Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs September 20, 2017
from the Criminal Court for Carter County No. 23390A Lisa
Carter County Criminal Court Jury found the Appellant, Robert
Landon Webster, guilty of three counts of selling .5 grams or
more of cocaine, one of which was within a school zone. The
trial court sentenced the Appellant to a total effective
sentence of fifteen years. On appeal, the Appellant contends
that his right to confrontation was violated because the
State failed to call a confidential informant as a witness at
trial and that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain his
convictions. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
Gregory S. Norris, Elizabethton, Tennessee, for the
Appellant, Robert Landon Webster.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; James
E. Gaylord, Senior Counsel; Anthony Wade Clark, District
Attorney General; and Dennis Brooks, Assistant District
Attorney General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Robert W. Wedemeyer and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE
Appellant was charged with three counts of selling .5 grams
or more of cocaine, one of which was within a school zone,
based upon transactions with Phillip Williams who was working
as a confidential informant with the Elizabethton Police
trial, Corporal John Bulla with the Elizabethton Police
Department testified as an expert in the field of narcotics
investigations. Corporal Bulla said that after he arrested
Mr. Williams, Mr. Williams agreed to work as a confidential
informant in an attempt to gain consideration from the police
and the district attorney general's office. Mr. Williams
suggested that he purchase cocaine from the Appellant, and he
did so on three occasions.
Bulla said that the first transaction occurred on March 20,
2015. For weeks, Mr. Williams had been attempting to gain the
Appellant's trust, and he told the Appellant that he was
"down on his luck" and needed to make money.
Immediately prior to the transaction, Corporal Bulla and Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) Task Force Agent Mike Commons met
Mr. Williams at a predetermined location. The officers
searched Mr. Williams, his vehicle, and his wife, Ashley
Williams, who was accompanying him during the transaction, to
ensure they had no contraband or money. Thereafter, Corporal
Bulla gave Mr. Williams $240 in cash from the "drug
fund" to make the purchase. The officers also equipped
Mr. and Mrs. Williams with a device so they could record the
transaction as it occurred. Mr. and Mrs. Williams drove to
the Appellant's residence, and the officers followed them
in a separate vehicle, stopping far enough from the residence
to avoid being seen but close enough to monitor the
Bulla recalled that Mr. and Mrs. Williams entered the
Appellant's residence at 9:22 p.m. As he was monitoring
the recording device, Corporal Bulla heard the Appellant
explain he was giving Mr. Williams $5 in change because the
crack cocaine cost only $235. After the transaction, Mr. and
Mrs. Williams left the residence at 9:32 p.m. and met with
Corporal Bulla and Agent Commons. The officers again searched
Mr. and Mrs. Williams and their vehicle. Mr. Williams gave
Corporal Bulla the $5 and a substance that appeared to be
crack cocaine. The substance was tested by the Tennessee
Bureau of Investigation (TBI), and it was determined to be
.57 grams of crack cocaine. Corporal Bulla did not pay Mr.
Williams for his work as a confidential informant.
Bulla said that the next transaction occurred at the
residence of the Appellant's mother on March 23, 2015.
Corporal Bulla said the residence was located 758.6 feet
"straight line distance" from Harold McCormick
Elementary School. The Appellant chose the location of the
transaction. Prior to the transaction, Corporal Bulla and
Agent Commons met with Mr. and Mrs. Williams, searched them
and their vehicle, and equipped them with a recording device.
Corporal Bulla gave Mr. Williams $250 to make the purchase.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams drove their vehicle to the prearranged
location, and the officers followed. Mr. and Mrs. Williams
arrived at the location at 7:52 p.m. As Corporal Bulla
monitored the transaction, he heard Mr. Williams, Mrs.
Williams, and the Appellant discussing the weight of the
product that was being sold to Mr. Williams. Corporal Bulla
heard the Appellant say "that when he re-ups, meaning
when he gets more drugs, that he will sell [Mr. Williams] a
ball, which is a determined amount of cocaine for $185."
After the transaction, Mr. and Mrs. Williams left the
residence at 7:59 p.m. and immediately met Corporal Bulla and
Agent Commons. The officers searched them, and Mr. Williams
gave Corporal Bulla the substance he had purchased from the
Appellant. TBI testing revealed that the substance was .92
grams of crack cocaine.
Bulla said that the final transaction between Mr. Williams
and the Appellant occurred at the Appellant's South
Second Street residence on March 28, 2015. Once again,
Corporal Bulla and Agent Commons met with Mr. and Mrs.
Williams before the transaction, searched them and their
vehicle, and equipped them with a recording device. Corporal
Bulla gave Mr. Williams $300 to make the purchase. Corporal
Bulla and Agent Commons then followed Mr. and Mrs. Williams
to the Appellant's residence. The informants arrived at
the Appellant's residence at approximately 6:51 p.m. and
left at approximately 7:02 p.m. After the transaction,
Corporal Bulla and Agent Commons met Mr. and Mrs. Williams.
Mr. Williams gave Corporal Bulla the substance he had
purchased from the Appellant; the substance was in three
separate bags. The officers searched Mr. and Mrs. Williams
but found no other contraband. TBI testing revealed that the
first bag obtained by Mr. Williams contained .88 grams of
crack cocaine; the other two bags contained a total of .72
grams of "rock-like substance, " but no analysis
was performed on the substance in those bags.
cross-examination, Corporal Bulla acknowledged that he was
not present for the transactions, that he could not see the
transactions, and that he only listened as the transactions
took place. Corporal Bulla said that both Mr. and Mrs.
Williams were working for the police as confidential
informants. Corporal Bulla acknowledged that Mr.
Williams' "case" was "still in the process
but he has received some consideration . . . ."
Bulla recalled that Mr. and Mrs. Williams drove "a green
older model BMW." He thoroughly searched the vehicle for
contraband before the transactions but did not dismantle the
vehicle to search for any secret compartments. He also
searched Mr. and Mrs. Williams prior to the transactions but
did not strip search them. Corporal Bulla acknowledged that
after each transaction, he weighed the crack cocaine
immediately upon receipt from Mr. Williams. The field weights
he reported, 2.1 grams, 2 grams, and approximately 3 grams,
respectively, were heavier than the weights determined by the
TBI. When asked about the discrepancy between the field
weights and the weights determined by the TBI, Corporal Bulla
explained that he weighed the crack cocaine while it was
inside the packaging, that sometimes the packaging was large,