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State v. Merritt

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 6, 2018

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
DALE MERRITT

          Assigned on Briefs March 28, 2018

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 104491 Steven Wayne Sword, Judge

         The Defendant, Dale Merritt, was convicted by a Knox County jury of one count of delivery of less than fifteen grams of a Schedule I controlled substance within 1, 000 feet of a park and one count of delivery of less than fifteen grams of a Schedule I controlled substance within 1, 000 feet of a child care agency. The trial court merged the convictions and sentenced the Defendant to seventeen years' imprisonment. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. After review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          Christopher M. Rodgers (on appeal) and T. Scott Jones (at trial), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Dale Merritt.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee W. Turner, Senior Counsel; Charme Allen, District Attorney General; and Kenneth F. Irvine, Jr., Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert L. Holloway, Jr., and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, JUDGE

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This appeal arises from the Defendant's involvement in a heroin transaction, which was observed by two undercover police officers. The Defendant was charged with the sale of less than fifteen grams of a Schedule I controlled substance within one thousand feet of a park, Count 1; the delivery of less than fifteen grams of a Schedule I controlled substance within one thousand feet of a park, Count 2; the sale of less than fifteen grams of a Schedule I controlled substance within one thousand feet of a child care agency, Count 3; and the delivery of less than fifteen grams of a Schedule I controlled substance within one thousand feet of a child care agency, Count 4.

         Officer Philip Jinks of the Knoxville Police Department ("KPD") testified as an expert in narcotics investigations. He stated that he had received information that a female named "Jessica" was involved in heroin transactions and was driving a Toyota Camry with a missing hood on the front. On October 31, 2014, he and Officer Adam Broome of the KPD went to the area where it was believed such transactions were occurring. They intended to locate the Camry and obtain its license plate number. The officers were wearing plain clothes and were in an unmarked police vehicle. While driving in the area, they spotted a gold Toyota Camry with a missing hood that was parked in an apartment complex parking lot. They noticed a white female with dark hair, later identified as Ms. Jessica Poindexter, sitting in the driver's seat of the parked Camry. They drove past the Camry and parked about two to three spaces away.

         Within one to two minutes, a gray Chevrolet Malibu pulled behind the Camry and stopped. Officer Jinks believed that the Malibu was a rental car because it appeared new, had no tint on the windows, and had "stock parts." The officers were between fifty and seventy-five feet away from the Malibu. Neither officer was able to identify the driver of the Malibu, but they both described him as an African American male with short hair who was wearing sunglasses. The officers then saw Ms. Poindexter exit the Camry and get inside the front passenger seat of the Malibu. They saw both Ms. Poindexter and the driver of the Malibu learn toward each other in the middle of the vehicle. The officers could see "their hands moving back and forth, " and they believed Ms. Poindexter and the driver were "making a transaction … or some type of hand-to-hand contact." Ms. Poindexter then "immediately" exited the Malibu and walked back to the Camry. Her right hand was cupped and appeared to be holding something. As she got back into the driver's seat of the Camry, the Malibu drove away, and the officers noted the plate number and that the Malibu had a Pennsylvania license plate.

         Believing a drug transaction had just occurred, the officers approached the Camry. Officer Jinks approached the driver's side while Officer Broome approached the passenger's side. Officer Jinks saw Ms. Poindexter holding a "very small plastic baggy with a pair of tweezers." He "immediately recognized" the substance in the baggy as heroin. He opened the driver's side door, identified himself, and arrested her. As he pulled her out of the car by her arm and handcuffed her, two other plastic baggies of heroin fell out of the car onto the ground. Within less than a minute of arresting Ms. Poindexter, Officer Jinks left the scene to pursue the Malibu, and Officer Broome waited with Ms. Poindexter for backup to arrive. Officer Jinks came across a traffic accident involving injuries before he was able to locate the Malibu, and he stopped to assist with the accident. He remained at the accident scene for approximately five minutes until other officers arrived. He then went back to where he had left Officer Broome and Ms. Poindexter. He collected the three baggies of heroin and Ms. Poindexter's cellular phone.

         Officer Jinks testified that as a narcotics officer, he routinely searches a suspect's vehicle to look for paraphernalia, contraband, and cash. He noted that when someone is involved in the sale and distribution of heroin, it is common to also find unused baggies, digital scales, numerous cellular phones, large amounts of cash, and firearms. He also noted that when someone is using heroin, it is common to find hypodermic syringes, "small pieces of drinking straws that are cut into about three-inch length[s], " and ...


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