Texas Stamp


PD-1480-15 03/02/2016

  1. "Whether the Court of Appeals gave proper deference to the trial court's determination of factual issues and application-of-law-to-fact issues that turn on credibility or demeanor?"
  2. "Whether the Court of Appeals properly determined that the police officer's stop did not qualify under the community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement?"
  3. "Whether the Court of Appeals properly determined that the police officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the appellant's vehicle?"

Officer Figueroa was patrolling a "bar district" on the early evening of July 4th when he stopped at a red light next to Byram's vehicle. Byram's passenger, a female, was hunched over in her seat. Figueroa could smell alcohol through their open windows and suspected alcohol poisoning. He yelled at Byram to ask if the woman was okay but Byram ignored him. Byram left when the light turned green and Figueroa conducted a traffic stop out of concern for the passenger. Byram pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated after the trial court denied his motion to suppress.

The court of appeals reversed. Reviewing the factors for stops based on community caretaking, see Wright v. State, 7 S.W.3d 148, 152 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999), it held that 1) an unconscious passenger does not exhibit much distress, 2) there were numerous hospitals nearby, 3) the record was silent as to whether Figueroa was the only person who could assist her, and 4) there was no evidence that she presented a danger to herself or others. The court of appeals also held that the circumstances—being in an area known for excessive holiday partying, the odor or alcohol, the passenger's appearance, and Byram ignoring the officer—did not provide reasonable suspicion of an alcohol-based offense.

The State argues that the court of appeals failed to show proper deference to the trial court's implicit findings. Viewed in the light most favorable to the ruling, the comatose-appearing female passenger was with a man who was unconcerned for her well-being to the point of ignoring an officer's inquiry into it and she was incapable of seeking assistance. The State also argues that these facts, in addition to location and the smell of alcohol, justified the stop based on reasonable suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

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