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Wordlaw v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

May 2, 2017

JAMES HOWARD WORDLAW A/K/A DO DO A/K/A JAMES HOWARD WOODLAW A/K/A JAMES WORDLAW A/K/A JAMES H. WORDLAW APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/29/2015

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. LEE J. HOWARD TRIAL JUDGE.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN TAYLOR COOK.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH.

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

          LEE, C.J.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶1. James Wordlaw was convicted by a jury in the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court of one count of possession of more than .1 gram but less than 2 grams of a controlled substance. He was sentenced as a habitual offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-81 (Rev. 2015) and as a subsequent drug offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 41-29-147 (Rev. 2013) to six years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, without reduction or suspension, or eligibility for parole or probation. Wordlaw was also ordered to pay a $6, 000 fine.

         ¶2. Wordlaw filed posttrial motions, which the trial court denied. He now appeals, asserting that the trial court erred by denying his circumstantial-evidence jury instructions and by failing to instruct the jury on venue. We find reversible error regarding venue and remand for a new trial. We decline to address Wordlaw's other issue.

         FACTS

         ¶3. On the morning of December 24, 2013, Jeremy Akins, an officer with the Starkville Police Department (SPD), noticed a black Toyota Tacoma speeding in Starkville, Mississippi. Officer Akins initiated a traffic stop, and recognized the driver of the truck as Wordlaw. Officer Akins testified that he had seen Wordlaw driving the same truck several times in the weeks leading up to December 24. Wordlaw told Officer Akins that his license had been suspended. Officer Akins testified that he discovered Roy Bennett was the title owner of the truck.

         ¶4. Although he first claimed the truck belonged to Bennett, his boss, Wordlaw consented to a search. Officer Akins discovered a cigarette pack between the driver's seat and the middle console. The cigarette pack contained a clear bag filled with a white substance, which was later tested and determined to be crack cocaine. Wordlaw was subsequently arrested.

         ¶5. Chris Jackson, an officer with the SPD, also responded to the scene. Officer Jackson approached the passenger side of the truck, where Andrea Middleton was sitting. While Officer Akins searched the truck, Officer Jackson received consent from Middleton to search her pockets. Officer Jackson found a crack pipe in Middleton's pocket. Middleton was subsequently arrested. Other items associated with drug use were found in the truck, including copper brillo pads, copper wiring, and a "push rod" for use with a crack pipe. Officer Jackson also testified that while Officer Akins searched the truck, he noticed Wordlaw with what resembled a plastic bag in his mouth. He ordered Wordlaw to spit out the plastic bag, but Wordlaw swallowed it instead. An ambulance was called to the scene, but Wordlaw refused medical treatment.

         ¶6. During trial, Bennett testified that he had sold the truck to Wordlaw in October 2013. At the time, Bennett said his daughter's ...


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