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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1995, Cory A. Stevens pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter in Brazoria County and was placed on probation for 10 years. In June 2003, authorities arrested Stevens in Tom Green County for driving while intoxicated. As a result of this violation, the Brazoria County District Attorney’s office filed a motion in September 2003 to adjudicate guilt on the involuntary-manslaughter offense. In January 2004, Stevens filed a motion to suppress evidence in the Tom Green County DWI case, questioning the validity of the initial stop of Stevens’ vehicle. At a pretrial hearing, both the state and defense presented evidence. Among the state’s witnesses was Sgt. Jeff Fant of the San Angelo Police Department. Fant testified that he was dispatched to a “suspicious subject” call at Rio Vista School in the early morning of June 12, 2003. A few blocks from the school, Fant observed Stevens’ large, four-wheel-drive vehicle parked sideways in a ditch. Fant approached Stevens’ vehicle. As he approached, the vehicle “took off at a high rate of speed, jumped off the curb, spun the tires” and drove away. In so doing, Stevens violated several traffic laws, including a city ordinance against spinning tires or “exhibition of acceleration.” Fant activated his overhead lights, followed Stevens and stopped Stevens’ vehicle. The Tom Green County Court-at-Law granted Stevens’ motion to suppress but made no express findings of fact or conclusions of law. The state subsequently dismissed the DWI case. In September 2004, based on the findings of the Tom Green County Court-at-Law, Stevens filed a motion to suppress all of the evidence from the DWI arrest in response to the state’s motion to adjudicate guilt in Brazoria County. The Brazoria County trial court, following two pretrial hearings, granted the motion to suppress. The trial judge determined collateral estoppel precluded an independent review of the evidence regarding the validity of the initial stop in the DWI case. The judge stated on the record: “Being quite specific and quite narrow, all my ruling does is it shows that all the facts were considered by the Court and pretty clear on the record that all the facts were considered concerning whether or not there was reasonable suspicion to stop and – or probable cause. . . . It was the ultimate issue of fact in the case.” In its suppression order, the trial court also found: “that the Court of Tom Green County made its finding that the stop and arrest of Defendant was without reasonable and/or probable cause, and therefore that all facts regarding the unlawful DWI arrest and detention of defendant, Cory A. Stevens, have been decided by the County Court of Tom Green County, Texas were fully adjudicated as to factual findings resulting in Defendant’s arrest, and were adjudicated in favor of Defendant, and thus, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel and in accordance with Guajardo v. State [109 S.W.3d 456 (Tex. Cr. App. 2003)] the Motion to Suppress all evidence from Tom Green County should be GRANTED.” The state appealed, claiming the Brazoria County trial court erred in applying collateral estoppel and granting Stevens’ motion to suppress. The 14th Court of Appeals, although acknowledging the collateral estoppel ruling to be “questionable,” affirmed. Specifically, the 14th Court presumed that the trial court in the Tom Green County DWI case granted the suppression motion based on a credibility determination, a determination to which the 14th Court deferred. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. The CCA disagreed with the 14th Court’s application of the same standard of review to both the Tom Green County and Brazoria County cases. Although an “almost total deference” standard would be appropriate in the Tom Green County DWI case, because that court heard witness testimony and was in a position to make credibility determinations, the CCA stated that “the decision of the Tom Green County court is not under review here.” Rather, the CCA stated that it was only reviewing the ruling of the Brazoria County court. The Brazoria County trial judge, the CCA noted, held two pretrial hearings, after the first of which he reviewed the entire record of the Tom Green County proceeding. He heard no witness testimony, only arguments of counsel. He made no credibility determinations or determinations of historical facts. The Brazoria County judge stated explicitly that his granting of the motion to suppress was based on the doctrine of collateral estoppel. Courts of appeals reviewing a ruling on a motion to suppress, the CCA stated, afford almost total deference to a trial court’s determination of historical facts supported by the record, especially when the determination is based on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. The same level of deference, the CCA stated, is granted to mixed questions of law and fact, or “application of law to fact questions,” where the resolution likewise turns on an evaluation of credibility and demeanor. A decision to apply collateral estoppel is a question of law for which de novo review is appropriate, the CCA stated. Thus, the 14th Court erred in applying a deferential standard to the Brazoria County trial court’s ruling. On remand, the CCA stated that a de novo review of the trial court’s decision to apply collateral estoppel was appropriate. OPINION:Womack, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous court. CONCURRENCE:Cochran, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Keasler and Hervey, JJ., joined. “Although the court of appeals is certainly free to decide the present case on narrower grounds than the question of whether collateral estoppel applies to a finding of probable cause on a pretrial ruling on a motion to suppress, I do not read the Court’s opinion as holding (or even suggesting) that collateral estoppel does, in fact, apply to such pretrial rulings.”

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