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State v. Odell

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 3, 2019

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
JOAN ODELL

          Session: August 7, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Dyer County No. 17-CR-198 R. Lee Moore, Jr., Judge

         The Defendant, Joan Odell, appeals from her felony conviction for failure to appear, which resulted in a sentence of two years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support her conviction and challenges the jury instructions. She also contends that the State engaged in purposeful discrimination in striking a prospective juror in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). We conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction and that there was no reversible error in the instructions. However, the trial court failed to comply with the procedure set forth in Batson by denying the Defendant's Batson claim based upon the Defendant's race, and we remand for a hearing on the issue.

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

          James E. Lanier, District Public Defender; and Sean P. Day, Assistant District Public Defender, for the appellant, Joan Odell.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Katharine K. Decker, Assistant Attorney General; Danny Goodman, Jr., District Attorney General; and Karen Burns, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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

          OPINION

          JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, PRESIDING JUDGE

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         According to the evidence presented at trial, the Defendant was on probation for a prior felony conviction; she was charged with violating the terms of her probation; and she failed to appear at the probation hearing. A probation violation warrant was filed on March 2, 2017; the Defendant was arrested on the warrant on March 6th; and a bond in the amount of $5, 000 was set. On March 20th, Ms. Lillie Cooper with Volunteer Bonding posted the bond on the Defendant's behalf.

         The Defendant signed an appearance bond, which listed her court date as April 11, 2017, at 9:00 a.m. Ms. Cooper testified that she obtained the court date from the intake sheet at the Dyer County Sheriff's Office. She stated that by signing the appearance bond, the Defendant agreed to appear at the court hearings and to contact the bonding company if her address changed. Ms. Cooper said she provided the Defendant with a document that listed the date of the hearing as April 11, 2017, at 9:00 a.m., as well as the location of the hearing.

         The Defendant failed to appear at the April 11th hearing, and the trial court entered an order revoking and forfeiting the Defendant's bond. Based upon the trial court's order, a capias was issued for the Defendant's arrest, and a scire facias was issued to the bonding company, notifying the company of the Defendant's failure to appear.

         Ms. Cooper, who was present at the April 11th hearing, attempted to contact the Defendant when she failed to appear but was unable to reach her. Ms. Cooper was able to reach one of the Defendant's contacts listed on her bond application, and the contact informed Ms. Cooper of the Defendant's location. Ms. Cooper testified that the Defendant had changed addresses but had failed to inform Ms. Cooper of the change. Ms. Cooper went to the apartment where the Defendant was located and transported her to jail.

         On cross-examination, Ms. Cooper testified that she was able to quickly locate the Defendant, who was in Dyer County. Ms. Cooper stated that when she arrived at the Defendant's address, the Defendant appeared confused and assumed that Ms. Cooper was there to take her to court. The Defendant informed Ms. Cooper that the Defendant had arranged for someone to take her to court but that the person had not come. Ms. Cooper agreed that the Defendant did not appear to be attempting to abscond but that the Defendant seemed "very confused in her thinking." Ms. Cooper testified on redirect examination that she did not have a prior agreement with the Defendant to transport her to court for her hearing.

         Both Ms. Cooper and Ms. Bridgette Brown, a deputy clerk at the Dyer County Circuit Court Clerk's Office, agreed that in the past, some defendants who had posted bond had expressed confusion or a misunderstanding regarding their initial court dates. Ms. Cooper and Ms. Brown testified that the April 11th court date was the correct date, and Ms. Cooper stated that the date was provided to the Defendant.

         The Defendant testified that she had arranged for someone to drive her to court but that the person did not arrive to take her to court until Ms. Cooper arrived. On cross-examination, the Defendant acknowledged that she signed the appearance bond, which listed her court date as April 11, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. She also acknowledged that she did not arrange for Ms. Cooper to transport her to court for her hearing and that Ms. Cooper happened to show up at the Defendant's address. When questioned by the State regarding her failure to inform the bonding company of her change in address, the Defendant stated that her brother, who had arranged for the bonding company to post her bond, listed "that address" on papers provided to the bonding company.

         The Defendant acknowledged that she had prior convictions for theft of property valued at under $500 and for writing bad checks. She denied being convicted of criminal impersonation in 2008. She acknowledged that in January 2016, she entered an Alford plea to theft of property valued over $10, 000, a Class C felony, but maintained that it was a "false charge." She acknowledged that she was on probation for this conviction when the probation violation warrant was issued. The State presented certified judgments of her conviction for criminal impersonation in 2008 and her felony theft conviction.

