RANDY RANDALL RODGERS v. THE STATE OF TEXAS

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Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (14th Dist.).

RANDY RANDALL RODGERS, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

NO. 14-16-00506-CR

Decided: June 29, 2017

Panel consists of Justices Boyce, Donovan, and Jewell.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

A jury convicted appellant Randy Randall Rodgers of felony evading arrest or detention with a motor vehicle. Appellant challenges his conviction on the grounds that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction. We affirm.

Background

On November 30, 2014, at around 2:00 a.m., Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Kenneth Mull was checking vehicles for speeding on Broadway Street in Galveston. He saw a sport utility vehicle travelling above the posted speed limit, activated his emergency lights, and pulled out behind the SUV to initiate a traffic stop. After Mull activated his emergency lights, but before the SUV stopped, a group of motorcycles passed by and proceeded through the intersection directly in front of the SUV. Appellant was the last rider in the motorcycle group and was stopped by a red light, separating him from the other motorcyclists. Mull testified that after appellant stopped at the red light, appellant turned around to see Mull pulling over the SUV, and then appellant proceeded to drive though the red light.

Observing appellant's disregard for traffic laws while knowing a police officer was watching, Mull abandoned the SUV and began pursuing appellant instead. Mull activated his emergency siren—his emergency lights were already activated—as he started his pursuit. Appellant “accelerated to a high rate of speed and began weaving in and out of traffic and the other motorcycles” and “failed to yield” to Mull's emergency lights and siren, ultimately speeding onto Interstate 45 North towards Houston. Mull continued to pursue appellant and notified other police agencies, including both Galveston and Houston officials, that he was engaged in a high-speed pursuit northbound on Interstate 45; several officers from other agencies joined in the pursuit, including Galveston County Sheriff's Office Deputy Jacob Manuel.

Ultimately, multiple police vehicles and a police helicopter pursued appellant as he sped and wove through traffic. Appellant travelled over thirty miles at speeds up to 130 miles per hour for at least twenty-five minutes until he was apprehended by numerous police officers in the Houston area. At the end of the chase, Deputy Manuel arrested appellant.

Appellant was charged with third-degree felony evading arrest or detention. Tex. Penal Code § 38.04(a)(b). Appellant pleaded not guilty, and the case proceeded to trial. At his trial, Mull and Manuel testified to the above-described facts. Additionally, the court admitted video from the officers' in-car dash camera, which depicted for the jury the entire chase from beginning to end. The jury found appellant guilty, sentenced him to five years' confinement and a $5,000 fine, and recommended his sentence be suspended and that he be placed on community supervision for five years. The trial court signed a judgment in accord with the jury's verdict, and this appeal timely followed.

Analysis

In a single issue, appellant challenges his conviction on the basis that there is legally insufficient evidence to establish that (1) Trooper Mull had lawful cause to detain him and (2) appellant intentionally evaded arrest.1

A. Standard of Review

Reviewing courts apply a legal-sufficiency standard in determining whether the evidence is sufficient to support each element of a criminal offense that the State is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19 (1979); Temple v. State, 390 S.W.3d 341, 360 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013). Under this standard, we examine all the evidence adduced at trial in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether a jury was rationally justified in finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Temple, 390 S.W.3d at 360; Criff v. State, 438 S.W.3d 134, 136-37 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2014, pet. ref'd). This standard applies to both direct and circumstantial evidence. Criff, 438 S.W.3d at 137. Accordingly, we will uphold the jury's verdict unless a rational fact finder must have had a reasonable doubt as to any essential element. Laster v. State, 275 S.W.3d 512, 518 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009); West v. State, 406 S.W.3d 748, 756 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, pet. ref'd). With this standard in mind, we next review the governing law relevant to the offense appellant challenges.

Third-degree felony evading arrest or detention occurs when a person using a vehicle “intentionally flees from a person he knows is a peace officer ․ attempting lawfully to arrest or detain him.” Tex. Penal Code § 38.04(a)(b). The State has the burden to prove the suspect knew an officer was attempting to arrest or detain him, and that the suspect intentionally fled from the officer. See Jackson v. State, 718 S.W.2d 724, 726 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986); Hobyl v. State, 152 S.W.3d 624, 627(Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2004, pet. dism'd).

