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State v. Williams

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

April 5, 2018

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JAMES WILLIAMS

          Session November 7, 2017

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 16-05454 J. Robert Carter, Jr., Judge

         The Defendant, James Williams, was convicted by a jury of one count of driving under the influence (DUI) per se, one count of DUI, and one count of reckless driving. The trial court merged the DUI per se conviction with the DUI conviction and imposed a sentence of eleven months and twenty-nine days to be served in the county workhouse. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress, which challenged "the legality of the traffic stop" resulting in the Defendant's arrest. Following our review, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

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

          Terrell L. Tooten, Cordova, Tennessee, for the appellant, James Williams.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Sam Winnig, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          D. Kelly Thomas Jr, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen. and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. KELLY THOMAS, JR., JUDGE

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On September 13, 2016, the Shelby County grand jury indicted the Defendant with one count of DUI per se, one count of DUI, and one count of reckless driving.[1] See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-10-205, -401. Prior to trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained during the traffic stop, and a hearing was held on January 20, 2017.

         Memphis Police Department Officer Michael Huff testified at the suppression that he was working during "the early hours" of September 20, 2015, and that he stopped the Defendant at approximately 2:45 a.m. When asked to describe the events that led to the traffic stop, Officer Huff explained, "I was eastbound on I-40 approaching Sycamore View when I noticed a black Toyota Highlander in front of me, swerving in and out of lanes[, ] which caught my attention." Officer Huff specified that the Defendant was "[c]hanging from lane to lane, [using] no signal, straddling the lanes, the yellow lines, the line provided in the roadway." Regarding the condition of I-40, Officer Huff testified that it was not "free and clear." He said that due to construction on the road, "there were no emergency lanes for anybody to pull over" "on the right hand side" and that there had been "several accidents because of" the construction.

         Officer Huff said that after seeing the Defendant swerving, he "kept observing" and saw the Defendant "exit[] on to Sycamore View and stop[] at the red-light." Officer Huff explained that he drove into the lane next to the Defendant and noticed that the Defendant "had his phone up and he appeared to be texting." Officer Huff said that the Defendant was the driver of the Toyota Highlander and that no one else appeared to be in the vehicle. Officer Huff was asked if he could see whether "[the Defendant] was sending a te[x]t" or specifically what was on the screen of the phone, to which Officer Huff replied that he "could see the phone screen" and that the Defendant was holding up the phone.

         Officer Huff said that "[o]nce [the Defendant] turned northbound, he still continued to have his phone up[, ]" and Officer Huff "initiated a traffic stop." Officer Huff explained that he used the "blue lights and siren" on his vehicle and that the Defendant pulled over his vehicle immediately. Officer Huff testified that he approached the driver's side of the vehicle and "asked [the Defendant] for a driver's license, registration[, ] and proof of insurance." Officer Huff said that he "could smell the odor of an intoxica[nt] coming from [the Defendant] and inside the car." Officer Huff asked the Defendant to exit the vehicle and perform a series of field sobriety tests. The Defendant exited the vehicle; however, he refused to do the field sobriety tests. Officer Huff said that he "placed [the Defendant] under arrest, under suspicion of DUI." Officer Huff testified that ultimately, the Defendant was "arrested for a second offense, DUI." He explained that the Defendant was "transported for a blood draw."

         On cross-examination, Officer Huff admitted that he did not know the exact number of times the Defendant's vehicle "straddle[ed] the lane or change[d] lanes." Officer Huff testified that it was "[m]ore than once, " but "less than ten times[.]" He explained, "I have to drive, too[.] . . . I have to maintain . . . watching the road and try to watch everything else." When asked if the basis for his traffic stop was "for the texting[, ]" Officer Huff responded, "Yes, sir." Defense counsel asked Officer Huff how long he observed the Defendant's holding up the phone, and Officer Huff replied, "The [traffic] light was approximately one minute and [the Defendant] ...


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