State v. McCormick, No. M2013–02189–SC–R11–CD

CourtTennessee Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCORNELIA A. CLARK, J.
Citation494 S.W.3d 673
Parties State of Tennessee v. Kenneth McCormick
Docket NumberNo. M2013–02189–SC–R11–CD
Decision Date10 May 2016

494 S.W.3d 673

State of Tennessee
v.
Kenneth McCormick

No. M2013–02189–SC–R11–CD

Supreme Court of Tennessee, AT NASHVILLE.

February 10, 2016 Session1
Filed May 10, 2016


William A. Cameron, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kenneth McCormick.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Leslie E. Price, Senior Counsel; Michelle L. Consiglio–Young, Assistant Attorney General; Bryant C. Dunaway, District Attorney General; Philip Hatch, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

CORNELIA A. CLARK, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SHARON G. LEE, C.J., and JEFFREY S. BIVINS and HOLLY KIRBY, JJ., joined.

OPINION

CORNELIA A. CLARK, J.

We granted this appeal to reconsider our decision in State v. Moats, 403 S.W.3d 170 (Tenn.2013), which held that the community caretaking doctrine is not an exception to the federal and state constitutional warrant requirements. Having concluded that Moats was wrongly decided, we overrule Moats and hold that the community caretaking doctrine is analytically distinct from consensual police-citizen encounters and is instead an exception to the state and federal constitutional warrant requirements which may be invoked to validate as reasonable a warrantless seizure of an automobile. To establish that the community caretaking exception applies, the State must show that (1) the officer possessed specific and articulable facts, which, viewed objectively and in the totality of the circumstances, reasonably warranted a conclusion that a community caretaking action was needed; and (2) the officer's behavior and the scope of the intrusion were reasonably restrained and tailored to the community caretaking need. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the community caretaking exception applies in this case. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and Court of Criminal Appeals declining to grant the defendant's motion to suppress are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

On August 27, 2012, Kenneth McCormick, the defendant, was indicted by the White County Grand Jury for first offense driving under the influence of an intoxicant (“DUI”). On December 13, 2012, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence against him, arguing, as pertinent to this appeal, that the warrantless seizure of his parked vehicle and the ensuing field sobriety tests were not supported by reasonable suspicion. After a pretrial hearing on February 14, 2013, the trial court denied the defendant's suppression motion by an order entered on April 23, 2013. The defendant filed a motion for reconsideration,

494 S.W.3d 676

and the trial court allowed the defendant a jury-out hearing on his reconsideration motion during the defendant's trial, which occurred on May 10, 2013. The proof offered at both suppression hearings and at trial is summarized below.

At approximately 2:45 a.m. on April 8, 2012, Sergeant Daniel Trivette (“Sgt.Trivette”) of the White County Sheriff's Department was on routine patrol on Highway 111 when he saw a tan Chevrolet Tahoe that, “from where [he] was traveling, appeared to be sitting in the roadway in front of the Save–A–Lot Food Store on Knowles Drive.” Sgt. Trivette “pulled onto Knowles Drive, pulled behind the vehicle, [and] realized it was actually sitting in the entrance to the parking lot” of the Save–A–Lot, blocking about 75% of the entrance. The shopping center was closed. The back left wheel and rear portion of the parked vehicle were “partially in the roadway,” while the “other three wheels w[ere] at an angle.” Sgt. Trivette parked his patrol car “in the roadway” behind the vehicle and activated the patrol car's “back blue lights” for “safety” reasons, specifically to prevent his vehicle or the parked vehicle from being rear ended during the stop.

Sgt. Trivette then exited his patrol car “to do a welfare check on the subject in the vehicle.” The headlights of the vehicle were on and its engine was running. Sgt. Trivette walked up to the driver's side door of the vehicle and observed a man, later identified as the defendant, “slumped over the wheel.” Sgt. Trivette attempted to rouse the defendant by “tapping on the window,” but “loud music” was blaring from inside the vehicle. The defendant did not respond. Sgt. Trivette then opened the door and “detected a strong odor of alcoholic beverage on [the defendant's] breath and person.” Sgt. Trivette noticed “McDonald's food in [the defendant's] lap,” “an open beer bottle” in the center console, and “some sort of sauce all over [the defendant's] face,” as if “he had been eating.” Sgt. Trivette tried to wake the defendant for about a minute before the defendant finally responded. After making sure the defendant was “okay,” Sgt. Trivette turned down the radio, turned off the engine, and asked the defendant to exit the vehicle. The defendant complied, and Sgt. Trivette removed the keys from the ignition and placed them in the driver's seat.

By the time the defendant exited the vehicle, a White County Sheriff's deputy, Scott O'Dell (“Deputy O'Dell”), had arrived at the scene in response to Sgt. Trivette's call for assistance with a welfare check. Both officers described the defendant upon exiting his vehicle as “very unsteady on his feet,” “swaying,” “stumbling,” and having “difficulty standing still.” The defendant stated that he had consumed three to four beers. When Sgt. Trivette asked the defendant if he thought he should be driving, the defendant responded, “Not necessarily.” Sgt. Trivette then administered four field sobriety tests, and Sgt. Trivette and Deputy O'Dell testified about the defendant's performance on these tests.2 Additionally, a video recording of the defendant performing the tests was admitted into evidence.

