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State v. Theus

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 12, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs May 17, 2017, at Knoxville.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Madison County No. 16-14 Roy B. Morgan, Jr., Judge.

         A Madison County jury convicted the Defendant, Brandon Dewayne Theus, of unlawful possession of a firearm after previously having been convicted of a felony involving the attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to nine years in the Tennessee Department of Correction as a Range II, multiple offender. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress evidence discovered as a result a vehicle stop, the sufficiency of the evidence, and his sentence. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. However, we remand the case to the trial court for correction of the judgment to reflect that the Defendant was convicted pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1307(b)(1)(A) rather than section 39-17-1307(c).

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

          George Morton Googe, District Public Defender, and Jeremy B. Epperson, Assistant District Public Defender, for the appellant, Brandon Dewayne Theus.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jonathan H. Wardle, Assistant Attorney General; Jerry Woodall, District Attorney General; and Jody S. Pickens, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.




         The Defendant's conviction resulted from a traffic stop during which officers observed a .40 caliber firearm inside a truck that the Defendant had been driving. The evidence presented at trial established that on May 19, 2015, between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, Investigator Robert Groves with the patrol division of the Jackson Police Department received a be-on-the-lookout alert (BOLO) from the dispatcher regarding a vehicle which was suspected to have been involved in a robbery and which was traveling down East Chester Street into the city from the Beech Bluff area. The vehicle was described as a white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck that was occupied by an African-American man and a Caucasian man.

         Investigator Groves turned onto East Chester Street and saw a white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, which appeared to be occupied by an African-American male, in the parking lot of an Exxon. Investigator Groves reported over the police radio that he observed a vehicle matching the description of the vehicle reported in the BOLO alert and that he planned to attempt to stop the vehicle. Investigator Groves allowed the truck to drive out of the parking lot and then stopped the truck in the area of Griffin Street and East Chester Street.

         Officer Kyle Hamilton and another officer joined Investigator Groves at the stop. Investigator Groves approached the driver's side of the truck, while Officer Hamilton and the other officer approached the passenger's side. The driver of the truck was identified as the Defendant. Investigator Groves informed the Defendant that he had been alerted to an incident outside of the city that involved a truck matching the description of the truck that the Defendant was driving. As Investigator Groves was speaking to the Defendant, Officer Hamilton signaled to Investigator Groves that he saw a weapon in the truck. Investigator Groves asked the Defendant to step out of the truck in order to distance the Defendant from the weapon.

         Investigator Groves testified that the Defendant initially refused to comply with his instruction to exit the truck. The Defendant stated that he was not going to exit the truck, asked why he needed to exit the truck, and stated that his grandfather lived down the street. The Defendant eventually exited the truck after Investigator Groves opened the door.

         Investigator Groves stated that the officers did not mention to the Defendant that they saw a weapon inside of the truck. When one of the officers told the Defendant that the officer was going to pat the Defendant down for weapons, the Defendant stated that the truck belonged to his grandfather and that his grandfather had a gun inside the truck. Investigator Groves informed the Defendant that the officers had to determine whether the Defendant was allowed to possess a gun and whether the gun was stolen. The Defendant told Investigator Groves that the gun was not stolen and asked to call his grandfather.

         Investigator Groves ran the Defendant's information through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and learned that the Defendant had two prior felony convictions. He subsequently arrested the Defendant and placed him in the backseat of the patrol car. While the Defendant was in the backseat of the patrol car and the officers were outside, the Defendant retrieved his cellular phone and made multiple calls. Investigator Groves testified that during one conversation, a man asked whether the Defendant's fingerprints would be on the gun, and the Defendant replied that they should not be on the gun. The video of the stop from the dash camera and the backseat camera of Investigator Groves's patrol car were played for the jury. The man whom the Defendant called was later identified as the Defendant's grandfather, and the Defendant told his grandfather that a friend placed the gun in the truck. During a call to a woman who was later identified as the Defendant's girlfriend, the Defendant informed her that he had been arrested due to "the gun."

         The officers recovered a Hi-Point handgun with a magazine loaded with ten .40 caliber rounds from the truck. Investigator Groves stated that the gun was lying on the floorboard with the grip of the gun facing the driver.

         On cross-examination, Investigator Groves testified that the Defendant was not involved in the robbery in the Beech Bluff area. The owner of the truck was Mr. Leroy Theus, who lived on Griffin Street, the area in which Investigator Groves stopped the truck. At one point during the stop, Investigator Groves told the Defendant, "You're good, " but he did not know why he made the statement.

