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State v. Ferrell

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 11, 2017


          Session October 19, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Warren County No. 15-CR-772 Larry B. Stanley, Jr., Judge.

         The Defendant, James E. Ferrell, was issued a citation for operating a vehicle while unrestrained by a safety belt, a Class C misdemeanor. He was found guilty and assessed a fine for the violation in General Sessions Court, and he appealed to the Circuit Court, which imposed a judgment of conviction and a fine. The Defendant alleges in this appeal that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction over the offense because there was no warrant issued in the case. We conclude that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction based upon the issued citation and affirm the conviction.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed.

          James E. Ferrell, Morrison, Tennessee, pro se.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Assistant Attorney General; Lisa S. Zavogiannis, District Attorney General; and Justin Walling, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.



         On July 25, 2015, the Defendant[1] was issued a citation for failing to use a safety belt while operating a vehicle, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-9-603(a)(1) (2015). The Defendant attempted to seek monetary damages against the State in a "counterclaim, " which was dismissed in General Sessions Court as barred by sovereign immunity. The Defendant was found guilty and fined ten dollars in General Sessions Court.

         The Defendant timely appealed to the Circuit Court and moved to dismiss the charge on the basis that the Circuit Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Circuit Court held a hearing at which Trooper Josh Sparkman testified that he observed the Defendant driving on the highway in Warren County not wearing a seatbelt, stopped the Defendant, and issued him a citation. The record reveals that the Defendant was driving a Ford Ranger. The Circuit Court found beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant had violated the seatbelt law, and it imposed a ten-dollar fine on the Defendant. See State v. Kirk, 392 S.W.3d 622, 624 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2011) (holding that an appeal from a general sessions court to a circuit court abrogates the judgment of the general sessions court and requires a new judgment after an independent review). The Defendant appeals his Circuit Court conviction, arguing that the trial court did not have jurisdiction because there was no warrant in the record.

         "Subject matter jurisdiction involves the court's lawful authority to adjudicate a controversy brought before it." Johnson v. Hopkins, 432 S.W.3d 840, 843 (Tenn. 2013). We review a question of jurisdiction de novo. Id. at 844. Circuit courts have original jurisdiction of crimes unless otherwise provided by statute. T.C.A. §§ 16-10-102, 40-1-108. The Defendant was convicted by the Circuit Court of a misdemeanor offense under Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-9-603(a)(1) (2015), which makes it an offense to operate a passenger motor vehicle in forward motion when not restrained by a safety belt.

         The Defendant cites to Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-10-305 to support his argument that the trial court had no jurisdiction without a warrant. The statute provides:

No judge shall try any case except upon warrant duly prepared in the form required by law, which shall be preserved with the other papers pertaining to the judge's office, and no such judge shall collect any fine or cost imposed in any case involving a violation of chapters 8 and 9 of this title, parts 1-5 of this chapter and § 55-12-139, until that judge has completed the entries pertaining to the case in a docket kept for the making of the judge's records.

T.C.A. § 55-10-305. An arrest generally requires a warrant supported by an affidavit of complaint which is in writing, made on oath before a magistrate, and alleges the essential facts constituting the offense. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 3; Tenn. R. Crim. P. 4; State v. Harris, 280 S.W.3d 832, 839 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2008); State v. Burtis, 664 S.W.2d 305, 308 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1983); State v. Morgan, 598 S.W.2d 796, 797 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1979). A prosecution may also be commenced on an affidavit of complaint. Tenn. R. Crim. P. 5(a)(2) ("An affidavit of complaint shall be filed promptly when a person, arrested without a warrant, is brought before a magistrate."); State v. Ferrante, 269 S.W.3d 908, 912 (Tenn. 2008) (noting that the Rule clearly contemplates that an arrestee may be taken before a magistrate to initiate charges through the filing of an affidavit of complaint); State v. Best, 614 S.W.2d ...

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