Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Session February 15, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Lincoln County No. 2014-CR-135
Forest A. Durard, Jr., Judge
Bruce Wayne Sutton, pled guilty to attempted initiation of a
process to manufacture methamphetamine and received a
sentence of nine years and six months. As part of his plea
agreement, Defendant reserved two certified questions of law
pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 37(b)(2)(A)
with regard to the trial court's denial of his motion to
suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless search of a
residence. Upon our review of the record and applicable
authorities, we determine that based upon his disclaimer of
interest in the property, Defendant was without standing to
complain about the search. Therefore, we affirm the judgment
of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Elizabeth A. Russell (on appeal), Franklin, Tennessee, and M.
Wesley Hall IV (at hearing), Unionville, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Bruce Wayne Sutton.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent
C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Robert Carter, District Attorney
General; and Ann L. Filer, Assistant District Attorney
General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J.,
TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE
and Procedural Background
19, 2013, officers with the Lincoln County Sheriff's
Department conducted a warrantless search of a residence on
Village Park Drive in Fayetteville, Tennessee. As a result of
evidence discovered during that search, Defendant was
indicted by the Lincoln County Grand Jury of one count of
initiating a process to manufacture methamphetamine, one
count of promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, one count
of possession of .5 grams or more of methamphetamine for
sale, one count of possession of .5 grams or more of
methamphetamine for delivery, and one count of possession of
procedural history of this case is quite extensive and
complicated given the fact that Defendant was represented by
no less than four attorneys in the trial court, the case was
continued numerous times, some documents were filed under
different case numbers because of the superseding indictment,
and Defendant filed multiple pro se motions relating to both
this case and two other unrelated cases. For the sake of
clarity, we will attempt to summarize the procedural history
and hearing testimony with regard to only the issue presently
before this Court under the certified questions of law,
namely the suppression of evidence obtained from the search
of the residence on Village Park Drive.
February 20, 2014, Defendant, represented by the Public
Defender's Office, filed a motion to suppress the
evidence from the search on the grounds that his wife's
consent to search was invalidly obtained over Defendant's
refusal. On April 3, 2014, retained counsel filed a motion to
reinstate and resume the motion to suppress. This motion
references a hearing that was commenced on March 4, 2014,
during which Defendant supposedly withdrew his motion to
suppress, but no transcript of that hearing appears in the
record. The trial court denied the motion to
reinstate on May 20, 2014. After the issuance of the
superseding indictment and the appointment of subsequent
counsel, the trial court allowed Defendant to renew any
previously filed motions, including the motion to suppress.
On January 6, 2015, subsequent counsel filed a motion to
suppress, contending that Defendant did not consent to the
search and that his wife's consent was invalid.
Subsequent counsel eventually withdrew and trial counsel was
appointed. After Defendant filed a plethora of pro se motions
while represented by counsel, the trial court allowed
Defendant to represent himself over the objection of the
State, appointing trial counsel as advisory counsel. An
evidentiary hearing was held on the motion to suppress on
December 18, 2015.
evidentiary hearing, Detective Mike Pitts testified that he
was a narcotics investigator with the Lincoln County
Sheriff's Department. Detective Pitts noticed
Defendant's name on a list of pseudoephedrine purchases.
The list indicated two addresses for Defendant, one in
Hamilton County and one on Village Park Drive in Lincoln
County. Detective Pitts learned that Defendant had prior
methamphetamine-related charges. The report also indicated
that Heather Hill resided at the Village Park address.
Detective Pitts stated that he was not aware of Ms.
Hill's relationship with Defendant at the time.
Pitts went to the residence on Village Park Drive to conduct
a knock and talk "around lunchtime" on June 19,
2013. As Detective Pitts parked his vehicle, Ms. Hill exited
the front door of the residence and walked toward her vehicle
parked in the driveway; Detective Pitts observed a child
inside of the vehicle. Detective Pitts identified himself and
asked if Defendant was there. Ms. Hill indicated that
Defendant was inside the house, and Detective Pitts asked her
to bring him outside. Defendant came outside and spoke to
Detective Pitts. Detective Pitts identified himself,
explained why he was there, and asked for consent to search
the residence. According to Detective Pitts, Defendant
responded that "he could not consent to a search of the
residence, due to the fact it was not his residence to allow
[Detective Pitts] to search." Because Defendant
"also provided information that there could possibly be
items inside the residence to make meth with, "
Detective Pitts sought consent to search from Ms. Hill. Ms.
