JEFFREY LANCE HILL a/k/a JEFFREY L. HILL a/k/a JEFF HILL a/k/a JEFFREY HILL a/k/a JEFFREY SCOTT HILL a/k/a JEFFREY L. HILL
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/03/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. LEE SORRELS COLEMAN.
FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, BY: MOLLIE MARIE McMILLIN, GEORGE T. HOLMES.
FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: SCOTT STUART.
BEFORE WALLER, C.J., LAMAR AND PIERCE, JJ. WALLER, C.J., DICKINSON, P.J., LAMAR, CHANDLER AND KING, JJ., CONCUR. KITCHENS, J., CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY WALLER, C.J., DICKINSON, P.J., CHANDLER AND KING, JJ., COLEMAN, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY RANDOLPH, P.J.
NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY
¶1. Jeffrey Lance Hill was indicted by an Oktibbeha County grand jury of possession of a firearm on educational property (the campus of Mississippi State University) in violation of Mississippi Code Section 97-37-17(2) (Rev. 2006). In two jury trials, Hill represented himself with the assistance and advice of court-appointed counsel. Hill's first trial resulted in a hung jury. Hill was found guilty of the indicted offense in his second trial and was sentenced to three years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) and ordered to pay a $1,200 fine. The trial court denied Hill's post-trial motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). This appeal followed.
¶2. Hill challenges his conviction based on the following two issues: (I) Whether Hill's right to counsel and a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment was violated when the trial court refused to allow Hill's court-appointed counsel, Stephanie Mallette, to withdraw; and (II) whether the trial court erred when it failed to grant Hill's motion for a new trial on the ground that the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.
¶3. Finding error as to the first issue, we reverse Hill's conviction and remand the case to the trial court for a new trial. We decline to address the second issue concerning whether the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.
¶4. In September 2010, the Mississippi State University Police Department received a report that Hill possibly was in possession of a firearm at Aiken Village Apartments on the campus of Mississippi State University. The department sent Detective Steve Westbrook and two other officers to investigate the report. When the officers arrived at Hill's apartment, Hill's roommate allowed them to enter. Once the officers were inside, Hill entered the room and spoke with the officers. Out of concern for officer safety, Westbrook asked Hill if there were any weapons in his bedroom, and Hill responded that he had a rifle in his closet. Westbrook and Hill retrieved the weapon together. Hill was then arrested for having a firearm on campus property. Hill told the officers that he had no other firearms, but that he had had ammunition in his vehicle.
¶5. Hill's first trial in January 2012 resulted in a hung jury. Hill's second trial in May 2012 resulted in a conviction of the charged offense. Hill chose to represent himself at both trials with the assistance of court-appointed advisory counsel, Stephanie Mallette. The result of the second trial is the only matter before us.
¶6. There was no dispute that Hill was in possession of a World War II Era Russian Mosin Nagant rifle, in working condition, and 440 rounds of ammunition, while living at the Aiken Village Apartments. Hill's defense at trial centered completely on his belief that Aiken Village Apartments were not located on the campus of Mississippi State University (MSU).
¶7. During its case-in-chief, the State displayed a campus map and established that Aiken Village Apartments were represented on the map. The State introduced Vicky Gallegos, the Housing Assignment Specialist for MSU Housing and Residence Life, who explained that any student obtaining housing through the university must go online, access his personal student account with his student ID and password, read the housing contract and terms and conditions, then select that the terms have been read and agreed to. Further, the student is instructed to read the " Rules and Regulations" and " Prohibited Items" sections of the web page, which includes the instruction that no firearms, ammunition, and other forms of weapons are allowed on any part of the campus, including student housing. The State admitted evidence demonstrating how these rules were displayed to the student. Gallegos confirmed that Hill could not have applied for housing without reading and acknowledging these rules and that the university received electronic confirmation when Hill acknowledged the terms and regulations. She also provided that the documents explain the complete applicability of the rules to overflow housing.
¶8. On cross-examination, Hill sought to show that he was never given a housing contract that specifically stated that Aiken Village Apartments were part of the overflow accommodations or that the apartments were owned by the university. Testimony revealed that Hill was asked by the university and consented to being moved to an overflow accommodation. Exhibits were entered into evidence indicating that Hill had signed his inventory form for Aiken Village, which displayed the university's name on the form. Also revealed was the fact that Hill's housing costs were paid from Hill's student account with the university. Photos also were introduced showing the apartment's sign including the term " University Housing."
¶9. Hill testified at trial to his belief that he did not live on university property by the fact that the apartments had a Starkville, Mississippi, mailing address, unlike residence halls, which have a Mississippi State, Mississippi, address, with different zip codes. Among other reasons, Hill claimed the apartments did not have the strict parking signs seen on campus, yet he had received a parking ticket for not having a parking decal. He also stated that Aiken Village appears to be outside of campus because he passed the ten-foot wall displaying " Mississippi State University" en route to the apartments, which gave him the impression that he was exiting the campus. Further, he explained that he knew firearms were prohibited on campus, so he had never before brought the rifle from his home in Arkansas until he moved into Aiken Village because of his belief that he was not on university property. Hill stated that he had obtained the rifle for hunting, but testimony from Detective Westbrook confirmed that Hill did not have a hunting license.
¶10. Also during the trial, it became known for the first time that a confidential informant originally had alerted the police about Hill's possible possession of the firearm. Once the existence of a confidential informant became known, Mallette argued to the trial court the validity of keeping the informant's identity and statement confidential. Mallette also raised the issue of a discovery violation, since the existence of the informant never before had been mentioned. The State responded that it did not have to reveal the identity of the informant, because Detective Westbrook was the eyewitness to the crime. Prior to the incident, the informant merely had reported to authorities that Hill was possibly in possession of a firearm. After much debate, the trial court ultimately ruled that no discovery violation had occurred and ordered that the police report be provided to the defense after any information regarding the identity of the informant had been redacted. The trial court ordered that a nonredacted copy would be preserved for the record under seal. The State, however, failed to properly redact a portion of the report that was given to Mallette, thereby revealing to Mallette that the informant was Hill's roommate.
¶11. Afterward, Mallette moved the trial court to allow her to withdraw from representing Hill. The trial court heard Mallette's motion in chambers, on the record. Mallette told the trial court that she could not fulfill her ethical obligation to Hill and as well as her ethical obligation to the trial court not to reveal the informant's identity as Hill's roommate. She said she would have advised Hill to call his roommate as a witness, had she been given the report before the trial began. Mallette also explained that Hill previously had consulted with her about when to rest his ...