A drug possession trial went to the jury quickly Tuesday, as both sides concluded their cases in Wise County’s 271st District Court.
Alberto Jose Meza is charged with possession of a controlled substance in an amount between 4 and 200 grams – a second-degree felony that could land him up to 20 years in prison.
Meza was arrested almost two years ago, on July 17, 2012, after he was pulled over for speeding on U.S. 81/287 in Rhome.
Officer Brody Brown, who now works for the Boyd Police Department, clocked Meza’s Chevy pickup at 77 mph and stopped him near the County Road 4838 intersection. As he approached the vehicle, he said the smell of marijuana was strong enough that he had probable cause for a search.
That search yielded baggies with a white, powdery substance, digital scales and other bags.
Brown was on the stand much of the afternoon, detailing the arrest and collection of evidence for Assistant District Attorney Pat Berry, then defending his procedures under questioning by Meza’s attorney, Abe Factor of Fort Worth.
Brown said after he stopped the vehicle, he advised Meza he was going to conduct a search and asked him if there was anything illegal inside.
“He said there was nothing,” Brown testified.
Brown said he could see an open container of beer in the pickup, and when the door was opened he saw what he believed to be marijuana scattered in the floorboard – as if someone had attempted to roll a cigarette and spilled some.
When he opened the console between the front seats, he found the small, digital scale with a residue of white powder on it, as well as clear plastic bags. Boxes of clear plastic sandwich bags were found in the back seat of the vehicle.
Brown handcuffed Meza and asked his female passenger to step outside the vehicle. He was in the back seat, continuing the search, when the deputy arrived and pointed out that the pickup’s dashboard seemed loose. When it was pulled out, a clear baggie with several other baggies inside it was found next to the steering column, containing about 10.5 grams of white powder.
Brown said he did a brief field test on the substance and it proved to be cocaine.
Factor focused in on the handling of evidence and the fact that a videotape of the arrest was ruined.
He brought out the fact that Brown did not photograph the evidence in place before moving it, did not ask for fingerprints and did not search the pickup further after it was impounded.
“That’s because if you found somebody else’s fingerprints, somebody else’s DNA, you might not have a good arrest at that point, right?” he asked.
“No,” Brown said, noting that Rhome PD did not have a crime scene unit and none was called in.
Officer Chance Garrett of the Rhome PD was also called to the stand to testify about the department’s procedures and the chain of custody on the evidence.
DPS chemist Raymond Waller Jr. of Abilene also testified on the procedures used to test the nearly 12 grams of drugs found in the pickup.
Factor hammered Waller with questions about gas chromatograph mass spectrometry and other testing methods.
The state, which had listed seven witnesses it might call, rested after those three.
With the jury out, a brief conference before Judge John Fostel resulted in Meza declining to testify in his own behalf. When the jury returned, the defense quickly rested and the state closed at 4:40 p.m.
The trial was to continue Wednesday morning with the judge’s charge to the jury and closing statements by both sides.