The Texas First District Court of Appeals affirmed a drug conviction in Hopkins v. Texas, finding that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient. The defendant had moved before trial to suppress the drug evidence and the statements he made to the arresting officer. However, after the judge denied his motion to suppress, a jury found the defendant guilty of possessing crack cocaine. In the ruling on appeal, In addition to affirming the verdict, the appellate court held that the defendant, by explicitly not objecting to the introduction of the drug evidence during trial, waived his appeal of that issue.
The testimony at trial was as follows:
Deputy M. Alvarado of the Harris County Sheriff's Office arrested the defendant, Christopher Hopkins, on October 28, 2009. Alvarado testified that he observed Hopkins speeding and pulled him over. During an inspection of the vehicle's exterior, Alvarado claimed that he saw a bag in the front seat that appeared to contain crack cocaine. He retrieved the bag by opening the driver's side door, which he claimed was already ajar. He cuffed Hopkins, who allegedly told Alvarado that he owed money to drug dealers.
Hopkins was charged with felony drug possession. A prosecution witness testified that the bag weighed 3.72 grams and contained cocaine. Hopkins testified that he was not speeding, that he did not have any drugs in the car, and that he allowed multiple people to drive his car. According to the appellate court, Hopkins and Alvarado offered very different recollections of the circumstances of the arrest, but they were each consistent between the suppression hearing and the trial. A jury convicted Hopkins, and he received a twenty-five year prison sentence, due to his four prior felony convictions. Hopkins appealed the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial.
The Court of Appeals held that Alvarado's stop was reasonable, as was the cop's conclusion that the object he saw in the car contained contraband.( Because appellate courts do not directly observe witness testimony, they often defer to trial courts on factual matters, such as witness credibility). The court also ruled that the evidence connecting Hopkins to the contraband was sufficient for a conviction, citing the fourteen-point test identified by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for linking a defendant and contraband in Evans v. Texas, 202 S.W.3d 158, 162 n. 12 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006), finding that Hopkins was present during the search of the car, that the drugs were in plain sight, and that Hopkins made incriminating statements during his arrest.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the court's decision was its finding that Hopkins waived objection to the admissibility of the drug evidence. Because he moved to suppress the drug evidence, Hopkins did not need to raise the objection again at trial to preserve error. However, when the prosecution moved to admit the drug evidence at trial, according to the appellate court, Hopkins' counsel stated that they had "no objection." The appellate court held that this had the effect of waiving Hopkins' objection to the drug evidence.
This is "cop-out" stuff which is very common to Appellate Courts when they do not want to write a lengthy opinion which might then result in that same opinion being used to try to overturn yet another opinion, et cetera ad nauseum. This tactic used to have a lofty title called "Judicial Restraint".
Now it is simply another tool to avoid doing the right thing, for the right reason, which is to let a defense lawyer do his job, get the facts to a judge and or jury, and let the chips fall where they may.
Michael J. Brown, a board-certified criminal defense attorney, fights for the rights of Texas defendants, making certain that law enforcement and the courts abide by all the rules and procedures of the criminal justice system. To learn more about how we can assist you in your legal matter, contact us online or at (432) 687-5157.
More Blog Posts:
Houston Grandmother Given a Life Sentence For Allegedly Conspiring to Smuggle Drugs, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 14, 2012
New Report Finds That Federal Sentencing Varies Dramatically Depending Upon the Judge, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 5, 2012
A Question of Legality: Texas Drug Laws and Out of State Medical Marijuana Prescriptions, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 29, 2011
Photo credit: 'Crack' by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.