz . . . conducted a search of the
defendant's telephone without obtaining a search
• "[Saenz] subsequently gave the information he had
obtained from the search of [Ruiz]'s cell phone to law
• "a search warrant was obtained by police
• "information was obtained from [Ruiz's] cell
phone through the search warrant."
trial court concluded that because Saenz's actions did
not fall under the warrantless search exceptions of either
consent to search or exigent circumstances, Saenz's
warrantless examination of Ruiz's cell phone violated
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure article 38.23(a).
See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 38.23(a) (West
trial court also made the following oral conclusions of law:
• "Information [taken from the cell phone was]
fruit of the poisonous tree since the initial examination of
the contents of [Ruiz's] cell phone was without a
warrant, was without ...