OF JUDGMENT: 06/06/2016
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. CHRISTOPHER A. COLLINS TRIAL JUDGE
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY:
HUNTER N. AIKENS
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
KATY T. GERBER
IRVING, P.J., FAIR AND WILSON, JJ.
Robert Andy Pinter was convicted of possession of at least
one-tenth of a gram but less than two grams of
methamphetamine, possession of less than thirty grams of
marijuana, and possession of less than 100 dosage units of
alprazolam (Xanax) and sentenced to serve a total of four
years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of
Corrections (MDOC) as a habitual offender. On appeal, Pinter
argues that (1) his wife's testimony that he had been
known to use marijuana and methamphetamine rises to the level
of plain error or ineffective assistance of counsel; (2) the
trial judge erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence
of the drugs at issue and his alleged statement to police;
(3) the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction
or, alternatively, the verdict was against the overwhelming
weight of the evidence; and (4) his sentence as a habitual
offender is illegal and plain error.
We find no error in Pinter's trial and therefore affirm
his convictions. We also hold that the trial court did not
commit plain error by finding that Pinter is a habitual
offender. Therefore, we also affirm Pinter's sentence as
a habitual offender on Count I, possession of
methamphetamine. However, the State concedes error insofar as
the trial court sentenced Pinter as a habitual offender on
Count III, possession of alprazolam, a misdemeanor offense
that is outside the scope of the habitual offender statute.
Therefore, we remand for resentencing on Count III only.
On June 15, 2015, at approximately 10:45 a.m., Sebastopol
Chief of Police Daniel Ogletree was observing traffic on
Highway 21 from the parking lot of the Carquest across from
the Piggly Wiggly in Sebastopol. A Nissan Sentra passed by,
and Chief Ogletree observed that its driver was not wearing a
seatbelt, so he initiated a traffic stop. Chief Ogletree
approached the vehicle, explained the reason for the stop,
and asked the driver for his license. The driver, Pinter,
said that the seatbelt was broken and that his license was
suspended. Pinter gave Chief Ogletree his Mississippi
Identification Card. Chief Ogletree called the Scott County
Sheriff's Department, confirmed that Pinter's license
was suspended, and also learned that there was an active
warrant for Pinter's arrest. Chief Ogletree then placed
Pinter in handcuffs and under arrest and moved Pinter to the
backseat of his patrol car.
Chief Ogletree then conducted an inventory search of the
Sentra. In the trunk, he found two bags containing a
crystal-like substance that was later determined to be
methamphetamine, with a total combined weight of about half a
gram; two bags containing a green leafy substance, later
determined to be marijuana, with a total combined weight of
approximately twenty-two grams; and a bag containing
twenty-five pills, later determined to be alprazolam (Xanax).
The drugs were on top of a large, open tool bag. Chief
Ogletree testified that he returned to his patrol car and
read Pinter his Miranda rights from a card that
Chief Ogletree kept in his wallet. Chief Ogletree testified
that Pinter listened and then stated that he understood his
rights. Pinter did not ask for a lawyer or invoke his right
to remain silent. Chief Ogletree showed Pinter the drugs and
asked why he had them in the trunk of the car. According to
Chief Ogletree, Pinter responded that "he liked the way
that it made him feel when he . . . used the drugs."
Pinter was indicted for possession of at least one-tenth of a
gram but less than two grams of methamphetamine, possession
of less than thirty grams of marijuana, and possession of
less than 100 dosage units of alprazolam. His case proceeded
to a jury trial on June 6, 2016. Chief Ogletree and a
forensic scientist from the Mississippi Crime Laboratory
testified for the State.
After the State rested, Pinter's wife, Hope Pinter,
testified that she and Pinter lived in a camper on a lot
outside of Sebastopol. Hope's mother and sister and their
families also lived on the lot in a separate camper and
trailer. A total of nine adults lived on the lot, and all had
access to and drove the Sentra, which was registered to
Hope's mother. Hope testified that her sister and her
sister's boyfriend had used the car the night before
Pinter's arrest and had returned that morning. On
cross-examination, Hope acknowledged that Pinter worked in
construction and owned a large bag of tools. Without
objection, she also testified as follows:
Q. Has your husband been known to use weed -- marijuana?
Q. He does?
Q. Never seen him use Xanax before?
Q. Never, not once?
A. Yes, sir.
Pinter then took the stand in his own defense. Pinter
testified that he did not see Chief Ogletree remove the drugs
from the Sentra, and he denied that the drugs belonged to
him. Pinter also denied that he owned a tool bag. He
testified that he only owned a "tool apron." Pinter
also denied that Chief Ogletree read him his Miranda
rights or that he ever told Chief Ogletree that the drugs
were his or that they made him feel good. Pinter testified
that the Sentra belonged to his mother-in-law and that he
only used it when he needed it. He testified on direct
examination that he had used marijuana and methamphetamine.
On cross-examination, he also admitted that he had used Xanax
in the past. Pinter claimed that he had "no
knowledge" whatsoever as to who owned the drugs at issue
in this case.
The jury found Pinter guilty on all three counts. At
Pinter's sentencing hearing, the State offered to
introduce certified copies of judgments reflecting seven
prior felony convictions: two for grand larceny, three for
burglary of a dwelling, and one each for aggravated assault
and escape from a jail. Pinter's counsel specifically
stated that he did not object to the admission of the
documents, but the documents were never formally admitted
into evidence. The court then found that Pinter was a
habitual offender, see Miss. Code Ann. §
99-19-81 (Rev. 2015), and sentenced him to serve a total of