Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Snowden v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

February 11, 2014

William Edward SNOWDEN a/k/a William E. Snowden, Appellant
v.
STATE of Mississippi, Appellee.

Page 1252

James B. Everett, Decatur, attorney for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Elliott George Flaggs, attorney for appellee.

EN BANC.

ROBERTS, J.

¶ 1. A jury sitting before the Newton County Circuit Court found William Edward Snowden guilty of aggravated assault. The circuit court sentenced Snowden to twenty years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections with fifteen years suspended and five years to serve. Snowden appeals and raises five issues. However, we find merit to one of Snowden's issues. Because that issue is outcome determinative, his remaining four issues are moot. In particular, we find that the circuit court erred by allowing the prosecution to proceed on an indictment that specifically charged Snowden with aggravated assault under Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-7(2)(a) (Rev.2006) when the indictment did not include all of the essential elements of a conviction under that provision. Therefore, we reverse the circuit court's judgment of conviction for aggravated assault and vacate Snowden's sentence of twenty years in the custody of the MDOC with fifteen years suspended and five years to serve. But because the jury inherently found Snowden guilty of simple assault, we remand this matter to the circuit court so it can sentence Snowden accordingly.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. During February 2011, Nelson Smith and other members of a church outreach group provided rides home for people who needed rides home after celebrating Mardi Gras in the vicinity of Meridan, Mississippi. After Smith stopped providing rides to others, he drove west on I-20 on his way to his home in Chunky, Mississippi. At approximately 12:45 a.m.

Page 1253

on February 27, 2011, Smith got off of I-20 at the Chunky exit ramp. When he drove onto the exit ramp, he noticed a car driving " up behind [him] real fast." Smith thought that " something's going on with this person, because [he] was driving really crazy." Smith yielded the exit ramp to the driver behind him. Specifically, Smith moved left off of the exit ramp. The car behind Smith drove to the end of the exit ramp and turned right onto " Chunky-Duffy Road."

¶ 3. As soon as Smith moved back onto the exit ramp, a white pickup truck drove behind him and let him into traffic. When Smith got to the end of the exit ramp, the driver of the white pickup truck passed him and turned right onto Chunky-Duffy Road. In other words, the driver of the white pickup truck went the same direction as the driver in the first car. According to Smith, the driver of the white pickup truck " just took off" after he passed Smith.

¶ 4. Smith rolled down his window and proceeded in the same direction as the other two vehicles. A short distance later, Smith noticed that the white pickup truck had driven halfway down a driveway to a house on the left. Smith thought the driver of the white pickup truck was lost. As Smith drove past the driveway, he heard what he described as " three pops." Smith first thought the sounds had come from his own vehicle. According to Smith, his right arm began " throbbing and blood start[ed] gushing out of [his] arm." Smith realized that he had been shot. Because he was less than two miles from his own home, Smith drove there rather than a hospital. Smith's wife drove him to Rush Hospital in Meridian.

¶ 5. Deputy Jeremy Pinson of the Newton County Sheriff's Department was dispatched to Rush Hospital. Just before 2:00 a.m., Deputy Pinson spoke to Smith. Smith explained that he had been driving past a house on Chunky-Duffy Road just north of the exit off of I-20 when he was shot in the upper part of his right arm. Shortly after he interviewed Smith, Deputy Pinson went to the house that Smith described. Snowden lived in the house with his wife and stepson. Deputy Pinson explained that he was investigating a report that someone had been shot. Snowden admitted that he was responsible for the gunshots that occurred earlier that night. According to Snowden, he fired warning shots from a .22 caliber rifle because his stepson, Chris McCans, had been pursued by unidentified people as McCans was driving home from work. Snowden explained that he had been trying to make his stepson's pursuers leave the property.

¶ 6. After speaking to Deputy Pinson at Rush Hospital, Smith had been transferred to University Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, where he underwent exploratory surgery to determine the significance of the damage to his arm. Smith was discharged later that day. Deputy Pinson called Smith while Smith was riding home from Jackson. Deputy Pinson relayed Snowden's claim that he had been firing warning shots because two people had chased his stepson home. Smith initially said he did not want to press charges against Snowden, but Smith later changed his mind.[1]

¶ 7. On June 5, 2012, Snowden was indicted and charged with aggravated assault. Specifically, the indictment stated:

Snowden ... did willfully, unlawfully, [and] feloniously cause bodily injury to

Page 1254

... Smith ... knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life with a deadly weapon, to-wit: a rifle, by shooting ... Smith with [the] rifle, ... being a means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm, contrary to and in violation of [Mississippi Code Annotated s]ection 97-3-7(2)(a) [ (Rev.2006) ].

