Garza v. State, 03-21-00241-CR

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtCHARI L. KELLY, JUSTICE
PartiesChristopher Alexander Garza, Appellant v. The State of Texas, Appellee
Docket Number03-21-00241-CR
Decision Date23 November 2022

Christopher Alexander Garza, Appellant
v.

The State of Texas, Appellee

No. 03-21-00241-CR

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

November 23, 2022


Do Not Publish

FROM THE 27TH DISTRICT COURT OF LAMPASAS COUNTY NO. 9851, THE HONORABLE JOHN GAUNTT, JUDGE PRESIDING

Before Chief Justice Byrne, Justices Triana and Kelly

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARI L. KELLY, JUSTICE

A jury convicted Christopher Alexander Garza of a third-degree felony for evading arrest using a vehicle, and the trial court rendered judgment on the verdict. See Tex. Penal Code § 38.04(a); Act of May 27, 2011, 82d Leg., R.S., ch. 920, § 3, 2011 Tex. Gen. Laws 2321, 2322 (codified at Tex. Penal Code § 38.04(b)(2)(A)).[1] Garza pleaded true to a prior-felony enhancement, and the jury sentenced him to 20 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. See Tex. Penal Code §§ 12.33, 12.42(a).

On appeal, Garza raises two issues-(1) evidence of alleged illegal drugs, and drug paraphernalia, found in his car should have been excluded and (2) the jury charge's special-issue definition of "deadly weapon" should have included added language distinguishing actual danger

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to others from merely potential danger to others. Because Garza's objections under Rules of Evidence 404(b) and 403 did not require exclusion and because the special-issue definition of "deadly weapon" tracked the statutory language, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

Garza, by his own admission, was "driving like a crazy man" northbound into the city of Lampasas. Another driver on the road called 911 to report Garza's dangerous driving, telling dispatch that someone would likely be killed by Garza's weaving, speeding Mercedes.

South of the city, sheriff's deputies, including Deputy Justin Wilson, spotted the Mercedes and began a car chase. A video of the chase shows Deputy Wilson turning on his patrol vehicle's red and blue emergency flashing lights and siren and tailing the Mercedes. The Mercedes pulled over to the side of the road as if to comply with a traffic stop but then accelerated and drove back into the northbound lane toward town. A deputy in another patrol vehicle joined the chase with his emergency lights illuminated as well. So did a patrolling officer from the Lampasas police department. Law enforcement chased the Mercedes all the way through town.

At several points in town, the Mercedes ran red lights or changed lanes unsafely without signaling. Then as the chase proceeded north beyond the city, the Mercedes to avoid being corralled by law-enforcement vehicles went into the oncoming-traffic lane. One driver in that lane had to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid a collision with the Mercedes.

The Mercedes eventually drove off the righthand side of the road and into a ditch. The Mercedes tried backing up and other maneuvers to dislodge itself, but it was stuck. Garza emerged from the Mercedes and was arrested.

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At trial, Deputy Wilson testified that a baggie containing a white powder was in the Mercedes and that Garza had been seen trying to dump out the baggie's contents. Deputy Wilson also testified about a drug pipe found in the car, and the trial court admitted an exhibit of a picture of the pipe. Otherwise at trial, and in Garza's own words, "[h]is identity, as the driver and sole occupant of the car, was never in issue." Within the court's jury charge was a special issue on Garza's use of a deadly weapon, which instructed the jury that "'[d]eadly [w]eapon' means anything that in the manner of its use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury," see Tex. Penal Code § 1.07(a)(17)(B), and asked it to decide whether Garza had "used a deadly weapon, namely: a motor vehicle, during the commission of the offense." The jury convicted Garza of evading arrest and found the special issue to be "true," and he now appeals.

ADMISSION OF EVIDENCE-RULES 404(b) AND 403

In his first issue, Garza maintains that the trial court should have excluded the testimony and exhibit offered to show that he had illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia in his car, under either Rule of Evidence 404(b) or Rule of Evidence 403. We review a challenge to an admission of evidence for an abuse of discretion. Martinez v. State, 327 S.W.3d 727, 736 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010).

Despite a Rule 404(b) objection, and in a driver's prosecution for evading arrest using a vehicle, a trial court may admit evidence of illegal drugs found in the driver's vehicle as evidence of the driver's motive for evading arrest. Phillips v. State, 534 S.W.3d 644, 654 (Tex. App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2017, no pet.); see also Colone v. State, 573 S.W.3d 249, 267 (Tex. Crim. App. 2019) ("[T]he prosecution may 'always' offer evidence to show motive."). Garza argues that the illegal drugs and paraphernalia could not possibly show his motive to evade arrest

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because "he was driving like a crazy man before he became the focus of police attention," with the chase's occurring before any officer knew of the illegal drugs or paraphernalia in the car. But it is within the "zone of reasonable disagreement," see Garcia v. State, 201 S.W.3d 695, 704-05 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006) (reversal for improper admission of evidence requires that trial court's admission decision be outside the "zone of reasonable disagreement"), and a fair inference that Garza could have had multiple motives for evading arrest, one of which was knowing that if law enforcement found the illegal drugs and paraphernalia in his car, he'd be subject to a harsher punishment, see Bush v. State, 628 S.W.2d 441, 444 (Tex. Crim. App. 1982) (motive evidence is admissible if it "fairly tend[s] to raise an inference in favor of the existence of a motive on the part of the accused to commit the alleged offense for which he is on trial" (quoting Rodriguez v. State, 486 S.W.2d 355, 358 (Tex. Crim. App. 1972))). The trial court thus did not abuse its discretion by admitting the evidence over the Rule 404(b) objection.

As for Rule 403, if the probative value of evidence is substantially outweighed by certain dangers, the evidence is inadmissible. Gonzalez v. State, 544 S.W.3d 363, 371 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018). The dangers identified in the rule are "unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Tex. R. Evid. 403. Unfair prejudice involves "an undue tendency to suggest an improper basis for reaching a decision," Reese v. State, 33 S.W.3d 238, 240 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000), and often involves decisions based on emotion, see Casey v. State, 215 S.W.3d 870, 879 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007); Gittens v. State, 560 S.W.3d 725, 732 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2018, pet. ref'd). "Rule 403 favors the admission of relevant evidence and carries a presumption that relevant evidence will be more probative than prejudicial." Davis v. State, 329 S.W.3d 798, 806 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010); accord Walter v. State, 581 S.W.3d 957, 978 (Tex. App.-Eastland 2019, pet. ref'd).

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Rule 403 calls for a balancing test, under which the analysis includes, but need not be limited to, (1) the probative value of the evidence; (2) the potential to impress the jury in some irrational, yet indelible, way; (3) the time needed to develop the evidence; and (4) the proponent's need for it. Colone, 573 S.W.3d at 266; Walter, 581 S.W.3d at 978. Probative value is "the inherent probative force of an item of evidence-that is, how strongly it serves to make more or less probable the...

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