Bell v. State

Decision Date26 August 2019
Docket NumberNo. 02-17-00299-CR,02-17-00299-CR
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

On Appeal from County Criminal Court No. 10 Tarrant County, Texas

Trial Court No. 1478469

Before Sudderth, C.J.; Kerr and Birdwell, JJ.

Memorandum Opinion by Justice Kerr MEMORANDUM OPINION

As part of a plea bargain, Travis Bell pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, misdemeanor repetition, and the trial court sentenced him to 60 days in the Tarrant County Jail. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 49.04(a), 49.09(a). On appeal, Bell attacks the trial court's order denying his motion to suppress.

Bell presents three issues:

(1) Was his first interaction with the police an encounter or a detention?
(2) Was his later detention supported by reasonable suspicion?
(3) Was his warrantless arrest for driving while intoxicated authorized under article 14.03(a)(1) of the code of criminal procedure?

We answer Bell's questions as follows:

(1) the first interaction between the police and Bell was an encounter,
(2) the police later had reasonable suspicion to detain Bell, and
(3) article 14.01(b) of the criminal-procedure code authorized Bell's warrantless arrest for public intoxication even though the officer arrested Bell for driving while intoxicated.

We will therefore affirm the trial court's judgment.


The parties stipulated that the arrest was without a warrant.

Officer John Schram testified that he was working the night shift with his patrol partner, Victor Rucker, on November 26, 2016, when he received a dispatch around 2:30 a.m. to respond to an accident. On arriving at the scene, he saw a whitesedan against the guardrail in the left lane and another vehicle, an SUV with its hazard lights on, farther up the road.

Schram acknowledged that he and Rucker were initially responding to a 911 call and had not seen any offense. They pulled up behind the white sedan in their fully marked police vehicle; its red-and-blue lights were on but not its siren. Defense counsel questioned Schram about why he turned the lights on:

Q. When your red and blues come on, is that typically what you use to detain somebody?
A. The red and blues come on because it was an accident and his vehicle was in a lane of traffic. So for safety of the public, so no one runs into the rear of Mr. Bell or us or anybody else, that's why we use the red and blues.
Q. That's also, to be fair, the red and blues are also used when you pull people over, right?
A. They are.

Schram later added that when making an arrest, he used different lights:

Q. Why, in your estimation, did you need [the red-and-blue lights] in this situation?
A. Just for the accident, so to make sure that no one ran into Mr. Bell or his vehicle or anything like that. That's why we only used the—the rear red and blues and not the front red and blues—
Q. Was your—
A. —like when we're making an arrest.

After the officers pulled up behind Bell's car, both Schram and Rucker, who were uniformed, got out of the patrol car. Schram checked on Bell's car while Rucker checked on the SUV.

Schram denied having approached Bell's car with his gun drawn, denied ordering Bell to the ground, and denied handcuffing Bell. But Schram acknowledged that if Bell had tried to run away on foot, Bell could have been "on the hook for an evading charge."

Schram encountered Bell outside the sedan's driver's side and asked for his driver's license and registration. Bell admitted to Schram that he was the car's only occupant and was also its driver. Medstar arrived and checked out the SUV's occupants, who did not require hospitalization; Bell declined medical treatment.

Schram observed that Bell had watery eyes and slurred speech, swayed and was unsteady when he walked, and smelled of alcohol. Bell told Schram that he was coming from the Mule Bar and that he had drunk two beers. Schram then decided that he needed to "investigate an offense."

To conduct a field-sobriety test at the accident scene would not have been safe, so Schram and Rucker took Bell in their patrol car to the nearest mall parking lot. Bell was not in handcuffs, and the officers did not tell him that he was under arrest.

Once they were in the parking lot, Schram administered the usual horizontal-gaze-nystagmus, the walk-and-turn, and the one-leg-stand tests. When performing the HGN test, Bell showed six out of six clues; he presented four of eight clues on thewalk-and-turn test and one of four on the one-leg-stand test. After Bell finished the tests, Schram determined that he had probable cause to arrest Bell.

Although Schram never saw Bell driving, Schram arrested him for driving while intoxicated. At the hearing, Schram denied having any exigent circumstances requiring the arrest.

