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Texas Department of Public Safety v. Rabideau

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

July 17, 2019

TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Appellant
v.
ALAN L. RABIDEAU, Appellee

          Date Submitted: June 24, 2019

          On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 Williamson County, Texas Trial Court No. 18-1180-CC2

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Josh R. Morriss, III Chief Justice

         After Round Rock police officer Bryce Branzell stopped Alan L. Rabideau for speeding in Williamson County[1] and initially decided that he was going to let Rabideau off with a warning, Branzell reportedly smelled alcohol on Rabideau's breath and noticed Rabideau's eyes were bloodshot. Branzell investigated further and ultimately arrested Rabideau for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Rabideau refused Branzell's request to provide a breath or blood specimen. As a result, the Texas Department of Public Safety (the Department)[2] suspended Rabideau's driver's license. In Rabideau's requested hearing on the suspension, an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that Rabideau's driver's license was subject to suspension for 180 days.[3] Next, Rabideau appealed to the County Court at Law No. 2 of Williamson County (the CCL), which reversed the ALJ's decision.[4] Now, the Department appeals to this Court, challenging the CCL's reversal of the ALJ's decision and asserting that there was substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision. We reverse the CCL's judgment and render judgment reinstating the ALJ's decision, because (1) substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding of reasonable suspicion and (2) Rabideau did not preserve a complaint that there was an unreasonable delay in the DWI investigation. Those reasons lead us to the ultimate conclusion that there was no constitutional violation arguable on appeal that prejudiced Rabideau's substantial rights.

         At the administrative hearing, admitted without objection were a copy of Branzell's offense report and a statutory warning signed by Rabideau in which he acknowledged that, after his arrest, he refused Branzell's request for a breath and blood specimen. Branzell and Officer Michael Childress also testified.

         The evidence showed that, around 10:00 p.m. on December 19, 2017, Branzell observed a motorcycle traveling at a high rate of speed on North Mays Street in Round Rock, and he confirmed with his in-car radar that it was travelling fifty-one miles per hour in a thirty-five-mile-per-hour zone. Branzell began following the vehicle and observed it make an unusual, but not illegal, right turn at a red light at the intersection of East Palm Valley Boulevard. After pulling the vehicle over, Branzell determined that the driver was Rabideau, who provided him with a voided Texas driver's license and a paper Montana driver's license. After providing Rabideau's information to dispatch, Branzell was prepared to give him a warning ticket and release him.

         However, when he returned to the motorcycle and told Rabideau that he was giving him a warning, Branzell smelled metabolized alcohol on his breath and noticed that his eyes were bloodshot.[5] Although Rabideau denied consuming any alcohol, he did not explain the smell of alcohol on his breath. He also said that he had taken prescription pain pills and muscle relaxers for injuries to his back and legs, but would not disclose when he took those medications. Branzell decided to investigate Rabideau for DWI and called for backup, which arrived after several minutes. Branzell did not administer any field sobriety tests until after Officer Childress, who responded to the backup call, arrived on the scene.[6]

         Prior to his arrest, Branzell did not see Rabideau stagger, stumble, or fall. However, Rabideau remained seated on his motorcycle until he was arrested. Rabideau's speech was not impaired and was consistent with sobriety. He also appropriately pulled his motorcycle over in response to Branzell's emergency lights.

         We review the ALJ's decision under a substantial evidence standard. See Mireles v. Tex. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 9 S.W.3d 128, 131 (Tex. 1999). Under the substantial evidence standard, the ALJ's decision may not be reversed unless the appellant's substantial rights "have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions are:"

(A) in violation of a constitutional or statutory provision;
(B) in excess of the agency's statutory authority;
(C) made through unlawful procedure;
(D) affected by other error of ...

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