Medrano, Guillermo v. The State of Texas--Appeal from 209th District Court of Harris County

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Affirmed and Memorandum Opinion filed December 8, 2005

Affirmedand Memorandum Opinion filed December 8, 2005.

In The

Fourteenth Court of Appeals

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NO. 14-04-00800-CR

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GUILLERMO MEDRANO, Appellant

V.

THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

On Appeal from the 209th District Court

Harris County, Texas

Trial Court Cause No. 988,837

M E M O R A N D U M O P I N I O N

Appellant, Guillermo Medrano, appeals his felony conviction of engaging in organized crime. Appellant was sentenced following a jury trial to eighteen years= confinement and a $10,000 fine. In two points of error, appellant contends (1) there is legally and factually insufficient evidence to support his conviction and (2) inadmissible hearsay was admitted at his trial. We affirm.


Appellant and several other individuals were involved in an auto theft ring in which they stole Toyota vehicles, altered the vehicle identification numbers, made false titles, and transported the cars to Mexico, Honduras, or Guatemala for resale. One member of the theft ring worked at a Toyota dealership and made Areplacement@ keys using targeted cars= vehicle identification numbers; the key could later be used to steal the car without causing any damage to the vehicle.

In his first point of error, appellant argues there is legally and factually insufficient evidence to support his conviction. Specifically, appellant contends: (1) the State did not prove the vehicles listed in the indictment were stolen because the vehicles= owners did not testify, (2) police officer witnesses were not qualified to establish the value of the stolen vehicles, and (3) evidence at trial did not prove the vehicles listed in the indictment were stolen by appellant or his associates.

In a legal sufficiency review, we consider all evidence in a light most favorable to the verdict and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); Moff v. State, 131 S.W.3d 485, 488 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). In conducting this review, we do not engage in a second evaluation of the weight and credibility of the evidence, but ensure only that the jury reached a rational decision. Muniz v. State, 851 S.W.2d 238, 246 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993). In a factual sufficiency review, there is only one question: AConsidering all evidence in a neutral light, was a jury rationally justified in finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?@ Zuniga v. State, 144 S.W.3d 477, 484B85 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004). There are two ways the evidence may be factually insufficient: (1) evidence supporting the verdict, considered alone, may be too weak to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt or (2) there may be evidence both supporting and contrary to the verdict but the contrary evidence is so significant that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt could not have been found at trial. Id.


Appellant contends the State failed to prove the vehicles were stolen because the vehicle owners did not testify. The owner of stolen property is frequently called as a witness to (1) identify the stolen property,[1] (2) testify as to its value,[2] and (3) establish that it was appropriated without the owner=s effective consent.[3] However, in determining legal sufficiency, we must determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found (based on all of the evidence admitted at trial including any unobjected to hearsay) the essential elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Poindexter v. State, 153 S.W.3d 402, 406B07 (Tex. Crim. App. 2005). Here, appellant made no objection to the testimony of police officers who identified the stolen property, attested to its value, and established that it was appropriated without the owners= effective consent. Further, it has long been established that proof of ownership may be established by circumstantial evidence. Villani, 116 S.W.3d at 306; also Stewart v. State, 9 Tex. App. 321, 325B26 (1880) (Ait may safely be laid down as a rule that non-consent of the owner in cases of theft may be proven either by the testimony of the owner himself or by circumstantial evidence . . .@). Here, police officers testified that each of the eighteen vehicles listed in the indictment were reported stolen by their owners. There was also testimony that the vehicle identification numbers on several of these vehicles had been altered. There is, therefore, ample evidence to support the jury=s verdict. Appellant=s legal insufficiency claim on this basis fails. Appellant=s factual insufficiency claim also fails. Testimony from police officers that each vehicle was reported stolen is not too weak to support a guilty verdict, and there is no evidence contradicting this fact.


Appellant, within his sufficiency arguments, contends Athe State never proved [the police officers=] testimony as to value were expert witnesses regarding automotive value.@ Appellant acknowledges that officers testified the total value of the stolen cars in the indictment is greater than $100,000, as was required to convict him. Appellant did not object to the competence of police officer testimony as to value. He has, therefore, forfeited any issue of competency of this evidence. Moff, 131 S.W.3d at 490; Brown v. State, 640 S.W.2d 275, 279 (Tex. Crim. App. 1982); Bullard v. State, 533 S.W.2d 812, 815 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976). We hold there is legally sufficient evidence to support appellant=s conviction on this basis. Again, there is no contrary evidence of value in the record and the evidence introduced is not too weak to support the jury=s verdict. Appellant=s factual insufficiency claim on this ground also fails.

Appellant claims the State did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the vehicles listed in the indictment were stolen by members of the auto theft ring. He argues the State proved only that appellant was Awith people who stole vehicles and knew some of them.@ Appellant does not discuss what evidence is deficient to support the verdict, nor does he mention any evidence contrary to the verdict.

