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State v. Wood

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

May 23, 2019

The State of Texas, Appellant
v.
Michael Lance Wood, Appellee

          FROM THE 27TH DISTRICT COURT OF BELL COUNTY NO. 78725, THE HONORABLE JOHN GAUNTT, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Triana

          OPINION

          THOMAS J. BAKER, JUSTICE.

         Following a traffic stop, Michael Lance Wood was charged with driving while intoxicated. See Tex. Penal Code § 49.04. The indictment alleged that Wood had previously been convicted of driving while intoxicated on three prior occasions. See id. § 49.09(b)(2). After his arrest, Wood filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the traffic stop. The district court conducted a hearing regarding the motion to suppress and later granted the motion. The State appeals the district court's order granting the motion to suppress. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 44.01(a)(5). We will reverse the district court's order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         As set out above, Wood was charged with driving while intoxicated and filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a traffic stop, and the district court held a hearing regarding the motion. In his motion, Wood argued that Officer Matthew Hicks did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that an offense occurred before he initiated the traffic stop that ultimately resulted in Wood's arrest. During the suppression hearing, Officer Hicks was the only witness to testify.

         Officer Hicks testified that he observed "a lit cigarette come out of the driver['s] window" of the vehicle that Wood was driving and then "fall to the street." Officer Hicks also related that the cigarette did not cause a fire when it hit the ground. Further, Officer Hicks testified that after seeing the cigarette land on the road, he initiated a traffic stop. In addition, Officer Hicks stated that he ultimately arrested Wood for driving while intoxicated after asking Wood to perform various field-sobriety tests. During Officer Hicks's testimony, a video recording from his dashboard camera was admitted into evidence and played for the district court. The video shows what appears to be a cigarette being tossed from Wood's car and landing on the road in front of Officer Hicks's patrol car.[1]

         After the hearing, the district court issued an order granting Wood's motion to suppress and also issued the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

         Findings of Fact

3. While following the vehicle, [Officer Hicks] observed a lit cigarette come out of the driver's window and fall into the street in front of his patrol unit.
4. No fire was started by the cigarette.
5. [Officer Hicks] conducted a traffic stop for littering. . . .

         Conclusions of Law

11. The littering statute, Health & Safety Code Sec. 365.012 was amended . . . to add (a-1) which made disposing of lighted litter, including a cigarette[, ] an offense only if a ...

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