Rev. Brien Nix Hall of the Hardy United Methodist Church was arrested on Jan. 10 on Highway 62-412 by Highland Police Officer Brian Buchannan, who claimed Hall was driving erratically and cited evidence that Hall had been drinking.
On May 25, Hall appeared for trial before Special Judge Van Gearhart of Mountain Home, with attorneys Larry Kissee and Gray Dellinger representing him.
Buchannon's police report indicated he observed Hall swerving and driving recklessly. After stopping Hall, Buchannon reported he detected the smell of alcohol, found that Hall had slurred speech and observed empty beer cans in the vehicle. A portable breathalyzer test Buchannon conducted indicated Hall was intoxicated. After being transported to the Sharp County Jail for a more sophisticated breathalyzer machine, Hall initially refused to be tested.
During the trial, Hall testified he had been at his church shortly before he was stopped. Hall said he was not intoxicated, but may have shown signs similar to intoxication because he suffers from an auto immune disease.
Hall said he was cooperative with Officer Buchannan, and denied driving recklessly.
During the trial, a key piece of evidence -- the 36-minute dashboard tape, which showed the traffic stop and Hall's interaction with Buchannan -- was played on a new big screen television available to the courtroom.
Officer Buchannan testified that he turned the camera on a short time after observing Hall's driving.
As the prosecution rested its case, the defense made a motion to acquit Hall on the DWI charge.
Upon considering the motion, Judge Gearhart indicated he did not see any erratic driving on the dash cam tape, and he did not see evidence that Hall was obviously drunk, or had been uncooperative.
Gearhart then ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to convict Hall of DWI or Careless or Prohibited Driving.
The Judge did later rule that Hall was guilty of Driving Left of Center -- saying he did not dispute Officer Buchannon's word that he observed Hall cross the center line of the highway before the dashboard video was turned on.
Hall was also found guilty of refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. Judge Gearhart said refusal to submit can be considered evidence of one's guilt. Gearhart did note that Hall, who said he wanted an attorney present when the test was performed, later said he would take the test -- but Officer Buchannan said it was too late to change his mind. Judge Gearhart added it would have been wise for Buchannan to have agreed to perform the test, because it would have provided definitive evidence of whether Hall was intoxicated, possibly eliminating the need for a trial.
"The video showed I was not swerving, and did not show signs of intoxication after I was stopped," Hall told the Villager Journal, after the trial.
"I feel vindicated by the court's decision," Hall added, in regards to being acquitted of the charges of Driving While Intoxicated and Careless or Prohibited Driving.
Hall has 30 days in which to appeal the convictions on Driving Left of Center and Refusal to Submit. He did not indicate whether he intends to appeal.