Two Smithville men, charged with driving under the influence a year ago, were cleared of those offenses in DeKalb County General Sessions Court Thursday.
64 year old Jerry Hutchins, Sr. was found not guilty of DUI following a bench trial by Judge Bratten Cook, II. He was ordered to attend a driver safety school for a violation of failing to maintain his lane of travel.
67 year old Willie Thomas, charged with DUI in a separate case, was also scheduled to stand trial before Judge Cook on Thursday. But the assistant D.A., Greg Strong moved to nolle or drop the case against Thomas after the not guilty verdict was handed down in the Hutchins case. Judge Cook granted Strong's motion.
Trooper Allen England of the Tennessee Highway Patrol arrested both men during separate traffic stops in February, 2012. Hutchins was pulled over on Wednesday, February 1 on Highway 56 south near South College Street for failure to maintain lanes. According to the warrant, Hutchins failed field sobriety tasks and was placed under arrest. He was charged with driving under the influence, possession of a schedule III and IV drug, and he was cited for violation of the open container law and failure to maintain lanes. Hutchins allegedly was in possession of three and a half hydrocodone pills and three blue xanax pills in an unmarked pill bottle and did not have his prescription in possession.
One day after Hutchins was arrested, Thomas was pulled over by Trooper England on Thursday February 2, 2012 on Highway 56 near Jewel's Market for no seatbelt. Thomas was charged with driving under the influence and possession of a schedule IV drug. According to the arrest warrant, "Upon contact with the driver, Mr. Thomas admitted that he had taken a 10 milligram diazepam earlier in the day. Mr. Thomas failed all field sobriety tasks and was placed under arrest for DUI.
The arrest warrant on the drug charge stated that "On February 2, Thomas was in possession of one yellow pill identified as a five milligram diazepam. He did not have it in a proper prescription bottle. It was mixed with other pills."
Thomas was represented by attorney Jim Judkins.
According to Hutchins' attorney, Hilton Conger, He (Hutchins) had a prescription for the medications he was found with during his traffic stop. "That was his medication that he did not have in the prescription bottle. But we produced valid prescriptions (in court) so that was dismissed," said Conger in a phone conversation with WJLE Friday.
Trooper England claimed that Hutchins did not perform satisfactory on the field sobriety tests including the nine step walk and turn test and the one leg stand test.
A video tape recording was made of Hutchins taking the field sobriety tests and Judge Cook reviewed the tape during Thursday's bench trial.
Although blood and toxicology tests showed Hutchins' blood alcohol content was only at .01, well below the legal limit of .08, an expert witness for the state testified that Hutchins may have been impaired by the combinations of medicines he was taking for a back condition which may have caused him to perform poorly on those field sobriety tasks. "The state brought in the state toxicologist and her name was Melinda Quinn, a forensic scientist who analyzed the blood. There was a blood alcohol and a toxicology report. The blood alcohol was .01. Any lower and it would not have registered. But she testified that the combination of the different medications which were in his system could have impaired him," said Conger.
Dr. Melvin Blevins, Hutchins' physician, had a different opinion. "We countered (Quinn's testimony) with his (Hutchins') long time physician, Dr. Blevins who testified that his (Hutchins') physical condition was a bad back that needed surgery and that his back was so bad that it could have interfered with his ability to perform field sobriety tasks," said Conger.
According to Dr. Blevins, the levels of medications prescribed for Hutchins would not have been sufficient to render him impaired. "There was some medication which was prescribed for him. But there was no contention that he had abused his medication. It was medication that could cause drowsiness or sedation but he (Dr. Blevins) said with the medications he (Hutchins) was one, he didn't think the levels would have impaired him. And he (Hutchins) had been taking them (medications) for so long, Dr. Belvins said he would have developed a tolerance for them and that he could function perfectly fine on them," said Conger.
Since Judge Cook found Hutchins not guilty on the DUI charge, Conger said the state does not have a right of appeal in this case. "We agreed to try this case in front of Judge Cook on the merits. So it wasn't a preliminary hearing. That concludes it. The state has no right of appeal from a not guilty verdict," said Conger.
The only offense for which Hutchins was found in violation was on a citation for failure to maintain his lane of travel. " The trooper said when he saw him (Hutchins), he was weaving over into the southbound lane from the northbound lane," said Conger. Hutchins must attend driver safety school based on that offense," according to Conger.