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State v. Sappington

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 18, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs February 7, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 13-02533 W. Mark Ward, Judge

         The Defendant-Appellant, William Sappington, was convicted by a Shelby County jury of theft of property with the value of more than $10, 000 but less than $60, 000, a Class C felony. T.C.A. § 39-14-103, 105(a)(4). The sole issue presented for our review in this appeal as of right is whether the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Patrick E. Stegall, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Defendant-Appellant, William Sappington.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ruth Anne Thompson, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Ann Schiller, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Camille R. McMullen, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.



         On February 5, 2013, Fred Williams, a yard maintenance worker and the victim herein, was atop a tree in the backyard of a home located on Judy Lynn Street in Memphis. The victim had parked his truck, which had a sixteen-foot trailer with lawn mowers and other equipment attached to it, in front of the house. While the victim was in the backyard, a neighbor, Jeff Mayes, looked outside his window and noticed "two guys" attempting to unhook the victim's trailer from the victim's truck. Mayes knew the victim, believed the men were attempting to steal the trailer, and called the police. As the men continued to unhitch the victim's trailer, the police arrived and arrested the defendant. The defendant was subsequently charged with and convicted of theft of property valued over $10, 000. As a Range III offender, the defendant was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment to be served at forty-five percent.

         The defendant filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the State had failed to prove that he "knowingly obtained" or "exercised control over" the victim's property. He further claimed that the State failed to prove the value of the victim's property. On May 10, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on the defendant's motion for new trial. At the beginning of the hearing, the trial court specifically recalled that it provided a jury instruction for attempt at the defendant's trial. The trial court then denied relief and reasoned as follows:

So, the jury looked at this case as attempt or a completed act and they decide[d] it was a completed act. From my memory, I thought it was a completed act itself as far as exercising control over the property. But, it was close enough to let the jury make the decision. But I think the evidence legally is sufficient to support that he was exercising control.
I was concerned as far a[s] value is concerned, about questions around them. But twice on the record the question was phrased the trailer is worth a certain amount. The word worth was used twice. One time on cross examination, your statement was that that's how much the trailer was worth. It wasn't direct, it was a question that the trailer was worth about a certain amount. Nobody asked, but twice the word worth was used and there was a litany of discussion about how much he paid for it. I think the combination of that and the twice talk about what it was worth is enough, at least fair market value. I thought it was the jury's decision.

         In this appeal, the defendant challenges the evidence supporting his conviction on the same grounds. He again claims the evidence adduced at trial supported an attempt to commit theft of property, rather than theft, because he did not "obtain" or "exercise control over" the victim's trailer and its equipment. He additionally argues that the State failed to establish the value of the property. In response, the State contends the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction of theft because the trailer had been moved several feet and unhooked from where the victim had originally left it. Upon our review, we agree with the State.

         We apply the following well established legal framework in our review of this issue. "Because a verdict of guilt removes the presumption of innocence and raises a presumption of guilt, the criminal defendant bears the burden on appeal of showing that the evidence was legally insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict." State v. Hanson, 279 S.W.3d 265, 275 (Tenn. 2009) (citing State v. Evans, 838 S.W.2d 185, 191 (Tenn. 1992)). When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the standard of review applied by this court is "whether 'any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" State v. Parker, 350 S.W.3d 883, 903 (Tenn. 2011) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)). Similarly, Rule 13(e) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure states, "Findings of guilt in criminal actions whether by the trial court or jury shall be set aside if the evidence is insufficient to support the finding by the trier of fact of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." When this court evaluates the sufficiency of the ...

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