Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville
Session February 13, 2018
from the Circuit Court for Coffee County No. 40424 Vanessa
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.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
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
L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Robert W. Wedemeyer, J.,
L. HOLLOWAY, JR., JUDGE
Factual and Procedural Background
to Dismiss Indictment
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."
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.
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
to Dismiss Appointed Counsel
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
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.
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
THE COURT: Some, uh-huh.
THE DEFENDANT: I'm trying.
THE COURT: Have you ever represented yourself before in a
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
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 ...