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State v. Stoner

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 3, 2019


          Session January 9, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Benton County No. 17CR30 Charles C. McGinley, Judge

         The Defendant was convicted by a jury of three counts of tampering with governmental records and three counts of official misconduct after improperly entering jail credits during his employment as lieutenant over corrections in the Benton County Sheriff's Department. After the verdict, the trial court entered a written order granting the Defendant judgments of acquittal on the three counts of official misconduct and dismissing the counts on the basis that any benefit did not accrue to the Defendant. On appeal, the State argues that the trial court erred in granting the judgments of acquittal. The Defendant asserts that the notice of appeal was untimely and that the trial court properly granted judgments of acquittal. After due consideration, we waive the timely notice of appeal, and we conclude that the trial court erred in its interpretation of the statute. Accordingly, we reverse the granting of judgments of acquittal and remand for further proceedings.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Circuit Court Reversed; Case Remanded

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin Smith (on brief) and Andrew C. Coulam (at oral argument), Senior Assistant Attorneys General; Matthew Stowe, District Attorney General; and Michelle Morris-Deloach, Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Terry J. Leonard, Camden, Tennessee, for the Appellee, Lawrence Dewayne Stoner.

          John Everett Williams, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and J. Ross Dyer, JJ., joined.




         The Defendant was charged with four counts of tampering with governmental records and four counts of official misconduct after Mr. Phillip Christopher, the jail administrator of the Benton County Sheriff's Department, discovered that certain inmates had received what appeared to be unearned jail credits. Mr. Christopher and the Defendant were the only witnesses to testify at the trial.

         Mr. Christopher testified that at the time of the offenses, the Defendant had recently been promoted to the post of lieutenant over corrections, which according to Mr. Christopher, made him "basically the second in command." Both the Defendant and Mr. Christopher were employed by Benton County in a public office. Mr. Christopher stated that the jail administrator is required to implement confinement based on court order and state law. The jail maintains a computer software system which calculates an inmate's release date based on inputs including the time of ordered confinement, start date, and pretrial jail credits. Inmates at the jail have the opportunity to earn credits by working, and credits reduce an inmate's time of confinement. Only Mr. Christopher, the Defendant, a sentence manager, and some assistants had permission to enter work credits. The Defendant was familiar with the software system and had helped to train Mr. Christopher on the use of the software.

         Mr. Christopher testified that the jail used a trustee log to record inmates' work credits. The log would be signed by the inmate and verified by an officer. Each log sheet began on the 26th of one month and ran through the 25th of the following month in order to be compatible with credits given to inmates in state facilities.

         On April 26, 2017, Mr. Christopher noticed that an inmate who should have been transported for a court date was not at the jail. He discovered that the inmate had been released approximately three and one-half days early, and he also found credits given to the inmate which did not match the credits she had earned as reflected in the trustee log sheet.

         Mr. Christopher used the computer program to discover when the credits were entered and who entered them. He testified that the credits were entered prior to being earned, which was atypical. He discovered that inmate was given eleven credit days on February 27, 2017, and eight of these credits were for the period running February 26th to March 25th. He was able to ascertain that there were three credit additions and that one of these was subsequently deleted so that two remained: eight days added for the log sheet roughly encompassing March and three for the period roughly encompassing February. Mr. Christopher testified that the inmate was given eight credits for "March" although the log sheet ultimately reflected that she had only earned six. She was also given credits for February that he could not verify. The credits were added from his computer at approximately 10:00 a.m. on February 27, 2017, under the Defendant's username. Mr. Christopher testified that he was on vacation at the time the credits were added and that the Defendant had permission to access his computer to make changes to work credits. The Defendant did not have permission to give unearned credits.

         The jail was equipped with numerous cameras. The cameras were not synced with the software used to track jail credit, but both were routinely updated, and Mr. Christopher testified that the time stamp on the two would not usually be off by more than a few seconds. A video outside Mr. Christopher's office door showed the Defendant enter at 9:46 a.m. and leave at 10:10 a.m. Another employee, a sergeant, also entered and left during that time period, but the transcript does not reflect the times this other employee was in the office, and the video was not entered as an exhibit.

         Mr. Christopher discovered two other occasions on which an inmate received what appeared to be unearned credit. He testified that one inmate should have earned twenty-one work credits for March but was given twenty-three. The computer program revealed that on March 22, 2017, credits were alternately added to her account and then deleted, for a total of four additions and three deletions. Mr. Christopher testified that administrators would typically do additions and deletions if they were trying to calculate a possible release date in reference to a court appearance. The information would be used to tell an inmate a potential release date contingent on credits being earned. The changes to this inmate's account were made from a kitchen office computer. The cameras showed that the Defendant was in the room with the computer while the changes were made, but the account used to make the changes was not the Defendant's account.

         A third inmate was given twenty-nine days of credit when her log sheet reflected twenty-four days of work. The credits were added on April 11, 2017, though two additions and one deletion from a computer in the Defendant's office under the Defendant's username. The cameras revealed that the ...

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