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State v. Luthi

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 7, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
MICHAEL CHRIS LUTHI

          February 14, 2017 Session

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Coffee County No. 40330 Vanessa A. Jackson, Judge

         A Coffee County grand jury indicted the Defendant, Michael Chris Luthi, for DUI, third offense, DUI per se, and violation of the seat belt statute. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found as a result of a search of his vehicle, contending that the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to support the stop. The trial court denied the motion. A Coffee County jury convicted the Defendant of DUI, third offense and of violating the seat belt statute. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trooper could not have seen that the Defendant was not wearing his seat belt and, thus, lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the Defendant's vehicle. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Douglas D. Aaron and C. Brent Keeton, Manchester, Tennessee, for the appellant, Michael Chris Luthi.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew C. Coulman, Assistant Attorney General; Craig Northcott, District Attorney General; and Kenneth J. Shelton, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Timothy L. Easter, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE.

         I. Facts

         This case arises from the stop of the Defendant's vehicle by Tennessee State Trooper Donnie Clark in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress the stop of his vehicle and any evidence obtained as the result of the stop, contending that the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to believe the Defendant was not wearing his seat belt. He contended that "due to the dark window tinting on the [D]efendant's rear window, it is impossible to ascertain whether or not the [D]efendant was wearing his seat belt." The trial court held a hearing on the motion, during which the parties presented the following evidence: Trooper Clark testified that he had in the past encountered drunk drivers during the hours of 6:00 am and 7:00 am. Trooper Clark recalled that in the present case, he encountered the Defendant at 7:00 am and that it was daylight. He witnessed the Defendant's vehicle traveling on North Polk Street, and he turned onto the street behind the Defendant's vehicle. Trooper Clark sped up to the Defendant's vehicle and saw that the Defendant was not wearing his seat belt. Trooper Clark then "came into contact" with the Defendant and ascertained that the Defendant was under the influence of alcohol.

         On cross-examination, Trooper Clark agreed that a video recording was taken of the stop, and it was played for the court. Trooper Clark indicated where, on the video, he noticed that there was no "shadow of [the Defendant's] seat belt across his left shoulder." The trooper also indicated where in the video the Defendant could be seen putting on his seat belt. Trooper Clark testified that the video recording did not depict things exactly as he saw them in person, meaning the "tints and shadows" in the Defendant's vehicle. He agreed that the Defendant's back window was tinted.

         On redirect-examination, Trooper Clark testified that he had perfect eyesight and that it was his objective belief that the Defendant was not wearing his seat belt when Trooper Clark stopped his vehicle.

         Based upon this evidence, the trial court denied the Defendant's motion to suppress. It found:

The Court has reviewed the video submitted into evidence several times. Unfortunately the images are very small and not easy to see. The objects in the video are not shown at the same size or scale as they actually existed on the morning of [the stop]. Viewing the video on a small computer screen, the rear window of the truck is approximately two or three inches wide. However, the video does reflect that Trooper Clark pulled right up behind the Defendant's vehicle at 7:33 [a.m.] when the Defendant was at a stop sign, and he was in close proximity to the Defendant's rear window. Obviously, Trooper Clark, who was observing the Defendant's truck in full scale, had a better opportunity to see into the ...

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