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State v. Stanley

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 20, 2018


          Session November 14, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2014-B-1551 Steve R. Dozier, Judge No. M2016-02546-CCA-R3-CD

         The Defendant, Ralph Alan Stanley, was convicted of aggravated assault after a jury trial and was sentenced to ten years of supervised probation. The Defendant appeals his conviction, asserting that he is entitled to a new trial because the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. He also contends that the trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress, in allowing evidence of text messages and other bad acts, in allowing evidence produced in violation of the rules governing discovery, and in limiting cross-examination regarding a prior conviction. The Defendant also requests relief under a theory of cumulative error. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the Defendant is not entitled to a new trial, and we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          John M. Ballard, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Ralph Alan Stanley.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn Funk, District Attorney General; and J. Wesley King, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Alan E. Glenn, JJ., joined.




         The Defendant was convicted of aggravated assault for thrusting a knife toward the victim, Mr. David Williams, in the course of a confrontation on March 19, 2014, causing the victim to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury. The State presented the testimony of the victim and of an eyewitness, both of whom testified that the Defendant followed the victim out of an apartment, confronted him to start a physical altercation, and produced a knife, causing the victim to flee. The State introduced testimony that the Defendant then began to send threatening text messages to the victim and came to the victim's home prior to being apprehended. During the Defendant's arrest, a knife was found in his vehicle. The Defendant introduced the testimony of two witnesses, both of whom testified that they did not see the Defendant with a knife during the confrontation and that the victim initiated or participated fully in the confrontation.

         Pretrial Proceedings

         On the day of trial, the Defendant filed a number of motions addressing evidence which had recently come to light. During the preliminary hearing, the victim had given testimony regarding the threatening messages. The defense filed a motion in limine to exclude this evidence a few days before trial, and the State argued that the evidence was admissible as evidence of motive and intent and to explain the victim's delay in filing a police report. The trial court deferred ruling on the motion until the State could make an offer of proof through the victim, whose presence at trial was uncertain. During the weekend before trial, defense counsel was able to make contact with the victim regarding the messages, and the defense discovered the existence of a police report which had not been provided to the Defendant in discovery. Simultaneously with the discovery of the police report, the State located three 911 calls that had taken place in the early morning hours of March 20, 2014. Pursuant to a subpoena, the defense had obtained a recording of a 911 call made on March 19, 2014, after the aggravated assault, but the three additional calls did not come to light because they occurred on the following day.

         The Defendant moved to exclude these 911 calls, and the State indicated that it did not intend to introduce them in its case-in-chief but would use them as rebuttal of the Defendant's proof if necessary. The first call was from a witness, Mr. Joshua Parks, who called 911 at approximately 12:17 a.m. to report that the Defendant had said that "he was on his way to kill somebody." Mr. Parks was not available to testify at trial, as he had not appeared despite the issuance of a subpoena. The second call was made at 12:21 a.m. by the victim's wife, who had not been listed on the indictment as a witness and was consequently not slated to testify at trial. The third call was made at 12:42 a.m. by Mr. Parks, who told the 911 operator that the Defendant was at his apartment and that Mr. Parks was afraid. The Defendant opposed the use of these calls on rebuttal because they had not been provided in discovery. The Defendant did not make a motion to continue the trial. The trial court noted that the State did not wish to introduce the evidence, that it was unlikely that the evidence would come in for rebuttal because the callers would not be presented as witnesses at trial, and that rebuttal was by its nature extemporaneous. The trial court did not rule that the calls should be categorically excluded from rebuttal.

