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State v. Flowers

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Nashville

December 30, 2016


          Session September 8, 2016, Heard at Knoxville

         Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Circuit Court for Maury County No. 22821 Robert Lee Holloway, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

         Nicole Flowers ("the defendant") was convicted of the criminal offense of stalking, see Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-315, based, in part, on her posting disparaging signs about the victim on the victim's private property and on the property of his employer, which was a public place. We granted this appeal to consider whether the signs placed by the defendant amounted to an exercise of her right to free speech, as protected by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. We also consider whether the evidence presented at the bench trial was sufficient to sustain the defendant's conviction. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the evidence underlying the defendant's conviction for stalking is insufficient to sustain her conviction and therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Having determined that the evidence is insufficient, the issue of the defendant's right to free speech is pretermitted.

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

          Gary Howell, Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee (at trial); Travis B. Jones, Assistant District Public Defender (at trial and on appeal); and Brandon E. White, Columbia, Tennessee (on appeal), for the appellant, Nicole Flowers.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Leslie E. Price, Senior Counsel (on appeal); Brent Cooper, District Attorney General; and Kevin Latta, Assistant District Attorney General (at trial), 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. Facts and Procedural History

         This matter involves a conflict between the victim, Jason Dale, and the defendant, with whom the victim had a daughter. The victim and the defendant were never married, and the victim had five other children.

         On May 8, 2013, the victim had been employed by the Maury County Board of Education for fifteen years. That morning, he received a call from a coworker at 6:25 a.m., telling him that "[s]omeone has [a] sign on the fence about you." When the victim arrived at work, he observed a sign on the fence and cut it down. The sign read, "Jason Dale is a deadbeat." Two signs had been placed at the victim's workplace; one sign was attached to the fence, and another sign bearing the same message was affixed to the main gate. A third sign had been placed at his residence. That sign read, "Jason Dale is a deadbeat dad, and he works for the Department of Education." His neighbor removed the sign and placed it in a ditch in his yard.

         The victim did not see the defendant place any of the signs. However, his neighbor saw the defendant walking down his street. In addition, the defendant had previously called the victim a "deadbeat dad, " and no one else had ever called him that except her. For these reasons, he believed that the defendant was responsible for the signs.

         When the victim left work that afternoon, he exited through the gate, looked to his right, and saw a vehicle occupied by the defendant and her sister, Priscilla Dawson, parked outside of an abandoned house. When he pulled out, the defendant and Ms. Dawson followed him. Believing that they intended to continue following him, he drove to the sheriff's department. After speaking with a magistrate inside the sheriff's department, the victim followed the necessary procedure to obtain a warrant against the defendant.

         The victim explained that he had experienced difficulties with the defendant prior to May 8. She had sent him several text messages calling him a "deadbeat dad" and telling him that he needed to "step up" and "be a father." The victim responded to the defendant via text message and informed her that he did not want to receive any more text messages from her. The victim did not recall whether the defendant had called him on the telephone. The victim acknowledged that the content of the text messages pertained to their then-fourteen-year-old daughter. Their daughter was a member of ...

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