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State v. Pruitt

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Nashville

December 30, 2016


          Session Heard May 25, 2016 at Cookeville [1]

         Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Circuit Court for Hickman County No. 11-5005-CR Timothy L. Easter, Judge

         We granted this appeal to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly held in State v. Hayes, No. M2012-01768-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 3378320, at *7 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 1, 2013), no perm. app. filed, that retroactive application of the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-6-108, would violate constitutional protections against ex post facto laws and to re-evaluate the ex post facto analysis in Miller v. State, 584 S.W.2d 758 (Tenn. 1979), in light of Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37 (1990). Having concluded that Miller was wrongly decided, we overrule Miller and hold that the ex post facto clause of the Tennessee Constitution has the same definition and scope as the federal ex post facto clause. To be an ex post facto violation, a law must be retroactive in its application and must fall within one of the four categories set forth in Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798) (opinion of Chase, J.). We conclude that the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act is not an ex post facto statute as applied in this case and that as a result, the Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence against him was not well-taken. In addition, we conclude that the Defendant's issues regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him and to sentence him to life without the possibility of parole do not entitle him to relief. Accordingly, the judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeals are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed

          Vanessa Pettigrew Bryan, District Public Defender; J. Gregory Burlison (at trial and on appeal), and Robert Jones (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant, John Henry Pruitt.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Sarah K. Campbell, Special Assistant to the Solicitor General and the Attorney General; Kim Helper, District Attorney General; Michael J. Fahey and Kate Yeager, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., Cornelia A. Clark, Sharon G. Lee, and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On October 18, 2010, John Henry Pruitt ("the Defendant"), shot three people in his front yard, two of whom died. The third victim was paralyzed. The responding law enforcement officers shot the Defendant four times. The Hickman County Grand Jury indicted him for two counts of first degree premeditated murder (victims Amber Hopkins and John Louis Luster), one count of attempted premeditated murder (victim James E. Kennedy), and three counts of aggravated assault (victims Deputy Jody Simmons, Detective Johnny Davis, and Deputy Ricky Harness). On March 16, 2012, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized from his residence based upon an allegedly illegal search warrant.[2] After a pretrial hearing on April 13, 2012, the trial court[3] denied the Defendant's motion, ruling that Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-6-108, [4]commonly known as the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act ("ERRA"), applied to the case despite ex post facto concerns because it was a procedural statute, that the mistake in the search warrant was a good faith or technical violation of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41, and that the mistake did not require the exclusion of evidence.[5] The evidence presented at the suppression hearing and the Defendant's trial is set forth below.

         At the suppression hearing, [6] the documents entered as exhibits include the affidavit in support of the search warrant (which was dated October 18), the search warrant itself (which has two dates, October 19 above the magistrate's signature and October 18 on the "Issued on" line), and the search warrant return (dated October 18). Hickman County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Scott Smith[7] testified that he wrote the search warrant affidavit and signed it on October 18, 2010. He met with the magistrate, who found probable cause for the search and "issued" the warrant at 11:53 p.m. on October 18. He acknowledged that October 19 was the date listed above the magistrate's signature. Chief Deputy Smith stated that the date might have changed "in between the time that she issued [the search warrant] and [when] she signed it." We understand his testimony to mean that the magistrate might have dated the "Issued on" line prior to signing and dating the signature line. Chief Deputy Smith conjectured that because the time was "so close to midnight, " either it had become October 19 by the time she signed the warrant or that her timepiece was incorrect. He stated that he called the officers at the scene immediately after the signing of the search warrant.[8] Chief Deputy Smith acknowledged that the date on the warrant return was October 18, stating that he was referring back to the date on the search warrant when he entered the date on the return. He denied that the search warrant was executed prior to its signing. Chief Deputy Smith testified that a box of ammunition was recovered from the Defendant's residence and that officers saw a shotgun in the residence during the search. According to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") Agent Mike Cox, the investigators did not know that the shotgun had any significance until a witness mentioned it. Agent Cox obtained a waiver from the Defendant to allow investigators to collect the shotgun. Because the Defendant's sister had already obtained the shotgun from the residence, Chief Deputy Smith recovered the shotgun from her.

