Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs May 20, 2015.
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Blount County No. C-21955 Tammy M. Harrington, Judge.
J. Liddell Kirk (on appeal), Knoxville, Tennessee; Raymond Mack Garner, District Public Defender; and Matthew Elrod, Assistant District Public Defender (at trial), for the Appellant, Caleb Joseph Latham.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; Michael L. Flynn, District Attorney General; and Betsy Brockman Smith, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Camille R. McMullen, J., joined.
D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE.
On November 4, 2013, the Blount County grand jury returned an indictment charging the Defendant with DUI and DUI per se in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-10-403. On June 30, 2014, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized as a result of the seizure and search accompanying his arrest. The motion to suppress alleged that the Defendant's seizure was unlawful because the seizing officer did not have reasonable suspicion that a criminal offense had been or was about to be committed. The Defendant further argued that any evidence gained subsequent to the unlawful seizure should be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree. The trial court held a hearing on the motion to suppress on July 14, 2014, and the following evidence was presented.
At approximately 2:00 a.m. on November 25, 2012, Officer Matt Wyrick of the Maryville Police Department ("MPD") was on patrol when he pulled into a Hardee's parking lot and observed a car in the back left corner of the parking lot. The car did not appear to be running, although the car's left turn signal was activated. Officer Wyrick also observed that the car was not parked in a parking space and was "right up next to the dumpster." Officer Wyrick testified that "it struck [him] as being odd" that a car would be "sitting in [a] back corner parking lot of a closed business around 2:00 a.m. with its turn signal on, " and he decided to investigate further.
Officer Wyrick testified that he was concerned that criminal activity could have been going on or that someone might have had a medical emergency. He also considered that "there might have been some type of sexual encounter going on inside the vehicle" given the car's location in the back corner of the parking lot.
As Officer Wyrick pulled in closer to the car, he was able to observe several people inside the car. Officer Wyrick testified that he parked his patrol car behind the suspect car, and he agreed that, due to the positioning of his patrol car, the suspect car was not able to leave at that point. Officer Wyrick testified that he did not activate his blue lights and that only his car's headlights were turned on.
Officer Wyrick approached the car and began speaking with the driver, whom Officer Wyrick identified as the Defendant. The Defendant told Officer Wyrick that "[t]here was [sic] some ignition problems with the car and they were trying to get the car started to leave." Officer Wyrick described the Defendant's demeanor as "very calm, not argumentative at all. . . . just like a normal person." According to Officer Wyrick, there were no other officers on the scene at the time, and he did not remove his gun from its holster.
While Officer Wyrick was standing next to the car speaking with the Defendant, he smelled a "strong odor of alcohol coming from the Defendant and from the subjects that were inside the car." When he asked the Defendant whether he had been drinking, the Defendant told Officer Wyrick that he had consumed five or six beers. Officer Wyrick instructed the Defendant to "hang tight" while he went back to his patrol car to request a backup unit.
On cross-examination, Officer Wyrick testified that there were no yellow lines delineating parking spaces near the dumpster area on the night the Defendant was arrested. Officer Wyrick agreed that, on the night in question, he had not received a phone call or dispatch request to investigate the Hardee's area. Rather, he was on a regular patrol through the parking lot when he noticed the vehicle. Officer Wyrick agreed that he would characterize the car as "odd" and "suspicious." However, he further agreed that the car was parked legally on private ...