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

The trial court denied Bell's motion to suppress and made written factual findings and legal conclusions. The trial court concluded that Schram's and Bell's initial interaction was an encounter, not a detention; that after Schram encountered Bell, saw Bell's condition, and heard Bell admit that he had been drinking and driving, Schram had reasonable suspicion to detain Bell for driving while intoxicated; and that after Bell performed the field-sobriety tests, Schram had probable cause to arrest Bell for driving while intoxicated. The trial court also concluded that Schram had the authority to arrest Bell without a warrant.

Bell's Arguments

Bell contends that the police detained him from the moment the officers arrived because their red-and-blue lights were on and because Schram testified at the suppression hearing that if Bell had tried to leave, he could have been charged with evading detention or arrest. Bell also argues that Schram admitted not seeing an offense committed and that without exigent circumstances—which Schram admitteddid not exist—article 14.03(a)(1) of the criminal procedure code did not authorize Schram to arrest him. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 14.03(a)(1).

Standard of Review

We apply a bifurcated standard of review to a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress evidence. Amador v. State, 221 S.W.3d 666, 673 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007); Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). We defer almost totally to a trial court's rulings on questions of historical fact and to a trial court's applying the law to the facts when the facts turn on evaluating credibility and demeanor; but when credibility and demeanor play no factual role, we review the trial court's rulings de novo. Amador, 221 S.W.3d at 673; Estrada v. State, 154 S.W.3d 604, 607 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005); Johnson v. State, 68 S.W.3d 644, 652-53 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

At a suppression hearing, the trial court alone judges the witnesses' credibility and the weight to be given their testimony. State v. Rudd, 255 S.W.3d 293, 297 (Tex. App.—Waco 2008, pet. ref'd) (citing Wiede v. State, 214 S.W.3d 17, 24-25 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007)). Thus, the court may choose to believe all or only portions of a witness's testimony, disbelieving other portions. Id. (citing Garza v. State, 213 S.W.3d 338, 346 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007)). We do not disturb fact findings that the record supports Id. And we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the court's ruling. Id. at 297-98 (citing State v. Kelly, 204 S.W.3d 808, 818 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006)). When, as here, the trial court makes factual findings, we must determine whether the evidence supports them. Id. at 298. We then review the trial court's legal rulings de novo unlessthe court's findings are also dispositive of the legal ruling. Id. Even if the trial court gave the wrong reason for its ruling, we must uphold the ruling if it is both supported by the record and correct under any applicable legal theory. State v. Stevens, 235 S.W.3d 736, 740 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007); Armendariz v. State, 123 S.W.3d 401, 404 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003).


Interactions between police officers and citizens fall into three possible categories:

• encounters,
• investigative detentions, and
• arrests.

State v. Priddy, 321 S.W.3d 82, 86 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2010, pet. ref'd) (citing State v. Perez, 85 S.W.3d 817, 819 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002); State v. Bryant, 161 S.W.3d 758, 761 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2005, no pet.)).

An officer's questioning witnesses while investigating an accident is generally a consensual encounter. Rudd, 255 S.W.3d at 298 (citing State v. Stevenson, 958 S.W.2d 824, 829 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997); Stoutner v. State, 36 S.W.3d 716, 719-20 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2001, pet. ref'd); Harper v. State, 217 S.W.3d 672, 675 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2007, no pet)). The answers to the officer's questions and the officer's other observations may then provide reasonable suspicion to believe that a driving-while-intoxicated offense has occurred. Id. (citing Stevenson, 958 S.W.2d at 829; Stoutner, 36S.W.3d at 719-20). If so, then the encounter "escalates to an investigatory detention during which the officer conducts field sobriety tests." Id. (citing Arthur v. State, 216 S.W.3d 50, 55 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2007, no pet.); Reynolds v. State, 163 S.W.3d 808, 810-11 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2005), aff'd, 204 S.W.3d 386 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006); Stoutner, 36 S.W.3d at 719-20). The sobriety-testing results may then lead to probable cause to arrest. Id. (citing Rodriguez v. State, 191 S.W.3d 428, 444-45 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2006, pet. ref'd)).

A. Schram and Bell initially engaged in an encounter.
1. Applicable Law

An encounter is a consensual interaction that a person may terminate at any time, unlike an investigative detention or an arrest, either of which is a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes. Priddy, 321 S.W.3d at 86 (citing Gurrola v. State, 877 S.W.2d 300, 302-03 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994); Bryant, 161 S.W.3d at 761). As long as the person remains free to ignore the officer's questions and walk away, the encounter is a consensual one that merits no further constitutional analysis. Id. (citing ...

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