Monjaras v. State, PD-0582-21

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtWALKER, J.
PartiesTAIRON JOSE MONJARAS, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS
Docket NumberPD-0582-21
Decision Date23 November 2022

TAIRON JOSE MONJARAS, Appellant
v.

THE STATE OF TEXAS

No. PD-0582-21

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

November 23, 2022


ON APPELLANT'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM THE FIRST COURT OF APPEALS HARRIS COUNTY

Richardson, Yeary, Newell, and McClure, JJ., joined. Keller, P.J., and Hervey, Keel, and Slaughter, JJ., dissented.

OPINION

WALKER, J.

After the trial court denied his motion to suppress, Appellant Tairon Jose Monjaras pled guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment. On appeal, Appellant argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress because his interaction with law enforcement was an investigative detention without reasonable suspicion rather than a consensual encounter. A majority of the court of appeals disagreed and found that the interaction was a consensual encounter. We hold that Appellant's interaction with law enforcement, which started as a consensual encounter, escalated into an

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investigative detention. We reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and remand the case to that court to determine whether the investigative detention was supported by reasonable suspicion.

I. Background

In December 2018, Officer J. Sallee and Officer C. Starks were patrolling an area of southwest Houston purportedly associated with gang violence and narcotics trafficking. Around noon, Officers observed Appellant walking around an apartment complex with a backpack on. The officers thought it was "not normal" that Appellant looked down as the officers drove by and looked up when they passed. The officers also believed Appellant-wearing a beanie, light jacket, and pants-was overdressed for the weather.[1]

Officer Sallee wanted "to see where [Appellant] was going or what was going on." The officers turned the car around but did not see Appellant. The officers assumed Appellant ran away; however, they saw Appellant again on the other side of the complex. The officers pulled in front of Appellant but did not turn their police lights or siren on. Officer Starks can be heard on his body-worn camera recording announcing that the officers are heading into a "consensual encounter." He got out of the vehicle and introduced himself to Appellant. Meanwhile, Officer Starks exited the passenger side of the vehicle, walked around to the rear of the cruiser, and stood a few feet away. Both officers were in uniform with their service pistols visible but holstered. The police car was parked in front of Appellant while the officers stood on either side of him. There was an apartment building behind Appellant.

After introducing himself, Officer Sallee asked Appellant for basic information including

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his name, where he lived, and if he had identification. Officer Sallee stood close to Appellant, but his demeanor was relatively friendly. Appellant appeared to understand the questions and replied in broken English. Appellant told Officer Sallee that he lived in an apartment across the street and had left his identification at home, but he offered to write his name down. Officer Starks walked to the passenger side of the vehicle to retrieve a fingerprinting device.

While Appellant was writing his name, Officer Sallee asked Appellant if he had ever been arrested. Appellant responded that he had previously been arrested for "assault, ah, domestic violence." Officer Sallee then asked Appellant "You nervous? You look like you're nervous. You're shaking." Appellant seemingly confirmed that he was nervous. Meanwhile, Officer Starks returned and stood approximately two feet from Appellant.[2] This placed Appellant within arm's length of each officer.

Officer Sallee asked if Appellant had anything illegal on him, including weapons. Appellant shook his head "no," and Officer Sallee asked if he could search Appellant. Appellant did not respond but began emptying his pockets. Apparently trying to stop Appellant, Officer Sallee quickly responded, "Hold on, hold on, hold on. May I search you?" While asking this, Officer Sallee placed his hand on Appellant's arm. Appellant reached into his pocket again while Officer Sallee put his hand around Appellant's elbow and said, "It's a question. Hold on. Talk to me." Appellant continued to remove items from his pocket and said, "But I-I-I know. You said- you said you wanted to search me." With his hand on Appellant's back, Officer Sallee responded, "No, no, no, you're not understanding what I'm saying."

Meanwhile, Officer Starks took two steps toward Appellant, extended both hands

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outwards with his palms facedown and instructed Appellant "manos, manos."[3] Officer Sallee then, more insistently, repeated, "May I search you? May I go into your pockets and search you?" Neither officer informed Appellant that he did not have to consent. After pausing, Appellant responded, "Yeah." Officer Sallee then instructed, "Okay, slide your hands on the car for me, please."

