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Sutton v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

March 15, 2018

SEDRIC SUTTON a/k/a CEDRIC SUTTON a/k/a SEDRIC QUINTORUS SUTTON
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/01/2016

         WASHINGTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. MARGARET CAREY-McCRAY JUDGE

          ATTORNEYS: JOHN L. HERZOG TAKIYAH PERKINS E. TUCKER GORE

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF THE STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: BENJAMIN A. SUBER GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: LISA L. BLOUNT DISTRICT

          ATTORNEY: WILLIE DEWAYNE RICHARDSON

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND CHAMBERLIN, JJ.

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE

         ¶1. Sedric Sutton was indicted by a grand jury in Washington County on two counts: (1) possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and (2) possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. After a trial by jury, Sutton was convicted on the first count and acquitted on the second. The trial court sentenced Sutton as a habitual offender to fifteen years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. He now appeals his conviction and sentence.

         ¶2. All of the State's evidence in the case stemmed from an unconstitutional search pursuant to an invalid warrant which failed adequately to describe the property to be seized by the executing officers. Pretrial, the court denied Sutton's motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search. After review, we reverse Sutton's conviction and sentence and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶3. On July 15, 2014, a confidential informant ("CI") told law-enforcement officers at the Washington County Sheriff's Office that "stolen items" were located at 331 Muscadine Street in Greenville, Mississippi ( "Muscadine house"). Based on the information provided by the CI, Officers Dwight Donham and Charlton Smith prepared an Affidavit for Search Warrant and presented it to Washington County Justice Court Judge Laverne Holmes-Carter. Judge Holmes-Carter issued a search warrant for "stolen items"[1] in the Muscadine house at 331 Muscadine Street in Greenville, Mississippi.

         ¶4. The same day, law-enforcement officers-including Officer Smith-executed the warrant on the Muscadine house. Upon entering, the officers detained and searched Sedric Sutton. As a result of the search of Sutton and the Muscadine house, the officers found sixty pills, $4,995 in cash, a handgun, and two digital scales.

         ¶5. While conducting a safety check, Officer Christopher Surf searched Sutton's right, front pocket and discovered sixty small, yellow pills[2] in a clear plastic bag. Sutton, who testified in his own defense at trial, admitted to possession of the pills but argued that he had them solely for his personal use.

         ¶6. Beyond the pills, the officers found additional evidence in the Muscadine house. Officers discovered $4,995 in cash in Sutton's black waist pack. Officer Smith also discovered a 9 mm handgun in a black holster "located inside the wall in between the threshold of the dining room and the living room area." Investigator Cedric Adams testified that the handgun was in plain view. Additionally, Officer Smith found two digital scales-one small and one large-in the dining room.

         ¶7. After the officers completed the search, Sutton was taken into custody and charged with possession of a controlled substance under Mississippi Code Section 41-29-139(c)(3)(A) -a misdemeanor, given that he had less than 100 pills. A Washington County grand jury indicted Sutton as a habitual offender for possession of a controlled substance with intent under Mississippi Code Section 41-29-139(a)(1) and for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

         ¶8. Pretrial, Sutton moved to suppress the evidence from the execution of the warrant. Sutton attacked the warrant on two separate grounds: (1) that the underlying facts and circumstances on which the warrant was based were unreliable and (2) that the warrant failed sufficiently to describe the property to be seized. The trial court held a hearing on Sutton's motion.

         ¶9. At the hearing, Officer Donham testified that the CI had informed him that the Muscadine house was a warehouse for stolen goods and that he had sold stolen items there. The CI, according to Donham, claimed that he had seen the stolen items in the house two days before the arrest warrant was executed. On cross-examination, Sutton's counsel engaged in the following exchange with Officer Donham:

Q. Now, [the CI] did not give you any specific items whatsoever at Mr. Sutton's address, did he? Isn't that correct?
A. He said there were numerous things there.
Q. Numerous things. A warehouse of stolen stuff?
A. Right.
Q. But he did not give you a single itemized piece of stolen property, did he?
A. No.

         Officer Donham also claimed the CI had given him reliable information in the past and that the CI had personal knowledge-unknown to the public-of a number of local, recent house burglaries. Officer Donham recounted that the CI had told him of a residence at which the CI had sold a "Barnett cross bow." Upon visiting the residence, Officer Donham had recovered the crossbow.

         ¶10. After consideration of the testimony and arguments of counsel, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. From the bench, the trial court explained its finding: "[T]he [c]ourt, having reviewed the underlying facts and circumstances, finds that there is sufficient factual basis presented upon which the magistrate could have verified the v[e]racity or the reliability of the confidential informant." In its written order, the trial court found that the information in the affidavit seeking the warrant "described the things to be seized with sufficient particularity to satisfy [the] Fourth Amendment."

         ¶11. Sutton was tried before a jury on May 26, 2016. At trial, Sutton stipulated to his status as a felon. The jury found Sutton guilty of the first count, possession with intent, and acquitted him of the second count, possession of a firearm. On June 1, 2016, the trial court sentenced Sutton to a term of fifteen years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections pursuant to Sections 41-29-139(b)(4)(C) and 99-19-81.[3]

         ¶12. Sutton now appeals. Sutton, pro se, and his counsel raise a number of issues. Because our analysis of the suppression issue is dispositive, we need ...


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