STATE v. ESPARZA

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Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.

The STATE of Texas v. Carlos ESPARZA, Appellee.

No. PD–1873–11.

Decided: October 30, 2013

James D. Lucas, El Paso, TX, for Carlos Esparza. Joe J. Monsivais, Assistant District Attorney, El Paso, TX, for The State of Texas.

OPINION

Following his arrest for the misdemeanor offense of driving while intoxicated, the appellee filed a motion to suppress “all evidence seized as a result of illegal acts by the state.” Specifically, he alleged that his arrest was illegal and that the circumstances under which breath testing for blood-alcohol concentration was conducted rendered the results illegally obtained for purposes of Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.1 At a pretrial hearing on the motion to suppress, the State presented testimony from one of the arresting officers and then rested. The trial court determined that the appellee's arrest was legal, but it nevertheless granted the appellee's motion to suppress on the explicit basis that “[t]he State failed to present any testimony regarding the breath test results[.]” The State appealed, and the Eighth Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's ruling, holding that the arrest was legal and that the appellee had failed to establish any illegalities in the way the breath-test results were obtained.2 We granted the appellee's petition for discretionary review to examine his contention that the court of appeals erred in failing to uphold the trial court's ruling as “correct under any theory of law applicable to the case.”3 We affirm the court of appeals's judgment.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

In the Trial Court

Having stipulated at the outset of the hearing on the motion to suppress that the appellee had been arrested without a warrant, the State proffered as its only witness the arresting officer, Officer Ruben Rivas of the El Paso Police Department.4 Rivas testified that, on December 6, 2009, he and his patrol partner “rolled up on an accident that just, apparently, looked like it just occurred.” The appellee was sitting in the driver's seat of one of the cars with the ignition still on. He admitted that he had been driving and had struck the second car from behind. A passenger from the second car confirmed this to the officers. Rivas detected a strong odor of alcohol on the appellee's breath and person, slurred speech, “red, glossy” eyes, and, when the appellee got out of his car, a “swaying” gait. Because Rivas believed the appellee to be intoxicated, he summoned “a DWI STEP unit” to the scene to conduct field sobriety testing.5 In its written findings of fact and conclusions of law, which the State requested as the losing party after the trial court granted the appellee's motion to suppress,6 the trial court expressly found that Rivas's initial contact with the appellee was a lawful “encounter,” that the odor of alcohol gave Rivas reasonable suspicion to investigate further, and that the addition of further indicia of intoxication supplied probable cause to arrest the appellee for driving while intoxicated. These particular findings and conclusions are not presently in issue.

The trial court also found, however, that “[t]he State failed to present any testimony regarding the breath test results[.]” Without providing a supporting legal basis, the trial court simply declared that, “therefore, those results were suppressed by the Court.” From this we think it fair to assume that the trial court did not sustain the appellee's motion to suppress on the basis of his contention that his arrest was illegal. Nor did the trial court sustain the motion to suppress on the discrete basis of certain alleged irregularities in the course of the breath test that the appellee claimed should render the results of that testing illegally obtained and therefore subject to suppression.7 Instead, it is apparent that the reason that the trial court granted the appellee's motion to suppress the breath-test results was simply because the State failed to produce any evidence at the evidentiary hearing to show the circumstances under which the breath-test results were obtained.8

In the Court of Appeals

On appeal,9 the State contended that the burden to produce evidence of the circumstances under which the breath-test results were obtained is rightly posited, not with the prosecutor, but with the appellee, who was the proponent of the motion to suppress. That being the case, the trial court abused its discretion to grant the motion to suppress based upon the failure of the State to satisfy a burden of production that does not reside with the State. The court of appeals agreed and, having “found no theory of law applicable to the case that will support the trial court's order suppressing the breath test results[,]” reversed the trial court's order and remanded the cause for further proceedings.10

For the first time on appeal, however, the appellee began to argue that there was yet another theory of law applicable to the case that would justify the trial court's ruling on his motion to suppress: that the breath-test results could be excluded because the State failed to establish their scientific reliability under Rule 702 of the Texas Rules of Evidence.11 The court of appeals disagreed, rejecting this as an alternative legal theory because the appellee had not raised it in the trial court—the appellee “never used the words ‘reliability’ or ‘accuracy,’ and he never referred to Rule 702.”12 Utilizing language and case law pertaining to principles of procedural default, the court of appeals held that admissibility of the breath-test results as a function of scientific reliability was not a theory of law applicable to the case because the appellee did not raise it at the trial court level by an “objection in plain, unambiguous language, so that both the trial court and the State could understand, without guessing, the specific nature of his objection and then could take, if necessary, appropriate responsive action.”13 Although the appellee claimed that he made a specific objection, the court of appeals did not find any such objection in the record14 -and neither do we.

