Black v. State, 2012

Trial Court May Reopen a Suppression Hearing

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Black v. State, 2012In 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held in Rachal v. State, 917 S.W.2d 799, that when reviewing a trial court’s decision on a motion to suppress, an appellate court should look “only to the evidence adduced at the suppression hearing,” unless the “suppression issue is consensually re-litigated by the parties during trial on the merits.”

In a recent case in the CCA, Black v. State, the Appellant, who was convicted at trial of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, argued on appeal that:

a trial court, once it has ruled on a pretrial motion to suppress, lacks the authority to “re-open” the suppression issue unless the defendant has “made an election” to do so by either subsequently re-raising the suppression issue himself or acquiescing in the State’s reintroduction of the issue at trial.

Appellant relied on the CCA’s holding in Rachal to support his position.  The State countered by arguing that the Rachal holding “speaks only to a limitation on what is available for appellate review of a trial court’s ultimate ruling on a pretrial suppression motion,” and not to the trial court’s authority to re-open a suppress motion.  The CCA agreed with the State.

In an 8-1 decision that relied largely on a 1993 Court of Appeals opinion (Montalvo v. State, 846 S.W.2d 133 (Tex. App.—Austin 1993, no pet.)), the CCA explained:

A pretrial ruling on such a motion is interlocutory in nature. As such, it should be regarded as just as much the subject of reconsideration and revision as any other ruling on the admissibility of evidence under Rule 104 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, which a trial court may revisit at its discretion at any time during the course of a trial.

In Black’s case, the CCA went on to hold that the trial court had the discretionary authority to reopen the suppression hearing, even mid-trial, to allow the State to present additional evidence.  To clarify that its current holding in Black did not disturb previous precedent, the CCA expressed a general rule and a corollary rule that explain what evidence appellate courts should consider when reviewing motions to suppress.

GENERAL RULE: In cases in which the trial court is never asked, or is asked but declines, to exercise its discretionary authority to reopen the suppression hearing, appellate review of its ruling on the motion to suppress is ordinarily limited to that evidence presented at the pretrial hearing – the evidence that was before the court at the time of its decision.

The exception to the General Rule, the CCA provided, was “if the parties consensually broach the suppression issue again before the fact-finder at trial, the reviewing court should also consider” that evidence in gauging the propriety of the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress.

COROLLARY RULE: If at any point before the conclusion of final arguments at trial, the trial court should exercise its discretionary authority to reopen the suppression hearing, the reviewing court should also consider whatever additional evidence may be spread on the record bearing on the propriety of the trial court’s ultimate ruling on the motion to suppress.

The CCA affirmed the holding of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals which affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Judge Meyers dissented, and is of the opinion that the trial court erred by reopening the suppression hearing without the defendant’s consent.