B. Lawful Detention or Arrest

Appellant complains that Trooper Mull did not have lawful cause to arrest or detain him; thus, he contends, the State failed to prove an essential element of the charged offense. Specifically, appellant asserts that the video shows he did not run a red light. We disagree.

An officer is permitted to make a warrantless traffic stop when he has reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense has occurred. See, e.g., Joganathan v. State, 479 S.W.3d 244, 247 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016). The Texas Transportation Code provides that an operator of a vehicle must “comply with an applicable official traffic-control device,” including a traffic light. See Tex. Transp. Code §§ 544.004(a), 544.007(d). Here, the evidence presented at trial establishes that Mull had reasonable suspicion to detain appellant for committing a traffic violation in Mull's presence because the jury received video and testimonial evidence demonstrating that appellant proceeded through a red light in front of Mull. See id. § 544.007(d) (operator of a vehicle facing a steady red signal shall stop at a clearly marked stop line and, if the vehicle is not turning, shall remain standing until an indication to proceed is shown).

Because legally sufficient evidence establishes that Mull had reasonable suspicion to detain appellant, we reject part one of appellant's first issue.

C. Felony Evading Arrest

Appellant argues there is insufficient evidence to prove he was intentionally fleeing a person whom he knew was a peace officer attempting to detain him. Again, we disagree. There is ample evidence that appellant evaded arrest or detention by intentionally fleeing someone he knew was a peace officer.

In determining whether evidence of intentional evasion exists, we may consider the speed, distance, and duration of pursuit. Griego v. State, 345 S.W.3d 742, 751 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 2011, no pet.). Anything less than prompt compliance with an officer's direction to stop may be considered an evasion of arrest. Smith v. State, 483 S.W.3d 648,653 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007). And intent may be determined from circumstantial evidence and may be inferred from words, actions, and conduct. Hernandez v. State, 819 S.W.2d 806, 810 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991), overruled on other grounds by Fuller v. State, 829 S.W.2d 191 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992); Dillon v. State, 574 S.W.2d 92, 94 (Tex. Crim. App. [Panel Op.] 1978).

Appellant asserts that the instant facts align with those in Griego. Griego, 345 S.W.3d at 742. We disagree. In that case, police pursued Griego closely for only about eight seconds before he pulled into a driveway and exited his vehicle, at which point he casually walked towards his house. Id. at 742, 752. Further, officers at trial admitted Griego might not have been aware of the pursuit. Id. at 747. Based on the evidence provided, the court found there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for felony evading arrest. Id. at 754.

The present facts contrast starkly with those in Griego. Once aware of Mull's pursuit, appellant sped away and careened from Galveston's seawall to the outskirts of downtown Houston at speeds reaching 130 miles per hour, covering that ground in merely twenty-five minutes. During his attempted getaway, appellant placed the well-being of law-abiding motorists at risk, outran numerous police vehicles—lights engaged and sirens blaring—and even evaded the spotlight of a police helicopter. Appellant did not stop until forced to do so when police surrounded his motorcycle and blocked his path. Both video and testimonial evidence establishes these facts. In short, there exists copious evidence that appellant was evading arrest. See, e.g., Hobyl, 152 S.W.3d at 627. We overrule his sole appellate issue.

Conclusion

The evidence provided by the State is legally sufficient to support appellant's conviction for felony evading arrest or detention. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

FOOTNOTES

1.   Appellant also argues, in conclusory fashion, that the trial court erred in jury selection and instruction, as well as in denying his “motion to suppress jurisdiction.” But he provides no record references or legal authority to support these contentions. To present an issue for appellate review, appellant's brief “must contain a clear and concise argument for the contentions made, with appropriate citations to authorities and to the record.” See Tex. R. App. P. 38.l(i). When an appellant fails to present an argument in support of his complaint, fails to address the governing legal principles or apply them to the facts, appellant waives the issue. Wooten v. State, 267 S.W.3d 289, 307-08 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, pet. ref'd); King v. State, 17 S.W.3d 7, 23 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2000, pet. ref'd) (finding briefing waiver where appellant's brief cited a single case in support of his argument and failed to address any of the governing legal principles or apply any such principles to the facts of the case). Thus, to the extent appellant has raised these issues, he has inadequately briefed them and they are waived.

Kevin Jewell Justice