In his petition for discretionary review, the appellee argues that the court of appeals erred to require him to have raised his alternative argument at the motion to suppress hearing before he could invoke it as a theory of law applicable to the case on appeal. We granted the appellee's petition to take a closer look at his contention that the court of appeals improperly utilized principles of procedural default to determine whether his alternate “legal theory” under Rule 702, even though identified for the first time only on appeal, should nevertheless be regarded as “law applicable to the case.”

ANALYSIS

We have consistently held that a first-tier appellate court should reject an appellant's claim of reversible error on direct appeal so long as the trial court correctly rejected it “on any theory of law applicable to the case,” even if the trial court did not purport to rely on that theory.15 Professors Dix and Schmolesky call this the Calloway rule, after this Court's opinion in Calloway v. State.16 Under the Calloway rule, the prevailing party at the trial court level need not have explicitly raised that alternative theory in the court below to justify the appellate court's rejection of the appellant's claim.17 Or, as Professors Dix and Schmolesky describe it, “an appellee [be it the State or the defendant below] has no obligation to raise a contention in the trial court in order to ‘preserve’ that contention in some sense for consideration on appeal.”18 The court of appeals in this case eschewed the so-called “Calloway rule,” however, effectively concluding that Rule 702 of the Rules of Evidence did not constitute a “theory of law applicable to the case”-at least not in the context of a pretrial motion to suppress evidence and attendant hearing, that nowhere even conceivably put the State or trial court on notice that the admissibility of the breath-test results was in question based on a challenge to their scientific reliability.19 Ultimately, we agree.

At trial, the proponent of scientific evidence is not typically called upon to establish its empirical reliability as a predicate to admission unless and until the opponent of that evidence raises an objection under Rule 702. It is only “[o]nce the party opposing the evidence objects ․ [that] the proponent bears the burden of demonstrating its admissibility.”20 Allocation of the burden with respect to scientific reliability as a function of Rule 702 should be no different in the context of a pretrial motion to suppress than it is when the issue is raised during the course of trial. Whether at trial or in a pretrial hearing, the State (as proponent of the breath-test results here) can, of course, be made to satisfy its burden to demonstrate reliability. But it is not called upon to satisfy that burden unless and until the appellee (as opponent) has made a specific objection that those test results are scientifically unreliable or (perhaps) until the trial court, in its capacity as the gatekeeper of the admissibility of scientific evidence, should sua sponte call upon it to do so.21 In this case, as the court of appeals correctly observed,22 nothing happened at the trial court level to alert the State that the scientific reliability of the breath-test evidence, as a function of Rule 702, was in play at the hearing on the pretrial motion to suppress evidence.23

In fact, far from it. The appellee's written motion to suppress exclusively raised issues of suppression of illegally obtained evidence, invoking the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule and Article 38.23 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Nowhere did it purport to request the trial court to make a pretrial ruling to exclude the breath-test results on the basis of evidentiary inadmissibility—or any evidentiary basis, much less Rule 702 and scientific unreliability. No mention was made of Daubert or Kelly,24 or any other authority for holding the breath-test results to be inadmissible, as opposed to suppressible.25 Nor did the appellee say anything at the pretrial hearing that may reasonably be construed to be an invocation of Rule 702 so as to trigger the State's burden of production and persuasion with respect to the scientific reliability of the breath-test results.26 The trial court did not purport, in its written findings of fact and conclusions of law, to exclude the testimony as inadmissible—again, on any basis, much less Rule 702 and scientific unreliability. Instead, the trial court expressly “suppressed” the breath-test results. It did so—again, expressly—simply because “[t]he State failed to present any testimony regarding” those results. But, as the court of appeals has conclusively demonstrated in its opinion below, it was the appellee, not the State, who properly bore the burden with respect to the various issues of suppression under the exclusionary principles he invoked in his motion to suppress.27 This means that the absence of evidence in the record with respect to the suppressibility of the breath-test results can have served only to cause the trial court to deny the appellee's motion to suppress—not, under any circumstances, to grant it. The trial court had no discretion to rule against the State for failing to satisfy a burden of production and persuasion that should rightfully have fallen upon the appellee.

