By BRIAN GRAVES
Unconstitutional, vaguely written statutes. Charges that are not part of the original presentments.Those are the arguments given for the latest motion in the case of Bradley County Sheriff Eric …
Unconstitutional, vaguely written statutes. Charges that are not part of the original presentments.
Those are the arguments given for the latest motion in the case of Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson that could potentially dismiss the 12 counts against him concerning altered, forged or falsified vehicle titles.
The motion was filed last Thursday.
The 12 counts were returned by a Bradley County grand jury in September, as a corrective measure to the original six counts which had been returned a few months earlier.
Those counts are considered to be “presentments” instead of “indictments” since the grand jury elected to levy those charges of their own accord.
The trial had been scheduled to begin Nov. 27, but Special Judge Don Ash, in response to the latest motion, wants to further examine the constitutional arguments filed by Watson’s attorney, James Logan.
That means instead of a trial beginning on that date, Ash will hold a special hearing on the constitutionality of the charges. Should the judge find in favor of the argument, it would in essence cause the charges to be dismissed due to the vagueness of the statute under which he was charged.
In his filing, Logan said the corrected presentments “only referred to certificates of title which had been issued by the State of Florida.”
“In reviewing the superseding presentment, it was also ascertained that the superseding presentment did not otherwise identify ‘the document,’” the filing reads.
The statute in question is a part of Chapter 5 of Title 55 of the statutes of the State of Tennessee.
"Chapter 5 deals with "Anti-Theft Provisions." T.C.A. 55-5-1 16 is titled Altering, falsifying or forging evidences of title, assignments or plates a felony. The sole description of the term 'the document' is a certificate of title altered with a fraudulent intent issued by the department or county clerk of the state of Tennessee," the filing notes.
The vehicles in question were all purchased in the state of Florida, where they were titled.
The filing continues saying Watson has filed a Motion to Dismiss because the presentment “does not contain findings of essential elements solely described and included within the total statute.”
The presentments only charged the sheriff with altering the titles, not with any specific fraudulent use of those titles.
“The superseding presentment does not assert that this defendant acted with a fraudulent intent or that the certificate of title was altered with a fraudulent intent nor does it assert that the certificate of title was issued by the department or any county clerk of this state [Tennessee],” the filing reads.
“It is respectfully submitted that the Court does not have to reach the issue of the Constitutionality of the statute in determining a reasonable construction of the statute in light of the undisputed rule of law of statutory construction in criminal cases. Criminal statutes are to be strictly construed. Criminal statutes which are vague or ambiguous must be construed in favor of the defendant.”
Logan also argues the irreparable injury Watson could suffer as a result of a continuance of the case, citing the closeness to the qualifying dates for the next county election.
“The continuance could lead to absurd results in this election. If Watson qualifies and is subsequently convicted, an essentially unpopular person might be the winner of the primary,” Logan writes.
He also argues that "the probability of a reversal" of any guilty finding "is great," but having to appeal any such verdict would take time which would overlap into the election season.
In summary, Logan argues there is a constitutional issue as to whether there is any way Watson or anyone else could have known if or how they had broken the law because of the way Tennessee’s statutes are written.
That will be the focus of the special hearing.
“The continuance could lead to absurd results in this election. If Watson qualifies and is subsequently convicted, an essentially unpopular person might be the winner of the primary." — James Logan
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