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State v. Martin

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 2, 2017

STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLANT
v.
CHRISTOPHER MARTIN APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE ST. FRANCIS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 62CR-15-71] HONORABLE KATHLEEN BELL, JUDGE.

          Jennifer Hicky Collins and Morris W. Thompson, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: David Raupp, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, Associate Justice.

         The State of Arkansas appeals the "Judgment Finding the Defendant Not Guilty" entered by the St. Francis County Circuit Court after granting the directed-verdict motion of appellee Christopher Martin. For reversal, the State contends that the circuit court committed an error of law by acquitting Martin based on a finding that his arrest was illegal. The State asserts that we need not determine the legality of arrest, but rather urges us to review the remedy that was rendered. Specifically, the State argues that the dismissal of the charges levied against Martin was not the appropriate remedy flowing from the illegal arrest. Because the State cannot appeal from a judgment of acquittal, we must dismiss the appeal.

         Following events that transpired on October 27, 2014, Martin was charged with numerous misdemeanor offenses, including DWI, refusal to submit to a chemical test, possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), possession of drug paraphernalia, violation of the seat-belt law, fleeing, and driving on a suspended license and without proof of insurance. Martin appealed his convictions in district court to the Circuit Court of St. Francis County, where he stood trial before a jury on January 25, 2016.

         At the trial, the prosecution presented the testimony of one witness, Arkansas State Trooper Jason Murphy. Murphy stated that at approximately 4:30 p.m. on the day in question, he was in his patrol car at an intersection when he noticed a vehicle coming toward him slowly at an estimated speed of two to three miles per hour. Murphy positioned his cruiser in a gravel parking lot so that he could watch the progress of the vehicle. To his surprise, the vehicle, driven by Martin, pulled into the gravel lot. Murphy stated that Martin drove his vehicle so closely to him that he thought Martin was going to collide with the patrol car. Murphy testified that Martin was not wearing a seat belt; that Martin glared at him as Martin drove by; and that Martin's eyes were as "red as the brake lights on a vehicle." Murphy also testified that, as Martin drove past him, the door to Martin's truck opened while the vehicle was still moving. Martin jumped out of his truck, and Murphy exited his cruiser. Murphy testified that he identified himself as a police officer and that he told Martin to stop. Martin, however, ran away. Murphy pursued him and used his taser to subdue Martin, who fell and briefly lost consciousness.

         Murphy searched Martin before allowing a bystander, who was a nurse, to render aid to Martin. Murphy found in Martin's pocket a baggie of marijuana that weighed 2.4 grams. From the console of Martin's truck, Murphy seized another bag of marijuana that weighed 10.6 grams. Murphy testified that Martin had a strong odor of alcohol and marijuana about his person.

         An ambulance transported Martin to a local hospital. There, Murphy advised Martin of his Miranda rights, as well as his rights under the implied-consent law. Initially, Martin agreed to provide a urine sample for testing, but ultimately he declined to be tested. Upon questioning by Murphy, Martin admitted that he had fled because he was impaired and in possession of marijuana. Martin also told Murphy that it was his birthday and that he had been drinking with friends.

         The State rested at the conclusion of Murphy's testimony. In his motion for directed verdict, Martin argued that he was seized when Murphy tased him and that there was no probable cause for his arrest. Citing this court's decision in Fowler v. State, 2010 Ark. 431');">2010 Ark. 431, 371 S.W.3d 677, Martin argued that he had been illegally arrested and that he was entitled to a directed verdict or judgment of acquittal on all charges. Martin urged the circuit court to find that the arrest and anything that follows, "from the searches, any statement, or what have you" were illegal. In response, the prosecution discussed the decision in Fowler and argued that probable cause existed based on Martin's slow driving, his bloodshot eyes, and because Martin was not wearing a seat belt and had come close to hitting the cruiser. The circuit court orally granted Martin's motion and then excused the jury. This timely appeal followed the circuit court's entry of a "Judgment Finding Defendant Not Guilty, " in which the court stated that it had "granted defense motion for a directed verdict and rendered a verdict of NOT GUILTY to all charges."

         As in any appeal brought by the State, a threshold issue is whether this is a proper State appeal. See State v. Gray, 2016 Ark. 411, ___S.W.3d ___. As this court has frequently observed, there is a significant and inherent difference between appeals brought by criminal defendants and those brought on behalf of the State. State v. Threadgill, 2011 Ark. 91, 382 S.W.3d 657. The former is a matter of right, whereas the latter is not derived from either the United States or Arkansas Constitution, nor is it a matter of right, but is granted pursuant to Rule 3 of the Arkansas Rules of Appellate Procedure-Criminal. State v. Estrada, 2013 Ark. 89, 426 S.W.3d 405. We accept appeals by the State when our holding would be important to the correct and uniform administration of the criminal law. State v. Brashers, 2015 Ark. 236, 463 S.W.3d 710. As a matter of practice, this court has taken appeals only "which are narrow in scope and involve the interpretation of law." State v. Gray, 2016 Ark. 411, at 5, ___S.W.3d at ___.

         This court does not permit State appeals merely to demonstrate the fact that the trial court erred. State v. Sprenger, 2016 Ark. 177, 490 S.W.3d 314. Thus, where an appeal does not present an issue of interpretation of the criminal rules with widespread ramifications, this court has held that such an appeal does not involve the correct and uniform administration of the law. State v. Pittman, 360 Ark. 273, 200 S.W.3d 893 (2005). Similarly, when the resolution of the issue on appeal turns on the facts unique to the case or involves a mixed question of law and fact, the appeal is not one requiring interpretation of our criminal rules with widespread ramifications, and the matter is not appealable by the State. State v. Williams, 348 Ark. 585, 75 S.W.3d 684 (2002).

         On appeal, the State does not contest the circuit court's application of our decision in Fowler, supra, to the facts of this case.[1] Instead, the State argues that the circuit court committed a legal error by dismissing all charges based on a finding that Martin had been unlawfully arrested. It insists that Martin was not entitled to the remedy of an acquittal for an illegal arrest. In making its argument, the State relies on our decision in State v. Richardson, 373 Ark. 1, 280 S.W.3d 20 (2008). There, certain members of the West Helena City Council voted to pay themselves and other elected officials for one year after learning that they would not become members of the city council for the newly formed city of Helena-West Helena. The prosecutor charged Richardson and other councilmen with theft of property. On motion of the defense, the circuit court dismissed the theft charges based on a defect in the arrest warrant. The State appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred as a matter of law by dismissing the charges based on an allegedly defective arrest warrant. This court permitted the appeal under Rule 3 and held that the circuit court erred by ordering the dismissal of the charges. We said that "[a]n illegal arrest, without more, has never been viewed as either a bar to a subsequent prosecution or an absolute argument against a valid conviction." Further, this court observed that "[w]hile an invalid arrest warrant may call for the suppression of a confession or other evidence, it does not entitle a defendant to be discharged from responsibility for the offense." Based on these recitations of the law, we reversed and remanded for trial.

         The State contends that this court should permit the appeal as we did in Richardson and hold that the circuit court erred because an illegal arrest, as a matter of law, does not warrant the dismissal of the charges against Martin. However, there is a critical distinction between the decision in Richardson and the present case. In Richardson, the circuit court granted a pretrial motion to dismiss. Here, the circuit court concluded the case in the middle of trial when it granted a directed verdict in Martin's favor. Thus in the case at bar, jeopardy had attached, whereas in Richardson it had not. See Williams v. State, 371 Ark. 550, 554, 268 S.W.3d 868, ...


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