Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso
from 207th District Court of Comal County, Texas (TC #
McClure, C.J., Rodriguez, and Hughes, JJ.
CRAWFORD McCLURE, Chief Justice.
John Davison Nies II, appeals his conviction of possession of
less than one gram of methamphetamine, enhanced by two prior
felony convictions. The case proceeded to trial before a
jury, but after the trial court denied Appellant's motion
to suppress evidence, Appellant waived his right to a jury
and entered a negotiated plea of guilty. The trial court
found Appellant guilty, found the enhancement paragraphs
true, and assessed Appellant's punishment in accordance
with the plea bargain at imprisonment for a term of five
years. We reverse and remand.
indictment charged Appellant with possession of less than one
gram of methamphetamine. Nies filed a written motion to
suppress asserting that evidence was unlawfully seized from
his vehicle without a warrant, but he did not obtain a ruling
before trial. Shortly after the trial began, the parties and
the trial court had a discussion outside of the jury
panel's presence regarding the suppression motion. The
parties stipulated to the facts as set forth in the arresting
officer's offense report. The report showed that Deputy
Matthew Moczygemba initially stopped Nies for speeding, but
he discovered that Appellant's license was suspended.
Consequently, Moczygemba arrested Appellant for driving while
license suspended, and Appellant instructed to Moczygemba to
have his vehicle towed. Moczygemba put Appellant in the back
of his patrol car, and he and another deputy inventoried
Appellant's vehicle before the wrecker arrived. During
the search, Moczygemba slid the shade for the sunroof back
and he found a small clear container which had a crystal-like
substance inside of it. The substance tested positive for
methamphetamine. The trial court denied the motion to
suppress and Nies waived his right to a jury trial and
entered a negotiated guilty plea.
first issue, Appellant contends that the trial court abused
its discretion by denying the motion to suppress the evidence
seized during the warrantless search of the vehicle.
of Review and Applicable Law
denial of a motion to suppress evidence is analyzed under a
bifurcated standard of review. St. George v. State,
237 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Tex.Crim.App. 2007). We review the trial
court's determination of historical facts for an abuse of
discretion, but the trial court's application of law to
the facts is reviewed de novo. Turrubiate v.
State, 399 S.W.3d 147, 150 (Tex.Crim.App. 2013). When
reviewing the trial court's determination of historical
findings, we are required to give those findings almost total
deference if they are supported by the evidence. Tucker
v. State, 369 S.W.3d 179, 184 (Tex.Crim.App. 2012). When
the trial court makes findings of fact and conclusions of law
finding the officers to be credible and accepting the
State's version of events, as in this case, the only
question before the appellate court is whether the trial
court properly applied the law to the facts it found.
State v. Alderete, 314 S.W.3d 469, 472 (Tex.App.--El
Paso 2010, pet. ref'd).
Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and
seizures by government officials. U.S. Const. amend. IV;
Wiede v. State, 214 S.W.3d 17, 24 (Tex.Crim.App.
2007). It is undisputed that the methamphetamine was
discovered in Appellant's car as the result of a
warrantless search. As a general rule, a warrantless search
is per se unreasonable unless the State shows that the search
falls within one of the well-established exceptions to the
warrant requirement. See McGee v. State, 105 S.W.3d
609, 615 (Tex.Crim.App. 2003). Three such exceptions are at
issue in this case: (1) search incident to arrest; (2) the
automobile exception; and (3) an inventory search.
Incident to Arrest
the Fourth Amendment, police officers may search an arrestee
incident to a lawful arrest. State v. Granville, 423
S.W.3d 399, 410 (Tex.Crim.App. 2014). The rationale for
permitting such a warrantless search is (1) the need for
officers to seize weapons or other things which might be used
to assault on officer or effect an escape, and (2) the need
to prevent the loss or destruction of evidence. Id.
Under Arizona v. Gant, this exception to the warrant
requirement does not justify a search of a vehicle after the
occupants of the vehicle have been handcuffed or otherwise
secured. Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct.
1710, 1714, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009). The stipulated evidence
established that Appellant had been handcuffed and placed in
the back of Deputy Moczygemba's patrol car before the
deputies began searching the vehicle. Consequently, the
search is not justified by the search incident to arrest