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Sanders v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

February 14, 2017

MARTERIUS C. SANDERS A/K/A MARTERIUS SANDERS A/K/A MARTERIOUS SANDERS A/K/A GREG A/K/A "G" APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          Date of Judgment: 05/28/2015

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: LEE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. THOMAS J. GARDNER III TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: BARBARA BYRD JASON L. DAVIS.

          LEE, C.J., ISHEE AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          ISHEE, J.

         ¶1. On May 28, 2015, a jury impaneled in Lee County Circuit Court found Marterius Sanders guilty on one count of transfer of a controlled substance. Sanders was sentenced to eight years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), as a "nonviolent" habitual offender. The large majority of the evidence presented against Sanders at trial was the product of an undercover sting operation. On appeal, Sanders contends that the video footage from the sting operation contained inadmissible hearsay and was erroneously admitted at trial, in violation of the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Additionally, Sanders asserts a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. While we find that the circuit court erred in admitting the hearsay evidence in violation of the Confrontation Clause, we find that the error was harmless. We further find that Sanders's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is without merit. Thus, we affirm.

         FACTS

         ¶2. On September 11, 2014, Chris Brown, a multijurisdictional narcotics agent, mobilized James White, an undercover confidential informant (CI), to purchase $200 worth of crack cocaine from a female named Karashawanna Fields. White was given the money to purchase the drugs and was fitted with an audio-video recording device. When White called Fields to verify their meeting location, Fields changed the rally point to a nearby apartment complex instead. When White arrived at the location, the video recording captured him interacting with a black male-later identified as Sanders-and exchanging the $200 for an item later confirmed to be 1.65 grams of crack cocaine. The video showed Sanders approach White, give him a clear plastic bag with a white substance inside, shake White's hand, and walk away.

         ¶3. After the transaction was complete, White called and notified Agent Brown and then traveled to Agent Brown's office. Upon arriving at the office, White participated in the postsale interview conducted by Agent Brown. The video-recording device remained on and recorded White tell Agent Brown that he purchased the cocaine from a man named "G" or "Greg." Subsequently, Agent Brown conducted an investigation, and through various statements and identifications by other witnesses, including fellow officer J.B. Long, he determined that "Greg" was Sanders.

         ¶4. Before trial, Sanders's defense attorney moved for the audio-video recording evidence to be suppressed, alleging that it was inadmissible hearsay and a violation of the Confrontation Clause. The circuit court denied Sanders's motion in limine.

         ¶5. At trial, the prosecution admitted photographs taken from the audio-video recording. The photographs depicted Sanders and the white substance clearly. The prosecution also admitted the audio-video recording into evidence over the defense's contemporaneous hearsay, Confrontation Clause, and unauthenticated-evidence objections. Agent Brown testified that he "remained a block or two over" from the "buy" spot, and he kept "loose surveillance" on the area during the operation. Agent Brown further testified, without an objection, that with help from Officer Long he was able to determine that "Greg" was Sanders.

         ¶6. Sanders testified in his own defense and confirmed that on September 11, 2014, he was at the apartment where the CI purchased the crack cocaine. He further testified that he was visiting Fields, who he knew was a drug dealer, and that she asked him to get a substance off the table and bring it to her. He testified that he did so, but that he was not paying attention to what was in the small plastic bag. Sanders maintained that he gave the substance to Fields, not White, and that Fields gave the substance to the CI. Sanders denied being called "G" and denied receiving any money as part of a transaction.

         ¶7. After a few hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict on one count of transfer of a controlled substance. Sanders was sentenced as a nonviolent habitual offender and received a sentence of eight ...


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