After the defendant failed three of the four field sobriety tests,3 Sgt. Trivette asked the defendant how much alcohol he

494 S.W.3d 677

had consumed and when he had begun drinking that evening. The defendant replied that he had begun drinking at approximately 7:00 p.m. and had consumed five or six beers. When Sgt. Trivette asked the defendant for the current time, the defendant responded 11:30 p.m., when, according to Sgt. Trivette, it was actually 3:00 a.m. Sgt. Trivette then arrested the defendant for DUI.

After Sgt. Trivette advised the defendant of the implied consent law, the defendant refused a blood test. While the defendant was in the back seat of the police car, another vehicle attempted to enter the shopping center parking lot through the entrance the defendant's vehicle was obstructing. When Sgt. Trivette asked the defendant if he knew the person driving the vehicle, the defendant responded, “No, I sure don't. I'm sorry. I've had too much to drink.” During the ensuing inventory search of the defendant's vehicle, Sgt. Trivette found four unopened, cold beers in the back seat and a bottle containing the defendant's prescription Xanax.

Testifying at trial for the defense, Lance Wyatt explained that he and the defendant had spent the evening preceding the arrest at a golf club lounge. The defendant had agreed to serve as the designated driver for the evening. Mr. Wyatt had observed the defendant have one or possibly two drinks at the golf club lounge that evening, but at trial Mr. Wyatt maintained that the defendant had not been intoxicated when they left the lounge to drive to Mr. Wyatt home's between 12:15 and 12:30 a.m. Mr. Wyatt acknowledged, however, that his own judgment had been impaired from drinking that evening. Mr. Wyatt denied seeing beer in the console of the defendant's car when he exited the vehicle, but he conceded not knowing what or how much the defendant drank after he left the defendant's vehicle around midnight.

The trial court refused to grant the defendant's motion for reconsideration of his motion to suppress, explaining that if the seizure of the defendant in his parked vehicle was not supported by reasonable suspicion, it was nevertheless valid as an exercise of Sgt. Trivette's community caretaking function. In so ruling, the trial court emphasized Sgt. Trivette's consistent testimony at the initial suppression hearing and at the reconsideration hearing that he had approached the defendant's vehicle to conduct a welfare check and had turned on his rear blue lights for safety reasons.

The trial court submitted the criminal charge to the jury, which convicted the defendant of first offense DUI. See Tenn.Code Ann. § 55–10–401 (2012).4 The trial court imposed an eleven month, twenty-nine day sentence and ordered the defendant to serve ten days, with the remainder to be served on probation. In his motion for new trial, the defendant raised a single issue, arguing that Sgt. Trivette's actions in pulling behind him in his parked vehicle

494 S.W.3d 678

and activating the patrol car's rear blue lights amounted to a seizure that was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The trial court denied the motion for new trial, and the defendant appealed, raising the same single issue he had raised in his motion for new trial. State v. McCormick, No. M2013–02189–CCA–R3–CD, 2015 WL 1543325, at *1–2 (Tenn.Crim.App. Apr. 2, 2015), appeal granted (Ten...

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43 practice notes
  • State v. Hamm, No. W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • November 21, 2019
    ...589 S.W.3d 771 cause....’ " State v. Christensen , 517 S.W.3d 60, 68 (Tenn. 2017) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV ); State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 678 (Tenn. 2016). Similarly, article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution provides that " ‘the people shall be secure in their perso......
  • State v. Moiduddin, NO. 14-18-15
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • September 3, 2019
    ...and applied the [community caretaking] doctrine as an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement." State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 682 (Tenn.2016), fn. 9 (collecting cases). See Commonwealth v. Livingstone , 644 Pa. 27, 58-60, 174 A.3d 609 (2017) (collecting cases). While ......
  • Commonwealth v. Livingstone, No. 11 WAP 2016
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • November 27, 2017
    ...to determining whether police conduct amounted to a seizure in the first place ." (emphasis original)); see also State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 675 (Tenn. 2016) ("[T]he community caretaking doctrine is analytically distinct from consensual police-citizen encounters and is instead an e......
  • State v. Pruitt
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • May 25, 2016
    ...of law will be overturned only when there is obvious error or unreasonableness in the precedent ...."); see also State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 683–85 (Tenn. 2016) (discussing the role of stare decisis). In so doing, we hold that the ex post facto clause of the Tennessee Constitution ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • State v. Hamm, No. W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • November 21, 2019
    ...589 S.W.3d 771 cause....’ " State v. Christensen , 517 S.W.3d 60, 68 (Tenn. 2017) (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV ); State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 678 (Tenn. 2016). Similarly, article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution provides that " ‘the people shall be secure in their perso......
  • State v. Moiduddin, NO. 14-18-15
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Ohio)
    • September 3, 2019
    ...and applied the [community caretaking] doctrine as an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement." State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 682 (Tenn.2016), fn. 9 (collecting cases). See Commonwealth v. Livingstone , 644 Pa. 27, 58-60, 174 A.3d 609 (2017) (collecting cases). While ......
  • Commonwealth v. Livingstone, No. 11 WAP 2016
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • November 27, 2017
    ...to determining whether police conduct amounted to a seizure in the first place ." (emphasis original)); see also State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 675 (Tenn. 2016) ("[T]he community caretaking doctrine is analytically distinct from consensual police-citizen encounters and is instead an e......
  • State v. Pruitt
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • May 25, 2016
    ...of law will be overturned only when there is obvious error or unreasonableness in the precedent ...."); see also State v. McCormick , 494 S.W.3d 673, 683–85 (Tenn. 2016) (discussing the role of stare decisis). In so doing, we hold that the ex post facto clause of the Tennessee Constitution ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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