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State v. Irwin

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 8, 2016


          Session Date: September 13, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Coffee County No. 41206M L. Craig Johnson, Judge

          James H. Threet, III, Manchester, Tennessee, for the appellant, Amanda L. Irwin.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; M. Todd Ridley, Assistant Attorney General; Craig Northcott, District Attorney General; and Marcus Simmons, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Motion to Suppress

         On June 12, 2014, the Defendant was indicted by the Coffee County Grand Jury for first offense driving under the influence of an intoxicant ("DUI"); driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher; driving with a revoked license, second offense; operating a motor vehicle while in possession of an open container of alcohol; driving without proof of registration; and driving without proof of insurance. Thereafter, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence against her, arguing that she was subject to a "warrantless seizure."

         At the suppression hearing, Trooper Jason Boles with the Tennessee Highway Patrol testified that around 6 a.m. on October 13, 2013, he was off-duty when he arrived at Sonic restaurant in Manchester for breakfast. The restaurant was not yet open. Trooper Boles noticed a car that appeared to have entered the Sonic from the exit and had pulled into a parking space from the wrong direction. As Trooper Boles passed the irregularly-parked car, he saw that the driver "leaned up in her seat and looked to the right and looked to the left like she was just unsteady and fell straight back in her seat, like she just passed out right there." Concerned that the driver might be intoxicated, Trooper Boles called an on-duty trooper to inform him of a possible DUI at Sonic.

         Trooper Donnie Clark was on duty that morning and responded to Trooper Boles's call. When he arrived at Sonic, he circled the restaurant and parked perpendicular to the irregularly-parked car so as to not block in the vehicle. He did not activate his blue lights. Trooper Clark exited his patrol car, and as he approached the parked vehicle, the driver, who was later identified as the Defendant, opened her car door. On the audio of the dash camera video, [1] Trooper Clark could be heard to say, "Howdy. How are you? How much did you have to drink last night?" The Defendant's response is unintelligible, but Trooper Clark testified at the suppression hearing that the Defendant stated that she had been drinking.

         Trooper Clark also testified that the Defendant "appear[ed] to be somewhat intoxicated, " that he smelled alcohol on the Defendant's person when he spoke with her, and that her speech was slurred. After the Defendant informed Trooper Clark that she had been drinking, Trooper Clark asked the Defendant to exit her vehicle and to perform three field sobriety tests. The Defendant complied and performed the walk-and-turn, one-leg-stand, and finger-to-nose tests. Trooper Clark testified that the Defendant performed "poorly" on the tests, and he arrested the Defendant for DUI.

         On cross-examination, Trooper Clark stated that, when he pulled up near the Defendant's car in the Sonic parking lot, the Defendant was not breaking any traffic laws. He also stated that Trooper Boles did not indicate that the Defendant was in physical distress. However, Trooper Clark said that Trooper Boles informed him that the Defendant "sat up and then fell back in her seat, " so Trooper Clark did not know if the Defendant was having medical problems when he approached the Defendant's car. Trooper Clark testified that Trooper Boles did not relay any information or evidence that the Defendant had been in a car accident or had damaged anything. Additionally, Trooper Clark stated that neither he nor Trooper Boles personally witnessed the Defendant drive her car.

         Trooper Clark noted that the Defendant opened her car door as he approached her car and that he did not speak to the Defendant before she opened her car door. Trooper Clark also stated that the Defendant was not pulled over the curb and that she had successfully parked between posts marking the parking space in the Sonic parking lot. Trooper Clark testified that the keys to the Defendant's car were "readily available" and were inside the vehicle, but he could not remember whether the keys were in the ignition when he spoke with the Defendant.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that Trooper Clark's initial encounter with the Defendant was not a consensual encounter because "[t]he [D]efendant did not seek out nor walk by Trooper Clark." However, the trial court found that the initial encounter was a "brief investigatory stop based on reasonable suspicion" because Trooper Clark had been informed of the possible DUI by Trooper Boles, who was a trustworthy "citizen informant." The trial court concluded that Trooper Clark had reasonable suspicion that the Defendant had committed a crime "based on the observations of the caller, the observations of the actual park[ing lot], and the appearance that the vehicle came in the wrong way in a one-way alley in a parking lot . . . ." Additionally, the trial court found that Trooper Clark had probable cause to arrest the Defendant for DUI. The trial court denied the Defendant's motion to suppress.

         On January 6, 2016, the Defendant pled guilty to one count of DUI (first offense), a Class A misdemeanor, and one count of operating a motor vehicle with an open container of alcohol, a Class C misdemeanor, and reserved the following certified questions of law:

1. Whether Trooper Donnie Clark's initial encounter with [the Defendant] was a brief consensual encounter that required no objective justification, which later evolved into a brief investigatory stop that was based upon Trooper Clark's ...

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