Munoz v. State, 01-20-00469-CR

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtPeter Kelly, Justice
Citation649 S.W.3d 813
Parties Esau Martinez MUNOZ, Appellant v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee
Docket Number01-20-00469-CR
Decision Date28 June 2022

649 S.W.3d 813

Esau Martinez MUNOZ, Appellant
The STATE of Texas, Appellee

NO. 01-20-00469-CR

Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (1st Dist.).

Opinion issued June 28, 2022

Bridget Woody Holloway, Kim K. Ogg, Houston, for Appellee.

Priscilla Bush, for Appellant.

Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Kelly and Landau.

Peter Kelly, Justice

Esau Martinez Munoz appeals from his conviction for driving while intoxicated, third offense. See TEX. PENAL CODE §§ 49.04 ; 49.09(b). Following the denial of his motion to suppress, Munoz pleaded guilty in exchange for the State's punishment recommendation of 10 years’ imprisonment suspended for community supervision for 4 years. The trial court found Munoz guilty and sentenced him according to the agreement.

On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. He argues that the deputy who stopped his truck lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop. We affirm.


In January 2019, a patrol deputy from the Harris County Sheriff's Office stopped the truck Munoz was driving. The deputy had observed the truck traveling on Veterans Memorial Drive in Houston shortly after midnight. The stop led to Munoz's arrest and indictment for driving while intoxicated. The charge was enhanced with two prior convictions for driving while intoxicated in 2009 and 2013. Munoz moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that law enforcement did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him.

Deputy R. Stanley was the only witness at the hearing on Munoz's motion to suppress. He testified that he followed Munoz on Veterans Memorial Drive for six to eight minutes before turning on his lights and stopping Munoz. The road had two northbound lanes, two southbound lanes, and a shared center turn lane. There was no curb or median between any of the lanes.

Munoz was driving in the far-right lane, traveling northbound. Traffic was moderate, with several cars on the road. Deputy Stanley first noticed Munoz's truck because it was weaving within its lane. He testified that the truck was "pretty much staying within the line but bouncing from the centerline to the outside line." Deputy Stanley found this unusual.

Before activating his lights, Deputy Stanley observed Munoz attempt to make a lane change. Instead of moving from one

649 S.W.3d 816

northbound lane to the other, Munoz straddled the two northbound lanes. Munoz's driver side tires were in one northbound lane while his passenger side tires were in the other northbound lane. He observed Munoz straddling the lane line for two or three seconds. Deputy Stanley testified that this was a traffic violation.

Instead of immediately pulling Munoz over, Deputy Stanley continued to follow him until he found a safe place to make the traffic stop. Deputy Stanley testified that he could not pass Munoz. He testified that he believed Munoz was driving unsafely and could have veered off the roadway.

A recording from Deputy Stanley's dashboard camera was admitted into evidence. The video begins thirty seconds before Deputy Stanley activated the lights on his patrol car. The video starts with Munoz's truck driving in the far-right lane. The vehicle's left turn signal is on. Though he veers to the left and drives on the center stripe line between the two northbound lanes, Munoz does not change lanes. Next, the truck's right turn signal turns on, and the truck veers right, toward the outside solid white line. Deputy Stanley testified that this line is known as the fog line. While the turn signal remains activated, the truck drives straight through a lighted intersection. Munoz drives on the fog line for several seconds with his blinker on. While the right blinker is still on, Munoz veers left, toward the center stripe line between the two northbound lanes. The blinker turns off as Munoz's driver side tires cross the center stripe line and into the other northbound lane. He straddles the two lanes briefly. Deputy Stanley's patrol lights turn on, the truck slows down and turns into a gas station, and Deputy Stanley completes the traffic stop. During the video of Munoz driving, several cars are driving on the same road in the opposite direction.

The trial court denied Munoz's motion to suppress. Shortly thereafter, Munoz pleaded guilty in exchange for confinement for 10 years, suspended for community supervision for four years. The trial court found him guilty and sentenced him according to the plea agreement. This appeal followed.

Standard of Review

The United States and Texas Constitutions protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. CONST. amend. IV ; TEX. CONST. art. I, § 9. No evidence obtained in violation of the United States or Texas Constitutions can be admitted as evidence against the accused at trial. TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 38.23. A warrantless automobile stop is a Fourth Amendment seizure analogous to a temporary detention, and it must be justified by reasonable suspicion. Berkemer v. McCarty , 468 U.S. 420, 439, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984) ; see Derichsweiler v. State , 348 S.W.3d 906, 914 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011). A police officer is justified in stopping a vehicle if the officer has a reasonable suspicion to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. Lerma v. State , 543 S.W.3d 184, 190 (Tex. Crim. App. 2018).

To suppress evidence based on a violation of the Fourth Amendment, the defendant bears the initial burden of proof to rebut the presumption of proper police conduct by establishing that the search or seizure occurred without a warrant. Abney v. State , 394 S.W.3d 542, 547 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). The burden then shifts to the State to prove that there was a reasonable suspicion that the person was violating the law. Id. If the State has not shown sufficient evidence of reasonable suspicion, then the traffic stop violates the Fourth Amendment. Brodnex v. State , 485 S.W.3d 432, 437 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016).

When reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we give

649 S.W.3d 817

almost total deference to the court's determination of the historical facts that the record supports, especially when those fact-findings are based on an evaluation of the witnesses’ credibility and demeanor. Guzman v. State , 955 S.W.2d 85, 89 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). At a suppression hearing, the trial court is the sole finder of fact and is free to believe or disbelieve any or all evidence presented. Wiede v. State , 214 S.W.3d 17, 24–25 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). When, as here, a trial court makes no explicit findings of fact, the appellate court should view the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling and assume that the trial court made implicit findings of fact. See Carmouche v. State , 10 S.W.3d 323, 328 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000).

We accord almost total deference to the trial court's rulings on mixed questions of law and fact if those decisions turn on the credibility and demeanor of the witnesses. See Guzman , 955 S.W.2d at 89. We review de novo mixed questions of law and fact that do not turn on witness credibility. Id. The "reasonableness" of a specific search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment is subject to de novo review. Kothe v. State , 152 S.W.3d 54, 62–63 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004).


In his sole issue on appeal, Munoz argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress because Deputy Stanley lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop.

A. Texas Transportation Code 545.060(a)

In this case, the only basis for the traffic stop was section 545.060(a) of the Texas Transportation Code, which provides that "[a]n operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic: (1) shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane; and (2) may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely." TEX. TRANSP. CODE § 545.060(a).1 The parties do not contest that the stop was conducted without a warrant.

In 2016, the Court of Criminal Appeals interpreted section 545.060 of the Texas Transportation Code in Leming v. State , 493 S.W.3d 552, 559 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). A four-judge plurality concluded:

[I]t is an offense to change marked lanes when it is unsafe to do so; but it is also an independent offense to fail to remain entirely within a marked lane of traffic so long as it remains practical to do so, regardless of whether the deviation from the marked lane is, under the particular circumstances unsafe.

Leming , 493 S.W.3d at 559–60. Since Leming , the interpretation of section 545.060 is not yet settled, as is apparent from examining the intermediate courts of appeals cases discussing it. See Dugar v. State , 629 S.W.3d 494, 500 n.28 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2021, pet. ref'd) (listing several appellate courts that have followed the Leming plurality and a few courts that have not). Courts that have followed Leming hold that it is a violation of section 545.060 to either fail to maintain the lane or to switch lanes unsafely.

Our sister courts, the Third, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals have not followed the Leming plurality. S...

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