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Taylor v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

April 9, 2019

BENE A. TAYLOR, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the County Criminal Court at Law No. 7 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2100220

          Panel consists of Justices Wise, Jewell, and Bourliot.

          OPINION

          FRANCES BOURLIOT JUSTICE.

         In three issues, appellant Bene A. Taylor appeals his DWI conviction. He challenges (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction under the corpus delecti rule, (2) the trial court's admission of evidence involving a fatality accident at the scene, and (3) the enhancement of appellant's conviction to a class A misdemeanor without a prior DWI conviction. We conclude that (1) appellant's conviction is supported by legally sufficient evidence, (2) appellant did not preserve error on his evidentiary challenge, and (3) the trial court properly instructed the jury that it could find appellant guilty of a class A misdemeanor if it found appellant's blood alcohol concentration was .15 or more. We affirm.

         Background

         Appellant's car, a Volkswagen, stalled out on the Southwest Freeway in Houston, Texas when appellant ran out of gas around 1:00 a.m. Shortly thereafter, appellant was observed standing on a main lane of the freeway next to the front door of the car.[1] Another driver subsequently rear ended the Volkswagen. A wrecker truck arrived, and its driver had parked near the two vehicles when the driver of a pickup truck struck the wrecker. The pickup truck rolled over, the driver was ejected, and he died on the scene.

         Officer Ciers assessed appellant for intoxication. He spoke with appellant and observed "a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath" and "slow, deliberate speech," which led Ciers to conclude that it was necessary to conduct field sobriety tests on appellant. Ciers wore a body camera during his encounter with appellant on the scene, which was admitted at trial without objection.[2] The body camera recorded the accident scene, in addition to onsite field sobriety testing and statements made by appellant. Appellant stated that he was alone in his Volkswagen driving when he ran out of gas. He admitted that he drank "about three" beers before getting behind the wheel.

         Ciers conducted the horizontal gaze nystagmus test on appellant and observed six of six clues of intoxication. He then took appellant to the police station for additional sobriety testing. At the station, appellant again admitted to driving the Volkswagen. He also stated that he began drinking around 9:30 p.m. and stopped around 12:30 a.m. Ciers conducted the walk and turn and one leg stand tests. He did not observe any signs of intoxication during those tests, but he again conducted the HGN test on appellant and observed all six clues. Appellant agreed to a breath test. Two tests were given at 3:53 and 3:56 a.m., and they showed blood alcohol concentrations of .169 and .170.[3]

         Discussion

         Appellant challenges (1) the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction under the corpus delecti rule; (2) the trial court's admission of evidence involving the truck accident and death of the driver; and (3) the trial court's submission of a jury charge instruction allowing the jury to find appellant guilty of a class A misdemeanor without a prior DWI conviction.

         I. Evidence of Driving While Intoxicated Legally Sufficient

         Appellant argues in his second issue that his DWI conviction is not supported by legally sufficient evidence under the corpus delecti rule. He contends his extrajudicial statements to police amount to the only evidence that he was driving the Volkswagen while intoxicated.[4] We disagree.

         The corpus delicti rule applies when there is an extrajudicial confession to involvement in a crime. See Miller v. State, 457 S.W.3d 919, 924 (Tex. Crim. App. 2015). Under the rule, "a defendant's extrajudicial confession does not constitute legally sufficient evidence of guilt absent independent evidence." Id. The rule's purpose is to ensure that a person will not be convicted based solely on his own false confession to a crime that never occurred. Id.

         The Court of Criminal Appeals has held that the Jackson v. Virginia standard set forth by the Supreme Court is the "only constitutional standard of review for assessing the legal sufficiency of evidence in a criminal case." Carrizales v. State, 414 S.W.3d 737, 742 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013) (citing Jackson, 443 U.S. 307 (1979)). Under that standard, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict and determine whether any rational factfinder could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. ...


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