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State v. Smith

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 14, 2017


          Session October 4, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Carroll County No. 15-CR-78 Donald E. Parish, Judge

         After the trial court denied an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, the State sought an extraordinary appeal pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. This Court granted the State's application. On appeal, the State argues that the trial court erred in excluding the evidence seized from Defendant because the arresting officer had probable cause to arrest him for a felony drug offense and search him incident to that arrest. Following our review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 10 Extraordinary Appeal; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Rachel E. Willis, Senior Counsel; Matthew F. Stowe, District Attorney General; and R. Adam Jowers, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Benjamin S. Dempsey, Huntingdon, Tennessee, for the appellee, Christopher Douglas Smith.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn, J., joined. Camille R. McMullen, J., filed a dissenting opinion.



         Factual Background

         On May 4, 2015, the Carroll County Grand Jury returned an eight-count indictment charging the Defendant, Christopher Douglas Smith, with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver in Counts 1 and 5, possession of drug paraphernalia in Counts 2 and 8, unlawful possession of a weapon by a convicted felon in Count 3, possession of a weapon during the commission of a dangerous felony in Count 4, possession of hydrocodone with intent to deliver in Count 6, and possession of less than 0.5 grams of marijuana in Count 7. Counts 1 through 4 were alleged to have occurred on December 14, 2014, and Counts 5 through 8 were alleged to have occurred on March 12, 2015. On June 19, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence seized during his March 12, 2015 arrest, specifically, approximately 30.2 grams of methamphetamine, seven-hundred dollars in cash, a small bag of marijuana, an LG smart phone, and eighteen hydrocodone pills. The Carroll County Circuit Court held an evidentiary hearing on July 2, 2015.

         Investigator Joey Hedge testified that, on March 12, 2015, he obtained a search warrant for Defendant's house. The search warrant was based on information received from a confidential informant ("CI") who informed Investigator Hedge that methamphetamine was being sold out of Defendant's house by Defendant and his girlfriend, Tonya Swafford. Investigator Hedge testified that the CI had provided reliable information in the past that led to other search warrants and convictions. Investigator Hedge also stated that he "was getting information all over the place" that Defendant was selling drugs. Investigator Hedge had been to Defendant's house three months prior in December 2014 to execute another search warrant where he recovered methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Investigator Hedge included information about the prior search warrant and items found at Defendant's house in December 2014 in the affidavit supporting his March 2015 search warrant.

         The search warrant for Defendant's house was obtained at 2:15 p.m. on March 12, 2015. Before executing the search warrant, Investigator Hedge called the CI and asked him to go back to Defendant's house to "see if there [were] any drugs in the residence." The CI confirmed that there were and that Defendant "had, in his pocket, approximately a golf ball size of [m]ethamphetamine." Investigator Hedge drove to Defendant's house to execute the warrant, however, Defendant and Ms. Swafford were not home. Investigator Hedge testified that he then "circled through town" and "[saw] both parties traveling [e]ast on Main Street in [their] vehicle." Investigator Hedge said that he was "very familiar" with Defendant, Ms. Swafford, and the car they drove because he had stopped them in the car before and had "seen it around." After seeing Defendant and Ms. Swafford drive by, Investigator Hedge called another officer he was working with, Officer Drake Whitworth, "to let him know that [Investigator Hedge] was looking for the vehicle." Investigator Hedge proceeded to the Huntingdon Police Department where he met Commander Johnny Hill and got in an unmarked patrol car. Officer Whitworth then called Investigator Hedge and informed him that Defendant and Ms. Swafford were in the parking lot of Prater's Taters, a local business on Main Street.

         Investigator Hedge and Commander Hill drove to the parking lot where they saw Defendant "leaning over in a vehicle." The officers pulled into the parking lot and parked in front of Defendant and Ms. Swafford's car but did not turn on the blue lights of the patrol car. Investigator Hedge testified that, once he pulled in, he saw Defendant talking to two other individuals in a car parked beside Defendant's car. Investigator Hedge said that he was familiar with one of the individuals because she was "known for drugs" and he received information in the past regarding her involvement with methamphetamine. Investigator Hedge then confronted Defendant to inform him that the officers had a search warrant for his house. Investigator Hedge recalled that, when he first confronted Defendant, he "was getting a little antsy" and "acted as if he was going to run." Investigator Hedge testified that he "went ahead and put cuffs on [Defendant], and told him he wasn't under arrest, but he was being detained." Next, Investigator Hedge performed "a slight pat down" of Defendant to check for weapons, but did not feel anything that appeared to be a weapon. At some point, Investigator Hedge learned that Ms. Swafford was in a nearby store, and he entered the store to also inform her that officers had a search warrant for her house. Investigator Hedge confronted Ms. Swafford inside the store and testified that she told him, "I've got what you want" or "what you're looking for" and that it was in her purse. Investigator Hedge escorted Ms. Swafford outside where he searched her purse and found approximately 2.8 grams of methamphetamine.

         When Investigator Hedge returned to the parking lot, he performed a second pat down of Defendant "[s]ince [the officers] had received information of [Defendant] having [m]ethamphetamine in his pocket." Investigator Hedge testified that he felt money in Defendant's pocket as well as "a bulge that had a gritty feeling, " which, in his experience as an officer, felt like methamphetamine. Investigator Hedge seized the items from Defendant, which included 30.2 grams of methamphetamine, cash, a cell phone, and a small amount of marijuana. Investigator Hedge clarified that, before he performed the second pat down of Defendant and seized the items from Defendant, he read both Defendant and Ms. Swafford their Miranda rights.[1] Investigator Hedge also testified that Ms. Swafford signed a written consent to search both her house and the car, which was titled in her name. In the car, officers found a ledger with names and numbers and an unmarked bottle in the console containing eighteen hydrocodone pills. After searching Defendant's house, officers found a plate with white ...

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