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State v. Tucker

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 26, 2015


Session October 29, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Putnam County No. 13-0049 Leon C. Burns, Jr., Judge

Samuel J. Harris (at trial) and Seth B. Pinson (at motion for a new trial and on appeal), Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jeffrey Scott Tucker.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Andrew C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; Bryant C. Dunaway, District Attorney General; and Stephanie Johnson and Beth Willis, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roger A. Page, and Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., JJ., joined.




The events giving rise to the defendant's convictions occurred when the defendant began acting irrationally after ingesting alcohol and cocaine. After the defendant assaulted his girlfriend, sought admittance to a neighbor's house uninvited, and curled up in the fetal position in a wooded area while screaming incessantly, law enforcement attempted to apprehend the defendant. Despite the use of a taser and K-9 police dog, law enforcement had difficulty restraining the defendant, and one officer sustained a blow to the face. The defense proceeded on the theory that the defendant did not have the requisite mens rea because he was hallucinating during the alleged assault on his girlfriend and because he was only attempting to avoid the dog in the woods. The defendant was charged in a six-count indictment with the aggravated assault of his girlfriend by strangulation; the assault of a law enforcement officer; domestic assault by causing the victim to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury; simple possession of cocaine; possession of cocaine with the intent to deliver; and resisting arrest. The defendant entered a guilty plea to the simple possession charge prior to trial, and the State dismissed the charge of possession with intent to deliver.

The victim of the domestic assault reluctantly testified for the prosecution. At one point, the victim stated, "I'll shoot myself in the foot before I call the cops again." The victim stated that the defendant was currently her boyfriend and that the two had been staying with a friend of hers on June 27, 2012. The air conditioning had gone out, and the repairman, who arrived around 6:00 p.m., was the victim's ex-boyfriend. The defendant had been drinking since the morning, and he began accusing her of infidelity. The victim said that the defendant suddenly "just flipped out" and that he was angry. He followed her to the bathroom, where she was doing laundry, and he began to pull at her belt, yelling about her supposed infidelity. He followed her to the kitchen, continuing to argue and yell. The defendant went to his truck and was "even more irate with [the victim]" when he returned. At that point, the defendant grabbed her from behind, in what the victim described as a wrestling move. The victim testified that the defendant appeared to be hallucinating and was fighting an imaginary opponent while holding on to her. She testified that she was never in a choke hold and that the defendant never strangled her. She acknowledged that the defendant unintentionally kicked her once on the calf and unintentionally hit her once on the head. The defendant was ordering someone to "[g]et back" at times and speaking unintelligibly at other times. The defendant returned to his truck, and the victim locked him out "[b]ecause he was acting crazy." The defendant kicked down the deadbolt to reenter, still yelling at the victim. When he went to the bedroom, the victim ran outside behind the house and called 911, and the defendant ran into the woods across the street.

When asked if the defendant's actions frightened her, the victim testified, "I think that would frighten anybody." The victim, however, stated numerous times that the defendant was not violent towards her that night but simply acted"crazy." The prosecution pressed, "But you were scared enough that you locked the door when he went out of your house; is that right?" The victim responded, "Yeah. Just, I thought maybe he'd just get in his truck and go." The victim also repeated several times that she was not frightened for her life and that if the defendant had wanted to hurt her, he could have. She testified that she called the police because "I felt I needed help to do something with him. Not that I was scared of him." She acknowledged that she ran away from him and left him in the house but explained that she was seeking someone to help him.

The victim saw police arrive and told them the defendant's name. She heard the police call for him to come out of the woods and testified that she saw them simultaneously release the dog from the leash. She stated that she told police that she was kicked and hit unintentionally and that the police report stating the defendant struck her on the head was incorrect. She testified that the defendant was not violent and that, while she had a bruise on her arm, it was sustained during the defendant's battle with an imaginary foe. According to the victim, the defendant was not in his right mind and did not direct any violence toward her.

The defendant proceeded to the house of a neighbor with whom he was unacquainted. Mary Cottrell testified that around 10:30 p.m. on June 27, 2012, somebody began to rattle her storm door. She opened the front door but kept the storm door locked. The defendant was standing there "kind of out of it, " shaking the door and screaming that "they were after him, they were going to kill him, and he wanted to come in." Ms. Cottrell told the defendant that she was going to call the police, and he left. She saw him later being brought out of the woods in handcuffs. She testified, "He was trying to fight them, like he didn't want to go with them, or he didn't know who they were, or something."

Sergeant Terry Woodcock, Officer Chris Melton, and Officer Josh Ward testified regarding the apprehension of the defendant. The three officers, along with Sergeant Jeff Johnson, responded originally to the call placed by Ms. Cottrell regarding a possible burglary. As Sergeant Woodcock approached Ms. Cottrell's residence, he saw the victim waving him down. The victim was "frantic, " and as a result of their conversation, Sergeant Woodcock began to search for the defendant. All three officers testified that they heard an inarticulate screaming and yelling coming from the woods. Sergeant Woodcock called out, identifying the officers as police, commanding the defendant to come out, and threatening to release the dog. Although Sergeant Woodcock repeated this command numerous times, the only response was continued screaming. The police entered the wooded area with the light of their flashlights. All three testified that the dog remained on his leash the entire time. Officer Melton, who was the handler of the dog, testified that the leash was fifteen feet long and that the dog was on the leash even when he was attacking the defendant.

All three testified that the defendant was lying in a clearing in a fetal position, screaming. Sergeant Woodcock described him as "out of his mind." Officer Melton identified himself as a police officer and commanded the defendant to show his hands because the officers were not sure if he was armed; the defendant did not comply. Officer Ward testified that the defendant was wearing only shorts and that his muscles were tensed. He was sweating profusely, breathing hard, and rocking back and forth as he screamed. Officer Ward stated that he approached the defendant, ordered him to get up, and grabbed his left hand to secure his attention. The defendant then sprang up and began charging Officer Ward, swinging with his closed fists. Officer Ward testified that the defendant's eyes "locked" on him and that his actions appeared intentional. Both Sergeant Woodcock and Officer Melton testified that they saw the defendant lunge at Officer Ward in an aggressive manner. Officer Ward backed up. All three testified that ...

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