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State v. Darnell

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 20, 2014


Session Date August 12, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011-C-2405 Cheryl Blackburn, Judge

Jonathan L. Miley (on appeal); and Nicholas McGregor (at hearing), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Christopher Brian Darnell.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson III, District Attorney General; and John Zimmerman, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., JJ., joined.



Originally charged via a 15-count indictment along with as many as 15 co-conspirators with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to sell over 300 grams of methamphetamine in a drug-free school zone; one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver not less than 10 pounds and one gram nor more than 70 pounds of marijuana in a drug-free school zone; one count of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud; three counts of possession with intent to sell .5 grams or more of methamphetamine; one count of possession with intent to sell 26 grams or more of methamphetamine; and one count of possession with intent to sell not less than one-half ounce nor more than 10 pounds of marijuana, the defendant pleaded guilty on October 21, 2013, to one count of conspiracy to sell more than 300 grams of methamphetamine; two counts of possession with intent to sell more than .5 grams of methamphetamine; and one count of possession with intent to sell more than 26 grams of methamphetamine.

At the guilty plea submission hearing, the State provided, and the defendant agreed to, the following summary of the facts:

[I]f the State's witnesses were called to testify . . . they would testify . . . that between July of 2011 and December of 2011 police uncovered and discovered a methamphetamine distribution network throughout Middle Tennessee that was headed up by the defendant, Christopher Darnell. During the period of time during the conspiracy police were conducting court authorized wiretap interceptions on phones of the defendant and some other . . . coconspirators they were able to conclude from the wiretap and intercepted conversations that the defendant was a source of methamphetamine throughout Middle Tennessee, that from time to time he would travel to Atlanta, Georgia to acquire the methamphetamine. He would do this through rented vehicles. The defendant's network of distributors is set forth in the Count 1 of the overt acts. Of those individuals identified there they would be fronted the methamphetamine by the defendant. They would later redistribute the methamphetamine to others, some through nightclubs here in Davidson County and some through other contacts throughout Middle Tennessee. The amount of methamphetamine exceeded 300 grams during the period of this conspiracy.
With regard to Count 4 . . . the wiretap intercept and personal surveillance of the defendant by investigators, including Detective Loucks, indicated that on July 22nd, 2011, the defendant was in possession of methamphetamine and caused it to be delivered to one of the coconspirators in this case.
As to count 5, on August the 9th the defendant was personally observed in possession or distributing methamphetamine as indicated on the wiretap. He indicated that he had it in his possession and was taking it to one of his distributors identified in Count 1 of the indictment.
With regard to Count 6 on December the 9th, 2011, based on the wiretap the police knew the defendant was traveling to Atlanta, Georgia to pick up another load of methamphetamine as well as another . . . liquid drug known as gamma hydroxybutyrate acid, which is commonly referred to as the date rape drug. The defendant was stopped on the interstate as he entered Davidson County. He had in his possession 240 grams of methamphetamine and a half gallon of the GHB, also known as the date rape drug.

In exchange for his plea of guilty, the defendant received an agreed sentence of 30 years' incarceration with a 35 percent release eligibility percentage, and the State agreed to dismiss the remaining charges against the defendant. In addition, both the State and the Court agreed that the defendant would be permitted to appeal two certified questions of law relative to the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained via court-sanctioned wiretaps on the defendant's various cellular and land-line telephones. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 37(b)(2)(A). The trial court incorporated by reference in the judgment form an order specifying the two questions and memorializing the agreement of the court and the parties that the questions were dispositive of the case against the defendant. See id. Despite the prolixity of the stated questions, the defendant raises two straightforward challenges to the use of evidence obtained via wiretaps in this case: (1) Did the State make the required showing of necessity in its application for the wiretaps? and (2) Did the State's failure to provide the statutorily required notice and inventory to the defendant after the conclusion of the wiretaps mandate suppression of evidence obtained via those wiretaps?

At the hearing on the defendant's motion to suppress, Metropolitan Police Department Detective William Loucks testified that the police began intercepting communications from telephone number 615-589-5587 on August 1, 2011. The defendant was arrested on December 9, 2011, when the defendant "was on his route back from the Atlanta, Georgia area with a large amount of crystal methamphetamine. He was intercepted at the county line." Between August 1, 2011, and December 9, 2011, the police intercepted communications from six different telephone numbers used by the defendant. Detective Loucks identified a table, which was exhibited to the hearing by the State, that listed each telephone number along with the start and termination dates for the wiretaps related to each number. That table provided the following information:




Termination Extension



























Detective Loucks testified that at the defendant's preliminary hearing, on December 21, 2011, Detective Loucks "provided redacted orders and the applications for the wiretaps minus . . . the names of the individuals whose telephones we were still up on a subsequent investigation . . . that spun off from" the defendant's case "as well as copies of the search warrants for all ten locations" to the defendant's attorney. He said that "all ten" of the search warrant applications contained "content of telephone calls, dates and times, what telephone number was intercepted, actual conversation that had been transcribed in the search warrants itself." Those materials, which comprised "approximately 150 plus pieces of paper" were provided to the defendant's attorney prior to the preliminary hearing in hard copy. A digital copy of those materials was exhibited to Detective Loucks's testimony. Detective Loucks said that later, notice went out to those whose conversations with the defendant were intercepted but who were not the target of the investigation. He explained, "It lets the individuals know that they were not target subject of the investigation but a phone either was in their name or somehow their name or identity was ...

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