Wilson v. State

Decision Date09 June 2010
Docket NumberNo. PD-0307-09.,PD-0307-09.
Citation311 S.W.3d 452
PartiesRonald WILSON, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas.
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Roderick B. Glass, Asst. Public Defender, San Antonio, for Appellant.

Alison A. Fox, Asst. Criminal District Atty., San Antonio, Jeffrey L. Van Horn, State's Attorney, Austin, for State.

OPINION

COCHRAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which PRICE, WOMACK, JOHNSON and HOLCOMB, JJ., joined.

In this case of first impression, we must decide whether article 38.23 of the Code of Criminal Procedure1 bars the admissibility of a confession if the interrogating officer fabricates documentary evidence in violation of Texas Penal Code section 37.092 and uses it to persuade a suspect to confess.3 We agree with the San Antonio Court of Appeals, which held that (1) the interrogating officer violated the law by fabricating a forensic report falsely stating that appellant's fingerprints were found on the magazine clip of the murder weapon;4 and (2) the trial judge erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress.5

I.

On January 1, 2006, appellant called 911 to report that he had found a man's body while walking home with his son. When San Antonio police responded, they found the body of Amos Gutierrez, who had been killed with a single gunshot. The magazine clip for a pistol was found near his body. When police received information implicating appellant in the murder, they arrested him on unrelated misdemeanor warrants. After appellant confessed on videotape to the shooting, he was charged with capital murder. He filed a motion to suppress his confession, contending that his confession was involuntary and obtained in violation of the federal and state constitutions as well as Texas law.

A. Proceedings in the Trial Court.

At the hearing on appellant's motion to suppress, Detective Roberts admitted that he had fabricated a forensic lab report to convince appellant to respond to his questioning. The report stated that appellant's fingerprints were found on the magazine clip retrieved from the crime scene, but, in fact, no legible prints were found on the clip. Det. Roberts testified that he used an old crime lab report as a template to create the false document on his computer. He explained that he obtained a preexisting report, changed the heading to "Bexar County Criminal Investigation Laboratory," and created the following text:

Results: Examination of Item 1 revealed the Two Latent Prints lifted from the Firearm Magazine belong to those of Ronald Wilson, a Black Male with the date of birth 11-13-84, SAPD 0436899, Bexar County Sheriff's Office 0401670, DPS 6548907, FBI 393432VB3, SID 0811325, Fingerprint Class 9I15I0013, 028WMMI.

When he entered the interrogation room, Det. Roberts showed the fabricated document to appellant in the hope that appellant would rely on it and give him incriminating information. He began the interview at 10:02 p.m. by asking appellant if he had touched anything at the murder scene. Appellant repeatedly denied doing so. Det. Roberts then handed appellant the fake report at 10:13 p.m., and explained that his fingerprints were on the gun clip. Appellant studied the report for a moment, shaking his head in apparent disbelief. At 10:15 p.m., Det. Roberts again reminded appellant that "they had his fingerprints" and listed other incriminating evidence. At 10:17 p.m., appellant interrupted and said that he didn't know how his prints wound up on the clip. At 10:20 p.m., Det. Roberts again recounted all of the incriminating evidence, listing the fingerprint report first. At 10:24 p.m. Det. Roberts stated that he "can't get over the prints":

Let me remind you, I've got that report. Those guys are experts. They're like DNA experts. They're like experts. What they say is the truth, and we got you.

At that point appellant put his hands on his head, looked down, and said, "Okay. Okay." Immediately thereafter he admitted that he had shot Mr. Gutierrez.6

At the hearing, appellant questioned Det. Roberts about section 37.10, tampering with a governmental record, and asked the detective to read that provision aloud: "A person commits an offense if he makes, presents, or uses any record, document, or anything with knowledge of its falsity and with the intent that it be taken as a genuine governmental record." Det. Roberts admitted that he created a document that he knew to be false, and he wanted appellant to rely on it to give him information.

