BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, ROBERTSON AND SULLIVAN
SULLIVAN, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
Michael Joseph DeBussi was convicted of armed robbery and as an habitual criminal pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated 99-19-81 (Supp. 1983), in the Circuit Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Mississippi. He was sentenced to a term of forty-four (44) years without benefit of parole, probation, reduction or suspension of sentence. DeBussi appeals only the sentencing phase of his trial.
Upon the conclusion of the guilt phase of the trial in which the jury found DeBussi guilty but could not agree upon sentencing, the trial court, sitting without a jury, held a hearing to determine if DeBussi should be sentenced as a habitual criminal. It was stipulated that for sentencing purposes DeBussi's life expectancy was forty-five (45) years.
The only evidence produced by the state to show that DeBussi qualified for enhanced sentencing as an habitual offender consisted of two Inmate Identification Worksheets taken from a packet of records of the Arizona Department of Corrections which were verified as true and correct copies by the Correctional Records Administrator in a notarized cover letter. These exhibits were introduced by the assistant district attorney and not through any witness. Over objection, the Worksheets were admitted into evidence. DeBussi offered no evidence and he was then sentenced as an habitual offender under 99-19-81 (Supp. 1983), to a term of 44 years, not beyond his reasonable life expectancy but without the possibility of parole, probation, reduction or suspension of sentence.
WAS IT ERROR TO ADMIT THE ARIZONA INMATE IDENTIFICATION WORKSHEETS TO PROVE THE PRIOR FELONY CONVICTIONS IN THE HABITUAL OFFENDER SENTENCING HEARING?
Mississippi's position on proof of prior convictions respects the substance of the best evidence rule: If the actual judgment of conviction is not introduced, it may only be proved by documents accorded equivalent evidentiary weight by statute.
We have regularly upheld sentences under the habitual criminal statutes where the proof of prior convictions was made by certified copies of the judgments of conviction. Baker v. State, 394 So. 2d 1376 (Miss. 1981); Jackson v. State, 418 So. 2d 827 (Miss. 1982); Crawley v. State, 423 So. 2d 128 (Miss. 1982). This
accords with the basic principle that the best evidence of a conviction is the judgment of conviction. McGowan v. State, 269 So. 2d 645 (Miss. 1972); Brown v. State, 222 Miss. 863, 77 So. 2d 694 (1955).
A summary of the court records certified by the trial judge has been admitted as proof of a prior conviction. In Lovelace v. State, 410 So. 2d 876 (Miss. 1982), the summary was in the form of an abstract of court records certified by the justice court judge as a true copy of his court records. This Court affirmed, 410 So. 2d at 878, citing Vincent v. State, 200 Miss. 423, 27 So. 2d 556 (1956), where evidence of a prior conviction was held to be competently shown by a copy of the docket entries covering the conviction, certified by the justice of the peace before whom the prior conviction was held. In both cases this Court relied on Mississippi Code Annotated 13-1-77 (1972), authorizing a state custodian of public records to certify copies of his records to be received in evidence in all cases where the original would be evidence. These cases appear to treat a summary showing conviction the same as a judgment of conviction because they are certified by the trial judge who has custody of the original records.
The only other documentary evidence that this Court has sanctioned as a substitute for the judgment of conviction is the commitment paper issued by the circuit clerk of the court where the defendant was convicted. Pace v. State, 407 So. 2d 530 (Miss. 1981). In Pace, the Custodian of Records of Mississippi State Penitentiary took the stand and identified Pace's original prison file. In addition to the original commitment papers for Pace's prior convictions, photographs and summary sheets from the prison files were introduced in evidence.
Pace argued on appeal that the commitment papers were not the best evidence of conviction. This Court held that, because a commitment paper issued by the circuit clerk pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated 99-19-45 (1972) constitutes statutory authority to transfer a prisoner to the penitentiary and for the penitentiary to accept the prisoner, the statute effectively makes a commitment paper evidence of conviction.
Certainly, if a commitment paper is sufficient to authorize the penitentiary officials to receive and imprison the person named therein for service of the
sentence shown, it is admissible in court as evidence of the conviction of such person without the necessity of ...