That is, unless the court of appeals was obligated to affirm the trial court's ruling that explicitly “suppressed” the breath-test results because the trial court could have excluded those results as scientifically unreliable-even though the trial court manifestly did not do so, and the State was never called upon to present evidence at the pretrial suppression hearing to establish reliability for purposes of Rule 702. But we are not inclined to construe the reliability of the breath-test results as a function of Rule 702 to be a “theory of law applicable to the case” under the present circumstances, for the reasons that follow.

We have explained that the rules of procedural default, such as the contemporaneous objection rule codified in Rule 33.1(a) of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure,28 should apply equally to all appellants, whether defendants or the State.29 We have also held that such rules of procedural default do not ordinarily limit appellees, who may argue on appeal that the trial court's ruling should be affirmed so long as it is correct under any theory of law that is applicable to the case, regardless of whether the appellee raised or the trial court actually ruled on that particular basis—the so-called Calloway rule.30 Under most circumstances, this principle should apply in equal measure when the defendant is the appellee as it does in the more typical case in which the State is the appellee.

But, as Professors Dix and Schmolesky have also appropriately observed, various courts of appeals, and occasionally this Court, have resisted employing the Calloway rule when to do so would work a manifest injustice to the appellant.31 And we should take a similarly cautious approach in evaluating the claims of all appellants alike, be they defendants or the State. After all, in Hailey v. State,32 we endeavored to justify the Calloway rule by explaining that

a trial court's decision will not be reversed on a theory the trial court did not have an opportunity to rule upon and upon which the non-appealing party did not have an opportunity to develop a complete factual record. These considerations are usually not present when an appellate court affirms a trial court's decision on a legal theory not presented to the trial court.33

That these considerations are usually not present, however, does not mean they never are. Sometimes appellants can also be deprived of an adequate opportunity “to develop a complete factual record” with respect to an alternative legal theory, and it would be incongruous with our justification in Hailey to treat a purported alternative legal theory as truly law “applicable to the case” under those circumstances. If the alternative legal theory that an appellee proffers for the first time on appeal as a basis to affirm a trial court's otherwise faulty judgment turns upon the production of predicate facts by the appellant that he was never fairly called upon to adduce during the course of the proceedings below, then application of the Calloway rule to affirm that otherwise faulty judgment works a manifest injustice. An appellee's alternative legal theory should not be considered “law applicable to the case” under these circumstances, and this is so regardless of whether the appellee was the defendant or the State at the trial court level.

Accordingly, we hold that, because the State—appellant though it may have been in this case-was never confronted with the necessity of meeting its burden to establish the scientific reliability of its breath-test results at the hearing on the appellee's pretrial motion to suppress, and for that reason the record was undeveloped with respect to admissibility as a function of scientific reliability, inadmissibility of that evidence under Rule 702 was not a “theory of law applicable to the case” that is available to justify the trial court's otherwise erroneous ruling on the appellee's motion to suppress.34

CONCLUSION

On this basis, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

Appellee argues that, because he won at the suppression hearing, he should be allowed to take advantage of what the Court calls the Calloway1 rule: that a trial court's ruling may be upheld on any theory of law applicable to the case. Appellee's motion to suppress listed a number of reasons to suppress the evidence, including that it was illegally obtained, but he wishes to have the suppression of the evidence upheld on a basis not alleged in the motion: that the State failed to establish reliability under Rule 702.2 The Court resolves the issue by analyzing the relative burdens of the parties with respect to a Rule 702 complaint. I write separately to suggest a simpler resolution of the question before us.

