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State v. Stephens

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Knoxville

June 16, 2017

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
RODNEY STEPHENS

          Session January 10, 2017

         Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Court for Campbell County No. 15070 E. Shayne Sexton, Judge.

         We granted the State's application for permission to appeal in this case in order to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in concluding that the evidence was not sufficient to support the Defendant's conviction of aggravated stalking. The Court of Criminal Appeals reduced the Defendant's conviction to misdemeanor stalking after concluding that the State had not adduced sufficient evidence to establish that the Defendant knowingly violated an order of protection. We hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied the standard of review and so committed reversible error. Because the proof was sufficient to support the jury's determination that the Defendant had actual knowledge of the order of protection issued against him on August 20, 2010, the evidence is sufficient to support the Defendant's conviction of aggravated stalking. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the trial court's judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed; Judgment of the Trial Court Reinstated.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Andrew C. Coulam, Assistant Attorney General; William Paul Phillips, District Attorney General; and Leif E. Jeffers, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, the State of Tennessee.

          Michael G. Hatmaker, Jacksboro, Tennessee, for the appellee, Rodney Stephens.

          Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Cornelia A. Clark, Sharon G. Lee, Holly Kirby, and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          JEFFREY S. BIVINS, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The Defendant, Rodney Stephens, was charged with one count of domestic assault and one count of aggravated stalking. A jury acquitted the Defendant of the domestic assault charge and convicted him of the aggravated stalking charge. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to two years of incarceration, suspended to three years of probation after sixty days of confinement. The Defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. State v. Stephens, No. E2014-02514-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 81386, at *10 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 6, 2016).[1] Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals reduced the

         Defendant's felony conviction to the misdemeanor conviction of stalking. Id. We granted the State's application for permission to appeal in order to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in concluding that the evidence was not sufficient to support the Defendant's conviction of aggravated stalking.

         At the Defendant's jury trial, Jessica Stephens testified that she and the Defendant married in 2004 and had two children together. On the evening of August 19, 2010, the Defendant accosted her in her car as she was parked waiting to pick up a pizza. According to Ms. Stephens, the Defendant banged on the driver's side window, jerked open the car door, and physically assaulted her. When the headlights of another vehicle illuminated them, the Defendant backed away and she was able to close her door and drive away. Ms. Stephens called the police and drove to a gas station. The Defendant also drove to the gas station and verbally accosted Ms. Stephens inside the store. The police arrived shortly thereafter, arrested the Defendant, and took the Defendant to jail.[2]

         The next morning, August 20, 2010, Ms. Stephens obtained an order of protection against the Defendant. Later that morning, she received a phone call from the Sheriff's Department notifying her that the Defendant had been released. Ms. Stephens testified that, during the phone call, she was told that the Defendant "had been served with his order of protection." Ms. Stephens identified a nine-page collection of documents that contained a two-page application for an order of protection, a five-page document titled "Petition for Orders of Protection" ("the Petition"), and a two-page document titled "Ex Parte Order of Protection" ("the Order of Protection"). This collection of documents was admitted into evidence as a single exhibit ("the Exhibit"). The Petition indicates that it was personally served on the Defendant "on 20th, 2010 [sic] at 10:10 a.m." by David Goin. The Order of Protection was signed by a judge and was issued on August 20, 2010. The Order of Protection provides, inter alia, that the Defendant "shall not commit or threaten to commit abuse, domestic abuse, stalking or sexual assault against [Ms. Stephens] or [Ms. Stephens'] minor children" and that the Defendant "shall not telephone, contact, or otherwise communicate with [Ms. Stephens], directly or indirectly." The "Return of Service" section of the Order of Protection is blank.

         Later during the day of August 20, 2010, Ms. Stephens and the Defendant had another encounter. She testified that, as she was driving with her father to the residence she shared with the Defendant, she passed the Defendant and the Defendant's mother "coming from the house." When the two cars passed each other going in opposite directions, the car in which the Defendant was riding "stopped and turned around in the road and started following" the car that Ms. Stephens was in. The Defendant's mother was driving the other car, and the other car "actually attempted to block [her] in" at a church. Ms. Stephens called the police, and the police arrived and arrested the Defendant. She did not remember if the Defendant got out of the car during their encounter.

