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Conner v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

May 15, 2014

DARYL CONNER
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: DESOTO COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/01/2011. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. ROBERT P. CHAMBERLIN. TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: DAVID CLAY VANDERBURG, ANGELA M. JONES, JENNIFER MUSSELWHITE.

FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, BY: JUSTIN T. COOK.

FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: JEFFREY A. KLINGFUSS.

CHANDLER, JUSTICE. WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR, PIERCE AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. DICKINSON, P.J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED IN PART BY KITCHENS AND KING, JJ., KITCHENS, J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY KING, J.

OPINION

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ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

NATURE OF THE CASE: CRIMINAL - FELONY

CHANDLER, JUSTICE.

¶1. A jury found Daryl Conner guilty of burglary and felony fleeing a police officer, and the Circuit Court of DeSoto County sentenced him as a habitual offender to two consecutive life sentences. Conner appealed to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed his convictions and sentences. This Court granted Conner's petition for certiorari in which Conner argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for felony fleeing, that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the elements of larceny, and that, because the pen packs establishing Conner's habitual-offender status were not

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admitted at the sentencing hearing, the trial court erred by sentencing him as a habitual offender.

¶2. We affirm the judgments of the Court of Appeals and the trial court. We find that the evidence was sufficient to support Conner's felony-fleeing conviction and that the jury was fully and fairly instructed. We further find that the pen packs establishing Conner's status as a habitual offender were admitted at the sentencing hearing. Therefore, we affirm Conner's convictions and sentences.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶3. One morning, Mary Campbell entered her master bedroom to discover an unknown man in her home on Windersgate Drive in Olive Branch, Mississippi. The man fled from the home, entered a small, dark automobile parked in an adjacent driveway, backed his car down Windersgate Drive to Collinswood Road, and drove off. Once the car left her sight, Campbell entered her home and called 911.

¶4. The 911 dispatcher relayed the description of the dark vehicle to officers in the area. Within approximately one minute of the dispatch, Officer Matthew Kinne spotted a car matching Campbell's description of the car at the corner of Collinswood Road and Germantown Road. Officer Kinne initiated a pursuit of that vehicle, which ended when the vehicle crashed. Then, a foot pursuit ensued and officers arrested the driver.

¶5. Campbell later identified Daryl Conner from a photo lineup as the man in her home. The grand jury indicted Conner for burglary of a dwelling, felony fleeing, and petty larceny. Later, the trial court amended Conner's indictment to charge him as a habitual offender. The jury convicted Conner of burglary of a dwelling and felony fleeing, and the trial court sentenced him as a habitual offender to serve two consecutive life sentences without the opportunity for parole.

ANALYSIS

I. Whether the State presented sufficient evidence of Conner's identity to support his conviction for felony fleeing.

¶6. The Court of Appeals recognized that no witness had identified Conner as the person arrested following the pursuit. Conner v. State, No. 2011-KA-00941-COA, 138 So.3d 158, 2013 WL 1800065, *3 (Miss. Ct. App. April 30, 2013). But the Court of Appeals also found that:

[t]he short passage of time from Campbell's report of a man in her home and the short distance from her home to the point where Officer Kinne spotted the similar vehicle and began the chase were sufficient evidence for the jury to infer that Conner was the individual who was driving the car and fled the arrest and whom Officer Kinne caught and arrested at the end of the chase.

Id. Conner argues that no reasonable juror could draw such an inference from the evidence presented at trial. Although we agree with the Court of Appeals' conclusion that the evidence was sufficient to support the felony-fleeing conviction, we do so for a different reason.

¶7. On a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court will reverse and render " if the facts and inferences point in favor of the defendant on any element of the offense with sufficient force that reasonable men could not have found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty . . . ." Young v. State, 119 So.3d 309, 315 (Miss. 2013) (quoting Hughes v. State, 983 So.2d 270, 275-76 (Miss. 2008)). Our " relevant inquiry is

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whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Young, 119 So.3d at 315. " This Court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to the state." Hughes, 983 So.2d at 276 (citing Bush v. State, 895 So.2d 836, 843 (Miss. 2005)). " The state receives the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the evidence." Hughes, 983 So.2d at 276 (citing Wilson v. State, 936 So.2d 357, 363 (Miss. 2006) (citing Hawthorne v. State, 835 So.2d 14, 22 (Miss. 2003))). Likewise, the sufficiency of the evidence used to identify the accused " is primarily a question for the jury, provided the evidence could reasonably be held sufficient to comply with the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Passons v. State, 239 Miss. 629, 634, 124 So.2d 847, 848 (1960).

¶8. The Court of Appeals primarily relied on the proximity between the location of the burglary and where Officer Kinne spotted a vehicle matching the description provided by Campbell. This circumstantial evidence turns on the fact that Campbell last saw Conner driving down Collinswood Road, which leads only to Germantown Road, and that Officer Kinne spotted the vehicle he pursued at the corner of Collinswood and Germantown Roads approximately one minute after he received the description from dispatch.

¶9. But none of the evidence presented at trial established the distance Conner had to travel on Collinswood Road in order to reach Germantown Road. If that distance were, for example, 500 yards, then the jury's verdict based upon the timing of events established by the evidence would appear reasonable. But if that same distance were ten miles, the one-minute time frame would operate against the State, and the jury's decision would prove completely unreasonable, as no reasonable juror could infer that Conner could travel ten miles in one minute. Accordingly, in the absence of any evidence of the length of Collinsworth road, the Court of Appeals' reliance on proximity was misplaced.

¶10. That said, a reasonable juror could draw a chain of inferences through the evidence presented at trial to sufficiently identify Conner as the perpetrator of the felony fleeing. Campbell identified Conner at trial as the man she had seen in her home. She also testified that she provided a description to the 911 dispatcher of a tall black man fleeing in a dark car. Officer Kinne testified that he received a description of the car and suspect from dispatch and that, after receiving that description, he began looking for a black man in a dark sedan, wearing a dark shirt.

¶11. At trial, the prosecution entered into evidence a video from Officer Kinne's dashboard camera that revealed a black male, wearing a dark-colored shirt, fleeing from the dark sedan Officer Kinne pursued. A reasonable juror could conclude that the man running from the sedan was the same man described by Campbell to the dispatcher, and therefore the same man Campbell identified during trial. Accordingly, the State presented sufficient ...


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