Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
February 14, 2017 Session
from the Circuit Court for Coffee County No. 40330 Vanessa 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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit
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
W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Timothy L. Easter, J.,
W. WEDEMEYER, JUDGE.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...