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United States v. Eiland

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

May 2, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN EILAND, Defendant. Violation Nos. 4729874, 4729875, 4980301, 4980302, 4980303

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         On December 24, 2015, Jonathan Eiland was stopped by park rangers and arrested, while driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Defendant Eiland is charged with the following violations: Failure to comply with a traffic control device, unsafe operation of a motor vehicle, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, refusing to submit to a breath or blood test, and having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. This case came before the undersigned for a bench trial on April 27, 2017. Assistant United States Attorneys LaToyia Carpenter and Jennifer Kolman appeared on behalf of the Government. Attorney Robert R. Kurtz represented the Defendant, who was also present. The Government presented the testimony of United States Park Rangers Daniel Wilson and Joshua Baldwin. It also presented clips of video and audio recordings from Ranger Wilson's body camera and dash camera, as well as other exhibits. At the conclusion of the trial, the Court took the evidence and the arguments of counsel under advisement.

         For the reasons discussed below, the undersigned finds that Defendant Eiland is guilty of violations of 36 C.F.R. §§ 4.12 (failure to comply with a traffic control device), 4.14(b) (carrying or storing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle), 4.22(b)(1) (operating a motor vehicle without due care), and 4.23(c)(2) (refusing to submit to a breath or blood test). However, the Court finds that the Government has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to a degree rendering him incapable of safe operation as prohibited by 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(a)(1). The Court discusses each violation in turn.

         I. FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH THE DIRECTIONS OF A TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICE

         Defendant Eiland is charged in Violation No. 4729874 with a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.12, which provides that the “[f]ailure to comply with the directions of a traffic control device is prohibited unless otherwise directed by the superintendent.” Ranger Wilson testified that on the afternoon of December 24, 2015, he was on duty and in his patrol car, monitoring the traffic on Little River Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He observed a black Range Rover, traveling in the opposite direction from that which he was facing, cross the center line. He pulled behind the Range Rover, which was driven by Defendant Eiland, and followed it for approximately five minutes. Ranger Wilson testified that the Defendant got into the left turn lane at the “T” intersection of Little River Road and Highway 441. Ranger Wilson testified that the Defendant turned left onto Highway 441 without stopping at a stop sign or signaling that he was turning left.

         The Government presented the video recording from Ranger Wilson's dash camera in his patrol car. The recording reveals that the Range Rover proceeded left through the intersection without stopping at the stop sign. The Court finds that Defendant Eiland failed to comply with a stop sign, which is a traffic control device. Accordingly, Defendant Eiland is GUILTY of Violation No. 4729874, charging him with a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.12.

         II. UNSAFE OPERATION OF A MOTOR VEHICLE

         Defendant Eiland is charged in Violation No. 4729875 with a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.22(b)(1), which prohibits “[o]perating a motor vehicle without due care or at a speed greater than that which is reasonable and prudent considering wildlife, traffic, weather, road and light conditions and road character.” This is an offense that is “less serious than reckless driving.” 36 C.F.R. § 4.22(a).

         Ranger Wilson testified that after the Defendant passed his position on Little River Road, he pulled in behind the Defendant and followed him for approximately five minutes. Ranger Wilson said that he observed the Defendant cross the double yellow center line on the narrow, curvy two-lane road at least three times. He said the Defendant was travelling too closely to the car in front of him for much of the time that Ranger Wilson followed him. He stated that the Defendant also turned left at the intersection of Little River Road and Highway 441 without stopping at a stop sign or signaling. Finally, Ranger Wilson testified that when the Defendant turned left across traffic into a “pull out” (a small parking area) he nearly pulled in front of an oncoming pick-up truck and had to swerve back into the turn lane. The Court has reviewed the video recording from Ranger Wilson's dash camera and finds that the video corroborates Ranger Wilson's testimony. Additionally, based upon the recording, the Court observes that many vehicles were traveling on Little River Road and Highway 441 on the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 2015. Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendant Eiland was operating his vehicle without due care considering the conditions, particularly the amount of traffic and the character of the road.

