Sparks v. State, 070920 TXCA6, 06-20-00014-CR

Docket Nº:06-20-00014-CR
Opinion Judge:Scott E. Stevens, Justice.
Judge Panel:Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.
Case Date:July 09, 2020
Court:Court of Appeals of Texas




No. 06-20-00014-CR

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

July 9, 2020

Do Not Publish

Submitted Date: July 6, 2020

On Appeal from the 7th District Court Smith County, Texas Trial Court No. 007-0934-19

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


Scott E. Stevens, Justice.

A Smith County1 jury found that Roderick Deandre Sparks intentionally or knowingly destroyed or concealed cocaine by chewing a baggie of cocaine during a traffic stop with intent to impair the availability of evidence in an investigation or official proceeding. As a result, the jury convicted Sparks of tampering with physical evidence. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.09. After the jury found that Sparks was twice previously convicted of felony offenses, it assessed an enhanced sentence of forty years' imprisonment.

On appeal, Sparks argues that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's verdict of guilt because he surrendered the baggie of cocaine when the arresting officer discovered Sparks chewing it and requested him to spit it out. Sparks also argues that the decision to enhance his sentence was fueled by prosecutorial vindictiveness. Because we find that (1) legally sufficient evidence supports the jury's verdict and (2) Sparks has failed to meet his burden to show actual prosecutorial vindictiveness, we affirm the trial court's judgment.


Legally Sufficient Evidence Supports the Jury's Verdict


Factual Background

Jonathan Holland, a Tyler Police Department (TPD) officer, arrived at the scene of a traffic stop of a vehicle driven by Sparks, who initially failed to yield to other TPD officers. Holland approached Sparks and noticed that he was trying to "hide that he was chewing on something or hiding something under his tongue." Holland described Sparks's action as "swallow chewing" and said that, when asked what was in his mouth, Sparks "attempted to start trying to swallow whatever was in his mouth." As Holland opened the door, Sparks "reached into his mouth, pulled out the bag, and then held it out the driver's window."

Adam Riggle, a TPD officer, testified that he took the bag from Sparks. According to Riggle, the bag was wet and had a "[r]eal small" amount of a white substance. Holland noticed that Sparks had white reside on the walls of his mouth and tongue. On the dash cam recording, an officer can be heard telling told Sparks to stick out his tongue and, after viewing Sparks's mouth, saying, "You got that white stuff all over your mouth, man." Holland and Riggle both testified that the bag, which contained a plastic straw, field tested positive for cocaine. Micaela Steward, a forensic scientist with the Texas Department of Public Safety, testified that the bag contained a trace amount, or less than 0.01 grams, of cocaine. Steward added that there was no visible powder in the bag, only a "kind of a wet residue."

Based on his experience as a police officer, Holland testified that suspects who eat bags filled with controlled substances are "trying to destroy, hide, or essentially get rid of the evidence of narcotics." Holland explained that, even where a bag is retrieved from the mouth, evidence is impaired if some of the drug is consumed because the weight of the drug can alter the degree of a possession of a controlled substance offense. Riggle testified that Sparks tried to conceal evidence in his mouth and, when asked if he destroyed some of the evidence, said, "Yes, sir. The bag was pretty messed up." The recording of the incident showed that the bag was chewed up. Holland testified that, because of Sparks's actions, he did not know the weight of the cocaine that was in the bag before it went into Sparks's mouth.


Standard of Review

"In assessing the legal sufficiency of the evidence, the reviewing court considers all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether a rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt." Dean v. State, 449 S.W.3d 267, 268 (Tex App-Tyler 2014, no pet); see Williamson v State, 589 S.W.3d 292, 297 (Tex App-Texarkana 2019, pet ref'd) (plurality op) (citing Brooks v State, 323 S.W.3d 893, 912 (Tex Crim App 2010) (plurality op); Jackson v Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)) "Our rigorous [legal sufficiency] review focuses on the quality of the evidence presented" Williamson, 589 S.W.3d at 297 (citing Brooks, 323 S.W.3d at 917-18 (Cochran, J, concurring)). "We examine legal sufficiency under the direction of the Brooks opinion, while giving deference to the responsibility of the jury 'to fairly resolve conflicts in testimony, to weigh the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts.'" Id. (quoting Hooper v. State, 214 S.W.3d 9, 13 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007); citing Jackson, 443 U.S. at 318-19; Clayton v. State, 235 S.W.3d 772, 778 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007)).

"Legal sufficiency of the evidence is measured by the elements of the offense as defined by a hypothetically correct jury charge." Id. at 298 (quoting Malik v. State, 953 S.W.2d 234, 240 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997)). "The 'hypothetically correct' jury charge is 'one that accurately sets out the law, is authorized by the indictment, does not unnecessarily increase the State's burden of proof or unnecessarily restrict the State's theories of liability, and adequately describes the particular offense for which the defendant was tried.'" Id. (quoting Malik, 953 S.W.2d at 240).

A person commits the offense of tampering with evidence "if, knowing that an investigation or official proceeding is pending or in progress, he . . . alters, destroys, or conceals any record, document, or thing with intent to impair its verity, legibility, or availability as evidence in the investigation or official proceeding." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 37.09(a)(1). Here, the State alleged that Sparks "did then and there, knowing that an offense had been committed, namely possession of a controlled substance, intentionally and knowingly destroy and conceal a baggie containing cocaine, with intent to impair its availability as evidence in any subsequent investigation or official proceeding related to the offense."



Sparks argues that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the finding of guilt because there was no evidence that he swallowed the cocaine. In support, Sparks cites Hollingsworth v. State, 15 S.W.3d 586, 595 (Tex. App.-Austin 2000, no pet.). In that case, the Austin Court of Appeals concluded that evidence showing a defendant spit out crack cocaine after running from officers was insufficient to prove that the defendant was concealing crack cocaine in his mouth with the intent to impair its availability as evidence. Instead, the...

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