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Briggs v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

July 27, 2017

TREVIOUN LAMONT CORNELIUS BRIGGS a/k/a T.L. BRIGGS a/k/a T.L. CORNELIUS BRIGGS a/k/a TREVIOUS LAMONT CORNELI BRIGGS a/k/a TREVIOUN LAMOUNT CORNELIUS BRIGGS a/k/a TREVIOUS BRIGGS a/k/a TREVIOUN L.C. BRIGGS a/k/a TREVIOUN BRIGGS
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/29/2014

         MADISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JOHN HUEY EMFINGER TRIAL JUDGE

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN TAYLOR COOK GEORGE T. HOLMES

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

          BEAM, JUSTICE

         ¶1. Trevioun Briggs was convicted in the Circuit Court of Madison County of robbery and witness-tampering. The Court of Appeals affirmed both convictions in Briggs v. State, 2016 WL 2981728, at *1 (Miss. Ct. App. May 24, 2016). Briggs petitioned this Court for certiorari, which was granted to consider whether his indictment for the witness-tampering count was defective. Finding that the indictment fairly tracked the language of Mississippi Code Section 97-9-115, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

         FACTS

         ¶2. Briggs was convicted of robbing a woman in the Northpark Mall parking lot in Ridgeland, Mississippi, on the evening of December 14, 2013. The woman was holding her three-year-old son and loading shopping bags into her car when Briggs approached from behind and struck her in the back of the head, causing her to drop the child. Briggs snatched the shopping bags and ran away. The woman identified her attacker as a black male wearing a red sweatshirt. A few hours later, Briggs was arrested outside the mall after attempting to return stolen items in exchange for a cash refund. After his arrest, an orange sweatshirt and other stolen items were found inside his vehicle. Just before Briggs's arrest, he successfully had returned other stolen items to various mall retailers, and the retailers' employees identified him at trial.

         ¶3. Briggs was arrested for false pretense and incarcerated at the Madison County Jail. Four days after his arrest, while in jail, Briggs placed several recorded phone calls to various acquaintances. In the recordings, Briggs requested that the person to whom he was speaking either provide an alibi for the time of the robbery, or ask a third person to do so on his behalf. On March 28, 2014, Briggs was indicted for robbery and witness tampering. At trial, the State placed the recorded conversations in evidence. The jury found Briggs guilty of robbery and witness-tampering.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         ¶4. Section 97-9-115 provides:

(1) A person commits the crime of tampering with a witness if he intentionally or knowingly attempts to induce a witness or a person he believes will be called as a witness in any official proceeding to:
(a) Testify falsely or unlawfully withhold testimony; or
(b) Absent himself from any official proceeding to which he has been legally summoned.

Miss. Code Ann. § 97-9-115 (Rev. 2014) (emphasis added).

         ¶5. Briggs's indictment used the word "may" instead of the word "will, " providing in pertinent part:

[Briggs] did willfully, feloniously, intentionally[, ] and knowingly attempt to induce a witness or a person he believed may be called as a witness against him, to-wit: [Briggs], while incarcerated, made contact via telephone with a person whom he then requested she attempt to coerce another person into deceitfully providing [Briggs] with . . . an alibi, in violation of Miss. Code Ann. § 97-9-115 . . . .

(Emphasis added.)

         ¶6. Briggs's jury was instructed as follows:

If you find from the evidence in this case beyond a reasonable doubt that:
. . .
[Briggs] did willfully, feloniously, intentionally[, ] and knowingly attempt to induce a witness or a person he believed would or could be called as a witness at the trial of this cause to testify falsely at this trial, an official proceeding, by providing at said trial an alibi for the Defendant by testifying that the Defendant was at a place other than the location of the crime charged . . . at the time the crime was committed, said testimony being false and known by the Defendant to be false, as well as being material to the subject matter of the official proceeding, namely this trial; then you shall find [Briggs] guilty of Tampering with A Witness . . . .

(Emphasis added.)

         ¶7. Briggs claimed on appeal that both the indictment and the jury instruction failed to track the statute's language. Briggs submitted that while "it may seem somewhat trivial, the difference between the words 'will, ' 'may' and 'would or could' are significant" because all contain "different knowledge requirements." Without explanation as to how or why, Briggs asserted that by use of the word "may" in the indictment, the State broadened the activity for which Briggs could be found guilty under Section 97-9-115. Briggs then contended that by use of the words "would or could" in the jury instruction, the State lessened its burdened from that in the indictment's language.

         ¶8. The Court of Appeals found no merit in Briggs's claims. In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeals found that "Briggs contacted a woman and asked her to fabricate an alibi for him during the times in which he was not seen on the mall video." Briggs, 2016 WL 2981728, at *3. On these facts, the court reasoned that "it makes no difference whether the indictment read 'will' or 'may' or the jury instruction read 'will' or 'would' since the factual basis surrounding the charge, and described in the indictment, dictated that ...


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