         Witnesses at the Defendant's trial testified that one of the victims, Amber Hopkins, had been in a relationship with the Defendant for approximately a year prior to her death. Ms. Hopkins lived with the Defendant during that year, with the exception of a week that she spent at the residence of James "Elvis" Kennedy, some three to four weeks before the incident in question. Mr. Kennedy described his relationship with Ms. Hopkins as "friends with benefits, " noting that they had known each other since they were teenagers. Mr. Kennedy testified that he helped Ms. Hopkins move her things out of the Defendant's residence several weeks before her death, and in the Defendant's statement to Agents Vance Jack and Mike Cox, the Defendant said that Ms. Hopkins returned to his home after several days at Mr. Kennedy's residence.

         On October 17, 2010, Ms. Hopkins went to Honda Hills, a recreational area, to ride four-wheelers with Mr. Kennedy and her daughter.[9] Ms. Hopkins' daughter was in an accident that resulted in a broken wrist and required a visit to the hospital. According to Ms. Hopkins' mother, Belinda Conley, Ms. Hopkins asked the Defendant to take them to the emergency room, and when he refused, Mr. Kennedy took them instead. While Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Kennedy were at the hospital, the Defendant went to Ms. Conley's house.

         Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Kennedy arrived at Ms. Conley's house soon after the Defendant. According to Mr. Kennedy, the Defendant thanked him for bringing the young girl home, but when the Defendant began conversing with Ms. Hopkins, the Defendant became angry. Ms. Conley described the Defendant as being upset when he left her house. Ms. Hopkins spent the night at Mr. Kennedy's house that evening.

         The following day, October 18, Mr. Kennedy worked until noon and then ran errands with Ms. Hopkins. His friend and co-worker, John Luster, was at his house when they returned around 6:00 p.m. The three of them then went to the Defendant's house in Mr. Kennedy's truck. They planned to pick up Ms. Hopkins' belongings, which were supposed to be by the roadside. According to Mr. Kennedy, he had not had any alcohol that day, but Mr. Luster drank a beer on the way to the Defendant's house.

         When they arrived at the Defendant's house, Mr. Kennedy parked in front of the pile of Ms. Hopkins' possessions. He and Mr. Luster both exited the truck while Ms. Hopkins remained inside. Mr. Kennedy began putting Ms. Hopkins' belongings in the bed of his truck, and he was standing at his truck's tailgate when he first saw the Defendant. Mr. Kennedy testified that the Defendant had "a rifle on his shoulder and a pistol in his hand." Mr. Kennedy yelled to Mr. Luster that the Defendant had a gun.

         Mr. Kennedy said that he was standing on the back of his truck when he was shot under his right arm. He fell to the ground but pulled himself up enough to see Ms. Hopkins lying on the seat of the truck. He again fell to the ground and could not move his legs. Mr. Kennedy recalled the Defendant's pointing a double-barreled, twelve-gauge shotgun at his head and his telling Mr. Kennedy to get up. Mr. Kennedy said that the Defendant told him to move to the front of the truck so the Defendant could see Mr. Kennedy's face. Mr. Kennedy managed to move himself to the front of his truck and proceeded to beg for his life. He said that he heard Ms. Hopkins' voice and then "heard a thump hit the ground." Believing that the Defendant had dragged Ms. Hopkins out of the truck, Mr. Kennedy looked to the side and saw her. Mr. Kennedy testified that Ms. Hopkins said, "Johnny, don't touch me, " repeatedly. She looked at Mr. Kennedy and told him, "I'm sorry." Thereafter, Mr. Kennedy heard the Defendant talking on the telephone.

