Williams v. State

Decision Date15 May 2002
Docket NumberNo. 04-00-00552-CR.,04-00-00552-CR.
Citation82 S.W.3d 557
PartiesDouglas WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Appeals

Suzanne M. Kramer, Attorney At Law, San Antonio, for Appellant.

Michael P. Miklas, III, Asst. Criminal Dist. Atty., San Antonio, for Appellee.

Sitting: SARAH B. DUNCAN, Justice, KAREN ANGELINI, Justice and SANDEE BRYAN MARION, Justice.

OPINION

SANDEE BRYAN MARION, Justice.

This appeal arises from Douglas Williams's ("defendant") conviction of the capital murder of David Alejandro, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. Defendant now appeals his conviction arguing that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied the motion to suppress his statement and when it admitted the videotape of the crime scene and physical evidence found at the crime scene. Defendant also contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to sustain his conviction. Because we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and the evidence is legally and factually sufficient, we affirm.

DISCUSSION

Motion to Suppress

Standard of Review

In defendant's third issue, he contends that the court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to suppress his statement. We review the trial court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress under an abuse of discretion standard. See Oles v. State, 993 S.W.2d 103, 106 (Tex.Crim.App.1999). Under this standard, the trial court's findings of fact are given "almost total deference"; however, we review the trial court's application of the law to these facts de novo. Carmouche v. State, 10 S.W.3d 323, 327-28 (Tex. Crim.App.2000).

Discussion

Defendant argues that his statement was taken during a custodial interrogation, but he was not read his rights, as mandated by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966). Defendant insists that his rights were not safeguarded and that article 38.22 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure required the exclusion of his statement at trial. The State counters that defendant's statement was voluntary and given in a non-custodial setting; therefore, article 38.22 is not applicable.

Article 38.22 and Miranda apply only to statements made during a custodial interrogation. TEX.CODE CRIM. PROC. ANN. art. 38.22 § 3 (Vernon Supp.2002), § 5 (Vernon 1979); Lam v. State, 25 S.W.3d 233, 239 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2000, no pet.). They do not apply to voluntary statements resulting from a non-custodial interrogation. Lam, 25 S.W.3d at 239. Custodial interrogation is questioning initiated by law enforcement after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise been deprived of his freedom in any significant way. Cannon v. State, 691 S.W.2d 664, 671 (Tex.Crim.App.1985). To ascertain whether an individual is in custody, a two-step analysis is employed. First, a court examines all the circumstances surrounding the interrogation to determine whether there was a formal arrest or restraint of freedom of movement to the degree associated with a formal arrest. Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 322, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 128 L.Ed.2d 293 (1994). This initial inquiry focuses on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the individual being questioned. Id. at 323, 114 S.Ct. 1526. Second, a court considers, in light of the given circumstances, whether a reasonable person would have felt he or she was at liberty to terminate the interrogation and leave. Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 112, 116 S.Ct. 457, 133 L.Ed.2d 383 (1995).

In this instance, the trial court conducted a motion to suppress hearing at which both Detective Thomas Matjeka and defendant testified. Detective Matjeka testified that the day after the crime was committed, he and Detective Danny Gonzales located the defendant at his friend's house. When the detectives arrived at the house, they asked to speak to him privately. During that conversation, Detective Matjeka told defendant that Steve Russell had given a statement about the murder and that he wanted the defendant to give his version of the story. Defendant was also told that he was not under arrest nor was he obligated to discuss the case or accompany the detectives to the station. Defendant agreed to the interview. The detectives then gave the defendant a ride to the station, but he was not handcuffed nor was he read his Miranda rights.

When they arrived at the station, Detective Matjeka took defendant into the interview room, offered him food, cigarettes, and a beverage, and told him, again, that he was not under arrest and that he could leave at the completion of the interview. When the interview was over, defendant's statement was recorded and he signed it. The detectives then returned him to his friend's house. Detective Matjeka testified that at no time during the process did he coerce or threaten defendant in any way.