         The jury convicted the Defendant of failure to appear, and the trial court imposed a two-year sentence to be served consecutively to her prior sentences. The Defendant filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. The Defendant appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and the jury instructions. The Defendant also contends that the State engaged in purposeful discrimination in striking a prospective juror in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Sufficiency

         The Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support her conviction, asserting that her absence from the probation revocation proceeding did not constitute failure to appear as criminalized in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-609. The Defendant relies upon former subsection (d), which provides that failure to appear is a Class A misdemeanor "[i]f the occasion for which the defendant's appearance is required is a misdemeanor," and upon former subsection (e), which provides that failure to appear is a Class E felony "[i]f the occasion for which the defendant's appearance is required is a Class A misdemeanor or a felony."[1] T.C.A. § 39-16-609(d), (e) (2014). The Defendant maintains that because the violation of probation is not classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense, the failure to appear at a probation revocation proceeding is not a criminal offense pursuant to section 39-16-609.

         When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the relevant question for this court is "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). On appeal, "'the State is entitled to the strongest legitimate view of the evidence and to all reasonable and legitimate inferences that may be drawn therefrom.'" State v. Elkins, 102 S.W.3d 578, 581 (Tenn. 2003) (quoting State v. Smith, 24 S.W.3d 274, 279 (Tenn. 2000)). Therefore, this court will not re-weigh or reevaluate the evidence. State v. Matthews, 805 S.W.2d 776, 779 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1990). Instead, it is the trier of fact, not this court, who resolves any questions concerning "the credibility of witnesses, the weight and value to be given the evidence, as well as all factual issues raised by the evidence." State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 659 (Tenn. 1997).

         A guilty verdict removes the presumption of innocence and replaces it with a presumption of guilt. State v. Evans, 838 S.W.2d 185, 191 (Tenn. 1992). The burden is then shifted to the defendant on appeal to demonstrate why the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction. State v. Tuggle, 639 S.W.2d 913, 914 (Tenn. 1982). This court applies the same standard of review regardless of whether the conviction was predicated on direct or circumstantial evidence. State v. Dorantes, 331 S.W.3d 370, 381 (Tenn. 2011). "Circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to support a conviction, and the circumstantial evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt." State v. Wagner, 382 S.W.3d 289, 297 (Tenn. 2012).

         The Defendant's assertion that her absence from the probation violation hearing does not constitute the offense of failure to appear as provided in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-609 involves an issue of statutory construction. Issues of statutory construction are questions of law, which this court reviews de novo with no presumption of correctness. State v. Henderson, 531 S.W.3d 687, 692 (Tenn. 2017) (citing State v. Springer, 406 S.W.3d 526, 532-33 (Tenn. 2013)). In interpreting a statute, we must "ascertain and effectuate" the intent of the Legislature. Id. (citing Baker v. State, 417 S.W.3d 428, 433 (Tenn. 2013)). We must accord the words of the statute "their natural and ordinary meaning" and construe the statute "in a reasonable manner which avoids statutory conflict." Id. (citing Baker, 417 S.W.3d at 433). "'[W]e presume that every word in the statute has meaning and purpose and should be given full effect if the obvious intent of the General Assembly is not violated by so doing.'" Id. (quoting Larsen-Ball v. Ball, 301 S.W.3d 228, 232 (Tenn. 2010)). If the statute's language is clear and unambiguous, "'the legislative intent shall be derived from the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory language.'" Id. (quoting State v. Wilson, 132 S.W.3d 340, 341 (Tenn. 2004)). If the statute's language is ambiguous, we must examine the entire statutory scheme and "rely upon well-established canons of statutory construction in order to ascertain the legislative intent." Id. (citing State v. Marshall, 319 S.W.3d 558, 561 (Tenn. 2010); Wilson, 132 S.W.3d at 341).

         As applicable to the present case, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-16-609(a) prohibits a person from knowingly failing to appear "as directed by a lawful authority if the person … [h]as been lawfully released from custody, with or without bail, on condition of subsequent appearance at an official proceeding or penal institution at a specified time or place[.]" T.C.A. § 39-16-609(a)(4) (2014). "'Official proceeding' means any type of administrative, executive, legislative or judicial proceeding that may be conducted before a public servant authorized by law to take statements under oath." T.C.A. § 39-11-106(a)(25). A probation revocation hearing falls within the ...


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