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State v. Watson

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 10, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JOSEPH DURWARD WATSON II

          Session November 16, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Blount County No. C-22828 David Reed Duggan, Judge.

         The Defendant, Joseph Durward Watson II, was charged with possession with the intent to sell more than one-half ounce but less than ten pounds of marijuana. See T.C.A. § 39-17-417 (2014). He filed a motion to suppress the evidence recovered from the search of the home in which the marijuana was found. The trial court granted the motion, determining that the police exceeded the scope of a levy issued for the collection of unpaid court costs and fines. On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred by granting the motion to suppress because the Defendant disclaimed any expectation of privacy in the home, depriving him of standing to challenge the search. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Nicholas W. Spangler, Assistant Attorney General; Mike L. Flynn, District Attorney General; and Matthew Dunn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Nathaniel H. Evans (on appeal and at hearing), Knoxville, Tennessee, and Joe Costner (at hearing), Maryville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Joseph Durward Watson II.

          Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., joined. Timothy L. Easter, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., JUDGE.

         On July 7, 2014, the Defendant was indicted for possession with intent to sell more than one-half ounce but less than ten pounds of marijuana.[1] The Defendant filed a motion to suppress the drug-related evidence seized at a home on December 20, 2013, that led to the charge in the present case.

         At the hearing, Blount County Sheriff's Investigator David Mendez testified that he was assigned to the Fifth Judicial District Drug Task Force. On December 20, 2013, he was assigned to serve a levy on the Defendant for unpaid court costs and fines from a previous case. Investigator Mendez explained that it was not uncommon for deputies in the Drug Task Force to execute levies for unpaid court costs and fines from drug-related cases. He acknowledged the sheriff's department had received a complaint, alleging the Defendant was selling narcotics out of his home, before the levy was obtained.

         Investigator Mendez testified that he and Sheriff's Deputy Pearson went to the Defendant's home to serve the levy and that at some point, Chief Ron Talbott arrived at the home. Investigator Mendez stated they walked onto the front porch and knocked on the door for several minutes. When nobody opened the door, the deputies stepped away from the door and checked the registration of two vehicles parked in the driveway. Investigator Mendez stated that the Defendant walked out of the home and that Investigator Mendez explained they were there to serve a civil levy and how a civil levy worked. Investigator Mendez said that he asked the Defendant if he had anything of value in his pockets and that the Defendant emptied some loose change from his pockets. Investigator Mendez stated that they "asked" the Defendant "that we needed to get in his residence to execute the levy." Investigator Mendez said the Defendant responded that he did not live there, that the home belonged to his girlfriend, that the front door locked automatically when he left the home, and that "he left his keys inside." Investigator Mendez said that the Defendant asked if he was free to leave and that the deputies allowed him to leave without incident. The Defendant left on foot.

         Investigator Mendez testified that when he spoke to the Defendant, a deputy was attempting to obtain records showing the Defendant lived at the home because the deputies believed the Defendant was lying. Investigator Mendez noted the sheriff's department had information that the Defendant lived there. After the Defendant left, the deputies knocked on the front door again because Investigator Mendez said the Defendant stated that his girlfriend was inside the home. Investigator Mendez said that nobody came to the door, that the deputies "walked down the side of the house, looking for . . . [personal] property to . . . satisfy the levy, " and that the deputies smelled marijuana coming from the crawl space vent. Investigator Mendez said that he walked to the deck and looked through a window to determine if anyone was inside the home, that he did not see anyone inside, and that he smelled marijuana coming from the nearby crawl space vent. Investigator Mendez said that he and the deputies returned to the front of the home and knocked on the door a third time. Investigator Mendez said that he saw partially smoked marijuana cigarettes in an ashtray on the front porch and that he obtained and executed a search warrant that afternoon.[2] He said several pounds of high-quality marijuana were found inside the home.

         On cross-examination, Investigator Mendez denied that he was instructed to look for drug activity at the Defendant's home when attempting to execute the levy and that he was only there to collect money or personal property for the levy. He admitted, though, that he had information that the Defendant was selling drugs and that he thought he might find something illegal. Investigator Mendez maintained that the purpose of serving the levy was not to investigate the Defendant or to "look[] for a reason to get a search warrant."

         Investigator Mendez testified that two vehicles in the driveway were not registered to the Defendant, although the Defendant had been seen driving one of them. He denied drugs were found inside the crawl space. He said that he initially knocked on the front door for twenty minutes, that he looked through the front-porch window, and that he did not see anything. Investigator Mendez denied that he patted down the Defendant and said that he did not take the change from the Defendant's pants pockets because it amounted to less than one dollar. Investigator Mendez said that the levy was never served upon the Defendant and denied that the Defendant advised he intended to pay his outstanding fines and court costs immediately.

         Investigator Mendez testified that the Defendant stated that the home did not belong to him, that his "keys" were inside the home, and that his girlfriend was inside the home. Investigator Mendez said that he checked to determine whether the front door was locked after the Defendant left on foot. Investigator Mendez estimated that he was three feet from the crawl space vent when he smelled marijuana.

         Blount County Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher testified that his office had established a collections department in an effort to collect outstanding ligation taxes, court costs, and fines owed by criminal defendants and that levies and garnishments were used to collect the outstanding debts. He stated that the Defendant pleaded guilty and received an effective six-year sentence in November 2003. Mr. Hatcher said that although the Defendant's sentences had expired, the Defendant owed approximately $3000 in court costs and fines. Mr. Hatcher stated that at the expiration of a criminal sentence, his office was permitted to collect any unpaid fines and court costs as a civil judgment by establishing a payment plan, garnishing wages, or issuing a levy. Mr. Hatcher testified that the levy issued in this case was in accordance with the policies of his office but that the sheriff deputy's return stated the levy was not executed.

         On cross-examination, Mr. Hatcher testified that unpaid debts were considered civil judgments after the trial court lost jurisdiction at the expiration of a criminal sentence. Upon questioning by the trial court, Mr. Hatcher stated that law enforcement officers contacted his office, requesting that a deputy clerk determine if the Defendant owed money relative to the 2003 convictions. Mr. Hatcher said the request was not unusual. Upon ...


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