Hill agreed and signed a consent to search form, which was
entered into evidence.
Pitts then entered the residence with Ms. Hill, Defendant,
and Deputy Patrick Murdock, who had arrived at the residence
a few minutes after Detective Pitts. Detective Pitts was told
that no one else was in the residence. Defendant and Ms. Hill
remained in the living room with Deputy Murdock. Detective
Pitts entered the master bedroom and discovered a man sitting
on the bed; the man was later determined to be Mark Kindred,
who was charged as a codefendant. Detective Pitts brought Mr.
Kindred into the living room and then returned to search the
bedroom because he smelled "an odor of chemicals . . .
close to the bed." Detective Pitts discovered the
evidence at issue in the master bedroom and bathroom,
including lithium batteries, wet coffee filters with a
"fuel smell, " and "a jar that contained a
liquid that you could see methamphetamine sunk to the bottom
in." Ms. Hill denied having ever seen those items before
and denied any knowledge of methamphetamine being produced in
the house. As Defendant was being arrested and escorted out
of the house, he "sarcastically" thanked Ms. Hill
for consenting to the search and stated that "she was
putting him back in prison."
cross-examination, Defendant attempted to enter his marriage
certificate into evidence to show that Ms. Hill was his wife
and that her name was in fact Heather Sutton. Detective Pitts
testified that he reviewed the report on pseudoephedrine
purchases for people in Lincoln County who make multiple
purchases. The report listed the person's name,
driver's license number, date of birth, and known
associated addresses. Detective Pitts testified that he went
to the Village Park address to speak to Defendant because
that was the only listed address in Lincoln County. Defendant
entered the arrest warrant into evidence which listed his
address as the residence on Village Park Drive. Detective
Pitts agreed that he obtained that information from
Defendant's driver's license after he was arrested.
Detective Pitts testified that Defendant was not under arrest
at the time Ms. Hill signed the consent form and the officers
conducted the search. Detective Pitts denied threatening Ms.
Hill in order to obtain her consent to search. Detective
Pitts agreed that there were no exigent circumstances.
Detective Pitts testified that the evidence was ultimately
destroyed due to its volatility.
Defendant attempted to ask Detective Pitts about the presence
of his belongings inside the house, such as male clothing or
photographs, the State objected to the question being
irrelevant and outside the scope of the consent issue. The
trial court overruled the objection as follows:
Well, you know, that kind of gets to a standing issue. I
think it's relevant whether it's his house or not.
Here's the problem. You've got - - whether it's
your house or not, it's called the doctrine of
And that's a big problem in this case.
Patrick Murdock testified that in June of 2013, he worked as
a canine handler with the Lincoln County Sheriff's
Department. On June 19, 2013, Deputy Murdock went to the
Village Park residence with his canine to assist Detective
Pitts. When Deputy Murdock arrived, Detective Pitts was in
the yard and Defendant was "about to come out, or he
might have already been on the porch." Ms. Hill was also
present; Deputy Murdock did not know her relationship to
Defendant. Deputy Murdock did not observe anyone inside the
vehicle in the driveway. Deputy Murdock's canine remained
inside of his patrol vehicle.
Murdock observed Detective Pitts talking to Defendant and
asking for consent to search the house. As to Defendant's
response, Deputy Murdock testified, "I remember he said
that he couldn't give consent. And I believe he said that
he maybe didn't live there. That for whatever reason, he
couldn't give consent to search the house."
Detective Pitts then went to Ms. Hill and obtained written
consent to search the house while Deputy Murdock stood by
Defendant on the porch. Deputy Murdock did not remember if
Defendant said anything but described him as "looking in
their direction, and kind of basically like kind of telling
her, maybe without telling her, don't do this. I mean,
his body language and, you know, what he was doing gave me
the impression that he was trying to say don't sign
it." The following colloquy then occurred:
[Prosecutor]: And to make sure I'm clear on your
testimony. Did you hear what the [D]efendant told [Detective]
Pitts, when [Detective] Pitts asked permission to search the
[Deputy Murdock]: He said that he couldn't give consent.
I remember that.
[Prosecutor]: Did you say he could not give consent or he
would not give consent?
[Deputy Murdock]: One of the - - I'm not sure.
Murdock did not remember hearing Defendant explain to either
himself or Detective Pitts who the house belonged ...