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State v. Miller

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 14, 2015


Session February 10, 2015

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Perry County No. 2013-CR-14 James G. Martin, III, Judge

Michael J. Flanagan, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Derek C. Miller.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; Kim R. Helper, District Attorney General; and Jennifer Mason, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., joined.



Factual and Procedural Background

On February 25, 2013, the Perry County Grand Jury indicted Defendant for the following seven criminal offenses: (1) driving under the influence ("DUI"), (2) DUI third offense, (3) tampering with or fabricating evidence, (4) possession of a Schedule VI drug, (5) violation of the seatbelt law, (6) failure to provide notice of change of address, and (7) failure to use turn signals. After pleading not guilty to all charged offenses, Defendant proceeded to a jury trial on February 7, 2014. After the State's case-in-chief, the trial court dismissed the alleged seatbelt, change of address, and turn signal violations for lack of evidence. The jury convicted Defendant of DUI, attempted tampering with evidence, and simple possession. Defendant waived his right to a jury trial on Count Two, and the trial court found Defendant guilty of DUI third offense.

A sentencing hearing was held on April 2, 2014. The trial court merged the DUI conviction into the DUI third offense conviction. Defendant was sentenced to eleven months and twenty-nine days on probation after 120 days in the county jail for both the DUI third offense and the simple possession convictions. Defendant also lost his driver's license for six years. For the attempted tampering with evidence conviction, Defendant was sentenced as a standard offender to three years in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction to be served on probation after twelve months. All sentences are to be served concurrently.

The trial court denied Defendant's motion for new trial, and Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal. His appeal only involves the conviction for attempted tampering with evidence.

During the State's case-in-chief, Trooper James Watkins testified that he has approximately eighteen years of experience with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, including seventeen years of road service, six months of training at the cadet academy, and additional field training. He has received IPTM[1] standardized field sobriety test training with yearly legal updates and refresher courses on DUI laws. Trooper Watkins also received advanced roadside impaired driver enforcement training in 2010 with yearly refresher courses. During his experience as a state trooper, he has evaluated individuals suspected to be driving under the influence and has "come across" marijuana.

On April 6, 2012, Trooper Watkins was on duty in Perry County. While westbound on U.S. Highway 412 and waiting at the stoplight on Mill Street, Trooper Watkins observed a white Pontiac Sunfire make a left turn onto U.S. Highway 412 from Mill Street. He witnessed the Sunfire "run off the road completely with the center of the white line running down with the vehicle [sic] right in the center of the vehicle approximately twice." The white line that the Sunfire crossed was the one on the right side of the vehicle. Trooper Watkins activated his blue lights and initiated a traffic stop of the Sunfire. The vehicle eventually stopped at an old car lot on Hill Street, but Trooper Watkins did not see the vehicle illuminate its turn signal when turning onto Hill Street from U.S. Highway 412.

Trooper Watkins approached the vehicle and asked the driver, Defendant, for his driver's license. Defendant "fumbled excessively getting it out, " which took a few minutes. Trooper Watkins "could see immediately that [Defendant's] eyes were pinpointed or fixed, constricted." Defendant's speech was "slow and slurred." Trooper Watkins asked Defendant to step out of his vehicle and began administering various field sobriety tasks. Defendant performed poorly on these tasks.

During the field sobriety tasks, the Sunfire began making a noise. Trooper Watkins permitted Defendant to return to the vehicle to attend to the noise. Defendant retrieved a white Unisom bottle from the vehicle, put something in his hand from the bottle, and then dropped the bottle back in the vehicle between the driver's side door and seat. Trooper Watkins could not identify what Defendant had in his hand. Trooper Watkins then observed as Defendant "dropped a substance on the ground, and then he rubbed his heel across the substance." When Trooper Watkins asked Defendant about this occurrence, Defendant responded, "I don't know what you're talking ...

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