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State v. Sanford

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 14, 2017


          Session September 19, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 294613 Barry A. Steelman, Judge

         The Defendant, Julia Sanford, was indicted for failure to maintain her lane, violation of the financial responsibility law, driving under the influence, and driving under the influence per se with a blood alcohol content of .20 or higher. The Defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence resulting from the traffic stop of her vehicle. The trial court denied the Defendant's motion, and the Defendant pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and reserved a certified question of law pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 37(b)(2) as to whether the stop of the Defendant's vehicle by law enforcement was lawful. After review, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Lee Davis and Janie Parks Varnell, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Julia Sanford.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; M. Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; and AnCharlene Davis, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



         I. Facts and Background

         This case arises from the stop of the Defendant's vehicle on July 11, 2014, following which the Defendant was arrested for driving under the influence ("DUI"). Before trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress, contending that the police officer who stopped her vehicle did so unlawfully because he did not have reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts to do so. The trial court held a hearing, during which the following evidence was presented: Officer Brian Blumenberg testified that he was employed by the Chattanooga Police Department in July of 2014 and on the DUI Task Force at the time. On July 11, 2014, at approximately 2:00 a.m., Officer Blumenberg was traveling southbound towards downtown Chattanooga on a divided four-lane road when he observed the Defendant's vehicle approaching him in the oncoming northbound lanes. He observed the vehicle "swerve[] over from the fast lane and was partially into the . . . turning lane. . ., [and] continued going straight, " following which he turned his police vehicle around and followed the Defendant's vehicle. He noticed the Defendant's vehicle was going "pretty fast" although he did not clock the vehicle's speed. Officer Blumenberg testified that it took him a "substantial amount of time" to catch up to the Defendant's vehicle, which also indicated to him that the Defendant's vehicle was traveling fast. When he caught up to the Defendant's vehicle, he noticed that it was in two lanes of traffic at the same time, the right-hand "turn only" lane and the straight lane. These lanes were separated by a solid white line. At this point the officer activated his blue lights.

         The State introduced as an exhibit and played for the trial court the video recording from Officer Blumenberg's dash camera. In the video, the Defendant's oncoming vehicle passes Officer Blumenberg's vehicle at 1:51:12 a.m. Officer

         Blumenberg turns his vehicle around ten seconds later at 1:51:22 a.m. and does not catch up to the Defendant's vehicle until 1:52:40 a.m. It is not clear in the video if the Defendant's vehicle swerved over a lane-dividing line or crossed over into another lane. In court, Officer Blumenberg indicated on the video where the Defendant's vehicle, while traveling towards him, crossed over the line dividing the "fast" lane and the "turning" lane.

         On cross-examination, Officer Blumenberg again identified where in the video recording the Defendant's vehicle crossed over into the turning lane while she was traveling straight. He stated that she did this as she came around a curve in the road, which he clarified meant that she was driving "wide in the curve" and not maintaining her lane of travel. He agreed that the Defendant was not cited for speeding.

         The trial court denied the Defendant's motion to suppress, making the following statements:

I think it's difficult to determine, for the Court to determine, and I think that was evidenced even in the hearing as the parties attempted to roll and then rewind the video related to where the [Defendant's] motor vehicle was located.
The witness who is in the best position to testify where the [Defendant's] motor vehicle was located is Officer Blumenberg. I do find that his testimony about where the [D]efendant's vehicle was located is credible. He was on the roadway that ...

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