The so-called Calloway rule can be traced back at least as far as the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. American R. Express Co.3 There, the Supreme Court explained that a non-appealing party can raise any argument in support of a final decree.4 In the traditional setting in which the Calloway rule has been applied in criminal cases, a defendant has been convicted and is appealing the judgment of conviction. Such a judgment qualifies as a “final decree” under the rule set out by the Supreme Court. A ruling made during the proceedings leading to that judgment must ordinarily be upheld if any legal basis supports it.5 Occasionally, a defendant may take advantage of the Calloway rule when he obtains a final decree that can be appealed by the State, such as the quashing of an information.6

But a trial court's ruling on a motion to suppress is not a final decree; it is an interlocutory decree that is subject to revision at any time before the trial ends.7 Article 44.01 allows the State to appeal such a ruling under certain circumstances,8 but that does not change the fact that the ruling is interlocutory.9 Because a ruling on a motion to suppress is not a final decree, the Calloway rule, which concerns challenges to a final decree, does not apply in a State's interlocutory appeal of such a ruling. Instead, an interlocutory appeal of a ruling that grants a motion to suppress is concerned only with whether the trial court properly sustained the specific allegations that were actually made in the motion.10

Part of the reason for the Calloway rule is that, in an adversary system, when a ruling is made during trial, courts expect the losing party to complain, not the winning party. A practical reality of the system is that a party that obtains a favorable ruling from the trial court often has little incentive to conjure up additional reasons for why the trial court should have ruled the way it did. Nor would it be efficient for the prevailing party to do so, as most trial court rulings are correct, and requiring the prevailing party to articulate to the trial court all possible reasons for upholding the ruling would generally be a waste of time. But if, in an appeal after trial, the appellate court disagrees with the reasons articulated by the prevailing party at trial, the prevailing party no longer has the ability to inform the trial court of additional reasons for ruling in his favor—unless the appellate court orders additional trial proceedings (e.g. reversal of the conviction, retrospective hearing), which appellate courts are reluctant to do without compelling reasons. Generally, appellate courts will not find compelling reasons to order further trial proceedings if the record reveals a valid legal basis for upholding the trial court's ruling, even if that basis was not articulated to the trial court.11

But when the appeal is interlocutory, as is the case with a State's appeal from the granting of a motion to suppress, the trial is not over. Further proceedings will occur in the trial court regardless of how the appeal is resolved. If the appellate court determines that the prevailing party's particular argument in the trial court was unsound, the prevailing party still has the ability to make further arguments to the trial court when the case returns to the trial court after the appeal.12 The evidence might be excluded at trial on another basis, or if the evidence cannot be excluded in its entirety, the party might be able to articulate a reason for excluding a portion of the evidence.13

A pretrial ruling on a motion to suppress is not a final determination by the trial court on all possible reasons for admitting or excluding the evidence; rather, it is simply a determination of whether the evidence should be excluded on a particular basis. It is only when the trial ends that all of the trial court's earlier rulings become fixed, and as a consequence, all possible reasons for sustaining those rulings are implicated. The whole point of allowing an interlocutory appeal is to allow a discrete issue or issues to be litigated early, before the trial has ended. This type of appeal is not designed to resolve all possible bases upon which evidence may be admissible or inadmissible, as some bases for admitting or excluding the evidence in question may yet turn on events occurring at the trial level after the interlocutory appeal has been resolved.

With these comments, I concur in the Court's judgment.

OPINION

Although I concur in the judgment of the Court, I join Presiding Judge Keller's opinion based on the reasoning employed therein. I write separately, however, to express particular concern with the timidity of the majority opinion in failing to recognize the authority of the trial court as the gatekeeper for questions of admissibility, including forensic science.

While ultimately the proponent of scientific evidence bears the burden of proving reliability by satisfying the criteria set forth in Kelly v. State, 824 S.W.2d 568, 573 (Tex.Crim.App.1992), it is the trial court that must conduct the hearing and determine whether the proponent has established that criteria. See id. at 572–73 & n. 10 (“Under Rule 104(a) and (c) and Rule 702, all three [Kelly ] criteria must be proven to the trial court, outside the presence of the jury, before the evidence may be admitted[,]” and “Rule 104(a) requires that the admissibility of expert testimony be determined by the trial court.”).

Today, Judge Price, writing for the majority, states that

Whether at trial or in a pretrial hearing, the State ․ can, of course, be made to satisfy its burden to demonstrate reliability. But it is not called upon to satisfy that burden unless and until the appellee ․ has made a specific objection that those test results are scientifically unreliable or (perhaps) until the trial court, in its capacity as the gatekeeper of the admissibility of scientific evidence, should sua sponte call upon [the State] to do so.