(Emphasis added). On the date of the crime and the date the indictment was filed,[2] section 97-3-7(2)(a) provided, " A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he ... attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely, knowingly[,] or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life [.]" (Emphasis added). Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-3-7(2)(b) (Rev.2006) provided that " [a] person is guilty of aggravated assault if he ... attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm[.]" (Emphasis added). Snowden filed two pretrial motions to dismiss the indictment. Snowden argued that the indictment was duplicitous because it attempted to charge him with both aggravated assault and simple assault. Snowden also argued that the indictment was fatally flawed because it attempted to charge him with some blended form of aggravated assault that is cobbled together with incomplete aspects of both section 97-3-7(2)(a) and section 97-3-7(2)(b). However, the circuit court overruled both of Snowden's motions to dismiss the indictment.

¶ 8. At trial, the prosecution called Smith and Deputy Pinson as witnesses. After the prosecution rested its case-in-chief, Snowden called McCans as his first witness. McCans testified that the night Smith was shot, McCans had been working at a restaurant in Meridian. McCans stopped at a gas station on his way home. According to McCans, while he was at the gas station, two men in a white pickup truck aimed a laser pointer at him. McCans left the gas station. The two men in the white pickup truck followed him on the interstate, despite the fact that McCans drove approximately ninety to one hundred miles per hour. According to McCans:

[O]nce I got to the Chunky exit, there was a[n] eighteen wheeler in my way, so I couldn't get off right away, and as I slowed down, they pulled up on the left-hand side of me and struck my window with a— some— a long metal pole, it looked like. Something like that. And at that time, I just took off off the exit, around the vehicle, and headed toward my driveway.

McCans encountered Smith's car shortly after his pursuers hit his window with a " metal pole." McCans testified that he used his cellular phone to call his mother, Elayne Snowden, while he was being chased. Elayne corroborated McCans's testimony that he called her while he was being chased. Elayne further testified that her husband, Snowden, went outside when McCans pulled into the driveway, and Snowden " fired ... warning shots."

Page 1255

According to Elayne, she saw at least one of the occupants of the white pickup truck fire a weapon.

¶ 9. Snowden also testified. Snowden explained that he " had to do something to protect [his] family." According to Snowden, he " just fired warning shots and that was it." Snowden elaborated that he " [j]ust pointed the rifle out and pulled the trigger." Snowden testified that his last warning shot was a misfire. He speculated that Smith could have been hit by that shot. Snowden went on to testify that he did not intend to shoot Smith or anyone else, and he was " [v]ery sorry that it happened." Snowden rested after he testified, and the prosecution finally rested.

¶ 10. During the conference on jury instructions, Snowden objected to the following jury instruction, which was designated as jury instruction S-1:

The [c]ourt instructs the [j]ury that if you believe from the evidence in this case beyond a reasonable doubt that at the time and place charged in the indictment and testified about, ... Snowden, did willfully, unlawfully, [and] feloniously cause bodily injury to Nelson Smith, a human being, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life with a deadly weapon, to-wit: a rifle, by shooting ... Nelson Smith with [the] rifle, ... being [a] means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm, then it is your duty to find [Snowden] guilty as charged.

Snowden argued that jury instruction S-1 did not adequately describe a violation of section 97-3-7(2)(a), which requires proof of " serious bodily injury" rather than " bodily injury." Snowden also argued that jury instruction S-1 was improper because it included language that pertained to a conviction for aggravated assault under section 97-3-7(2)(b). However, the circuit court found no merit to Snowden's arguments and gave jury instruction S-1 as written. The jury was not instructed that it had to find that Snowden caused Smith serious bodily injury. The jury found Snowden guilty of aggravated assault. Snowden appeals.

ANALYSIS

¶ 11. Snowden claims the circuit court erred when it allowed the prosecution to proceed on a defective indictment. According to Snowden, the indictment did not adequately charge him with aggravated assault under section 97-3-7(2)(a). " The issue of whether an indictment is fatally defective is an issue of law and deserves a relatively broad standard of review by this Court." Russell v. State, 924 So.2d 604, 607 (¶ 3) (Miss.Ct.App.2006). " As the issue involves a question of law, this Court applies a de novo standard of review." Id.

¶ 12. The indictment against Snowden states:

Snowden ... did willfully, unlawfully, [and] feloniously cause bodily injury to ... Smith ... knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life with a deadly weapon, to-wit: a rifle, by shooting ... Smith with [the] rifle, ... being a means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm, contrary to and in violation of [Mississippi Code Annotated s]ection 97-3-7(2)(a) [ (Rev.2006) ].

(Emphasis added). As previously mentioned, at the time that Snowden was indicted, section 97-3-7(2)(a) provided that " [a] person is guilty of aggravated assault if he ... attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely, knowingly[,] or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life [.]"

Page 1256

(Emphasis added). The indictment did not accuse Snowden of causing serious bodily injury to Smith. And through jury instruction S-1, the circuit court instructed the jury that it could find Smith guilty of aggravated assault if it found that Snowden " willfully, unlawfully, [and] feloniously cause[d] bodily injury to ... Smith ... knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life with a deadly weapon."

¶ 13. When Snowden was indicted, section 97-3-7(2)(b) provided that " [a] person is guilty of aggravated assault if he ... attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm[.]" (Emphasis added). But Snowden was specifically indicted under section ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.