State v. Williams

Decision Date13 March 2006
Citation185 S.W.3d 311
PartiesSTATE of Tennessee v. Kirk WILLIAMS.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

Ardena J. Garth and Donna Robinson Miller, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kirk Williams.

Paul G. Summers, Attorney General and Reporter; Michael E. Moore, Solicitor General; John H. Bledsoe, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

OPINION

WILLIAM M. BARKER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which E. RILEY ANDERSON, ADOLPHO A. BIRCH, JR., JANICE M. HOLDER, and CORNELIA A. CLARK, JJ., joined.

We granted review to determine whether a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution occurs when a police officer activates the blue lights on his patrol car behind the defendant's vehicle which is already stopped and idling in the street. The trial court held that it was a seizure and that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to seize the defendant. Therefore, the trial court suppressed all the evidence obtained as a result of that seizure. The Court of Criminal Appeals overruled the trial court, holding that there was no seizure. We hold that under the facts of this case, the defendant was seized at the moment when the officer pulled up behind the defendant's stopped vehicle and activated his blue emergency lights. We also hold that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify his seizure of the defendant. As such, the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and the decision of the trial court suppressing the evidence is reinstated.

I. Factual Background

As the result of a traffic stop that occurred on July 12, 2002, the defendant, Kirk Williams, was indicted for one count of driving under the influence and one count of obstructing a highway. The defendant filed a motion to suppress all the evidence obtained at that traffic stop. The evidence presented at the suppression hearing before the trial court is summarized below.

Chattanooga Police Officer Christopher Sims ("Sims") testified that on July 12, 2002, while performing a routine patrol, he observed the defendant's vehicle on East 18th Street. The vehicle was stopped with the engine running, blocking one lane of a two-lane road. No other vehicles were present. According to Sims, he pulled in behind the defendant's vehicle, activated his blue emergency lights "to make sure that [the defendant knew] my vehicle was there," and proceeded to investigate why the defendant was stopped in the roadway. As Sims approached the driver's side door, he smelled alcohol on the defendant, and therefore administered a field sobriety test. The defendant performed only one test; he refused the one-leg stand, stating that he was injured. Sims subsequently arrested the defendant for obstructing traffic and driving under the influence.

The defendant and his passenger, Jason Brooks, testified at the suppression hearing to facts substantially different than those to which Sims testified. On the evening of July 12, 2002, the defendant had been driving very slowly along East 18th Street. The defendant explained that he had been driving slowly because the speed limit was twenty miles per hour and there were "a lot of branches and stuff on the ground." Both the defendant and Brooks testified that they saw Sims turn off of Lyerly Street onto East 18th Street, driving towards them. Sims activated his blue emergency lights as he approached the defendant's vehicle. The defendant testified that he pulled over to the shoulder to allow the patrol car to pass. However, Sims pulled in front of the defendant's vehicle, causing him to come to a complete stop. Both men stated that Sims pulled in front of the defendant's vehicle, blocking the defendant's path and requiring the defendant to stop. They also testified that Sims had activated his blue emergency lights prior to coming to a stop. When Sims approached, he asked why they were stopped in the middle of the road.

Following the hearing, the trial court suppressed the evidence obtained as a result of the seizure, holding that Officer Sims did not have reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed by the defendant when he seized the defendant through activating the blue lights on his patrol car. The trial court observed:

The police officer testified it was a two lane road ... and that [the defendant] was not blocking any traffic. I find under either scenario, either the State's version or the defendant's version of the facts, that there is no reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime had occurred, was occurring, or was about to occur in this case. The motion to suppress is sustained.2

The State sought and received permission to appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9, as the trial court had not dismissed the underlying indictments following the order of suppression. The State, however, due to neglect and/or mistake, failed to file with the Court of Criminal Appeals an application for appeal under Rule 9 within thirty days, as required. Seven months after the order of suppression, the State filed an appeal with the Court of Criminal Appeals under Rule 3 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure, arguing that the substantive effect of the trial court's order of suppression was a dismissal of the indictment. Rule 3 provides for an appeal as of right by the State from an order or judgment "the substantive effect of which results in dismissing an indictment, information, or complaint...." Tenn. R.App. P. 3(c). The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the order of suppression was in fact dispositive and waived timely filing in the interest of justice. The defendant does not challenge the order of the Court of Criminal Appeals waiving the timely filing requirement.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the officer's encounter with the defendant did not constitute a seizure, and therefore, did not give rise to the protections guaranteed under the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. We granted the defendant's application for permission to appeal.