Maj. Op. at 10 (emphasis added). In Jackson, an opinion also authored by Judge Price, this Court emphasized that “before scientific evidence may be admitted, the trial court must conduct a hearing outside the presence of the jury to determine whether the proponent has established all three criteria.” Jackson v. State, 17 S.W.3d, 554, 670 (Tex.Crim.App.2000) (emphasis added) (citing Kelly, 824 S.W.2d at 573).

Today the majority implies that a trial court may be incapable of sua sponte inquiring into the admissibility of scientific evidence in its role as gatekeeper. This is dangerous and could have a chilling effect on trial judges who would have otherwise fulfilled their contemplated obligation to prevent the admission of “junk” science. The implications of this concern are far reaching.

If a trial court cannot sua sponte inquire into the admissibility of scientific evidence under Rule 702, as would be evident from the dictates of Daubert, Kelly, and their progeny, a criminal defendant could be convicted based on “junk” science simply because he or she had an attorney who failed to challenge the proffered evidence or inadequately challenged it, and the jury would be none the wiser because it never knew that the science that it relied on to reach its verdict was junk. See id. The real losers of this decision will be criminal defendants convicted on “junk” science; the residents of the convicting county; the people that expended time, effort, and money at the original trial; and the State of Texas. And to add insult to injury, these results are possible only because of the majority's unfortunately inconsistent language with respect to Rule 702.

Forcing a trial court to abdicate its role as the gatekeeper of scientific evidence creates problems not only at trial but also on appeal because this Court has decided that an appellate court is limited to the appellate record and cannot supplement a bare record with its own research or by taking judicial notice of the “correct” science on a bare record.1 See Hernandez v. State, 116 S.W.3d 26, 31–32 (Tex.Crim.App.2003) (per curiam) (“Although appellate courts may take judicial notice of other appellate opinions concerning a specific scientific theory or methodology in evaluating a trial judge's Daubert / Kelly ‘gatekeeping’ decision, ․ judicial notice on appeal cannot serve as the sole source of support for a bare trial court record concerning scientific reliability.”).

Because I believe that Presiding Judge Keller offers a more compelling analysis for the disposition of this case, and with my other comments respecting a trial court's gatekeeping function, I respectfully concur in the judgment of the Court.

DISSENTING OPINION

In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court found, “The State failed to present any testimony regarding the breath-test results; therefore, those results were suppressed by the Court.” The State argued on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion because the State did not have the burden of production. The court of appeals found no theory of law to support the trial court's order.1 The court of appeals and the majority specifically reject Appellee's argument that his pretrial motion to suppress challenged the scientific reliability of the breath-test results. The majority states that the Appellee argued that the evidence should be excluded as illegally obtained but did not argue that it should be excluded as scientifically unreliable and inadmissible. If Appellee had so argued, then the burden of production would have been on the State. The majority says that the absence of evidence could be a reason for a trial judge to deny a motion to suppress but it is not a valid reason to grant the motion. I disagree. The defendant's motion to suppress asked the judge to review the lawfulness of the detention and the breath-test evidence. Appellee was not required to cite rules of evidence, which do not apply at suppression hearings, in order for the judge to review the requested breath-test results. See Granados v. State, 85 S.W.3d 217, 227 (Tex.Crim.App.2002).2 It is clear from the record that the trial judge understood the defendant's request to review the reliability and admissibility of the breath-test evidence, but the fact is that the State did not present any evidence at all related to the breath test. After the arresting officer testified at the hearing, the judge asked the State to call its next witness and the State said it was “pretty much done.” The judge asked the State two more times to call a witness. At that point it was clear that the State had nothing to show the court concerning the reliability of the breath test. Because nothing was provided for the judge to review, he was certainly within his discretion to suppress this evidence.

In its findings and conclusions, the trial court determined that Appellee was lawfully detained, but because the State failed to present evidence regarding the breath test, the trial judge granted the defendant's motion to suppress. The trial judge did not abuse his discretion in suppressing evidence that the State failed to produce at the hearing and therefore I would reverse the court of appeals and affirm the ruling of the trial court.

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

KELLER, P.J., filed a concurring opinion in which KEASLER and HERVEY, JJ., joined.HERVEY, J., filed a concurring opinion in which KELLER, P.J., and KEASLER, J., joined.MEYERS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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