Session January 6, 2015
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Carroll County No. 13CR158 C. Creed McGinley, Judge
Paul Williams, a/k/a Paul Williams El, Huntingdon, Tennessee, Pro Se.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Matthew F. Stowe, District Attorney General; and R. Adam Jowers, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE
On May 13, 2013, a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer pulled the defendant over for driving a vehicle that did not have a valid license plate. The defendant's wife and three unbuckled young children were passengers in the vehicle. The defendant gave his name to the trooper but was unable to provide a valid driver's license, registration, or proof of insurance. After running the defendant's name through his computer database, the trooper learned that the defendant's driver's license was suspended. The defendant refused to sign the citations prepared by the trooper and was consequently arrested and taken to jail. He was subsequently indicted by the Carroll County Grand Jury with driving on a cancelled, suspended, or revoked license with prior convictions for driving with his license suspended, failure to show registration, failure to show proof of insurance, and failure to properly use child restraints. The insurance and child restraint counts of the indictment were later nolle prosequied, however.
The defendant opted to represent himself at trial. The State's only witness was Trooper Mark Jackson of the Tennessee Highway Patrol, who testified that on May 13, 2013, he was approaching the intersection of Highway 22 and the north side of the bypass in Huntingdon when he saw a gray Buick in front of him that did not have a typical registration plate. Instead, he saw some numbers on the plate, unfamiliar language, and the words "Sovereign Citizen." After running the tag number through his computer and receiving the information that the tag was "not on file, " he pulled the vehicle over.
Trooper Jackson testified that he approached the driver of the Buick, advised him why he had pulled him over, and asked for his driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. The driver, whom he later identified as the defendant, said his name was "Paul Williams El, " handed him some unintelligible paperwork, and told him that he did not need a driver's license. Trooper Jackson testified that a woman, later identified as the defendant's wife, was in the backseat with three very young children, none of whom were wearing seatbelts. He said he returned to his patrol vehicle and called a fellow officer, Trooper Steele, who told him that he was familiar with the defendant. At his request, Trooper Steele responded to the scene, spoke with the defendant, checked his computer, and then provided Trooper Jackson with the defendant's date of birth and driver's license number. Trooper Jackson then ran that number through his computer and learned that the defendant's driver's license was suspended.
Trooper Jackson testified that he wrote the defendant citations for the registration violation, the child restraint violations, and the suspended driver's license violation, but the defendant refused to sign them. He, therefore, arrested the defendant and took him to jail. Trooper Jackson identified a certified copy of the defendant's driving record from the Tennessee Department of Safety, which was admitted as a trial exhibit. The record reflects that the defendant's driver's license was suspended on July 20, 2006. On cross- examination, Trooper Jackson acknowledged that the defendant's license plate read "United States of America sovereign citizen" and did not state that the vehicle to which it was attached was "a motor vehicle" or "a passenger motor vehicle." He further acknowledged that the defendant's driver's license was expired.
The defendant's sole witness was Kathy Pinkston, who is, apparently, the Carroll County Deputy Court Clerk who signed the affidavit of complaint against the defendant. Pinkston acknowledged that the defendant did not sign the complaint and that she had no knowledge of "any document reflecting [the defendant's] authorized signature to appear as the Defendant[.]"
As best as we can understand, the issues the defendant raises on appeal are whether the court had in personam jurisdiction over his case and whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain his convictions. With respect to the first issue, the defendant appears to argue that the court lacked jurisdiction to try him on the charges because he never signed the affidavit of complaint or consented to the charges and his driver's license, which the trooper used to identify him, was expired and invalid. With respect to the second issue, the defendant appears to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-10-312, entitled "Registration prima facie evidence of ownership and that operation was for owner's benefit" to argue that he cannot be charged with operating a motor vehicle on a suspended license because his vehicle was unregistered. According to his reasoning, the State, because of his unregistered vehicle, lacked prima facie evidence of his ownership of the vehicle and that he was operating it within the scope ...