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Scott v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

April 2, 2019


          On Appeal from the County Criminal Court at Law No. 11 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2095430

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Christopher and Bourliot.



         Appellant Paul Craig Scott appeals his conviction for driving while intoxicated ("DWI"). He asserts that officers lacked probable cause to support a warrantless arrest and unduly prolonged his detention, making it illegal. The court affirms.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         At approximately 8:45 p.m. on June 7, 2016, Sergeant Kevin O'Brien of the Houston Police Department ("HPD") saw appellant motor through an intersection without heeding a stop sign. Appellant was driving well-above the legal speed limit of 30 miles per hour. Then, appellant failed to stop for a red light before making a turn. Having witnessed these traffic violations from his patrol car, Officer O'Brien pursued appellant to conduct a traffic stop. Officer O'Brien activated the patrol car's lights and then the sirens. Though appellant slowed down, he did not stop. Appellant then accelerated to a speed of about 50 miles per hour and drove through a residential area with cars parked on either side of the street before stopping at an abandoned service station.

         Officer O'Brien approached the driver's side of the car and asked appellant to produce his driver's license and proof of financial responsibility. Appellant was slow to respond to the request. Officer O'Brien smelled the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from appellant's breath and noticed that appellant's eyes were glassy, and appellant was slurring his speech. Officer O'Brien asked appellant to step out of the car because he "wanted to observe [appellant's] balance out of the vehicle" and he wanted to ask "standard questions when you suspect that someone may have been drinking - have you been drinking, how much have you been drinking, are you taking any medication, do you have any medical issues - those type[s] of questions." As Officer O'Brien asked appellant questions, he noticed that appellant was swaying. Officer O'Brien did not necessarily know that appellant was intoxicated, but he suspected that appellant had been drinking both because of the traffic violations and because appellant kept driving for a mile despite lights and sirens calling him to pull over.

         Officer O'Brien wanted to determine whether appellant was impaired and tried to see if a DWI officer could come to the scene. Officer O'Brien learned that a DWI unit was not available, so he would need to take appellant to "central intox" where appellant would be evaluated. Officer O'Brien's patrol car did not have a "dash cam" to record his interactions with appellant because supervisor vehicles are not equipped with dashboard cameras. Officer O'Brien explained that if he had conducted the DWI investigation on the scene, there would not have been a video for the jury to view. Taking appellant to the "central intox" facility was the "quickest means to have [appellant] tested with video proof." Officer O'Brien did not investigate where appellant had been, where he was going, or whether he had been drinking. Instead, he placed appellant in handcuffs and put appellant in the back seat of the patrol car. According to Officer O'Brien, appellant was not free to leave. Following an inventory search of appellant's car, it was towed. Officer O'Brien transported appellant to "central intox" in the patrol car. According to Officer O'Brien, appellant was not under arrest while being transported to the police station but was being detained for further investigation. Officer O'Brien testified that he had probable cause to take appellant to "central intox."

         Officer Tiara Smith of the Houston Police Department DWI Task Force first saw appellant when Officer O'Brien brought him to "central intox." Officer Smith thought appellant was intoxicated because he had slurred speech, glassy eyes, and a strong odor of alcohol and he was swaying while he was standing. Appellant refused to answer any questions. Officer Smith administered the standard field-sobriety tests at the police station. Appellant exhibited signs of intoxication during the field-sobriety tests. Believing appellant to be intoxicated, Officer Smith read appellant a statutory warning known as a "DIC-24," informing him that the police were requesting a sample of appellant's breath or blood. Appellant consented to providing a breath sample. The results of the breath tests showed that appellant's blood- alcohol content was .126 and .127, above the legal limit of .08.

         After Officer O'Brien testified at trial, appellant made an oral motion to suppress, arguing police arrested him without probable cause. Appellant asserted that Officer O'Brien, who testified that appellant was not free to leave, only observed traffic violations, but did not ask appellant investigative questions, such as where appellant had been, where he was going, or what beverages he had consumed. Appellant pointed out that he never refused to answer any questions, Officer O'Brien conducted no field sobriety tests, and appellant never refused to perform any field sobriety tests.

         Appellant also argued that the episode amounted to an illegal detention. Appellant pointed out that Officer O'Brien took appellant's license, appellant was not free to leave, he was locked in a jail cell, his car was towed, and Officer O'Brien did not conduct an investigation regarding a possible DWI offense. Appellant asserted that, although the traffic stop occurred at 8:45 p.m., the DWI investigation did not begin until 10:45 p.m., two hours later. The State responded that an officer reasonably may detain an individual to complete a DWI investigation and the record evidence shows reasonable suspicion to detain appellant because Officer O'Brien had sufficient articulable facts to suspect that appellant was intoxicated, requiring further investigation.

         The trial court stated that it was not going to grant the motion to suppress at that time because it "want[ed] to see what the next step is." The trial resumed.

         After Officer Smith testified on direct examination, appellant re-urged his motion to suppress. Appellant's attorney stated that appellant was not waiving his argument that there was no probable cause for appellant's arrest. Appellant's attorney argued that the investigative detention lasted longer than reasonably necessary because the police detained appellant for two hours before beginning the investigation. The trial court denied the motion to suppress.

         The jury found appellant guilty of driving while intoxicated. The trial court assessed a $500 fine and sentenced appellant to confinement in county jail for 180 days but suspended the sentence and placed appellant on probation for one year.

         II. Issues Presented

         In two issues, appellant claims on appeal that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to grant his motion to suppress because (1) Officer O'Brien arrested appellant without probable cause; and (2) the police subjected appellant to an unlawful detention.

         III. Standard of Review

         Appellate courts review a trial a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress under a bifurcated standard. Ramirez-Tamayo v. State, 537 S.W.3d 29, 35 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017). As long as the record supports the trial court's determination of historical facts, and mixed questions of law and fact that rely on credibility, courts give almost total deference to those decisions. State v. Kerwick, 393 S.W.3d 270, 273 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). This court reviews de novo the trial court's application of the law to the facts. Ramirez-Tamayo, 537 S.W.3d at 35. When, as in this case, the trial court does not make formal findings of fact, this court will uphold the trial court's ruling on any theory of law applicable to the case ...

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