         At the same hearing on the morning of trial, the Defendant moved to suppress the knife found in his car based on the late-provided second police report. The police report provided in discovery had described the knife as recovered in a "search incident to arrest." Defense counsel, in speaking to the victim, became aware of another police report, which described the knife as having been recovered from the Defendant's vehicle. At the hearing, Officer Keith Holley testified that he had a warrant for the Defendant's arrest for aggravated assault and that in the early morning hours of March 20, 2014, he located the Defendant in the parking lot of an apartment complex. The driver's side door of the Defendant's vehicle was open, and the Defendant was standing next to the car, leaning in. Officer Holley confirmed the Defendant's identification and determined that that the Defendant was not visiting anyone at the complex. He arrested the Defendant based on the warrant and also for trespassing. He returned to the vehicle to "secure" it, and on the driver's seat was a black folding knife which matched the description of the knife used in the assault. Officer Holley also found a "folding throwing star" on the Defendant's keys, which were also in the driver's seat. Officer Holley elaborated, "If you had walked up and the door was open, you would have seen the keys which had the throwing star on it and the knife." He testified that the vehicle was unlocked with the door open. Officer Holley took the knife and keychain into evidence and locked the car. He stated the Defendant was intoxicated but acknowledged that he did not charge the Defendant with driving under the influence of an intoxicant. The trial court denied the motion to suppress.

         The Defendant also filed a motion seeking to exclude testimony regarding the threatening text messages. The State made an offer of proof through the victim, who testified that after the altercation, the Defendant called him and sent him text messages threatening to come to his home and harm the victim, his wife, and their children. The Defendant and victim were acquainted, and the Defendant knew where the victim lived. Although the victim did not initially contact the police, after receiving numerous threatening communications, the victim returned to the apartment complex where the assault took place and called the police from that location. An officer came to the scene to take a report and advised him to go to night court to obtain a warrant. The victim was "pretty sure" that he showed the text messages to the officer at the apartment, and he was certain he showed them to the commissioner when swearing out the warrant at night court. Officer William King, however, testified that he was the responding officer and that he did not recall being shown any text messages. He testified that he would have put the text messages in his report and would have preserved them.

         The victim testified that after he had gone to night court to obtain the warrant, the Defendant drove up the victim's street, parked his car approximately one hundred yards away, and then walked to the victim's house. The victim called the police while the Defendant walked around the side and front of the home for approximately ten minutes. A different officer came to the victim's home regarding the incident, and the victim did not show this officer the text messages. The victim no longer had either the messages or the telephone.

         The trial court ruled that the text messages were admissible under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b) because they were closely related to the assault, were probative of motive and intent, and explained the delay in contacting police. The trial court found that Officer Holley's testimony that he did not recall the messages "doesn't mean it didn't happen." The court concluded that the probative value was "extremely high, " that the messages were not particularly prejudicial, and that testimony about the messages was admissible.

         Trial Proceedings

         At trial, the victim testified that he worked as a mechanic and that the Defendant was an acquaintance who had assisted him on some work-related projects. Despite their past relationship, the victim was not on good terms with the Defendant because of "situations that happened while we were working together." The victim was "ready to sever ties" with the Defendant and did not "want to have any conversations, relations, or anything further to do with" with the Defendant.

         On March 19, 2014, the victim arrived at Mr. Parks's apartment at around 7:30 p.m., delivering a dresser for a friend. At the apartment were the friend who owned the dresser, the Defendant, Mr. Parks, and Ms. Tracy[1] Parks, who was Mr. Parks's sister and the Defendant's girlfriend at the time. When the victim and his friend arrived, the Defendant tried to start a conversation with the victim, but the victim told the Defendant he did not want to speak with him. The Defendant began to "get upset, " and he got "pretty aggravated" and "hostile" when the victim was willing to speak in reply to something Ms. Parks said.

