Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Session October 19, 2016
from the Circuit Court for Warren County No. 15-CR-772 Larry
B. Stanley, Jr., Judge.
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
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
Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Norma McGee Ogle and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.
EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE
25, 2015, the Defendant 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
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.
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.
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