         The Defendant called several people after the shooting. Having already called Belinda Conley multiple times during the day to relay messages to Ms. Hopkins, he called her again between 7:10 and 7:15 p.m., telling her, "[T]hey're all dead." The Defendant told Ms. Conley that he was sorry and hung up. The Defendant also called 9-1-1. He told the dispatcher his name and location, that three people had come into his home, and that he had shot them. The Defendant's brother-in-law, Billy Alvin Hannah, also received a call from the Defendant that evening.

         Hickman County Sheriffs Deputy Jody Simmons[10] was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at the Defendant's house. He had met the Defendant's sister and brother-in-law at the turn onto the Defendant's road and followed them to the Defendant's house. When he arrived at 7:30 p.m., he saw a black truck in the road with its doors open and "bodies lying on the ground in the yard." The Defendant was standing on his porch with a gun in his hand. Deputy Richard Harkness arrived soon thereafter, and he and Deputy Simmons took cover behind the doors of Deputy Simmons' car. They tried to talk the Defendant into dropping his weapon, and Deputy Simmons fired his Taser at the Defendant. However, the Taser did not reach him.

         Centerville Police Detective Johnny Davis[11] was the next to arrive at the Defendant's house. The Defendant was kneeling in the driveway. Detective Davis testified that he had been to the Defendant's house before because he had returned a Colt .380 pistol to the Defendant after the pistol had been stolen and recovered. Detective Davis reminded the Defendant who he was, and the Defendant said, "You're the man that brought me this weapon[, ] and you're the man that's going to have to kill me with it." According to Detective Davis, the Defendant stood up, took two steps backward, and raised his pistol. Detective Davis shot the Defendant in the right arm, causing the Defendant to drop the pistol. Deputy Simmons saw the Defendant reaching for the pistol with his left hand and proceeded to shoot the Defendant three times in the torso. According to Detective Davis, the Defendant's sister grabbed the pistol, and he secured it from her.

         Two of the shooting victims, Ms. Hopkins and Mr. Luster, died at the scene. The medical examiner testified that Mr. Luster had been shot once in his torso. Ms. Hopkins had been shot twice in her right hip. Mr. Kennedy was paralyzed by the bullet that lodged in his spine. He explained that the bullet remained there because its removal would cause additional paralysis or death.

         Investigators recovered four .380 cartridge cases from the Defendant's yard and three .380 bullets from the deceased victims. Forensic testing showed that the bullets recovered from the victims had been fired through the Defendant's weapon. When the laboratory received the Defendant's pistol and its magazine, the magazine contained six bullets. Detective Davis had ejected a seventh bullet from the pistol's chamber, and testimony indicated that the pistol could contain a maximum of eight bullets. Testing of the victims' clothing showed no signs of nitrites, gunpowder, or lead vapor, which would have been present if the muzzle of the weapon had been closer than five feet to the garments. Pursuant to the search warrant obtained by Chief Deputy Scott Smith, officers seized a box of .380 ammunition from the Defendant's residence, and they later obtained from the Defendant's sister a shotgun originally seen in the residence.

         TBI Agents Mike Cox and Vance Jack assisted the local authorities in their investigation, with Agent Cox investigating the homicides and Agent Jack investigating the officer-involved shooting of the Defendant. The agents interviewed the Defendant at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on October 21, 2010. A recording of the Defendant's statement was played for the jury.

         According to the Defendant, when Ms. Hopkins arrived with Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Luster, one of the men was cursing at him and threatened to "cut" him. When the man reached for the Defendant, the Defendant shot him. He said that Ms. Hopkins and the other man began running toward him, that he panicked, and that he shot them, once each. The Defendant stated that he only had one gun that evening and that he fired three times. The Defendant told the agents that he did not shoot to kill the victims. According to the Defendant, he had been diagnosed with mental health problems during the 1980s or 1990s. The day of the shooting he drank two to three beers and took his prescriptions for Lortab and Xanax. After the shooting, he called 9-1-1 and Ms. Hopkins' mother. When the law enforcement officers arrived, the Defendant told them that he wanted them to kill him, but he denied pointing his gun at them. The Defendant told the agents that he was attempting to give his gun to Detective Davis when the other officer shot him. When agents described to the Defendant a knife that they had found on his porch, he stated his belief that the knife belonged to him.