         Around the first of September 2010, Ms. Stephens was in the Verizon store paying her bill when she heard a "banging noise." When she turned to see the source of the noise, she saw the Defendant "walking and hitting the window . . . telling [her] to come outside." Ms. Stephens remained in the store. She stated that the Defendant's actions scared her. The police arrived and arrested the Defendant.

         Later in September 2010, after Ms. Stephens had moved to a different residence, she saw the Defendant driving up and down the road in front of her house. Ms. Stephens and her daughter were in the front yard. She stated that the Defendant "cuss[ed]" at her, "flipped [her] off, " and yelled at her daughter that "he was gonna get her." Ms. Stephens took her daughter into the house. She saw the Defendant drive around "one or two more times." After she no longer saw him, she left to drive to her grandmother's house. As she was pulling into a gas station, she saw the Defendant behind her. The Defendant circled her vehicle and then stopped "[o]n the other side" of the gas station. Ms. Stephens called 911 and "took off."

         Ms. Stephens added that, while she was at the gas station, the Defendant called her cell phone from a number she did not recognize. When she answered, the Defendant told her that he was going to hurt her and that she would "pay for this." Ms. Stephens emphasized that she was afraid of the Defendant.

         Dustin Leper testified that he assisted Ms. Stephens in the Verizon store where he worked in September 2010. He recalled someone motioning at the window from outside for Ms. Stephens to come outside and that Ms. Stephens became very nervous. Mr. Leper noticed that Ms. Stephens' hands were shaking badly. Mr. Leper called 911 and the police arrived and arrested the person who had motioned to Ms. Stephens. Jeffrey McMann testified that he began dating Ms. Stephens in late September or early October 2010. He knew the Defendant only as Ms. Stephens' ex-husband.

         Deputy Ken Daugherty of the Campbell County Sheriff's Department responded to the August 20 incident involving the Defendant's riding in his mother's car. Deputy Daugherty testified that he asked the Defendant "if he had his order of protection with him." According to Deputy Daugherty, the Defendant "actually had the paperwork with him" and showed it to the deputy. The prosecutor then handed Deputy Daugherty the Exhibit and asked him if he had "seen that document before." Deputy Daugherty responded, "It does look familiar to me, but one of my primary jobs is to serve orders of protection." Asked if the Defendant had denied knowing about the Order of Protection, Deputy Daugherty stated, "He didn't." Nor, according to Deputy Daugherty, did the Defendant "act surprised to find it in his . . . possession."

         The Defendant testified and acknowledged that he approached Ms. Stephens as she sat in her car near the pizza parlor on August 19, 2010. He stated that he spoke with her through the car window, which was partially down. He stated that he did not open the car door and that he did not touch Ms. Stephens. When she called the police, he left. When he later pulled into the Exxon, he saw her car. He went into the store and called her a liar. He was subsequently arrested and taken to jail for the night. Asked if he was "served with a petition for order of protection while [he was] in jail, " the Defendant testified, "I really don't know if I was. I believe I was served with a-something. I was served with some-I don't know. Yeah, I don't know if it's an actual order of protection or what it was, but I was served with something."

         The next day (August 20), his mother came and made his bail, and he left with her. She drove him to his residence because he thought his truck had been towed there. When he learned that his truck was not at his residence, they turned around and headed back toward town. As they were driving back toward town, they passed Ms. Stephens and Mr. McMann driving together in Mr. McMann's truck.[3] The Defendant stated that he was calling the police trying to locate his truck. The police arrived and arrested him and took him back to jail.

         The Defendant testified that he filed for divorce from Ms. Stephens on August 24, 2010.

         The Defendant stated that, on September 1, 2010, he pulled into the Verizon parking lot where he saw Mr. McMann. The Defendant stated that he did not see Ms. Stephens in the store and that he "went to approach to talk to Jeff McMann." He and Mr. McMann "had an exchange of words" outside the store in the parking lot for several minutes. The Defendant did not see Ms. Stephens until she came out of the store after the police arrived.

         The Defendant testified that, beginning on September 20, 2010, he was in Alabama working. He stated that he did not know where Ms. Stephens was living at that time. He ...


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