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State v. Wilson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 20, 2019


          Session September 24, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 107953 Bobby R. McGee, Judge.

         A Knox County jury convicted the Defendant, Reginald Bernard Wilson, of resisting arrest, and the trial court sentenced the Defendant to ninety days of unsupervised probation. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the trial court erred when it denied his request for a jury instruction on self-defense and that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for resisting arrest. After review, we conclude that the trial court erred when it failed to instruct the jury as to self-defense. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of conviction and remand for a new trial.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Reversed and Remanded

          Mark E. Stephens, District Public Defender, and Jonathan Harwell, Assistant Public Defender, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Reginald Bernard Wilson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Charme Allen, District Attorney General; and Molly T. Martin and Jordan H. Murray, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.



         I. Facts

         This case arises from the police investigation of a reported burglary in the area where the Defendant resides. As a result of a police officer approaching the Defendant and the subsequent interaction, a Knox County grand jury indicted the Defendant for aggravated assault and two counts of resisting arrest. At trial, the parties presented the following evidence: Knoxville Police Department ("KPD") Officer Tyler Wiggins testified that he was working a night shift on October 19, 2015, when he heard a dispatch about a potential burglary in progress at a residence on East Moody Avenue in Knox County, Tennessee. Officer Wiggins testified that he generally used Google Maps, a mapping service, to determine the exact house or business to which he has been dispatched. He noted that "for some reason" Google Maps could not pinpoint the exact address he had been given in this case. He would later learn that this was because the address initially given to him by the dispatcher was not a valid address.

         Officer Wiggins testified that he and his partner, Officer William Romanini, agreed to meet at an intersection near the address and walk to the residence on foot. Officer Wiggins parked his vehicle in front of an apartment complex in a "central location for the crime [he] believed was happening." Officer Wiggins exited his patrol car to put on his jacket when he noticed the Defendant, who was parked improperly with no headlights, blocking parking spaces, and with his vehicle "running." Officer Wiggins thought this was suspicious and consistent with his experience with "getaway vehicles." He said that, based upon the active call about an ongoing burglary, he approached the vehicle. He held a flashlight in his hand and briefly shone the light in the vehicle to determine whether someone was inside before pointing the flashlight toward the ground again. He demonstrated the brevity of the use of his flashlight for the jury.

         Officer Wiggins testified that he was approximately five or six feet from the vehicle and directly in front of it when the headlights illuminated. The vehicle then backed up very quickly, possibly thirty or forty feet, startling the officer. Officer Wiggins repeatedly issued verbal commands for the driver to stop. Officer Wiggins recalled that "the [D]efendant then beg[a]n to drive forward very, very quickly and swerve[d] at an angle toward [Officer Wiggins] and then away." As the vehicle advanced toward Officer Wiggins, he "side stepped," so the vehicle missed hitting him by approximately a foot. Officer Wiggins testified that he was "terrified" and believed the Defendant was "going to kill [him]."

         Officer Wiggins testified that the vehicle stopped and began "backing up" "aggressively." Officer Wiggins, still holding his flashlight, began hitting the car window in an attempt to get the Defendant's attention and possibly to break the window to better see the suspect for a suspect description. When Officer Wiggins hit the window, the vehicle came to a stop, and Officer Wiggins opened the driver's side door. The compartment light illuminated, and Officer Wiggins identified himself as a police officer and stated that he was investigating a burglary in the area. Officer Wiggins described the Defendant as irate and acting "very erratic." The Defendant reached for the right side of the steering wheel where the gearshift was located. Believing the Defendant was about to drive away, potentially dragging the officer, Officer Wiggins ordered the Defendant out of the vehicle. The Defendant did not comply, so Officer Wiggins physically removed the Defendant from the vehicle. The Defendant continued to resist despite Officer Wiggins's verbal commands to "stop."

         Officer Wiggins testified that he and the Defendant were both standing in "the V" of the open driver's side door with the Defendant facing the vehicle. The Defendant began "elbowing" Officer Wiggins in the chest with his left elbow, followed by swinging his right arm around to hit the officer. Officer Wiggins recognized that the Defendant had escalated from resisting to actively trying to hurt the officer. He was concerned because he had been unable to conduct a proper pat down of the Defendant for weapons. Officer Wiggins then unsuccessfully initiated "pain compliance," which consisted of several closed fist strikes to the Defendant's head, to try to contain the Defendant. He explained that he was holding his radio in his right hand at the time because he had been trying to communicate with dispatch about the situation. He did not release the radio before striking the Defendant because he did not want to lose the ability to communicate with dispatch.

         Officer Wiggins testified that he had control of only one of the Defendant's arms when Officer Romanini arrived. Officer Romanini took control of the Defendant's free arm, while Officer Wiggins handcuffed the Defendant. Even so, the Defendant still actively resisted, preventing the officers from doing a proper search. The officers were ...

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