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State v. Wilburn

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 6, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs December 13, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Rutherford County Nos. F-74351, M-73937, M-73940 & M-73973 David M. Bragg, Judge

         The Defendant, Richard W. Wilburn, was sentenced to an effective ten-year sentence for his guilty-pleaded convictions to one count of initiating the methamphetamine manufacturing process and three counts of driving on a revoked license, second offense or more. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by applying enhancement factor 10-the Defendant had no hesitation about committing a crime when the risk to human life was high-to increase his sentence for initiating the manufacturing methamphetamine process because, he asserts, there was no proof that anyone was endangered by his actions. He also submits that the trial court erred by denying any form of alternative sentencing based upon his need for drug treatment. Following our review, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's sentencing decision. Accordingly, the judgments are affirmed.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Gerald L. Melton, District Public Defender, and Russell N. Perkins, Assistant District Public Defender, for the appellant, Richard W. Wilburn.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Nicholas W. Spangler, Assistant Attorney General; Jennings H. Jones, District Attorney General; and Dana S. Minor, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.




         In July 2015, the Rutherford County Grand Jury charged the Defendant with driving on a revoked license, second offense or more (case number M-73937); driving on a revoked license, second offense or more, and violation of the open container law (case number M-73940); and driving on a revoked license, second offense or more (case number M-73973). See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-10-416, -50-504. In September of the same year, the Defendant was indicted for initiating a process intended to result in the manufacture of methamphetamine (case number F-74351). See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-435. The Defendant thereafter entered a guilty plea disposing of all four cases- pleading guilty to three counts of driving on a revoked license, second offense or more, and to initiating the methamphetamine manufacturing process, and the open container charge was dismissed. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the Defendant was classified as a Range I, standard offender, although he qualified for a higher range classification, and his four sentences were to run concurrently. The length of the sentences and the manner of service was left to the trial court's discretion.

         At the subsequent sentencing hearing, Detective Curtis Brinkley, with the Narcotics Unit of the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department, testified that he investigated a methamphetamine complaint on March 26, 2015. Det. Brinkley had been advised by a "State Park Ranger Supervisor" that "multiple items consistent with a methamphetamine lab[oratory]" had been found "disposed of across a fence line" that was "kind of parallel" with the Defendant's property. When Det. Brinkley arrived at the home, he found "components consistent with methamphetamine production" in the Defendant's yard-a gas generator, which "consist[s] of a plastic bottle with some tubing coming out the top of it"; "a bag on a front porch that had multiple gas generators and some syringes, [and] a glass jar" inside; and ammonium nitrate. Following the issuance of a search warrant, more items were discovered inside the home confirming the presence of a methamphetamine laboratory-sulfuric acids, including drain cleaner; "a glass plate with coffee filters that contained white residue, " field-testing positive for methamphetamine; salt; plastic bags; "some miscellaneous tools that could be associated with fixing or administering the products together"; and pseudoephedrine.

         According to Det. Brinkley, they found a total of five gas generators outside of the Defendant's home between the one in the yard and the others on the front porch. He explained that "[t]he gas generators are what are needed to actually finish the cooking process, to actually crystalize the meth." Det. Brinkley further described the cooking process as "dangerous" because it frequently caused explosions. Det. Brinkley was then asked if children were in the area when he arrived. He replied,

Once we were conducting our investigation, the trailer that kind of sits within a few feet away-I say a few feet. You know, 20, 30, maybe 50. There were children there. And they had, obviously, kid toys outside. And we were speaking to them. The children were present at that time. They weren't outside when we first arrived. But there were children present within the property.

         Det. Brinkley said that the gas generators, especially the one found in the Defendant's yard, were in "dangerous proximity" to the children.

         Additionally, the Defendant was renting the home. According to Det. Brinkley, the homeowners decided to leave the home under quarantine because the clean-up process was too cost prohibitive for them, so the residence was uninhabitable.

         The Defendant then testified on his own behalf. The Defendant claimed that he did not know how to manufacture methamphetamine, being "more of a junky than a maker." The Defendant said that he had been a cocaine user for approximately eight years when his neighbor, Billy Teal, introduced him to methamphetamine. He further testified that he smoked marijuana and began drinking at fourteen or fifteen years of age. According to the Defendant, his addiction problems likely started "at birth" because his father gave him beer "in a bottle to make [him] go to sleep."

         The Defendant claimed that it was Mr. Teal who manufactured the methamphetamine at the Defendant's home because it was "central[ly] located" and away from Mr. Teal's children. According to the Defendant, Mr. Teal's residence was about one hundred feet away from his. Because they were using his home, the Defendant "started keeping the stuff to make [methamphetamine] at [his] house." "[E]verything was okay for a while[, ]" the Defendant said, "until one day [Mr. Teal] had [the Defendant] get the stuff, and [the Defendant] put it in [his] barn." According to the Defendant, it was the very "next day" that the police showed up and "took [his] house and everything in it[.]" When asked if he ever participated in the manufacturing process, the Defendant answered affirmatively, stating that he had "held the coffee filter." The Defendant asserted that he never sold any of the methamphetamine and that he used ninety percent of it, with Mr. Teal taking the rest. The Defendant explained, "It wasn't about making money. It was about getting high."

         The Defendant claimed that, if he was granted some sort of alternative release, he would "try [his] best . . . to stay away from any drug." According to the Defendant, he had applied for placement in the drug court program, which request had been denied, and he had "written to halfway houses and a substance abuse center[, ]" with no responses. He stated that he had previously participated in "a weekend" of drug treatment at Cumberland Heights, however, that was all of the help he had ever received.

         The Defendant acknowledged that he had a lengthy criminal record, including a history of driving offenses. However, he claimed that, because he was a self-employed carpenter, he had no choice but to drive himself around for work. According to the Defendant, he could return to work "with the builders that [he had] worked for" if not incarcerated. The Defendant asserted that he was not a drug dealer and explained that most of his other criminal offenses involved his drug habit, either drug crimes or theft offenses where he was stealing things to buy drugs.

         The Defendant claimed that he wanted help for his drug problem and asserted that he would "try [his] best" to follow the rules of supervised release. He noted that he had become a "pod trustee" while in jail over the past eight months, "clean[ing] up after people and distribut[ing] their clothes, feed[ing] them[, ]" and "[m]aintain[ing] the block[.]" When asked why he had not sought drug treatment before, the Defendant responded, "[B]ecause I kind of sort of didn't grow ...

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