Before Bridges, C.j., Hinkebein, And King, JJ.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hinkebein, J.
DATE OF JUDGMENT: November 20, 1996
TRIAL JUDGE: HON. FORREST A. JOHNSON
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: ADAMS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY
TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: SALE OF A SCHEDULE II CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE, COCAINE: SENTENCED TO SERVE A TERM OF 20 YRS IN THE MDOC; PAY A FINE IN THE AMOUNT OF $5,000 & PAY ALL COURT COSTS
¶1. Leo Joseph Blanton (Blanton) was convicted in the Circuit Court of Adams County of selling cocaine. Blanton was sentenced to serve a term of twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and pay a fine of $5000. Aggrieved by his conviction, he appeals to this Court on the following grounds:
"I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING APPELLANT'S MOTION FOR A CONTINUANCE IN ORDER TO INVESTIGATE THE INFORMATION OBTAINED BY DEFENSE COUNSEL ON THE MORNING OF THE TRIAL. "II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE MOTION FOR DIRECTED VERDICT BASED ON A CHAIN OF CUSTODY VIOLATION AS TO THE CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE ADMITTED INTO EVIDENCE."
¶2. Holding these assignments of error to be without merit, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
¶3. On July 3, 1996, the Metro Narcotics Unit of Adams County was conducting an operation aimed at street level drug dealers in Natchez, Mississippi. Taking part in the operation was John Delaughter (Delaughter), a confidential informant and private citizen working with narcotics agents. Delaughter, an admitted former drug addict, was paid anywhere from forty to eighty dollars for each case he was involved in. Delaughter had no criminal record, and there were no pending charges against him. On the day in question, Delaughter's job was to purchase drugs while the illegal transactions were being recorded on videotape. The record reveals the procedure followed by narcotics agents prior to sending Delaughter out to make the drug buys. The agents first searched Delaughter and his pickup truck for drugs, weapons, and money. A concealed video camera was then installed in Delaughter's truck to record the drug purchases. Delaughter also wore a body wire so that Narcotics officers could monitor the drug transactions as they occurred. After agents briefed Delaughter on his assignment, they supplied him with money with which to purchase the illegal drugs.
¶4. On the date in question, Delaughter was instructed to drive along Woodville Road in Natchez through a section known as "The Field". Delaughter testified that as he was driving, he was waved over by Blanton who was sitting in a car parked on the side of the road. According to Delaughter, and as shown by the videotape later played to the jury, Blanton approached the pick-up truck and asked Delaughter what he wanted. Delaughter told Blanton he wanted "a twenty", and Blanton then produced a single rock of crack cocaine in exchange for a twenty dollar bill. Delaughter testified that he placed the rock of crack cocaine on the console of his truck. As he drove away, he relayed Blanton's physical description and license plate number to narcotics agents over the body wire he was wearing. After the purchase, the agents began following Delaughter in their vehicle and rendezvoused with him at a different location. Delaughter testified that Agent Dale Cowan (Cowan) retrieved the crack cocaine and placed it in a bag. The videotape of the transaction was also removed and replaced with a new blank cassette. At trial, Delaughter identified Blanton as the person who had sold him the cocaine and also stated that the videotape fairly and accurately depicted the transaction. Cowan also testified that the videotape of the drug sale accurately reflected what agents heard of the transaction over the body wire worn by Delaughter.
¶5. Cowan's testimony essentially reiterated most of Delaughter's version of events, but also included information as to the handling of the cocaine after it was retrieved from Delaughter. While Cowan could not recall whether he or one of the other officers actually removed the cocaine from Delaughter's truck, he stated that once it was in his possession he placed it in a heat sealed evidence bag, initialed the bag, and placed it in an evidence locker. The cocaine remained there until it was received by the Mississippi Crime Laboratory two weeks later. Monica Ardis, a forensic scientist ...