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Notable Tennessee DUI Cases / Decisions:



CURRENT CASELAW - State of Tennessee v. Kenneth McCormick, 5/10/2016  -

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld a White County man’s DUI conviction, ruling that the officer who approached a man’s parked vehicle for a welfare check acted consistently with federal and state constitutional principles and within his community caretaking function.

Kenneth McCormick was arrested in 2012 after a White County Sheriff’s Department officer on routine patrol at 2:45 a.m. observed McCormick’s vehicle parked, with its engine and headlights on, mostly blocking an entrance to a shopping center. The back left wheel and rear portion of the vehicle were partially in the roadway. The officer parked his patrol car in the roadway behind the vehicle and activated its back blue lights for safety to help prevent the vehicles from being rear-ended.

When the officer approached McCormick’s vehicle for a welfare check, he observed McCormick slumped over the wheel. When the officer tapped on the window, McCormick did not respond. The officer then opened the door, “detected a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on [McCormick’s] breath and person,” and noticed an open beer bottle in the center console. The officer was able to wake McCormick after a minute of trying and asked him to exit the vehicle. McCormick complied but was swaying, stumbling, having difficulty standing still, and very unsteady on his feet. After McCormick admitted to having three to four beers and failed three field sobriety tests, the officer arrested him for DUI.

Before trial, McCormick moved to suppress any evidence obtained during the welfare check, arguing that the officer should not have seized him without either a warrant or a basis for believing a warrantless seizure was appropriate. The trial court denied McCormick’s motion. A jury found McCormick guilty, and McCormick appealed, challenging the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the trial court’s ruling, explaining that the officer acted properly within his community caretaking role in approaching the vehicle and checking on McCormick’s welfare.

The Supreme Court granted permission to appeal to reconsider a prior decision, State v. Moats, which held the community caretaking doctrine is not an exception to the warrant requirement of the federal or state constitutions. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the appeal on February 10, 2016, at the Nashville School of Law.

In the opinion released today, the Supreme Court overruled Moats and held that the community caretaking doctrine is an exception to the federal and state constitutional warrant requirement. To establish that the exception applies, the Supreme Court explained, the State must show that the officer must have known specific facts which, when viewed objectively in the circumstance, supported a conclusion that a community caretaking action was needed. The state must also show that the officer’s behavior and the scope of the intrusion were limited to the extent necessary to the community caretaking need.

In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the community caretaking exception applied to the welfare check of McCormick’s vehicle and therefore affirmed the judgments of the trial court and Court of Criminal Appeals in denying McCormick’s motion to suppress.

ATTENTION - NO LONGER GOOD LAW! State of Tennessee v. James David Moats, 3/22/13 - While on routine patrol in the early hours of the morning, a police officer observed a pick-up truck parked in a shopping center lot.  Because the truck’s headlights were turned on, the officer drove into the lot, stopped her patrol car directly behind the truck, and activated her blue lights. Although the officer had seen no indication of criminal activity or distress, she approached the truck, observed a beer can in a cup holder inside, and found the Defendant in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition.  When she determined that the Defendant had been drinking, he was arrested and later convicted for his fourth offense of driving under the influence.  The CCA reversed the conviction, holding that the Defendant was seized without either probable cause or reasonable suspicion.  While the TSC acknowledged that the activation of blue lights does not always qualify as a seizure, the totality of the circumstances in this instance established that the officer seized the Defendant absent probable cause or reasonable suspicion and was not otherwise acting in a community caretaking role.  The judgment of the CCA was affirmed, the conviction was reversed, and the cause dismissed.





MISSOURI v. MCNEELY, No. 11–1425. Argued January 9, 2013—Decided April 17, 2013 - Respondent McNeely was stopped by a Missouri police officer for speeding and crossing the centerline. After declining to take a breath test to measure his blood alcohol concentration (BAC), he was arrested and taken to a nearby hospital for blood testing.  The officer never attempted to secure a search warrant.  McNeely refused to consent to the blood test, but the officer directed a lab technician to take a sample.  McNeely’s BAC tested well above the legal limit, and he was charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI).  He moved to suppress the blood test result, arguing that taking his blood without a warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.  The trial court agreed, concluding that the exigency exception to the warrant requirement did not apply because, apart from the fact that McNeely’s blood alcohol was dissipating, no circumstances suggested that the officer faced an emergency.  The State Supreme Court affirmed, relying on Schmerber v. California, 384 U. S. 757, in which this Court upheld a DWI suspect’s warrantless blood test where the officer “might reasonably have believed that he was confronted with an emergency, in which the delay necessary to obtain a warrant, under the circumstances, threatened ‘the destruction of evidence,’” id., at 770.  This case, the state court found, involved a routine DWI investigation where no factors other than the natural dissipation of blood alcohol suggested that there was an emergency, and, thus, the nonconsensu- al warrantless test violated McNeely’s right to be free from unrea- sonable searches of his person.  Held: The judgment is affirmed. 




STATE OF TENNESSEE v. KEVIN CORTEZ CHRYSTAK, 8/13/2014 - The Defendant, Kevin Cortez Chrystak, appeals from the Madison County Circuit Court’s order affirming his conviction for violation of the implied consent statute. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-406. In the trial court, the Defendant raised a statutory interpretation argument concerning the mandatory blood draw provision of the implied consent law. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the mandatory provision is unconstitutional, violating his Fourth Amendment Rights, and that he did not violate the implied consent law when he presented for the mandatory blood draw. The Defendant has waived his constitutional argument on appeal. However, pursuant to principles of statutory construction, we agree with the Defendant that he did not violate the implied consent law when his blood was obtained via the mandatory provisions. Following our review, we reverse the order of the trial court upholding the implied consent violation and dismiss the charge. 



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