Defendant, on the other hand, testified that he was forced to give a statement. According to defendant, when the detectives arrived at his friend's house, they told defendant that "you can come down quietly, make a statement and we'll not arrest you ... or we'll arrest you're a — right now for capital murder." Defendant also testified that he did not want to sign the statement, but the detectives prevented him from leaving without first signing the document. After the hearing, the trial court concluded that defendant's statement should not be suppressed.

Based on the record and the court's findings and conclusions, we cannot say there was an abuse of discretion. The evidence shows that the detectives requested defendant's presence at the police station so that he could give a statement. Defendant, in fact, admitted that he was never physically forced to accompany the detectives to the police station nor was he coerced to cooperate, through threats or ultimatums. Furthermore, defendant was never placed under arrest, he was not handcuffed, and he was told, at least twice, that he was permitted to leave at any time. During the interview, defendant was placed in an interview room, questioned for approximately an hour and a half, and offered cigarettes, food, and a beverage so that he could be more comfortable. Finally, when the interview concluded, defendant was allowed to read his statement, make corrections, sign it and then he was given a ride back to his friend's house. Given this evidence, we find that defendant's freedom of movement was not restrained and that a reasonable person, in defendant's situation, would have felt that he had the liberty to terminate the interview. See Stansbury, 511 U.S. at 322, 114 S.Ct. 1526; see Thompson, 516 U.S. at 112, 116 S.Ct. 457.

Finally, although defendant testified that he was intimidated into cooperating with the police officers and that he signed the statement against his will, the trial court is the exclusive judge of credibility and is free to disbelieve any part of the his testimony. State v. Ross, 32 S.W.3d 853, 855 (Tex.Crim.App.2000); Castro v. State, 914 S.W.2d 159, 162 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 1995 pet. ref'd). The court chose to reject defendant's version of the facts, and we are required to defer to his findings on that matter. See Carmouche, 10 S.W.3d at 327-28. Accordingly, we conclude that no custodial interrogation occurred and that section 38.22 does not apply here. Defendant's claim is therefore overruled.

Admission of Evidence
Standard of Review

Also in defendant's third issue, he contends that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted a videotape of the crime scene and admitted certain physical evidence found at the crime scene. The decision to admit or exclude evidence is within the discretion of the trial court. See Mozon v. State, 991 S.W.2d 841, 846 (Tex.Crim.App.1999). That discretion is, of course, subject to the constraints of the rules of evidence, statutes, and state and federal constitutions. See TEX.R. EVID. 101(c); see Lopez v. State, 18 S.W.3d 220, 222-23 (Tex.Crim.App.2000). This court will not reverse a trial court's ruling unless it is outside of the "zone of reasonable disagreement." Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 391 (Tex.Crim.App.1991) (op. on reh'g).

Admission of the Videotape

Defendant complains that the trial judge overruled his objection to the admission of the video of the crime scene without conducting the balancing test as required by Rule 403 of the Texas Rules of Evidence. Defendant asserts that because the trial court did not review the videotape before ruling on its admissibility, the court did not conduct the balancing test. Furthermore, defendant insists that because the videotape's probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, it was error to admit it. It is true that Rule 403 requires a court to weigh evidence to determine if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the potential for causing undue prejudice. TEX.R. EVID. 403; Santellan v. State, 939 S.W.2d 155, 169 (Tex.Crim.App.1997). But the trial judge is not required to conduct the balancing test during a formal hearing held for that purpose nor is he obligated to announce on the record that he has, in fact, conducted and completed the balancing test in his own mind. Yates v. State, 941 S.W.2d 357, 367 (Tex.App.-Waco 1997 pet. ref'd); see also (Howland v. State, 966 S.W.2d 98, 103 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1998), aff'd, 990 S.W.2d 274 (Tex. Crim.App.1999)).

In this instance, the trial court heard testimony from one of the investigating officers, who testified that the video accurately portrayed the crime scene. The defendant objected to the admissibility of the video arguing that it contained hearsay, lacked relevancy, was cumulative, and that under Rule 403, the probative value of the...

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