         On behalf of the Defendant, Casey Clemons testified that she drove by the Defendant's house on the evening of the shooting.[12] She remembered seeing a red car but could not remember anything else about that day. Ms. Clemons agreed that her statement to law enforcement taken two weeks after the shooting would be accurate, including her saying that she saw two men in the yard and saw two people in a pickup truck, but she could not determine whether the document shown to her was her statement. In response to her testimony, Chief Deputy Smith testified that he interviewed Ms. Clemons on November 1, 2010, and that she told him she had seen a pickup truck parked in front of the Defendant's house with two people inside the truck. She also saw a pile of property in the yard and a younger man arguing with an older man in the yard. She did not see any firearms.

         Also on the Defendant's behalf, his sister Mary Nell Hannah and his brother-in-law Billy Hannah testified about the events after they arrived at the scene. According to Mr. Hannah, the Defendant was holding his gun to the side and pointed at the ground. An officer shot the Defendant's arm, causing the Defendant to drop the gun, and Mrs. Hannah picked up the gun. Then, the officers shot the Defendant three times. Mr. Hannah recalled the Defendant's telling the officers that there was one bullet left in his gun and that he planned to use it on himself. Mrs. Hannah described essentially the same scenario, adding that the Defendant was trying to hand her the gun when he was shot the first time. She claimed that she already had the gun when he was shot again. Mrs. Hannah further testified that she had raised the Defendant to an extent after the separation of their parents and that he had been a "good kid." According to her, the Defendant was on medication for "nerves" and depression, and he had trouble with his vision but could not afford glasses. The investigator hired by the Defendant's attorney testified that he found a closed knife on the Defendant's porch the day following the shooting, which he turned over to the sheriff's department.

         Following the close of proof and deliberations, the jury convicted the Defendant as charged of two counts of first degree premeditated murder, one count of attempted first degree premeditated murder, and three counts of aggravated assault.

         At the sentencing hearing to determine punishment for the first degree murder convictions, Mr. Luster's mother testified about the impact of his death on their family, especially his nine-year-old son. For the defense, Rebecca Barnett, a mitigation specialist, testified that the Defendant dropped out of school at fifteen or sixteen and that he worked steadily until 2010. He had been married twice, both marriages resulting in divorce. He had two sons from his first marriage, but one son had been killed in an accident. Ms. Barnett testified that the Defendant tried to kill himself after his first divorce. She further testified that a mental evaluation given to the Defendant prior to trial showed that the Defendant had "significant physical and mental limitations." He was diagnosed with "major depressive disorder with psychotic features." The Defendant also suffered from a heart murmur and nerve damage from a motorcycle accident. The jury determined that one aggravating circumstance applied to the Defendant's sentencing-he knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons other than the victim murdered-and on that basis, the jury sentenced him to life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders of Amber Hopkins and John Luster. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(3).

         After a second sentencing hearing to determine punishment for the remaining convictions, the trial court sentenced the Defendant to twenty-five years for the attempted murder of James Kennedy and six years for each of the three aggravated assault convictions. The trial court ordered the attempted murder sentence to be served consecutively to the Defendant's murder sentences and the aggravated assault convictions to be served concurrently with each other and the attempted murder sentence.

