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State v. Champion

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 18, 2018

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
NATHANIEL MORTON CHAMPION

          Session February 13, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Coffee County No. 40424 Vanessa Jackson, Judge

         A Coffee County jury convicted the Defendant, Nathaniel Morton Champion, of possession of contraband in a penal institution, a Class C felony, for which the trial court imposed an eight-year sentence to run consecutively to the Defendant's prior sentences. On appeal, the Defendant contends that: (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the indictment based on the State's failure to preserve evidence pursuant to State v. Ferguson, 2 S.W.3d 912 (Tenn. 1999); (2) the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support his conviction; (3) the trial court abused its discretion by denying the Defendant's request for a continuance based on the failure of a defense witness to appear to testify at trial; (4) the Defendant's waiver of the right to counsel was not knowing and intelligent; and (5) the trial court abused its discretion by enhancing the Defendant's sentence to eight years and ordering consecutive sentencing. Following a thorough review, we affirm the Defendant's judgment of conviction.

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

          Jeremy W. Parham (on appeal), Manchester, Tennessee, and J. Brad Hannah (elbow counsel at trial), Smithville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Nathaniel Morton Champion.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Richard D. Douglas, Assistant Attorney General; Craig Northcott, District Attorney General; and Brittany Hoskins, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Motion to Dismiss Indictment

         In August 2013, the Coffee County Grand Jury indicted the Defendant for one count of possession of a controlled substance in a penal institution. Following his indictment, trial counsel was appointed to represent the Defendant. On July 9, 2014, the Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment based on the State's failure to preserve the video recording of the Defendant's booking at the Coffee County Jail. The Defendant argued pursuant to Ferguson that he was deprived of the fundamental right to a fair trial. The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing before trial in consideration of the Defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment. Deputy Sharketti testified that he conducted a pat-down search of the Defendant for weapons before he transported the Defendant to the Coffee County Jail. Upon arrival at the jail, Deputy Sharketti asked the Defendant several times whether he had any weapons or drugs, and the deputy told the Defendant that those items were prohibited inside the jail. The Defendant denied having any drugs or weapons. Once in the booking area of the jail, the Defendant was searched by a jailer. Deputy Sharketti observed the search and saw the jailer pull a "rolled-up, " "flattened-out" dollar bill from the Defendant's front pocket. When the jailer placed the dollar into a "slot" that went into the jail's control room, Deputy Sharketti saw a "white/tan crystal-like substance" spill out of the dollar bill. Deputy Sharketti testified that he did not notice any unusual reaction from the Defendant following the discovery of the substance. However, Deputy Sharketti recalled at trial that the Defendant said, "[T]hat's not mine, I didn't know it was there."

         Captain Watkins testified that, although there was a video surveillance system in the booking area of the Coffee County Jail, there was "only so much storage space" on the video surveillance system and, video would automatically record over itself after three to five weeks, depending on the amount of activity in the area of the cameras. Captain Watkins explained that he had the capability of saving a particular recording if notified of "the specific date and time of the incident[] and the location of the incident." However, he never received a request for the video recording of the Defendant's booking to be saved.

         The trial court determined that the video recording of the Defendant being booked into the jail had "potential exculpatory value" and was "probably constitutionally material." The trial court found that there was not "a great deal of negligence involved." The court noted that Captain Watkins had no notice that the video recording would be of any probative value, and the video recording was recorded over "just in the ordinary course of the way things worked because of the way the system [was] set up." Regarding the significance of the evidence in light of its probative value and the reliability of substitute evidence, the trial court noted that there was not dispute that a dollar bill containing a substance was found in the Defendant's pocket and that there were no allegations that the evidence was "planted" on the Defendant. The trial court found that Deputy Sharketti's testimony regarding the Defendant's reaction to the discovery was a "type of secondary evidence" and found that the deputy's testimony was "fairly reliable." When it considered these factors along with the sufficiency of the other evidence against the Defendant, the trial court determined that "the extreme remedy of dismissal is not appropriate in this case" and that the appropriate remedy was for it to provide an instruction to the jury concerning inferences that jurors may draw from the fact that the tape was not preserved.

         Motion to Dismiss Appointed Counsel

         Approximately three months before his scheduled trial, the Defendant filed a pro se motion to dismiss appointed counsel. In his motion, the Defendant asserted that the trial court should dismiss trial counsel because appointed counsel had refused to "file a motion to suppress the evidence knowing the parole violation warrant was obtained by a false affidavit"; "file a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at the preliminary hearing stage in a motion to suppress"; and "challenge the jurisdiction" of the trial court. Appointed counsel also filed a motion to withdraw from the case. Following an initial hearing on the motions, the trial court granted the Defendant a two-day continuance to consider whether he wanted appointed counsel to continue to represent him or whether he wished to proceed pro se.[1]

         At a second hearing, the trial court noted that the Defendant had been given additional time to weigh his options because of the "serious" nature of the charges and stated that the Defendant "would be better served if [he] had an attorney." The trial court asked the Defendant if he had the opportunity to contemplate the matter, and the Defendant responded affirmatively. The trial court noted that appointed counsel "did an excellent job" representing the Defendant "in all of the hearings up to this point" but that it would grant the Defendant's motion to dismiss appointed counsel, if that was what the Defendant still wanted. The trial court advised the Defendant that it was his choice and that it wanted to "make sure [the Defendant] understood what [he was] doing." Further, the trial court advised the Defendant that it had previously appointed counsel to represent him and that the court was "not going to appoint anyone else." The trial court explained that the Defendant could either go forward with appointed counsel, retain his own counsel, or represent himself. The Defendant stated that he wanted to represent himself.

         The following colloquy then took place between the trial court and the Defendant:

THE COURT: All right. Now, let me just -- you did an excellent job on your motion. And so you do have some knowledge of the law, apparently. Is that correct . . .
THE DEFENDANT: Not really. I'm -- well, some. Some, I guess.
THE COURT: Some, uh-huh.
THE DEFENDANT: I'm trying.
THE COURT: Have you ever represented yourself before in a criminal matter?
THE DEFENDANT: Just a few little hearings.
THE COURT: Okay. All right. And you know you are charged in this case with possession of a controlled substance in a penal institution, which is a Class C felony. You understand that, sir?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.
THE COURT: And that is a very serious offense. I -- the range of punishment, that would, of course, depend upon what range offender you are, but it -- you can get any -- if you were a Range I offender, it would be three to six years. But depending, as I said, upon the range, you might could go all the way up to 15 years on that. Do you understand that?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.
THE COURT: So it's very serious. So you-- you might be better off to have an attorney since you've said you hadn't studied the law. You're making --
THE DEFENDANT: Well, I don't think my enhancements will be up to 15 years.
THE COURT: All right.
THE DEFENDANT: That's for sure.
THE COURT: But it's still serious.
THE DEFENDANT: It's very serious.
THE COURT: Three to six years is pretty serious . . .
THE DEFENDANT: Six months is serious --
THE COURT: Yes, sir.
THE DEFENDANT: -- to be locked up and incarcerated.
THE COURT: It would be to me. So are you sure you --
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.
THE COURT: You sure you want to represent yourself --
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am.
THE COURT: -- knowing how serious all this is?
THE DEFENDANT: Yes, ma'am, I would rather go ...

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