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State v. Ruiz

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

January 11, 2018

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellant,
v.
JOSE RUIZ, Appellee.

         On appeal from the 25th District Court of Gonzales County, Texas.

          Before Chief Justice Valdez and Justices Benavides and Hinojosa

          OPINION

          GINA M. BENAVIDES, JUSTICE.

         This cause is before this Court for a second time. See State v. Ruiz, 509 S.W.3d 451, 452 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2015), vacated and remanded by PD-1362-15, 2017 WL430291, at *1 (Tex. Crim. App. Feb. 1, 2017) (per curiam) (not designated for publication).

         In its per curiam opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated that while our 2015 decision remained pending on its docket, the high court decided two cases analyzing the issue of exigent circumstances in the context of suppressing blood evidence obtained pursuant to a warrantless draw. Thus, the court of criminal appeals vacated our previous opinion and remanded this case for further analysis in light of those two opinions. See id. at *1.

         Following the court of criminal appeals' mandate, we issue this new opinion today by re-analyzing the State's appeal challenging the trial court's granting of appellee Jose Ruiz's motion to suppress. We affirm.

         I. Background[1]

         At approximately midnight on September 9, 2012, Gonzales, Texas police officer Bethany McBride responded to an automobile collision between a Lincoln and a Pontiac at the intersection of 90A and Robertson. The driver of the Pontiac remained at the scene and advised Officer McBride that the driver of the Lincoln-later identified as Ruiz-had fled the scene of the crash and had run behind a car wash in the area. Other witnesses at the scene relayed the same information to Officer McBride.

         Upon closer inspection of the Lincoln, Officer McBride observed several exploded Bud Light beer cans in the front seat and found insurance paperwork in Ruiz's name. Officer McBride also confirmed that the vehicle was registered to Ruiz. Once Officer McBride's backup officer[2] arrived at the scene, she advised the backup officer that Ruiz had fled behind the car wash on Apache Loop. Officer McBride also testified that at that point "we had county officers and my backup officer try to locate [Ruiz]." The officers eventually located Ruiz in "the exact location" that witnesses had described and carried him to a patrol unit.

         Officer McBride testified that once Ruiz was located, "it took several officers to get [Ruiz] from the field to carry him to the patrol unit." Officer McBride described Ruiz as "unresponsive, " that he "couldn't open his eyes" and "wouldn't respond" to the officers. She further recalled that Ruiz had a "strong odor of alcoholic beverage" emitting from his person and also had "no apparent injuries" to his body.

         Emergency medical service (EMS) personnel arrived at the scene and performed several sternum rubs on Ruiz but found him to be unresponsive. At that point, EMS transported Ruiz to the hospital, where he remained unconscious throughout the night.

         Officer McBride testified that after "a period of time" she traveled to the hospital in order to "make sure that he was cleared medically and to have blood drawn." She eventually placed Ruiz under arrest and then gathered and filled out paperwork to order hospital personnel to perform a blood draw. Once the blood was drawn, Officer McBride took custody of the blood sample and "put it in the icebox at the Gonzales Police Department to be sent to [the] lab." While already in custody, doctors at the hospital told Officer McBride that they wanted to keep Ruiz hospitalized overnight "due to his condition." Officer McBride testified that she had no concern that he would flee from the hospital or destroy any evidence.

         On cross-examination, when asked by Ruiz's attorney whether it would have been reasonable to obtain a warrant to draw Ruiz's blood that night, Officer McBride said no. When asked why, Officer McBride responded: "that night two officers on, to take one off, no." Furthermore, she estimated that it would have taken "probably about two or three hours" to get a warrant that night. Additionally, Officer McBride stated that she based her decision to draw Ruiz's blood on section 724.012 of the transportation code.[3]

         On re-direct, Officer McBride testified that her investigation of Ruiz's crash took "longer" than a general traffic stop. Furthermore, she testified that no procedures were in place at the time within the Gonzales Police Department to obtain search warrants for blood evidence. And lastly, Officer McBride stated that it would have been "difficult" to find a judge to sign a warrant that night, and if she would have found a judge, she would have had to drive to that judge's house to obtain the appropriate signature.

         After the hearing, the trial court granted Ruiz's motion to suppress and issued the following relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         Findings of Fact

1. [Ruiz] was involved in an accident late at night to early morning on September 9, 2013. Gonzales Police Department Sgt. Bethany McBride responded.
2. [Ruiz] became unconscious and was carried and placed in McBride's patrol vehicle.
. . . .
4. Following [Ruiz's] arrest by McBride the attending physicians indicated they wanted to keep [Ruiz] overnight.
5. There was no concern that [Ruiz] would flee from the hospital.
6. A warrant could have been obtained within 2 to 3 hours.
. . . .
8. McBride performed a criminal history check on [Ruiz] and found four previous convictions for DWI. Relying on Texas [Transportation] Code 724.012 and 724.014 McBride ordered the blood draw from [Ruiz].[4]
9. [Ruiz] remained in custodial arrest during the time the blood was drawn.
10. The court finds Officer McBride's testimony to be credible in all respects.

         Conclusions of Law

1. The court takes judicial notice of all statutes promulgated under [the] Texas Transportation Code and in effect during ...

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