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Alfaro-Jimenez v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

August 2, 2017

Pablo ALFARO-JIMENEZ, Appellant
The STATE of Texas, Appellee

         From the 186th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2014CR9248 Honorable Jefferson Moore, Judge Presiding

          Sandee Bryan Marion, Chief Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice


          Patricia O. Alvarez, Justice

         On December 9, 2015, a Bexar County jury returned a guilty verdict against Appellant Pablo Alfaro-Jimenez on one misdemeanor count of tampering with a government document, a Social Security card. The trial court subsequently sentenced Alfaro-Jimenez to one-year confinement in the Bexar County Jail, suspended and probated for a period of two years, and a $1, 500.00 fine. On appeal, Alfaro-Jimenez contends: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support the jury's verdict; (2) the trial court erred denying Alfaro-Jimenez's motion to suppress; and (3) Texas Penal Code section 37.10, the statute under which Alfaro-Jimenez was convicted, is unconstitutionally vague. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.10 (West 2016).

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On July 10, 2014, San Antonio Police Officer Edward Rodriguez was dispatched for a domestic disturbance. The complainant told the officers that her ex-boyfriend, identified as Juan Alberto Torres Landa, was beating on the door, kicking the door, and threatening her. By the time officers arrived, the ex-boyfriend was gone.

         After conducting an investigation, and ensuring the complainant's safety, Officer Rodriguez was leaving the premises when the ex-boyfriend approached Officer Rodriguez and requested permission to tell his version of the incident. In light of the violent allegations, the individual was handcuffed for officer safety. While attempting to identify the ex-boyfriend, Officer Rodriguez became suspicious that the ex-boyfriend's identification, specifically the Social Security card, was fraudulent.

         Officer Rodriguez contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and determined the name and information provided did not belong to the ex-boyfriend. The individual subsequently identified himself as Pablo Alfaro-Jimenez and Officer Rodriguez confirmed the identification through a fingerprint comparison. Appellant Alfaro-Jimenez was arrested for tampering with a government document.

         A jury returned a guilty verdict against Alfaro-Jimenez and the trial court subsequently assessed punishment at one-year confinement in the Bexar County Jail, suspended and probated for a period of two years, and a $1, 500.00 fine. This appeal ensued.

         Motion to Suppress

         Prior to opening statement, and outside the presence of the jury, the trial court heard testimony and arguments pertaining to Alfaro-Jimenez's motion to suppress. Asserting the officers possessed insufficient grounds to arrest Alfaro-Jimenez, and that the search extended beyond reasonable grounds, defense counsel sought to suppress both the evidence and Alfaro-Jimenez's statements.

         A. Standard of Review

         An appellate court reviews a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress using a bifurcated standard of review; we "'afford almost total deference to a trial court's determination of the historical facts that the record supports.'" Montanez v. State, 195 S.W.3d 101, 106 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006) (quoting Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997)); accord Turrubiate v. State, 399 S.W.3d 147, 150 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). A reviewing court must

give almost total deference to the trial court's rulings on (1) questions of historical fact, even if the trial court's determination of those facts was not based on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor, and (2) application-of-law-to-fact questions that turn on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. But when application-of-law-to-fact questions do not turn on the credibility and demeanor of the witnesses, we review the trial court's rulings on those questions de novo.

Wilson v. State, 442 S.W.3d 779, 783 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2014, pet. ref'd) (citations omitted); see also Valtierra v. State, 310 S.W.3d 442, 447 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010); Swearingen v. State, 143 S.W.3d 808, 811 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004).

         B. Arguments of the Parties

         Alfaro-Jimenez contends Officer Rodriguez exceeded his authority by prolonging the detention beyond the scope of his investigation and that he conducted an illegal search when he retrieved Alfaro-Jimenez's wallet without his consent.

         The State counters that, based on a totality of the circumstances, Officer Rodriguez's actions constituted a reasonable investigative detention and, that during such detention, Alfaro-Jimenez provided Officer Rodriguez consent to procure Alfaro-Jimenez's identification from the wallet located in his back pocket.

          C. Interactions between Police Officers and Citizens

         "The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures." State v. Weaver, 349 S.W.3d 521, 525 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011) (citing U.S. Const. amend. IV). Importantly, however, the Fourth Amendment is not invoked simply because an officer and a person converse. See Weaver, 349 S.W.3d at 525. Our analysis, therefore, begins with a determination of whether Alfaro-Jimenez met his initial burden to produce some evidence that the police conducted a search or seizure without a warrant. See Ford v. State, 158 S.W.3d 488, 492 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). Only after some evidence has been presented does the burden shift to the State to establish that the warrantless search was reasonable. Id.

         The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals addressed the interactions between officers and private citizens in State v. Garcia-Cantu; the court stated that "[e]ach citizen-police encounter must be factually evaluated on its own terms; there are no per se rules." State v. Garcia-Cantu, 253 S.W.3d 236, 243 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). "[T]here are three distinct types of interactions between police and citizens: (1) consensual encounters, which require no objective justification; (2) investigative detentions, which require reasonable suspicion; and (3) arrests, which require probable cause." State v. Castleberry, 332 S.W.3d 460, 466 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011) (footnotes omitted); accord Crain v. State, 315 S.W.3d 43, 49 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). "In assessing whether a seizure is an investigative detention or an arrest, we take an objective view of the officer's actions-'judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene, rather than with the advantage of hindsight.'" State v. Adams, 454 S.W.3d 38, 44 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2014, no pet.) (quoting Rhodes v. State, 945 S.W.2d 115, 118 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997)). Handcuffing alone does not necessarily transform an investigative detention into an arrest. See State v. Sheppard, 271 S.W.3d 281, 283 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008) ("[A] person who has been handcuffed has been 'seized' and detained under the Fourth Amendment, but he has not necessarily been 'arrested.'"); see also Rhodes, 945 S.W.2d at 118 (concluding there is no bright-line test providing that mere handcuffing is always equivalent of arrest). "[A]llowances must be made for the fact that officers must often make quick decisions under tense, uncertain and rapidly changing circumstances." Rhodes, 945 S.W.2d at 118; accord Hauer v. State, 466 S.W.3d 886, 891 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, no pet.).

         To establish reasonable suspicion, "an officer must be able to articulate something more than an 'inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch.'" Foster v. State, 326 S.W.3d 609, 613 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (quoting United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 21 (1989)). The determination must be based on common-sense judgments and rational inferences about human behavior. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 125 (2000); see also Young v. State, 133 S.W.3d 839, 841 (Tex. App.-El Paso 2004, no pet.). Police officers may rely on their own experience and training when making this determination. Young, 133 S.W.3d at 841. "The issue is 'whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant.'" Kothe v. State, 152 S.W.3d 54, 64-65 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004) (quoting United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 685-86 (1985)).

         A search conducted with a person's voluntary consent does not require a warrant. See Meekins v. State, 340 S.W.3d 454, 458 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011); Hutchins v. State, 475 S.W.3d 496, 498 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2015, pet. ref'd). The State bears the burden to prove the voluntariness of consent to search by clear and convincing evidence. See Meekins, 340 S.W.3d at 459; Montanez, 195 S.W.3d at 108. "A person's consent to search can be communicated to law enforcement in a variety of ways, including by words, ...

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