At trial, Officer RinconesCan officer who went undercover into the theft ring as a driver for Elvis Pineda, an indicted member of the combinationCtestified he personally talked to appellant and eight other combination members about aspects of the auto theft ring. Rincones stated appellant spoke to him about Ahot cars@ and discussed forming a new auto theft ring that would ship cars only to Mexico. Appellant showed Rincones three vehicles in a hotel parking lot, with a total value of $28,000, that were listed in the indictment as stolen. In the hotel room, appellant showed Rincones altered titles used to sell the stolen vehicles, and Rincones recovered a typewriter from the room with a vehicle identification number imprinted on its ribbon matching one of the vehicles, valued at $14,000, listed in the indictment. This same car was recovered from a combination member who drove for appellant. Rincones also testified he attended a meeting of theft ring members and was told to leave once appellant arrived. A video was played at trial showing appellant=s arrival at the meeting in one of the stolen trucks, valued at $22,000, listed in the indictment.[4]


The video also showed a member of the theft ring driving a stolen Freightliner tractor valued at $40,000; Rincones testified Elvis Pineda was one of the people sending the Freightliner to Mexico, towing a stolen truck. Another undercover policeman, Officer Lopez, was present when Elvis Pineda and appellant phoned vehicle identification numbers to a theft ring member, Garcia, who was employed at a Toyota dealership. Garcia used these numbers to cut spare keys to vehicles later stolen by the combination. Appellant visited Garcia at the Toyota dealership when Officer Lopez, working at the dealership undercover, answered a phone call from Elvis Pineda. Appellant spoke with Pineda and said Aoh, you=ve got another one,@ and wrote down a vehicle identification number. Appellant then gave the vehicle identification number to Garcia, who went to cut a key. Garcia came back, handed a bag to appellant that sounded as though it contained metal keys, and laughed, telling appellant he would need more key blanks because Garcia had already made twenty keys. Garcia did not document the cutting or sale of the keys he made.

If any rational juror could find the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt when viewing evidence in a light most favorable to the prosecution, the verdict will be upheld in a legal sufficiency review. Lacour v. State, 8 S.W.3d 670, 671 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). From the facts recited above, a rational juror could find appellant was part of an organized crime combination and that he or members of the combination stole vehicles with a total value of more than $100,000. Viewing the entire record in a neutral light, we also find factually sufficient evidence to support appellant=s conviction: The evidence is not too weak, and there is no significant contrary evidence to show guilt could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Accordingly, appellant=s first issue is overruled.

Appellant asserts in his second point of error that inadmissible hearsay was allowed at trial that tainted his case. Specifically, appellant complains of testimony from one Brownsville police officer that a man named Ayala told him appellant sold Ayala stolen Toyota vehicles.


It is non-constitutional error to allow inadmissible hearsay at trial; this error is harmless if, after examining the record as a whole, we are reasonably assured the error either did not influence the jury verdict or had only a slight effect. Garcia v. State, 126 S.W.3d 921, 927 (Tex. Crim. App. 2004); Johnson v. State, 967 S.W.2d 410, 417 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998); Chapman v. State, 150 S.W.3d 809, 814 (Tex. App.CHouston [14th Dist.] 2004, pet. ref=d). Improper admission of evidence is not reversible error if the same or similar evidence is admitted without objection at another point in the trial. Brooks v. State, 990 S.W.2d 278, 287 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999); Mayes v. State, 816 S.W.2d 79, 88 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991).

After examining the record, we find no harm in the admission of this officer=s testimony. The officer testified he was approached by Ayala and asked to check certain vehicles to make sure they were not stolen; the officer did so and discovered five stolen Toyota trucks. Ayala arranged for the officer to meet the man who sold Ayala the trucks; that man was appellant. The officer testified appellant, after the officer introduced himself as a law enforcement investigator, admitted he sold those five trucks to Ayala. Appellant did not, and could not, object to this statement because it is admissible hearsay by a party opponent. See Tex. R. Evid. 801(e)(2)(A). Appellant=s second point of error is overruled.

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

/s/ J. Harvey Hudson

Justice

Judgment rendered and Memorandum Opinion filed December 8, 2005.

Panel consists of Justices Hudson, Frost, and Seymore.

Do Not Publish C Tex. R. App. P. 47.2(b).


[1] See, e.g., Anderson v. State, 871 S.W.2d 900, 903 (Tex. App.CHouston [1st Dist.] 1994, no pet.) (observing that owner identified the stolen car as his own).

[2] See, e.g., Ray v. State, 106 S.W.3d 299, 301 (Tex. App.CHouston [1st Dist.] 2003, no pet.) (holding the fair market value of stolen property may be established by an owner=s opinion of the value).

[3] Appropriation of property is unlawful only if it is without the owner=s effective consent. See Tex. Pen. Code Ann. ' 31.03(b)(1), (2) (Vernon 2003); Villani v. State, 116 S.W.3d 297, 302 (Tex. App.CHouston [14th Dist.] 2003, pet. ref=d) (holding appropriation of property is unlawful if it is without the owner=s effective consent).

[4] This vehicle was not reported stolen until approximately two weeks after appellant drove it to the meeting; it was stolen from a dealership lot. Officer Rincones testified that, when Elvis Pineda saw appellant drive up, he called him stupid for driving a Ahot@ truck.