Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Session July 16, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2012A170 Seth W. Norman, Judge
Chelsea Nicholson, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kerry Randall Meadows.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Elizabeth Foy, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, the State of Tennessee.
Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Alan E. Glenn, JJ., joined.
THOMAS T. WOODALL, PRESIDING JUDGE
On March 23, 2011, Metro Nashville Police Officer Coleman Womack was on routine patrol in the East precinct on the "day shift flex team." While driving in the 1400 block of Dickerson Road, he observed a 1985 Mitsubishi pickup truck that was being driven by Defendant. Officer Womack testified that in the area of Dickerson Road upon which he was traveling, many older model vehicles displayed registration tags that were actually legally assigned to a different vehicle. He explained that when an older vehicle's tags expired, the owner sometimes used the tag of another vehicle rather than renew the expired tags. For that reason, Officer Womack often used the laptop computer in his patrol car to access a database to see if a particular registration tag was assigned to the vehicle upon which it was displayed. Defendant's 1985 Mitsubishi pickup truck was over twenty-five years old, so Officer Womack "ran" the number, 990 TGD, displayed on the truck through the database. Officer Womack testified that the tag number,
came back to some type of Pontiac or something, which is once again, it's common when the tag runs out, its expired, if your car won't pass [emissions testing], take the tag off another vehicle and put it onto [sic] yours.
As a result of the information received from the database, Officer Womack stopped Defendant's vehicle. Officer Womack approached the pickup truck and told Defendant he was stopped because the tag number was not assigned to the truck. Officer Womack asked Defendant for his driver's license. Defendant responded that he did not have a driver's license. Defendant provided a non-license identification card and stated that the tag did belong to the truck. Defendant produced a vehicle registration that showed the registration tag on the truck had in fact been properly assigned to the 1985 Mitsubishi pickup truck driven by Defendant.
Vaguely leaving open the possibility that the registration paper produced by Defendant possibly could have been a "false" registration, Officer Womack reluctantly conceded that the database provided him with incorrect information. Specifically, Officer Womack testified,
I'm assuming it gave me erroneous information, yes. I don't know that for a hundred percent, no. . . . I don't think it was [a registration violation], no. I never said - - it's very unusual for that to happen I guess is what I'm saying, I don't - - that doesn't happen once in a, you know, ten years that a tag comes back to something else and somebody hand me the registration showing it's not, so it's very unusual.
In fact, the exact same thing happened to Officer Womack in March 2003, as set forth in an opinion heavily relied upon by the State in its argument in the case sub judice, and which will be discussed in the analysis portion of this opinion. See State v. David M. Whitman, Jr., No. M2004-03063-CCA-R3-CD, 2005 WL 3299817 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 5, 2006), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 1, 2006).
Officer Womack testified that he ultimately arrested Defendant for the Class E felony offense of driving while his driving privileges were revoked after being declared an habitual motor vehicle offender. After the indictment for that offense was returned by the Davidson County Grand Jury, Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence, asserting Officer Womack made an unconstitutional stop of Defendant without a warrant and without a lawful exception to the warrant requirement. The only person who testified at the suppression hearing was Officer Womack, and the summary of the facts in this opinion comes from that hearing.
Defendant argued that since the only reason Officer Womack initiated the stop was proven to be incorrect information, then there was not a reasonable suspicion, based upon specific and articulable facts, that Defendant was committing a criminal offense. In other words, the facts are that Defendant had a valid registration tag displayed on his vehicle at the time of the stop. Therefore, Defendant argues, a valid ...