• Court of Appeals of Texas, First District
  • 01-16-00653-CR
Police officer Meyers pulled over a car in a parking lot before dawn. He approached the vehicle and saw appellant Joseph Jamal Phillips behind the wheel with another man in the passenger seat. Although it was still dark out, Meyers testified he could clearly see appellant and the passenger in the light of his cruiser's spotlight. The car then pulled away and led Meyers and other officers on a high-speed chase for half an hour, ending when the car crashed and the two occupants exited and attempted to run away. Meyers caught the passenger and could be heard on his dash-cam video asking other officers if they caught the driver; in fact, another officer had caught appellant. Officers found a bag of marijuana in the car, and the trial court admitted evidence of the marijuana over appellant's objection that it was extraneous. The court also allowed an officer to testify about appellant's gang affiliation, partially based on his tattoos, over appellant's objection. The court convicted appellant of felony evading arrest and sentenced him to 50 years, based on enhancements. On appeal, he argued that the state provided insufficient evidence that he was driving the car, and also challenged the admission of the marijuana evidence and the gang affiliation testimony. The court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, found that Meyers' testimony that he could see appellant in the driver's seat in the spotlight was sufficient to establish appellant as the driver. The court also noted that Meyers' repeated question on the dash-cam video about whether anyone caught "the driver" showed he was fully confident at the time that the other man was the passenger, not the driver, and thus the dash-cam footage supported his contention that appellant was the driver. The court also upheld the admission of the marijuana evidence, finding that the trial court properly ruled that it could establish a motive for fleeing police. The court found the expert witness on gangs was qualified, even though he worked a different area of Houston than the one where the offense occurred, because he established appellant was a member of a nationwide gang that he tracked. The court also found that gang tattoos have "distinctive meaning" and are "sound evidence" of affiliation. The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. Joseph Jamal Phillips v. The State of Texas, Houston 1st Court of Appeals, Case No. 01-16-00653-CR, 7/27/17.

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