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State v. Cullom

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 25, 2015


Assigned on Briefs April 22, 2015

Appeal from the Criminal Court for White County No. 2013-CR-5977 Leon C. Burns, Jr., Judge

J. Patrick Hayes, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lamar Mandell Cullom.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; Bryant C. Dunaway, District Attorney General; and Philip Hatch, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and Alan E. Glenn, JJ., joined.



This case arises from a drug transaction between appellant and a confidential informant who was working with the White County Sheriff's Department narcotics division.

I. Facts

The State's first witness was Demetria Phillips, a confidential informant working with the White County Sheriff's Department. In May 2012, Ms. Phillips contacted appellant and asked if he had any narcotics available for purchase. Appellant instructed her to meet him at his apartment thirty minutes later. Prior to driving to appellant's apartment, Ms. Phillips met with Detectives Joey Williams and Craig Capps, at which time they searched Ms. Phillips and her automobile. They wired Ms. Phillips with an audio/video recording device and provided her with $200 to purchase the drugs. She then drove to appellant's apartment.

Ms. Phillips testified that when she arrived, appellant was not at home but his girlfriend, Sara Cressman, was present. Ms. Phillips and Ms. Cressman talked with each other until appellant arrived approximately ten minutes later. Upon his arrival, appellant told Ms. Phillips that he had the narcotics, and he pulled them out of his pocket and handed her the drugs. She, in turn, gave appellant the money. Ms. Phillips asked if the substance was "soft or hard" cocaine, and appellant replied that it was "soft" cocaine. He told Ms. Phillips "that it was some really good stuff" and that he could get more if she needed it. When the transaction was complete, Ms. Phillips entered her vehicle and began to exit the parking lot. As she drove through the lot, she encountered a friend who was arriving at the apartment complex in her vehicle. Ms. Phillips lowered her window and spoke to her friend, but neither individual exited her vehicle. Ms. Phillips then drove back to the "staging area, " where she gave the cocaine to the detectives and was searched again. The State played the recording of the transaction for the jury.

On cross-examination, Ms. Phillips acknowledged that the detectives who conducted the search of her person were male and that they did not search inside her undergarments. She said that she was able to obtain trust from the individuals from whom she purchased narcotics because her husband was friends with most of them. She denied that she used drugs herself. Ms. Phillips admitted that she had pleaded guilty to theft charges prior to appellant's trial. She also confirmed that she was paid $100 for her participation in the drug transaction involving appellant and that if she attempted to set up a transaction that did not transpire, she would not be paid.

The State then called Detective Joseph Williams, a narcotics detective with the White County Sheriff's Department. He testified that it was common for the department to utilize private citizens to conduct drug transactions because as an officer in the county, "a lot of times these people know [him]." He stated, "Just, in particular, in this case, I've had dealings with [appellant] before." The trial court interrupted Detective Williams and cautioned the jury "not to draw any inference from that. We don't know what he's talking about, so you're not to infer other bad acts, crimes, or anything like that." Detective Williams continued and clarified that "some people in the community know [them] as law enforcement agents, so [they] use confidential [informants] that are citizens in the community to go out and purchase the drugs on our behalf." He acknowledged that the informants are paid for their services. He further explained the standard operating procedure of searching the informant and their vehicle and providing a recording device.

Detective Williams testified that on May 8, 2012, Ms. Phillips contacted him with regard to a potential drug purchase from appellant. Following the standard operating procedure, he met with Ms. Phillips at the "staging area" and provided her with $200 of "controlled buy money." When she left the area, Detective Williams conducted "roving surveillance" to be sure that Ms. Phillips did not leave the area of appellant's apartment without his knowledge. He followed Ms. Phillips back to the staging area when the transaction was complete. He received the drugs from Ms. Phillips and placed them in an evidence bag. He marked the bag with appellant's name and the agency's case number and placed the drugs in an evidence locker that was maintained by the evidence custodian.

Detective Williams explained that the recorder he provided to Ms. Phillips was "extremely difficult" to use because it was a hand-held recorder and one "can't just hold it up and point it at [the subject]." He also stated that the ...

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