Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Assigned on Briefs March 11, 2015
Appeal from the Circuit Court for Marshall County No. 12-CR-170, 12-CR-172 Franklin L. Russell, Judge
Hershell D. Koger, Pulaski, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, Claudale Renaldo Armstrong.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Meredith DeVault, Senior Counsel; Robert Carter, District Attorney General; and Weakley E. Bernard, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr. and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.
Camille R. McMullen,
This appeal arises from two separate drug transactions between the Defendant-Appellant, Claudale Renaldo Armstrong, and a confidential informant occurring in Lewisburg, Tennessee. In case number 12-CR-170, Armstrong was indicted by the Marshall County Grand Jury for both the sale and delivery of .5 grams or more of cocaine base for a controlled buy that occurred on July 19, 2011. In case number 12-CR-172, Armstrong was indicted for the sale and delivery of less than .5 grams of cocaine for another controlled buy on August 9, 2011. The trial court consolidated the two cases, and the following proof was adduced at trial.
Doris "Francene" McCall testified that she served as a confidential informant (CI) with the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force on two occasions and that both of the transactions involved Armstrong. She stated that she became a CI as a favor to her best friend, Wanda Griffin, and she denied that there were any charges against her. McCall said that prior to July 19, 2011, she had known Armstrong for less than a year. During that period, she saw Armstrong more than ten times and could recognize him from a distance. She said that she also recognized Armstrong's voice because they had spoken fifteen or twenty times.
McCall stated that on July 19, 2011, she called Armstrong about purchasing $100 worth of crack cocaine. She suggested that they meet at her home. After they arranged a transaction, Wanda Griffin contacted Tim Miller of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force while she was at McCall's residence. Thereafter, Drug Task Force member Travis Childers arrived at the house. McCall then showed Deputy Childers her text message communication with Armstrong. In the texts, McCall asked Armstrong for an "eight ball" which Armstrong said would cost $325.
McCall then set up the controlled buy with Armstrong, and Deputy Childers searched her for contraband. She said that Deputy Childers gave her $150 to purchase drugs and equipped her with a recording device. Armstrong then called her shortly after 2:00 p.m. and asked her to meet him in front of her house in thirty seconds. While McCall was waiting at her front door, an SUV pulled up with a driver and one passenger. She immediately recognized the front-seat passenger as Armstrong and later learned that the driver was "Tiny" or Shelby Harris. McCall testified that there was "no question" that Armstrong was the passenger because she knew him. She approached the front passenger side of the vehicle, where Armstrong was about two feet away and she had an unobstructed view of his face. She said that Armstrong instructed her to reach in the car window where she exchanged $150 for crack cocaine. Armstrong also gave McCall a coupon from Krystal Burger to cover the drugs as she returned to her house. "Tiny" and Armstrong then drove off after the hand-to-hand exchange was completed. McCall returned to her house and gave the crack cocaine to Deputy Childers. The video and audio recordings of the transaction were admitted into evidence and played for the jury. McCall also identified Armstrong in court.
Next, McCall testified regarding the controlled buy that occurred on August 9, 2011. On that day, she communicated with Armstrong by phone and text message to purchase $100 worth of crack cocaine. McCall, Wanda Griffin, and Deputy Childers met at a predetermined location and traveled to McCall's residence together. After multiple attempts to contact Armstrong, McCall set up a transaction to take place at her house. Deputy Childers searched McCall, gave her $100, and set her up with a recording device. As instructed by Armstrong, McCall placed the money into an empty cigarette pack and waited in front of her house. McCall said that Armstrong arrived shortly in a silver Pontiac car along with two or three other people. She handed her Pyramid brand cigarette pack to Armstrong, who was in the front passenger seat, and received a green L&M brand cigarette pack containing crack cocaine. After Armstrong drove off, McCall returned to her house. She handed the L&M pack to Deputy Childers, who opened it and found crack cocaine inside. The State entered the video and audio recordings of the August 9, 2011 exchange into evidence and showed the recordings to the jury.
On cross-examination, McCall testified that she was paid $100 each time that she was a CI. She acknowledged that she became a CI because of Wanda Griffin and that Griffin did not get along with Armstrong. She denied ever being convicted of a crime or being charged with a drug-related offense. Although McCall was not familiar with crack cocaine, she did not find it unusual that she was able to arrange a buy from Armstrong. She denied ever calling Armstrong before about purchasing crack cocaine. She acknowledged that the transactions occurred three years ago and that her memory was not as good. McCall stated that during the August 9, 2011 transaction, Armstrong was wearing either a white or black tank top.
Deputy Travis Childers of the Marshall County Sheriffs Department was assigned as an agent to the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force from June 2009 to the end of 2012. He testified, in large part, consistently with the testimony of McCall regarding the two controlled buys of crack cocaine involving Armstrong. In addition, Deputy Childers said that after he was assigned to the Drug Task Force, he developed more familiarity with Armstrong and could identify him on July 19, 2011. He stated that he equipped McCall with a transmitter device so that Assistant Director Tim Miller of the Drug Task Force could listen to and record the transaction in ...