Texas Stamp


PD-1300-16 01/25/2017

  1. "The court of appeals ignored the law governing the review of suppression rulings by, inter alia, considering the circumstances in isolation, focusing on their innocent nature, and generally failing to defer to the fact-finder."
  2. "Under what circumstances is a reviewing court permitted to ignore a credible officer's inferences and deductions based on his training and experience?"

Ramirez-Tamayo was stopped for speeding. The detaining officer decided to briefly extend the detention to permit a canine officer to run a dog around the vehicle. This prolonged detention was based on the following: Ramirez-Tamayo was driving a newer rental car, was headed from Las Vegas to Miami, did not attempt to roll down the window for the officer, had an overwhelming odor of cologne and cigarettes on him, and was nervous and excited even after being told he would be released with a warning. The officer explained why these facts made him suspect drug trafficking. For example, the failure to attempt to roll down the window was suspicious because newer rental cars tend to have operating windows and he has seen cases in which drugs stored in the door shell interfere with the window regulator. In this case, vacuum-sealed bags of marijuana were found in the door shells of the vehicle. The trial court denied Ramirez-Tamayo's motion to suppress.

The court of appeals reversed. Although the trial court presumably found the officer to be credible, the court of appeals refused to give his testimony any weight because he "fail[ed] to establish the reliability of his opinions regarding the significance of the facts before us." Relying on the law regarding expert witnesses, it held that the State failed to demonstrate the officer has knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education that would substantiate his suspicion or prove that he had anything other than "a hunch." In its view, none of the circumstances raised reasonable suspicion without statistics or comprehensive testimony to validate them.

The State argues that the threshold admissibility determination for expert opinions at trial does not apply in a pretrial suppression hearing. If seemingly innocent facts can gain significance based on an officer's training and experience, and training and experience are facts, the trial court's decision to believe the officer's view of individual circumstances should be shown the same "almost total" deference given to its other factual determinations. Viewing the circumstances collectively, there was reasonable suspicion to briefly extend the detention.

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