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State v. Atkins

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

September 25, 2014


Assigned on Briefs July 08, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Dyer County No. 12CR172 R. Lee Moore, Jr., Judge

Timothy Boxx, Dyersburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gene Luigi Atkins.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; Phillip Bivens, District Attorney General; and Karen Burns, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Camille R. McMullen, J., joined and JERRY L. Smith, J., not participating.


John Everett Williams, Judge


This case arises out of an incident that occurred on the evening June 10, 2012. Officers from the Dyersburg Police Department received a tip regarding the existence of a potential methamphetamine laboratory. Officers learned that the laboratory was on First Street and that there would be a grey van at the residence. An officer witnessed a grey van pull into the defendant's driveway, and the officer asked for permission to search the property. The defendant agreed, and officers discovered three bottles that they believed were used to manufacture methamphetamine.

At trial, Officer Chris Clements testified that a reliable confidential informant gave him the information about the potential methamphetamine laboratory on First Street. Officer Clements contacted Officer Lynn Waller and provided him with this information.

Officer Lynn Waller was trained in the detection of illegal drugs and the identification of methamphetamine and methamphetamine labs. After speaking with Officer Clements, Officer Waller went to First Street, and he saw a grey van pull into the defendant's driveway. Officer Waller approached the van and observed that Sherron Evans was driving and that the defendant was a passenger. Officer Waller spoke with the two and explained to the defendant that he was there to investigate a report of a methamphetamine laboratory. The defendant told Officer Waller that he had methamphetamine in his system but had not used methamphetamine that day. While speaking with Ms. Evans, Officer Waller noted that she was "tweaking[, ]" which meant that she was "wired up, " gritting her teeth, and was "under the influence of meth or some kind of hard drug like that." The defendant gave Officer Waller permission to search his property.

Officer Waller searched the defendant's van and saw bags of groceries in the vehicle. He saw an empty box of Sudafed but did not find any empty blister packs or strips. Officer Waller searched the defendant's residence, but he had difficulty conducting a thorough search because the house was filled with trash. Officer Waller did not discover any split-open batteries, coffee filters with methamphetamine residue, or Coleman camping fuel, all common ingredients in the manufacture of methamphetamine, during his search of the defendant's van or residence.

Officer Waller next began a search of the defendant's yard. During the search, Officer Waller discovered a clear plastic bottle on the southeast back corner of the house with a "white[, ] sludgy looking substance" and a clear tube coming through a hole in the bottle cap. Officer Waller identified this bottle as a "shake and bake one container cook." He testified that the tube was used to "release the pressure during the chemical process." He noted that the tube looked similar to a tube from a oxygen machine. Based upon his training and experience, he had "no doubt [the bottle] was definitely a one container cook" that had been recently used. Officer Waller discovered two similar bottles underneath the front porch. He observed that these bottles appeared to be older and "not as active looking" as the first bottle. Officer Waller believed that the defendant and Ms. Evans were working together to manufacture methamphetamine, with the defendant purchasing the ingredients for methamphetamine and providing a place for Ms. Evans to cook methamphetamine.

Officer Waller called in methamphetamine-certified Officer Brent Hill to safely dispose of the bottles. Officer Hill testified that he was a certified technician to disassemble clandestine drug labs. He received his certification by attending two different training sessions. Periodic recertification was required, and Officer Hill testified that his certification was up-to-date. He stated that his training allowed him to disassemble a methamphetamine laboratory and safely dispose of the trash remaining from the laboratory. The State moved to have Officer Hill qualified as an expert on the identification and dismantling of clandestine methamphetamine labs, and the defense requested to voir dire Officer Hill.

During voir dire, Officer Hill testified that each training session that he attended lasted for one week. He agreed that he did not have scientific training to analyze the contents of methamphetamine laboratories and stated that he identified clandestine methamphetamine laboratories using non-scientific methods. He testified that he was trained to identify the ingredients of methamphetamine and to recognize how certain ingredients appeared after they were mixed together. He was able to identify which parts of the laboratory needed to be neutralized and knew how the ingredients of ...

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