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Adams v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

November 30, 2018

TYRICE ADAMS APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM HARDIN CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE KEN M. HOWARD, JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-CR-00625

          BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: Roy A. Durham Frankfort, Kentucky.

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General Bryan D. Morrow Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky.

          BEFORE: JOHNSON, [1] JONES, AND KRAMER, JUDGES.

          OPINION

          JONES, JUDGE:

         Following a jury trial in Hardin Circuit Court, the Appellant, Tyrice Adams, was found guilty of the following offenses: (1) first-degree fleeing or evading police; (2) operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other substance that impairs driving ability; and (3) first-degree wanton endangerment. The Hardin Circuit Court entered a judgment of conviction consistent with the jury's verdict and sentenced Adams to serve a maximum sentence of six years. Adams now appeals to this Court as a matter of right. He raises four issues on appeal that he maintains warrant reversal and remand: 1) the trial court's refusal to grant a continuance; 2) suppression of his medical records; 3) Officer Smith's testimony concerning the mechanics of the Chevy Impala Adams was driving at the time of the incident in question; and 4) a violation of double jeopardy. The third issue is dispositive, and the first two issues are unlikely to resurface in the event the Commonwealth retries Adams. Therefore, we limit are our review to issues three and four. Having reviewed the record in conjunction with all applicable legal authority, we vacate the judgement against Adams and remand this matter to the Hardin Circuit Court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 13, 2015, Adams was traveling from Louisville, Kentucky, to Radcliffe, Kentucky; he was driving a 2004 Chevy Impala. Once Adams arrived in Radcliffe, he observed and approached a safety checkpoint, which had been organized by Radcliffe Police Department Sgt. Brandon Jones. Adams stopped his vehicle at the checkpoint. Officer Vernie Curl, the Chief of West Point Police Department, made his way to Adams's stopped Chevy Impala. Chief Curl requested Adams's license and registration. At that point, Adams's tires squealed, and his vehicle left the checkpoint. Officers at the scene gave chase. They pursued Adams for about a mile. The pursuit ended when Adams's vehicle crashed into a tree.

         After the crash, Adams exited his vehicle and fell to the ground. Adams attempted to get up. But, before he could, he was taken down by police. Adams became unresponsive, and EMS was called. Adams was transported by ambulance to Hardin Memorial Hospital for treatment. Subsequently, Adams was placed under arrest, charged and indicted with: (1) first-degree fleeing or evading police; (2) operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other substance that impairs driving ability; and (3) first-degree wanton endangerment.

         Adams's trial commenced on April 20, 2016. At trial, various police officers, who were present and assisted at the checkpoint, testified regarding the events of September 13, 2015. Chief Curl testified that when Adams pulled up to the checkpoint, Chief Curl approached Adams's driver side window, at which point Adams hit the gas and drove off. Chief Curl indicated he returned to his cruiser to give chase, along with several other police officers.

         Sgt. Jones, who was also present at the scene, testified that he heard squealing tires approximately twenty to thirty feet behind him and someone yelling "Hey." Sgt. Jones explained that he then turned his cruiser around and joined the pursuit. Sgt. Jones testified that the pursuit "hit triple digits" and lasted for approximately one mile, at which point Adams's vehicle crashed into a tree. Sgt. Jones then witnessed Adams climb out of the driver side window of his vehicle and fall to the ground. Sgt. Jones stated that Adams then ran to the front of his vehicle and into a parking lot. Sgt. Jones stated he pulled into the parking lot behind Adams, at which point Adams again fell to the ground. When Adams attempted to get up again, Sgt. Jones took him to the ground. Sgt. Jones then placed Adams in handcuffs and asked Officer Clennon Smith to take over the scene so that he could return to the checkpoint. Sgt. Jones recalled that Adams was only wearing one shoe.

         Officer Smith testified that he was also present at the checkpoint when he heard tires spinning and someone yell out "Hey." Officer Smith joined the pursuit for Adams. Officer Smith stated that he arrived soon after Adams had crashed his vehicle. He witnessed Sgt. Jones get out of his vehicle, put his arms around Adams, and take Adams to the ground. According to Officer Smith, Adams was unresponsive, and EMS was called. EMS transported Adams to the hospital, accompanied by Officer Smith.

         Officer Smith remained with Adams at the hospital. Officer Smith testified that Adams began making various statements. Officer Smith testified that Adams admitted to a nurse that he had taken some of his girlfriend's pain medications. Officer Smith described Adams as having slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. He noted that Adams declined to submit to a blood test.

         Adams took the stand on his own behalf. According to Adams, he was driving to Radcliffe from Louisville when he approached the safety checkpoint. Adams stated that he stopped his vehicle, and an officer approached. The officer requested Adams's license and registration. Adams claimed that, while still wearing his seatbelt, he leaned back in his seat to reach into his front pocket to get his license. When he leaned back, however, Adams claimed that his foot slipped off the brake and landed under the gas pedal, causing the vehicle to take off. Adams testified that he grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to control the vehicle. He tried to pull his foot out from under the gas pedal, but that gave the vehicle more gas. Adams explained to the jury that because he did not want to hurt anyone, he turned on to a less busy street, hoping that he would be able to stop the vehicle. However, he was not able to do so. Adams testified that when it became clear that he was not going to be able to stop the vehicle, he decided to intentionally crash the vehicle into a tree. After the initial impact, Adams exited his vehicle and found himself in the middle of the street. He then put his hands up in the air and ran around to the other side of the car so he could get out of the street. While doing so, Adams slipped and fell, at which point he blacked out. He felt two officers pick him up and "slam" him face first into the hood of a car.

         Pertinent to this appeal, on redirect the Commonwealth questioned Officer Smith fairly extensively about the mechanical intricacies involved in vehicle acceleration and, specifically, about the acceleration system employed by the Chevy Impala that Adams was driving. The Commonwealth first asked Officer Smith if he was familiar with cars. Officer Smith responded in the affirmative. The Commonwealth then queried whether Officer Smith was "mechanically inclined." Again, Officer Smith responded in the affirmative stating that he had worked on cars for the past fifteen years. The Commonwealth then asked Officer Smith if he was familiar with the type of car Adams was driving on the night in question, a 2004 Chevy Impala. Officer Smith stated that he was familiar with the mechanics of a 2004 Chevy Impala because he owned a 2005 Chevy Impala, which was the same body style as the 2004 model. Officer Smith then began explaining to the jury about the mechanics of vehicle acceleration, including the two primary means by which vehicles can be designed to accelerate: electronically or mechanically. At this point, Adams's counsel objected that Officer Smith was not an expert witness and was not qualified to give testimony on automobile mechanics. The trial court summarily overruled the objection because Officer Smith testified that he owned a Chevy Impala and had "worked on it" before. The trial court indicated that Adams was free to cross-examine Officer Smith on his qualifications. Thereafter, Officer Smith continued his testimony. He went on to explain the type of acceleration system utilized in Chevy Impalas, and why it was not possible, given the nature of that system, to accelerate a Chevy Impala by pushing up on the gas pedal from underneath. He also testified that one of the basic safety features of all vehicles is that the gas and the brake pedal are not the same height; the brake pedal sits higher than the gas pedal. On cross-examination, Officer Smith admitted that he had never attended any special school for a mechanic, had never worked as a mechanic, and did not have a mechanics license or certification.

         Subsequently, the jury found Adams guilty of first-degree fleeing or evading police; operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other substance that impairs driving ability; and first-degree wanton endangerment. Adams ...


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