         Investigator Groves testified that the gun was located on the back floorboard with a portion of the gun "barely" underneath the seat. He acknowledged that he believed that the gun was physically placed within arm's reach of the driver.

         On redirect examination, Investigator Groves testified that he had to make a "U-turn" in order to initiate the stop. He said that as a result, the Defendant had ample time to discard the gun or place it anywhere inside the truck.

         Mr. Leroy Theus, the Defendant's grandfather, testified that he lived on Griffin Street and owned a white Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. Mr. Theus denied that the gun found in the truck belonged to him and said he did not know who owned the gun.

         Officer Amiee Oxley, the director of the property and evidence unit of the Jackson Police Department, was unable to find any identifiable fingerprints on the gun. She explained that according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the likelihood of locating fingerprints on a firearm is approximately ten percent because firearms generally have few smooth surfaces. Officer Oxley stated that based on her experience, the likelihood is approximately five percent. Officer Oxley did not attempt to obtain fingerprints from the rounds in the magazine.

         Officers traced the gun seized from the truck to Ms. Briyana Gray. Ms. Gray purchased the gun through a website in 2014; the gun was transferred to Range USA in Jackson; and Range USA transferred the gun to Ms. Gray in November 2014. Ms. Gray testified that she kept the gun for six or eight months and then sold it to her cousin, Rondrez Billings, because her mother did not want it in her house. Ms. Gray did not know what happened to the gun after she sold it.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Gray testified that she received a subpoena to testify a few months before trial. She said she did not have any issues coming to court to testify. She did not know the Defendant and had not seen him or spoken to him previously.

         The State introduced a recording of telephone calls made by the Defendant from the jail two days prior to trial. During one of the calls, the Defendant instructed his girlfriend to tell Mr. Billings and Ms. Gray not to attend the trial and told his girlfriend to inform Mr. Billings that the Defendant knew where he lived and was "serious as a heart attack."

         Investigator Ashley Robertson with the Jackson Police Department testified that after officers initially interviewed Ms. Gray, they attempted to locate Mr. Billings but were unsuccessful. A subpoena was issued for Mr. Billings on March 16, 2016, to testify during the May 2016 trial but was returned on March 18 as undeliverable because the apartment listed on the subpoena was vacant.

         The State introduced a certified judgment showing that on February 12, 2001, the Defendant pled guilty to facilitation of first degree murder and received a fifteen-year sentence.

         The Defendant testified that he was with Mr. Billings prior to the stop. He said they had just left work for the day and stopped by his grandfather's house to borrow his truck so that they could go to the convenience store to purchase cigarettes. The Defendant stated that as they were driving into the parking lot, he saw six cars from the sheriff's office driving down East Chester Street. He saw two patrol cars driving up and down the street as he entered the convenience store. He said that when he returned to the truck, Mr. Billings was gone.

         The Defendant testified that he was driving to his grandfather's house to return the truck when he was stopped by the police. The Defendant stated that after the officer approached the truck, the officer told him that he "was good, " which meant that he was allowed to leave. The officer then instructed him to step outside of the truck. The Defendant told the officer that he did not do anything wrong, that he could produce a valid driver's license and the truck's registration, and that the truck belonged to his grandfather, who could give the officers permission to search the truck.

         The Defendant maintained that the video recording of the stop was not accurate because it did not depict the second officer assuming control of the situation and the second officer's statements could not be heard in the recording. According to the Defendant, the second officer instructed him to exit the truck and that when the Defendant asked why, the second officer replied, "It's a gun right there." The Defendant testified that he did not know that a gun was inside the truck and did not learn about the gun until the officers informed him of it. The Defendant stated that the gun was on the floorboard behind the passenger's seat and tucked a bit underneath the seat. He explained that he believed that the gun had to belong to his grandfather because the gun was in his grandfather's truck. The Defendant stated that after he received discovery from the State, he saw Mr. Billings's name on the witness list and Ms. Gray's statement to the police that she sold the gun to Mr. Billings. The Defendant explained that after reviewing this information, he believed that Mr. Billings placed the gun inside the truck and then fled.

         The Defendant also maintained that the recording of his cellular phone conversations while in the backseat of the patrol car was inaccurate. He stated that when his girlfriend asked him why he was going to jail, ...

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