II. Standard of Review

When evaluating the correctness of a trial court's ruling on a pretrial motion to suppress, the court on appeal must uphold the trial court's findings of fact unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. See State v. Ross, 49 S.W.3d 833, 839 (Tenn.2001); State v. Odom, 928 S.W.2d 18, 23 (Tenn.1996). In reviewing these factual findings, "[q]uestions of credibility of the witnesses, the weight and value of the evidence, and resolution of conflicts in the evidence are matters entrusted to the trial judge as the trier of fact." Odom, 928 S.W.2d at 23. As such, "[t]he prevailing party in the trial court is afforded the `strongest legitimate view of the evidence and all reasonable and legitimate inferences that may be drawn from that evidence.'" State v. Carter, 16 S.W.3d 762, 765 (Tenn.2000) (quoting State v. Keith, 978 S.W.2d 861, 864 (Tenn.1998)). Our review of a trial court's application of law to the facts, however, is conducted under a de novo standard of review. See Ross, 49 S.W.3d at 839; State v. Walton, 41 S.W.3d 75, 81 (Tenn.2001).

III. Analysis

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure ... against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution similarly prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and we have long held that this provision is identical in intent and purpose to the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., State v. Binette, 33 S.W.3d 215, 218 (Tenn.2000); Sneed v. State, 221 Tenn. 6, 423 S.W.2d 857, 860 (1968). The essence of this protection "is to `safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions of government officials.'" State v. Randolph, 74 S.W.3d 330, 334 (Tenn.2002) (quoting Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 528, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967)).

A. Seizure

Before we can address the issue of whether the stop of the defendant by the officer was reasonable, we must first determine whether the stop constituted a seizure.

Not all contact between police officers and citizens involves the seizure of a person under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution or Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. Courts have recognized three distinct types of police-citizen interactions: (1) a full scale arrest which must be supported by probable cause, see United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 424, 96 S.Ct. 820, 46 L.Ed.2d 598 (1976); (2) a brief investigatory detention which must be supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); and (3) a brief "consensual" police-citizen encounter which requires no objective justification, see Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 434, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991). This last category includes community caretaking or public safety functions. See Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973); State v. Hawkins, 969 S.W.2d 936, 939 (Tenn.Crim. App.1997).

Voluntary or "consensual" encounters between police and citizens are not considered seizures and are not protected by the United States or Tennessee Constitutions. Generally, an officer may approach an individual in a public place and ask questions without implicating constitutional protections, "[s]o long as a reasonable person would feel free `to disregard the police and go about his business.'" Bostick, 501 U.S. at 434, 111 S.Ct. 2382 (quoting California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 628, 111 S.Ct. 1547, 113 L.Ed.2d 690 (1991)); see also State v. Pulley, 863 S.W.2d 29, 30 (Tenn.1993). Specifically, this...

To continue reading

Request your trial
98 cases
  • State v. Williamson
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • May 31, 2012
    ...officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of [the] citizen.’ ” State v. Williams, 185 S.W.3d 311, 316 (Tenn.2006) (quoting Terry, 392 U.S. at 19 n.16, 88 S.Ct. 1868). If “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to l......
  • Gilmore v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 25, 2012
    ...good faith belief that there was a violation of the traffic laws did not provide reasonable suspicion to justify the stop) ]; State v. Williams, 185 S.W.3d 311 [319] (Tenn.2006)[ (where motorist was not obstructing traffic, officer lacked reasonable suspicion to justify a stop) ]; State v. ......
  • State v. Hanning
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • October 20, 2009
    ...by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, see Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 27, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); State v. Williams, 185 S.W.3d 311, 315 (Tenn.2006); and (3) brief police-citizen encounter that requires no objective justification, see Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 4......
  • State v. Day
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • September 22, 2008
    ...findings of fact in a suppression hearing will be upheld by this Court unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. State v. Williams, 185 S.W.3d 311, 314 (Tenn.2006) (citing State v. Odom, 928 S.W.2d 18, 23 (Tenn.1996)). The prevailing party in the trial court is entitled to the strongest ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT