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State v. Russo

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 15, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs November 8, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Bedford County No. 18035 F. Lee Russell, Judge

         In the Bedford County Circuit Court, the defendant, Jason Larry Russo, pled guilty to second offense driving on a revoked license, a Class A misdemeanor, and was found guilty by a jury of promotion of the manufacture of methamphetamine, a Class D felony. He was sentenced to eleven months and twenty-nine days for the driving offense and twelve years for the drug offense, to be served consecutively. On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred in imposing consecutive sentences. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          M. Wesley Hall, IV, Unionville, Tennessee (on appeal); and Brian Belden, Shelbyville, Tennessee (at trial), for the appellant, Jason Larry Russo.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; Robert J. Carter, District Attorney General; and Michael D. Randles, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.


          ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE.


         The State's evidence at trial showed that Agent Shane George of the 17th Judicial District Drug Task Force was investigating suspicious purchases of pseudoephedrine from a Walmart in Shelbyville, Tennessee, on August 26, 2014. Based on this investigation, Agent George followed a vehicle driven by the defendant whose passenger had just bought pseudoephedrine at Walmart. Agent George recognized the defendant and knew that his driver's license was revoked or suspended. The defendant stopped at a Rite Aid pharmacy, and another passenger went into the pharmacy but emerged "empty handed" and appeared to be agitated. Agent George made a traffic stop of the defendant's vehicle after it pulled into the driveway of a residence that was a suspected site of methamphetamine manufacturing.

         The defendant immediately informed Agent George that he did not have a valid driver's license. With the defendant's consent, Agent George searched the defendant's vehicle, during which he found a box of pseudoephedrine tablets and a quart-sized container of lighter fluid. Pseudoephedrine is the chief precursor of methamphetamine, and lighter fluid is used along with other chemicals, such as lye and ammonium nitrate, to make the drug. Agent George apprised the defendant of his rights, which the defendant waived and agreed to answer questions. The defendant told Agent George that he also had ammonium nitrate in his bedroom in the house and planned to use the chemicals to manufacture methamphetamine in the near future.

         Based on these facts, the defendant was indicted in count one for second offense driving on a revoked license and in count two for promotion of the manufacture of methamphetamine. The defendant pled guilty to count one and, after a trial, was convicted by a jury of count two.

         The trial court conducted a sentencing hearing at which the defendant's presentence report was first entered into evidence. Agent George then testified that methamphetamine investigations were the main focus of the drug task force. These investigations involved both "one-pot shake and bake labs" such as in the defendant's case, as well as seizures of large quantities of cartel-supplied "ICE methamphetamine" that resulted in prosecution in federal court. He explained that the "home brew labs" took a backseat when the "ICE epidemic" hit but then had a resurgence whenever the task force took a major "ICE" source off the streets. Both home brew labs and imported methamphetamine were major issues in the judicial district. The methamphetamine epidemic was increasing and had crossed racial and economic boundaries. Agent George believed that incarceration was a deterrent and that the judicial district's reputation for extended sentences "seems to have a very visible impact."

         After making extensive findings on the record, the trial court imposed a sentence of twelve years at 60% as a career offender for the Class D felony drug conviction and a consecutive eleven-month-and-twenty-nine-day ...

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