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State v. Chavez

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 12, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs July 16, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Lincoln County No. 17-CR-136 Forest A. Durard, Jr., Judge

         A Lincoln County Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Walter Roy Chavez, Jr., of possession of one-half gram or more of methamphetamine with intent to resell, possession of one-half gram or more of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, simple possession of marijuana, and driving on a revoked license. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the convictions of possession of methamphetamine and ordered that he serve an effective twelve years in confinement. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions of possession of methamphetamine and that the trial court erred by ordering an excessive sentence and by denying his request for alternative sentencing. Based upon the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

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

          William J. Harold, Lewisburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Walter Roy Chavez, Jr.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ruth Anne Thompson, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Robert James Carter, District Attorney General; and Ann L. Filer, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Alan E. Glenn, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual Background

         Investigator Jesse Mills, an officer with the Narcotics Unit of the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department (LCSD), testified that on the night of March 18, 2017, he and Sergeant Mike Pitts were working in the southwest area of the county. As they were traveling on Cheatham Road in Sergeant Pitts' unmarked police vehicle, they saw a white pickup truck pull out of a driveway and "[take] off" at a high rate of speed. The driver was driving erratically on Cheatham Road and was not wearing a seatbelt, so Sergeant Pitts activated his vehicle's blue lights to stop the truck.

         Investigator Mills testified that the driver turned left onto Old Elkton Pike and pulled onto the left shoulder of the road instead of the right shoulder. The truck slowed, the driver's door opened four to six inches, and a clear plastic container dropped out of the bottom of the door. The door shut, and the truck continued moving forward on the left side of the roadway for another twelve to fifteen feet before it came to a stop. Sergeant Pitts stopped behind the pickup.

         Investigator Mills testified that he approached the passenger side and that the Appellant was the driver and the only person in the truck. Investigator Mills asked for the Appellant's driver's license and informed him that the police had stopped him for "no seatbelt and erratic driving." The Appellant handed Investigator Mills a Tennessee identification card, and Investigator Mills recognized the Appellant and knew his license had been revoked. At that point, Sergeant Pitts approached the driver's side of the pickup and asked the Appellant to get out of the truck. Investigator Mills noticed that Sergeant Pitts was holding the clear plastic container they had seen drop from the driver's door. Sergeant Pitts arrested the Appellant, and Investigator Mills handcuffed him.

         Investigator Mills testified that he had the Appellant sit on the truck's tailgate. He looked into the clear plastic container and saw "a couple of plastic baggies containing methamphetamine ice," which looked like ice crystals. Investigator Mills read Miranda warnings to the Appellant, searched him, and found $166 on his person. Investigator Mills then searched the truck and found additional plastic containers. Some of the containers contained marijuana, and some of the containers contained baggies of what appeared to be methamphetamine ice residue. Investigator Mills stated, "Through my training and experience I have seen having the baggies where you have one large quantity of a drug you break that large quantity down to smaller quantities to be able to distribute or sell." Investigator Mills described the amount of marijuana as "small." He said that some of the marijuana was "raw" and that some of it was in "roach" cigarettes. Investigator Mills also found a glass marijuana pipe with burnt marijuana residue inside the bowl of the pipe.

         Investigator Mills testified that the LCSD seized the Appellant's money and truck and that the Appellant did not challenge the seizure. While Investigator Mills was explaining the seizure paperwork to the Appellant at the jail, he asked if the Appellant was employed. The Appellant said yes but that he "had to sell drugs to help make ends meet."

         On cross-examination, Investigator Mills acknowledged that the drugs in the baggies could have been for the Appellant's personal use. Marijuana residue in the glass pipe suggested personal use of the marijuana.

         Sergeant Mike Pitts of the LCSD's Narcotics Unit testified that about 10:00 p.m. on March 18, 2017, he and Investigator Mills were traveling on Cheatham Road. They saw a white pickup truck exit a driveway and turn left in front of them. The officers followed the truck and noticed that it was "traveling at a high[er] rate of speed than the posted speed limit." Sergeant Pitts estimated that the truck was traveling sixty-five to seventy miles per hour and said that the truck also was "traveling in the wrong lanes, taking up both lanes." Sergeant Pitts got "right up behind" the truck. He said that his headlights were shining into the pickup truck, that the driver was not wearing a seatbelt, and that he activated his blue lights for a traffic stop.

         Sergeant Pitts testified that the driver turned left onto Old Elkton Pike. However, instead of pulling onto the right shoulder, the driver crossed the oncoming lane of traffic and drove the pickup onto the left shoulder. Sergeant Pitts said that the driver's door opened six to eight inches and that a clear container was "tossed out." The truck pulled forward ten to fifteen feet and came to a stop, and Sergeant Pitts stopped behind it. Investigator Mills approached the passenger side of the truck while Sergeant Pitts exited his police vehicle. Sergeant Pitts said he "took about two steps and observed a white clear container laying on the edge ...

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