Appellant complied. Officer Sallee proceeded to search Appellant's person but did not find anything. He searched Appellant's bag and found bullets. After discovering the bullets, Officer Sallee searched Appellant again and found a pistol under Appellant's groin. A struggle ensued between Officer Sallee and Appellant. Officer Starks, believing that Appellant was going for his gun, subdued Appellant with a taser.

Appellant was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 46.04(a). Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized by law enforcement in connection with his detention and arrest.[4] At the motion to suppress hearing, both officers maintained that Appellant was free to leave prior to the search and that they would not have chased him. The trial court denied Appellant's motion without making written findings of fact. Appellant subsequently pled guilty; however, he maintained his right to appeal the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress.

On appeal, Appellant claimed that the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress because the encounter was an investigative detention without reasonable suspicion-rather than a consensual encounter. See Monjaras, 631 S.W.3d at 803. A divided First Court of Appeals

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found the encounter to be consensual and upheld the trial court's ruling. Id. at 810. Because the appellate court found that the encounter was consensual, the majority did not reach the issue of whether reasonable suspicion existed. Id. at 810 n.4. Justice Goodman dissented, arguing that while the initial encounter between Appellant and law enforcement was consensual, the encounter escalated into an investigative detention before Officer Sallee's search of Appellant because "[w]hen Monjaras hesitated to consent, the officers detained him by compelling his compliance through a show of their official authority, which included instructing Monjaras as to how he was to behave, flanking him, intruding into his personal space, and touching his person." Id. at 826 (Goodman, J., dissenting). We granted Appellant's petition for discretionary review to determine whether the court of appeals erred in finding that Appellant's interaction with the officers was a consensual encounter.[5]

II. Law

A. Standard of Review

This Court applies a bifurcated standard of review when evaluating a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress. Valtierra v. State, 310 S.W.3d 442, 447 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010). We afford almost total deference to a trial court's determination of historical facts if supported by the record, especially when the factfinding is based on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997); Wade v. State, 422 S.W.3d 661, 666 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). However, we conduct a de novo review when reviewing a trial court's application of law to facts that do not depend on credibility and demeanor. Guzman, 955

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S.W.2d at 89. "We view the record in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling and uphold the ruling if it is supported by the record and is correct under any theory of the law applicable to the case." Ruiz v. State, 577 S.W.3d 543, 545 (Tex. Crim. App. 2019). However, if evidence is conclusive, such as indisputable video evidence, we may disregard any trial court findings inconsistent with the conclusive evidence. Miller v. State, 393 S.W.3d 255, 263 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012).

We review de novo a trial court's application of the law of search and seizure to the facts. Wade, 422 S.W.3d at 667; Valtierra, 310 S.W.3d at 447. Specifically, we review de novo whether a police-citizen interaction amounts to a consensual encounter or an investigative detention "because that is an issue of law-the application of legal principles to a specific set of facts." State v. Garcia-Cantu, 253 S.W.3d 236, 241 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008); Johnson v. State, 414 S.W.3d 184, 192 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). "We review de novo the question of whether a consensual encounter has advanced into a detention." Furr v. State, 499 S.W.3d 872, 877 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)

B. Consensual Encounter Versus Investigative Detention

The Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens the right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures[.]" U.S. Const. amend. IV. The law has recognized three types of police-citizen interactions related to searches and seizures: (1) consensual encounters that do not implicate the Fourth Amendment; (2) investigative detentions that must be supported by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity; and (3) arrests that are reasonable only if supported by probable cause. Furr, 499 S.W.3d at 877; Wade, 422 S.W.3d at 667.

An encounter is consensual only if the citizen is free to leave and terminate the interaction at any time. Johnson, 414 S.W.3d at 193; Crain v. State, 315 S.W.3d 43, 49 (Tex.

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Crim. App. 2010). An encounter is a detention if an officer, through...

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