Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs August 20, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Washington County No. 38131 Robert E. Cupp, Judge
The Defendant-Appellant, Dylan M. Yacks, entered a guilty plea to driving under the influence (DUI), see T.C.A. § 55-10-401 (1) (2012),  in exchange for a sentence of eleven months and twenty-nine days, which was suspended after service of two days confinement. As a condition of his guilty plea, the Defendant-Appellant properly reserved a certified question of law challenging the constitutionality of the stop and subsequent arrest. Upon our review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and vacate the Defendant-Appellant's convictions.
Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Reversed; Convictions Vacated and Case Dismissed
Donald E. Spurrell, Johnson City, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Dylan M. Yacks.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Assistant Attorney General; Tony Clark, District Attorney General; and Anthony Clark, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams, J., and David A. Patterson, Sp. J., joined.
CAMILLE R. McMULLEN, JUDGE
The Defendant-Appellant was indicted for DUI following his April 27, 2012 arrest, which was initiated by a traffic stop. Soon after his arrest, he filed a motion to suppress claiming that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to support the stop of his vehicle. At the motion to suppress hearing, Officer Mike Castineiras of the Johnson City Police Department testified that he and his partner observed the Defendant-Appellant driving through an empty parking lot. He said the vehicle "was reversing . . . in an attempt to make a turn in the parking lot itself and struck the . . . light pole in the parking lot." Officer Castineiras waited for the driver to exit the vehicle and assess the damage; however, no occupant exited the vehicle. The driver pulled back onto West Walnut Street, and the officer followed the vehicle to initiate a traffic stop. The officer conceded that when he initiated his emergency blue lights, he could not see the pole from his vantage point, and he was not aware of how much damage, if any, had occurred to the pole or the vehicle. The officer also confirmed that his vehicle had video recording capability; however, it did not have accompanying audio for the recording. On cross-examination, Officer Castineiras clarified that it was a noise produced by the impact from the vehicle striking the pole that drew his attention to the Defendant-Appellant's vehicle.
The Defendant-Appellant testified and denied hitting or striking a pole with his vehicle that would have created a noise on the date of the offense. On cross-examination, he admitted that he had been drinking and that his consumption of alcohol could have affected his memory of the night in question.
The video recording from the officer's vehicle, a video recording produced by the defense reconstructing a vehicle striking the same pole, and various photographs showing the vehicle, the pole, and the area where the offense occurred were all admitted as exhibits to the hearing. The Defendant-Appellant argued that the video recording from the officer's vehicle did not show that the Defendant-Appellant struck the pole. He argued that this was "obvious" because the car did not stop, and "there was no jolt." Based on the demonstrative video reconstructing the events on the night of the offense, defense counsel further argued that the Defendant-Appellant clearly did not hit the pole. He reasoned that hitting the pole would have caused the light at the top of the pole to shake, which was not reflected in the officer's video. The State argued that the demonstrative video was not an accurate reflection of the events in question because it was not produced from inside of the officer's patrol car, which was unable to capture the light at the top of the pole.
Throughout the hearings concerning this case,  the trial court distinguished an officer's mistake of law from an officer's mistake of fact. By use of several examples, including a wrongfully issued capias, the trial court explained that when a police officer believes that an individual has violated the law, as in this case, the officer has reasonable suspicion to stop that individual even if it is later determined that the officer was mistaken in his initial belief of wrongdoing. Defense counsel maintained, however, that an officer's mistaken belief of an individual's unlawful acts must be reviewed under an objective, rather than a subjective standard of reasonableness. In support of his argument that the officer's actions were objectively unreasonable, defense counsel pointed out that there was no violation of the law as evidenced by the video from the officer's vehicle. In response, the trial court clarified its ruling and stated that "there was nothing unreasonable about [the officer] saying he had observed [the vehicle] hit the pole and he hear[d] it." Alternatively, the State argued that even if the Defendant-Appellant did not hit the pole, the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe that he did. After several re-settings, the trial court ultimately denied the motion to suppress. In its oral findings of fact, the trial court cited several appellate decisions from this court and determined that Officer Castineiras was credible.
The Defendant-Appellant subsequently entered a guilty plea and properly reserved the following certified question of law for our review:
Whether the trial court erred in denying [the Defendant-Appellant's] motion to suppress as, at the time the officer conducted the warrantless seizure of the defendant's moving vehicle, no exception to the warrant requirement existed, in that, there was no probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, and no consensual encounter as required by Article I, Section 7 of the ...