Appellant then argued that Det. Roberts's conduct violated section 37.10 of the Penal Code. Because the officer's conduct violated a penal law, the Texas statutory exclusionary rule, article 38.23, barred admission of appellant's confession.7

At a later hearing on the same motion, defense counsel, the prosecutor, and the trial judge discussed the distinctions between the use of deception and the use of a fabricated police fingerprint report.8 Defense counsel repeatedly argued that Det. Roberts had violated Texas penal laws. The trial judge then asked the prosecutor, "So what do you have to say about his argument that this is a violation of the criminal laws of the State of Texas?" The prosecutor said that he did not think that fabricating "a fingerprint result sheet from a crime lab would be considered a governmental record as defined in 37.10." The trial judge expressed doubt about whether the forged document was actually a "government record" under the statute, but he acknowledged that the use of the "report" was clearly "a turning point in the interrogation that was going on" and that it led to "his final statement and their finding of the weapon and everything — clearly." The judge concluded that "whether or not I think that's appropriate behavior, the Supreme Court doesn't seem bothered by that." Ultimately, the trial judge ruled that the confession was admissible, and he made oral findings of fact and conclusions of law.9 After his motion to suppress was denied, appellant pled nolo contendere to the lesser-included offense of murder and was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison.

B. Proceedings in the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, appellant argued that his confession was inadmissible for a number of reasons, including the federal and state constitutions and article 38.23. He based his article 38.23 argument on the violation of both Texas Penal Code section 37.09, tampering with evidence, and section 37.10, tampering with a governmental record. The State did not object that appellant had failed to raise the section 37.09 argument in the trial court.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded. Based on Det. Roberts's admission that he "knowingly created the false document with the intention that defendant would consider the document as genuine and confess to shooting the victim," it concluded that the trial court had erred in denying appellant's motion to suppress.10 It held that the facts presented at the hearing, in light of the plain language of section 37.09, showed that Det. Roberts's conduct violated that statute, and therefore suppression of appellant's confession was required under article 38.23.11 The State petitioned this Court to review only the question of whether the court of appeals erred in its holding concerning whether Det. Roberts violated section 37.09 by using a fabricated document, and whether that statute is related to the purpose of the Texas statutory exclusionary rule.12 The State does not now complain, and never has complained, that appellant failed to raise his section 37.09 argument in the trial court, although it could have done so in its petition for discretionary review.13 Under these circumstances, we conclude that there is no issue before us concerning the propriety of the court of appeals's reliance on section 37.09, tampering with evidence, as opposed to section 37.10, tampering with a governmental record, in resolving appellant's Texas exclusionary statute claim.14

We therefore turn to the merits of the question before us: does article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure bar the use of evidence obtained in violation of the penal statute of tampering with evidence?

II.
A. Standard of Review.

In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress, we apply a bifurcated standard of review.15 Although we give almost total deference to the trial court's determination of historical facts, we conduct a de novo review of the trial court's application of the law to those facts.16 As the sole trier of fact during a suppression hearing, the trial court may believe or disbelieve all or any part of a witness's testimony.17 Furthermore, we examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling.18 However, a trial court necessarily abuses its discretion if it refuses to suppress evidence that is obtained in violation of the law and that is, therefore, inadmissible under article 38.23.19

In this case, the historical facts are not in dispute. We adopt the trial court's findings concerning these facts20 and will view the evidence in the light most favorable to his ruling. The issue in this case is one of pure law concerning the applicability of article 38.23.

B. Article 38.23 prohibits the admission of evidence obtained in violation of Texas penal laws related to gathering, creating, or destroying evidence.

In 1925, the Texas Legislature enacted a state exclusionary rule that was based upon, but broader than, the federal exclusionary rule.21 Thus, the use of any evidence that would be barred by federal constitutional principles — as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court — is barred under article 38.23, our state exclusionary rule.22 But article 38.23 prohibits the use of a much broader category of "illegally obtained" evidence.23 It includes evidence that is obtained in violation of Texas laws as well as that obtained in violation of the federal and state...

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  • Confessions
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    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Texas Criminal Lawyer's Handbook. Volume 1 - 2020 Contents
    • August 16, 2020
    ...fabricates documentary evidence in violation of Texas Penal Code §37.09 and uses it to persuade a suspect to confess. Wilson v. State, 311 S.W.3d 452 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (where the officer fabricated a forensic fingerprint report). Other types of deception which are likely to lead to inv......
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    • August 17, 2014
    ...fabricates documentary evidence in violation of Texas Penal Code §37.09 and uses it to persuade a suspect to confess. Wilson v. State, 311 S.W.3d 452 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010) (where the officer fabricated a forensic fingerprint report). Other types of deception which are likely to lead to inv......
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