         The victim testified that he left the apartment to retrieve the remaining pieces of the dresser and that the Defendant followed him. As they walked, the Defendant placed his hand on the victim's shoulder, and the victim told him "to get his hand off of me." The victim testified that the Defendant then pulled a knife out of his pocket and made a statement about getting "into a physical altercation." When the victim saw the knife, he asked the Defendant to put it away. Instead, the Defendant swung the knife at the victim and "kicked at" him. The victim testified that he blocked the kick and got away. According to the victim, he asked the Defendant to put the knife away, and the Defendant did so briefly. The Defendant then produced the knife again, said, "I'm going to gut you like a pig, " and "came after" the victim. When the victim saw the Defendant chasing him with a knife, he ran away. The victim testified that he was not armed and that he fled to avoid getting cut. He did not feel threatened "until there was a knife blade in [the Defendant's] hand." The victim said that once he was a safe distance from the Defendant, he turned around and threw his keys to Mr. Parks, asking Mr. Parks to either take his car home or to come get him. The victim intended to run to his house, which was under two miles away, but Mr. Parks picked him up in the victim's vehicle after he had run about one hundred yards. The victim identified the knife recovered from the Defendant's vehicle as consistent with that used by the Defendant.

         The victim acknowledged he had told other people he blocked the Defendant's kick, and he testified that he had obtained a black belt in taekwondo when he was a child. He also acknowledged he might have said he could "take [the Defendant] with one had behind [his] back" and that at one point he told the Defendant he was not going to run away from him. He testified that he never turned his back on the Defendant while the Defendant had the knife out but did briefly turn around when the Defendant had placed the knife back into his pocket. The victim acknowledged that while he had told the Defendant he did not want to fight, he also said, "[I]f you put your hands on me, it could be different." The victim did not recall knocking down Ms. Parks as he ran away, but acknowledged that he had "heard" that either he or the Defendant bumped into her. He testified that he did not know Ms. Dalena Reynolds and that he did not believe Mr. Harvey Bush was present.

         The victim testified that shortly after leaving, he began to receive calls and "threatening text messages" on his cellular telephone from the Defendant. The victim elaborated that in the messages, the Defendant stated that he "was going to come to my house and harm me and my family." The victim's wife was afraid, and about thirty minutes after the assault, the victim returned to the apartment complex, went to the apartment of Ms. Glennis Key, called the police, and met an officer at the scene. He explained that he went back to the complex because the assault had occurred there and he believed, from the Defendant's text messages, that the Defendant was no longer there. He testified that he did not recall if he showed the officer the text messages but was sure he had shown them when he went to get a warrant in night court. He acknowledged having said earlier that he was "pretty sure" he showed the officer the messages.

         The victim stated that he then obtained a warrant in the company of Mr. Parks. When the victim returned home, the Defendant drove up the road and walked to the victim's home, "lurking around" while the victim called the police.

         Officer Holley testified at trial about apprehending the Defendant at the apartment complex. He reiterated that the Defendant left the car door open and that a black folding knife and a throwing star were on the driver's seat.

         Ms. Glennis Key confirmed the victim's testimony that the Defendant had attacked him with a knife. Ms. Key testified that she lived in the apartment complex, upstairs from Mr. Parks, and was slightly acquainted with the victim through Mr. Parks. On the day of the assault, Mr. Parks called her and asked her to help him manage an argument brewing between the victim and the Defendant. The Defendant was "cussing and going off, " and the victim did not want to talk to the Defendant. Ms. Key confirmed that the Defendant followed the victim outside, and she testified that "[e]veryone" followed. The two were arguing, and the Defendant reached into his pocket, "popped" the knife, and started running after the victim. Ms. Key shouted for the victim to run, "so [the Defendant] wouldn't stick him with the knife, " and the victim fled. The Defendant was intoxicated and could not catch the victim. She confirmed that the victim called the police from her apartment later; Mr. Parks was also present for the call. She also testified that the Defendant came to her apartment and started beating on the door immediately before his arrest.

         Ms. Key testified she was not aware that Mr. Parks had a roommate. She recalled that the victim "accidentally" knocked down Ms. Parks. She acknowledged discussing the incident with the victim and Mr. Parks prior to calling the police. She also acknowledged that she had pled ...

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