         III. DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS AND ALCOHOL

         Defendant Eiland is also charged in Violation No. 4980301 with a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 4.23(a)(1), which prohibits “[o]perating or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle . . . while [u]nder the influence of alcohol, or a drug, or drugs, or any combination thereof, to a degree that renders the operator incapable of safe operation[.]”

         With respect to this charge, Ranger Wilson testified (as set out above) that he observed the Defendant cross over the center line three times, follow the car in front of him too closely, turn left without signaling or stopping at a stop sign, and nearly turn into the opposite lane in front of an oncoming truck. The Defendant exhibited this driving on a narrow, curvy road in moderate traffic on a holiday afternoon. Ranger Wilson testified that his observation of this driving behavior indicated to him that the driver might be impaired. Ranger Wilson activated his lights and signaled for the Defendant to pull over, but the Defendant delayed pulling over, passing several suitable places to stop. When the Defendant ultimately turned in to the “pull out, ” he left insufficient room for Ranger Wilson to pull in behind him, and Ranger Wilson had to direct him to pull forward. Ranger Wilson said that when he approached the Defendant, his eyes appeared glassy but were not red. Ranger Wilson said the Defendant's speech was slurred but acknowledged that the Defendant obtained his driver's license and other documents without fumbling. Ranger Wilson testified that an odor of alcohol emanated from the Defendant's Range Rover, but not from the Defendant's person. In addition, Ranger Wilson found open containers of alcohol in the vehicle, including a partial cup of beer that had overturned in the rear, passenger-side floorboard.

         Ranger Wilson testified that the Defendant, after initially denying that he had consumed alcohol “today, ” admitted drinking two twelve-ounce beers with lunch about one hour before being stopped. He acknowledged that the Defendant calculated the time since he had lunch, factoring in the different time zone, quickly. Also, Ranger Wilson frisked the Defendant, and found five narcotic pills in his front pants pocket. The Defendant said that he had not taken any of his prescription pain pills that day because he had not needed them. The prescription bottle, which was in the Defendant's luggage, stated the prescribed dosage was one pill every six hours as needed. The Defendant admitted that there was marijuana in his suitcase.

         Ranger Wilson had the Defendant get out of his car and walk to the rear to perform field sobriety tests. The video from Ranger Wilson's dash camera reveals that the Defendant was steady on his feet and did not hold onto the vehicle. Ranger Wilson conducted three field sobriety tests. The Defendant exhibited three out of six clues on the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) test, the most accurate of the three tests. Ranger Wilson testified that exhibiting four clues on the HGN indicates that an individual is intoxicated. Ranger Wilson testified that the Defendant exhibited five clues on the walk and turn test: breaking his position during the instructions, raising his arms more than six inches away from his side, failing to touch heel to toe, walking slowly and hesitantly, making an improper turn, and taking too many steps. On cross-examination, Ranger Wilson said that the Defendant broke position when he stepped back to pull up his pants. He said the Defendant raised his hand when swatting an insect away from his face. He stated that the Defendant took ten, rather than nine, steps back because he took too many steps in the turn. Also, on cross-examination, Ranger Wilson acknowledged that on his notebook on which he evaluated the Defendant's performance contemporaneously with the test, he did not check that the Defendant failed to walk heel to toe. The video recording from Ranger Wilson's dash camera shows that the Defendant was only able to do the one-leg stand test for four to five seconds on his second attempt. Ranger Wilson said that in his opinion, the Defendant's performance on these tests indicated that he was intoxicated.

         Although the evidence presented by the Government suggests that the Defendant may have been driving under the influence, the Court finds a number of facts that raise doubt as to that conclusion. First, the Court has reviewed the video clips presented by the Government and finds that while the Defendant exhibited several traffic violations, his driving does not show that he was “incapable of safe operation.” The Court finds that while the Defendant “hugged” the center line during the five minutes that Ranger Wilson followed him, he was not swerving within his lane as the Government suggested. Although the Defendant started to turn into the pull-out when another vehicle was approaching, he quickly self-corrected. ...


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