         The Defendant appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the evidence and that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for the murders and the attempted murder, as well as his sentences of life without the possibility of parole. State v. Pruitt, No. M2013-02393-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 5032016, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 26, 2015), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Jan. 19, 2016). The appellate court concluded that the search warrant did not violate Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(c) because "the correct date and time were in fact endorsed on the warrant" and because "the date October 19, 2010, . . . on the warrant . . . was rendered ''extraneous and inapplicable' when the magistrate stated on the warrant that the document was ''Issued on Oct. 18, 2010.'" Id. at *12. Addressing the trial court's reliance on ERRA, the appellate court noted that ERRA would apply but for the fact that the Court of Criminal Appeals had previously determined in State v. Hayes that ERRA could not be applied retroactively to validate a warrant. Id. (citing State v. Hayes, No. M2012-01768-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 3378320, at *5 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 1, 2013)). The court further concluded that the seizure of the shotgun did not violate the Defendant's constitutional rights because he had voluntarily agreed to the seizure. Id. The court upheld the Defendant's convictions and sentences, ruling that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions and that the evidence was sufficient to support the aggravating circumstance found by the jury in sentencing. Id. at *12, *15.

         The Defendant filed a timely Rule 11 application to this Court, which we accepted with the instruction to address whether State v. Hayes was correctly decided and whether this Court should modify the Tennessee ex post facto analysis found in Miller v. State, 584 S.W.2d 758 (Tenn. 1979), in light of Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37 (1990). The other issues raised in the Defendant's application are sufficiency of the evidence to uphold his convictions and sufficiency of the evidence to uphold the aggravating circumstance relied upon by the jury in sentencing him to life without the possibility of parole for each count of premeditated murder.

         II. Analysis

         A. Suppression of the Evidence

         1. Standard of Review

         In reviewing the trial court's decision on a motion to suppress, we review the trial court's legal conclusions de novo. State v. Northern, 262 S.W.3d 741, 747 (Tenn. 2008). In doing so, we give deference to the trial judge's findings of fact unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. Id.; see State v. Ross, 49 S.W.3d 833, 839 (Tenn. 2001); State v. Odom, 928 S.W.2d 18, 23 (Tenn. 1996). "''[C]redibility of the witnesses, the weight and value of the evidence, and resolution of conflicts in the evidence are matters entrusted to the trial judge as the trier of fact.'" Northern, 262 S.W.3d at 747-48 (alteration in original) (quoting Odom, 928 S.W.2d at 23). In reviewing the findings of fact, evidence presented at trial may "''be considered by an appellate court in deciding the propriety of the trial court's ruling on the motion to suppress.'" State v. Garcia, 123 S.W.3d 335, 343 (Tenn. 2003) (quoting State v. Walton, 41 S.W.3d 75, 81 (Tenn. 2001)). The prevailing party on the motion to suppress is afforded the "''strongest legitimate view of the evidence and all reasonable and legitimate inferences that may be drawn from that evidence.'" Northern, 262 S.W.3d at 748 (quoting State v. Keith, 978 S.W.2d 861, 864 (Tenn. 1998)); see State v. Daniel, 12 S.W.3d 420, 423 (Tenn. 2000); Odom, 928 S.W.2d at 23. "The question whether Rule 41(c) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure requires suppression of the evidence in this case is a question of law which we review de novo with no presumption of correctness afforded to the judgment of the court below." State v. Coffee, 54 S.W.3d 231, 232 (Tenn. 2001).

         2. Search Warrant

         At issue in this case is a search warrant purported by the Defendant to be invalid based on a failure to adhere to the specifications of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(c). Rule 41 "imposes specific procedural safeguards" that "are intended ''to secure the citizen against carelessness and abuse in the issuance and execution of search warrants.'" Coffee, 54 S.W.3d at 233 (quoting Talley v. State, 345 S.W.2d 867, 869 (1961)). As relevant to this case, Rule 41(c)(3)(D) requires that the magistrate "endorse on the search warrant the hour, date, and name of the officer to whom the warrant was delivered for execution." Tenn. R. Crim. P. 41(c)(3)(D). If a magistrate does not comply with that section, Rule 41 directs a court to grant an aggrieved party's motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the noncompliant warrant. Tenn. R. Crim. P. 41(g)(5)(B). The purpose of Rule 41(c)'s endorsement criteria is "to ensure that if a search warrant is executed prior to its issuance, such discrepancy will be apparent on the face of the ...

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