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Stuart v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

May 31, 2017



          John F. Gibson, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Vada Berger, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          Vaught and BROWN, JJ., agree.

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

         Thomas Stuart appeals from the circuit court's order denying his motion to suppress, arguing that the police officer lacked probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. We affirm.

         On 19 July 2015, Stuart was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), refusal to submit to chemical test, careless and prohibited driving, and carrying a firearm. In December 2015, he was found guilty of DWI and refusal to submit to chemical test by the Drew County District Court.[1] Stuart timely sought de novo review by the Drew County Circuit Court.

         In May 2016, Stuart moved to suppress all evidence from what he claimed was an illegal traffic stop made "without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion." Stuart also waived his right to a trial by jury, and the court convened a bench trial on May 17. The court first addressed the motion to suppress and stated, "I read the report. It looked like there was probable cause. Why should we have a hearing?" Counsel responded that the court should watch the video of the traffic stop "to see if there was careless driving that he could have stopped him for. He had no probable cause." Without ruling on the motion, the court directed counsel to proceed with calling Officer James Slaughter to the stand.

         Slaughter, a patrol officer with the Monticello Police Department, identified Stuart as the person he had stopped on 19 July 2015. Slaughter testified that on that date, dispatch notified officers of a report of a reckless driver in a red Ford pickup driving north on Highway 425. Slaughter, who was driving south on Highway 425, spotted a red Ford pickup, turned around, and got behind it. According to Slaughter, the truck was "weaving between the lanes, but it never crossed the lanes until we got up to 425 and 278 intersection." Slaughter said that they stopped at a red light at the intersection of Highways 425 and 278; that after the light turned green, the truck proceeded through the intersection; and that the truck momentarily crossed into the turning lane before coming back into its lane. (There was no vehicle in the turn lane at that time.) Slaughter promptly initiated a traffic stop, approached Stuart's vehicle, spoke to him, and noticed that he had blood shot, watery eyes.

         At this point, defense counsel asked the court to rule on his motion to suppress and again stated that the video of the traffic stop was the best evidence. The court "overruled" the motion.

         Continuing his testimony, Slaughter said that he could smell alcohol on Stuart's breath and that his speech was slightly slurred. Slaughter asked Stuart to blow into a portable breath test (PBT) device and to perform several field-sobriety tests, the results of which indicated to Slaughter that Stuart was intoxicated.

         Slaughter placed Stuart under arrest for DWI and transported him to the county detention facility. Slaughter then read to Stuart the DWI statement-of-rights form and asked Stuart if he understood it. Stuart said yes and initialed and signed the form. Slaughter next asked Stuart if he would submit to a breath test, and Stuart said that he would not. According to Slaughter, Stuart said that he refused the breath test because he did not want to lose his CDL license.

         The video of the traffic stop was introduced by the defense and played for the court. On cross-examination, Slaughter agreed that he would like to see a conviction in this case; on redirect, he explained, "The way I look at it, if people get away with DWIs, they keep doing it and it's a chance they could wreck and kill somebody in the future if they're not, if it don't reflect on them now." He confirmed that he still believed Stuart was too impaired to safely operate a vehicle at the time of the stop.

         Carl Smith, Stuart's brother-in-law, testified that he was with Stuart on 19 July 2015 and that he did not see Stuart consume any alcohol. Rachel Smith, Stuart's sister, likewise testified that Stuart did not consume any alcohol on July 19, but she also said that she did not see him after 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.[2] Stuart testified that he was not guilty and that if found guilty, he would lose his license and be unable to work. He claimed that on 19 July 2015, he had been awake since 5:00 a.m. and was sore from doing yard work all day. He admitted that he had two beers over the course of the day. He explained that any possible weaving in his lane was caused by him reaching across to adjust a GPS unit that was attached to his windshield with suction cups. He also stated that he did not pass the ...

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