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State v. Helbert

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

March 10, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JANICE DARLENE HELBERT

         Session May 17, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Sullivan County No. S64168 James F. Goodwin, Judge

         Defendant, Janice Darlene Helbert, was issued a Uniform Citation of Complaint for the offenses of driving under the influence and following too closely. The citation included the officer's narrative of the facts underlying the offenses. The officer also prepared an affidavit of complaint, which he signed under oath before a notary public. Three days later, the affidavit of complaint was signed by a deputy clerk. Over one year later, Defendant waived her right to a preliminary hearing and agreed to have her case bound over to the grand jury. The grand jury subsequently returned a presentment against Defendant for the misdemeanor offenses above, as well as one count of felony reckless endangerment. Subsequent to the presentment, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the two misdemeanor counts as time barred, arguing that the affidavit of complaint was void because the officer did not make the oath in the presence of an authorized official capable of making a probable cause determination. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss the misdemeanor charges. The State sought and was granted an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's decision. On appeal, the State contends that the fact that the affidavit of complaint was sworn before a notary public rather than a qualified judicial officer was a "technical defect" that should not render it void. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 9 Interlocutory Appeal; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Nicholas W. Spangler, Assistant Attorney General; Barry Staubus, District Attorney General; and Ben Rowe, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Stephen M. Wallace, District Public Defender; and Steven D. Bagby, Assistant Public Defender, Blountville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Janice Darlene Helbert.

          Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          THOMAS T. WOODALL PRESIDING JUDGE.

         Factual background

         On August 2, 2013, Officer Dustin Jackson of the Kingsport Police Department responded to a collision in which Defendant was involved. Defendant's vehicle hit the vehicle she was following, and Defendant was injured. A citation to Defendant for driving under the influence and for following another vehicle too closely was issued. On the same day, Officer Jackson prepared a written affidavit of complaint, which he signed under oath before a notary public. The affidavit summarizes the facts underlying the offenses. On August 5, 2013, a Sullivan County clerk determined that there was probable cause for Defendant's arrest for the charges of driving under the influence and following too closely. The clerk indicated on the affidavit of complaint that Defendant was "given [a] citation or arrested without warrant" and circled the word "citation." The clerk did not specify on the affidavit of complaint that an arrest warrant be issued, and no arrest warrant or criminal summons appears in the record on appeal.

         On September 9, 2014, with the assistance of counsel, Defendant waived a preliminary hearing and agreed to have her case bound over to the Sullivan County Grand Jury. On January 21, 2015, the grand jury returned a presentment for felony reckless endangerment, following too closely, and driving under the influence. On June 10, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the two misdemeanor counts as time barred. She argued that the affidavit of complaint did not comply with Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure because the officer did not make it under oath in the presence of an authorized official capable of making a probable cause determination.

         The State responded, conceding that the officer did not appear in the presence of the clerk who made the probable cause determination, but the State argued that it did not render the affidavit of complaint or any resulting arrest warrant void. The State also asserted that Defendant waived any challenge to the affidavit of complaint by failing to raise the issue in general sessions court.

         On August 13, 2015, the trial court heard argument on Defendant's motion. The parties stipulated that the deputy clerk who reviewed and signed the affidavit of complaint was "capable of making a probable cause determination." The State also stipulated that "the finding of probable cause by [the deputy clerk] did not take place in the presence of Officer Jackson . . . ." In a written order granting Defendant's motion to dismiss the two misdemeanor charges, the trial court found that "the officer swore to the affidavit of complaint before a notary public, not a magistrate or neutral and detached court clerk. Because there was no properly sworn statement upon which to base a probable cause determination, the arrest warrants at issue were never valid." The court concluded that "the prosecution was not commenced within the time allowed by the statute of limitations and that the prosecution is barred." The trial court subsequently granted the State's request for an interlocutory appeal to this court.

         Analysis

         The State contends that the trial court erred by concluding that the affidavit of complaint and/or resulting arrest warrant were void. The State argues that the lack of the officer's physical presence for a sworn examination by the deputy clerk who made the probable cause determination had no impact on the reliability or ...


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