This past Thursday, February 11th, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued two opinions, State v. Smith (http://www.tncourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/opinions/2016/02/11/state-tennessee-v-linzey-danielle-smith) and State v. Davis (http://www.tncourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/opinions/2016/02/11/state-tennessee-v-william-whitlow-davis-jr) , making it easier for officers to justify a traffic stop.
In State v. Davis, Mr. Davis was observed, by Officer Jerry Massey, crossing the center double yellow line several times. The road Mr. Davis was driving on was a curvy two lane road without shoulders. Officer Massey pulled Mr. Davis over and discovered signs that Mr. Davis was intoxicated. Mr. Davis’s attorney attempted to suppress the evidence of DUI claiming that the Officer did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull Mr. Davis over. The trial court denied the motion and ultimately Mr. Davis plead guilty to DUI and then challenged the stop by appealing the denial of the suppression motion to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The Court of Criminal Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s decision.
I believe that most people would agree that crossing the center yellow line several times is a good reason to be pulled over. As a criminal defense attorney, I can understand the need to investigate a driver who is unable to stay in their lane.
State v. Smith is a different story all together. In State v. Smith, Ms. Smith was observed by Trooper Chuck Achinger drift over towards the shoulder of I-65 as she was entering a big swooping curve. Ms. Smith crossed the fog line with both of her right tires by less than six inches and then as Ms. Smith came out of the curve, she twice corrected and drifted towards the fog line again almost crossing it; all of this occurred in less than half a mile. Then Trooper Achinger followed Ms. Smith for two or more miles, observing no other traffic violations. Trooper Achinger then pulled Ms. Smith over and discovered evidence of DUI. Ms. Smith’s attorney filed a motion to suppress which was denied by the trial court, Ms. Smith plead guilty to DUI, and then appealed the trial court’s ruling. Both the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
This really doesn’t seem like a terrible ruling. As I stated before, we all want safer roads. The problem that I have is that the Court fails to acknowledge or grasp the power they just gave law enforcement. In State v. Smith, the Court stated that “We emphasize that our decision in this case is not intended to provide law enforcement officers with ‘carte blanche’ to seize motorists every time they see a vehicle cross a fog line.” However, that is exactly what they have done.
Regardless of what the Court believes the effect of their ruling in State v. Smith will be, this ruling gives officers far more power to pull people over to “investigate” traffic infractions. Because now an officer won’t have to worry about an attorney suppressing evidence gathered from an unconstitutional stop.
Of course no officer will ever use this as an excuse for a stop after the stop has resulted in the discovery of other criminal activity. Drive safe everyone because it is now open season for law enforcement.