If no car crash with DUI, you cannot be arrested in traffic stop, TN law says

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, left, and commissioner Tim Boyd honor a Chattanooga police officer for a brave deed. (Photo David Tulis)

Tennessee law forbids arrest of people without a warrant. But there are 11 exceptions, and four of them pertain to roadway encounters between police and sheriff’s deputies and members of the citizenry. These exceptions are called grounds for arrest absent a warrant.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

They reveal a surprising respect for the rights of the people in their encounters with police. That respect is suggested in a query about the law in Title 40 of the Tennessee code annotated — a query sent to a county official who is the first judicial official an arrestee faces.

No arrest is allowed if no car accident with a DUI has occurred is my reading of the law.

A dispute has emerged over this claim. Hamilton County chief magistrate Lorrie Miller calls this rehearsal of the law “inaccurate.” The discussion focuses on two words in the first of the 11 grounds for arrest. Here’s how the law begins.

(a)  An officer may, without a warrant, arrest a person: (1)  For a public offense committed or a breach of the peace threatened in the officer’s presence

Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-7-103

Mrs. Miller says “public offense” is to be read broadly to include any crime. In other words, once the victim starts blabbing his name and confessing against himself (I advise against doing so), the cop will look him up and find an administrative claim against him (“revoked license,” “suspended license” or “failure to appear”). The cop, then, without warrant, may seize his victim without a warrant.

My reading of this statute, improved after my having sent her the query below, is that it cannot be broad, but must be narrow. For if “public offense” were to mean any offense for which there might be a record somewhere or a state claim, there would not need to be a list of grounds to arrest people without a warrant.

In other words, if ”public offense” = “any crime for which one might be charged,” the law could end at (1)(a) with no further detail. No grounds must be developed for arrest without warrant if “public offense” means any chargeable offense. The meaning here: A public crime of the common law type (robbery, rape, crashing a car as a drunk), a crime that is a “public” and visible offense. Revoked licenses are not “public crimes,” mere alleged infringements of a contract.

What’s needed next is for you to subscribe to my website, wait a day or two to hear her correction of my inquiry and statements, then the read my report on the true state of the law.

That report will be about statutory construction, how words in a law are to be construed. Having already done that study, I can say here that courts and cops are shafting the citizenry in making arrests without warrant, rejecting the plain meaning of the law.

My inquiry to chief magistrate

[Dear Lorrie Miller, etc.} I’m concerned that several criminal cases I have covered involved arrest by an officer without a warrant that occurred outside the scope of Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-7-103, which lists 11 grounds.

A person in a car or truck who is stopped under Tenn. Code Ann. § Title 55 (vehicles and motor vehicles) cannot be arrested without a warrant if there is no traffic accident.  

As I have reported, defendants such as Jimmy Lee Moore, Gregory Parker, John Luman are arrested without a warrant by officers outside of these 11 grounds.

This report suggests ultra vires activity by police and sheriff’s deputies with grace granted to these activities by the judiciary. ***

The law allows for arrest without a warrant when there is a breach of the peace (a)(1), when a person has committed a felony outside the officer’s presence (a)(2), a felony has been reported (a)(3), on a felony charge upon reasonable cause (a)(4), when someone is trying to commit suicide (a)(5), domestic violence (a)(7) and when probable cause exists for stalking (a)(9).

An arrest can be made without warrant if terms of bail are violated (b).

Travel-related grounds for arrest

The other grounds for arrest pertain to roads, travel and transportation. Four grounds exist.

➤ (a)(6) “At the scene of a traffic accident,” the officer has probable cause to charge the “driver of a vehicle” with DUI. (However, no ground exists if there is an accident with no personal injury and only sight property damage)

➤ (a)(8) An arrest is granted without warrant of a driver involved in an accident at a hospital up to four hours after the crash.

➤ (a)(10) In a “traffic accident” involving a “motor vehicle,” the driver can be arrested up to four hours afterwards without a warrant if he “leaves the scene of the accident.”

➤ (a)(11) In a “an accident resulting in *** [s]erious bodily injury *** or [d]eath,” a driver may be arrested if his license is revoked or he has no proof of insurance pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-119.

These four grounds for warrantless arrest have an accident or crash as a prerequisite. In other words, if there is not traffic accident, there exists no warrantless arrest authority by cop or deputy.

You are chief magistrate for Hamilton County, the first judicial check on any abuse. Do you obey this law?

The three defendants above, and many others about whom I have heard, were arrested outside the scope of this law.

What am I missing, Chief Magistrate Miller? I would appreciate feedback. Respectfully yours, Etc.

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

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