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State v. Johnson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 28, 2016


          Assigned on Briefs October 25, 2016

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Sullivan County No. S62, 610 James F. Goodwin, Judge

         The defendant, Joshua Johnson, appeals his Sullivan County Criminal Court jury convictions of 34 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, see T.C.A. § 39-17-1003, claiming that the trial court erred by refusing to suppress the defendant's pretrial statement to the police, that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, and that the four-year effective sentence is excessive. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Ashley D. Boyer, Assistant District Public Defender (on appeal); and Brad Sproles, Kingsport, Tennessee (at trial), for the appellant, Joshua Johnson.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; Barry P. Staubus, District Attorney General; and William Harper, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert L. Holloway, Jr., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         The Sullivan County Grand Jury charged the defendant with 35 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor based upon his having certain images on his laptop computer. Prior to trial, the defendant moved to suppress the statement he made to the police. The trial court denied the motion, the State dismissed one of the 35 counts, and the case proceeded to trial on 34 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

         At trial, Raeann Emerson testified that she dated the defendant from December 2012 until August 2013. The two lived together at the defendant's Sullivan County residence. During that time, the defendant owned and used a laptop computer, and he allowed Ms. Emerson to use the computer as well. On the evening of August 5, 2013, the defendant "was on the laptop and turned it in a weird way" so that Ms. Emerson would not be able to see the screen. Because she thought the defendant's behavior odd, she looked at his computer search history after he went to sleep. She described what happened next:

I saw that there were some searches for preteen items like preteen models, preteens in panties, nude preteens, things like that and it concerned me deeply and so I clicked on one of the websites and saw some extremely questionable images and after that I searched, you know, what should I do about something like that and saw that I should contact the Center for Missing and Exploited Children so that's what I did and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children told me to contact the sheriffs department.

Ms. Emerson contacted the sheriff's department on the following morning, and when Officer Matt Harrison arrived at the residence she shared with the defendant, she showed him the images and gave him the computer. She denied using the defendant's computer to search for child pornography. She said that the defendant took the laptop to work with him 50 to 70 percent of the time.

         Sullivan County Sheriffs Office Detective Matt Price, who was declared a computer forensics expert in the area of data retrieval, testified that on August 6, 2013, Officer Matt Harrison telephoned him and reported that he had viewed questionable images on a laptop belonging to the defendant. Detective Price told Officer Harrison to collect the computer and asked Detective Tracy Haraz to obtain a statement from Ms. Emerson. Detective Price then telephoned the defendant and asked if he would come to the sheriffs office to discuss the images. The defendant agreed, and he arrived at the sheriffs office sometime after 8:00 p.m. that same evening. Upon the defendant's arrival, Detective Price asked for and received the defendant's written permission to search the defendant's laptop computer, cellular telephone, and "thumb drive." Detective Price then immediately began the process of copying the information from the defendant's cellular telephone.

         After beginning the copying process, Detective Price returned to the interview room to question the defendant. Detective Price recorded the defendant's answers into a handwritten statement that the defendant signed at the conclusion of the interview. Detective Price then read the defendant's statement in its entirety to the jury:

"I have lived on Kings Meadow for six or seven years. I live there with Raeann Emerson. We were together for eight months. I met her on the website Ple[] She was from North Carolina. She moved in with me about seven months ago. I like porn. I like internet porn. I like girl on girl and sometimes I'm curious about guy on guy. Me and Raeann would have sex a lot. We'd have sex at least a couple of times a day. We would use sex toys sometimes. We like paddles. We would meet people on Craig's List and have threesomes with them. I'm addicted to porn. I also drink a lot. I drink five or six nights a week. I have also looked for child porn on the internet. I would use Google to search for it. I would search for teens, teens lingerie, preteen. I don't know what possess[ed] me to search for this kind of stuff. I was abused by a babysitter from church when I was 7 or 8. He raped me. I was also made to touch a female babysitter when I was young. She made me put . . . my finger inside her vagina. There was another guy, Nate, he was my neighbor. He was a teenager and I was 5. He made me suc[k] his d***. I have never even told anyone anything about this before. I honestly don't know why I search for the child porn on the computer. I'd say that the youngest image of a child that I have seen on the computer was probably around the age of 12. I remember that it was a female. I'm not really into the naked little girls. I would rather look at them with lingerie, panties or underwear. I don't think that I have ever searched for any boys on the internet. I have always looked for girls. Sometimes I would jack off while I was looking at the pictures of these kids. I have never saved any pictures that I know of. I tried to delete my internet history so my girlfriend wouldn't find it. I honestly don't remember where the thumb drive came from. I started drinking as a way to forget all the stuff that is bothering me. On a bad night I can finish off a whole bottle of rum. I drank 11 Steel Reserves last night. It's a very, very, very strong beer. I started drinking at 6 p.m. last night. I had to be at an in-service this morning at 9 o'clock. I felt fine this morning but if I had done a blood alcohol I don't know if I would have been over the legal limit but I felt fine. Sometimes I drink to get rid of the pain of the abuse when I was a kid. Maybe that's why I look at the picture of the kids to help me deal with it. The pictures of the kids that I have [seen] on the internet, the one's naked are wearing lingerie. They look a hell of a lot better than I remember it. I have never touched or had sex with anyone that is under age. I don't want to submit anybody to that because I know how bad that it sucks. Raeann didn't know any of this. She knew that I was into porn, but she didn't know about my curiosity with underage kids."

         Detective Price testified that the defendant's interview lasted just over an hour and that, following the interview, the defendant was allowed to leave the sheriff's office and return to his residence.

         Detective Price testified that before beginning his forensic examination of the defendant's computer, he used specialized software to make an exact copy of the defendant's hard drive. He explained that this process enabled him to examine the contents of the device without making any changes to the device itself. After he created the copy of the hard drive, the detective used other software to search the hard drive for images that might contain child pornography. The initial examination first pulls up image "files that are active on the machine" and then searches for image files that have been deleted from the machine. The program uncovered the 34 images at issue in this case among the deleted images. Because the images had been deleted, Detective Price could not determine when or where they had originally been stored. He said that the images may have been "just viewed off the internet, " but he insisted that each image "was definitely viewed on that machine." Detective Price explained, "At some point these pictures that were in question here, at some point they were definitely looked at and deleted. That's basically the only thing 100% certain I can tell you is they were viewed and they were ...

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