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Jones v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

April 24, 2018


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/09/2017






          TINDELL, J.

         ¶1. A Lauderdale County grand jury indicted Darius Jones on two felony counts. Count I charged Jones with possession of methamphetamine while in possession of a firearm. See Miss. Code Ann. §§ 41-29-139 (Supp. 2012) & 41-29-152 (Rev. 2013). Count II charged possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. See Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-5(1) (Rev. 2014). A jury acquitted Jones of Count I but convicted him of Count II. The Lauderdale County Circuit Court then sentenced Jones as a habitual offender to ten years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) without eligibility for probation, parole, or early release and fined him $2, 000.

         ¶2. On appeal from his conviction, Jones asserts the following issues: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict; (2) the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence; (3) his vehicle was illegally searched; and (4) the circuit court improperly instructed the jury on his stipulation that he was a convicted felon.

         ¶3. Finding no error, we affirm Jones's conviction and sentence.


         ¶4. Around 8:30 p.m. on October 9, 2013, Meridian Police officers responded to a call about a large crowd gathered at a local apartment complex. By the time Officer Dustin Allen arrived at the scene, other officers had already handcuffed several individuals, who were seated on a curb. Officer Allen observed about eight to twelve people still standing around a vehicle in front of the apartment complex. Officer Allen testified the area was a high-crime area and that the individuals were "just loitering around the vehicle, being loud [and] boisterous [and] causing a disturbance." To ensure everyone's safety, the police officers separated the individuals and engaged them in conversation.

         ¶5. Officer Allen began to speak to Jones, who was not handcuffed but was standing by his vehicle. While talking to Jones, Officer Allen noticed a large-caliber firearm on top of a backpack in the driver's seat of Jones's vehicle. Concerned with officer safety due to the large crowd still around the vehicle, Officer Allen testified that he asked Jones for permission to enter the vehicle and secure the weapon. Jones denied owning the gun or having any knowledge of the gun's owner. Officer Allen testified, however, that Jones gave him the car keys and granted him permission to unlock the vehicle and secure the weapon. Officer Allen took the magazine out of the gun and unloaded a round from the chamber before securing the gun inside his own vehicle. According to Officer Allen, more than one bullet was inside the gun. At trial, the State entered the gun into evidence during Officer Allen's testimony. Officer Allen identified the weapon as a HiPoint .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun.

         ¶6. While retrieving the weapon, Officer Allen smelled an odor inside Jones's car. Based on his training and experience, Officer Allen identified the smell as marijuana. Officer Allen alerted Jones to the smell and asked for permission to further search the vehicle. Officer Allen testified that Jones consented to his request. Inside the backpack on the driver's seat, Officer Allen discovered a digital scale and two plastic sandwich bags that contained a crystal-like substance. Upon conducting a field test on the contents of one of the bags, Officer Allen determined the substance was methamphetamine.

         ¶7. After securing both the evidence and Jones, Officer Allen contacted Agent Christopher Peacock with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. Following Jones's waiver of his rights, Agent Peacock and Officer Allen interviewed Jones about the items found in his car. Officer Allen testified that, although Jones had previously denied having any knowledge of the gun's owner, during the interview Jones claimed his mother owned the gun. Agent Peacock corroborated Officer Allen's testimony that Jones told them the gun belonged to his mother. Both law-enforcement officers further testified that Jones never suggested someone else had driven his car on the day of his arrest or that the backpack in the driver's seat belonged to someone else.

         ¶8. Jones's aunt, Carolyn Lewis, testified on behalf of the defense. Lewis stated that she received a phone call from Jones the evening of October 9, 2013. According to Lewis, she heard someone repeatedly ask Jones for permission to search his car, and she heard Jones repeatedly refuse to grant permission for the search. Lewis testified that she next heard the unknown person tell Jones to get up against the car, and then Jones asked what he had done wrong and why he was being handcuffed.

         ¶9. The jury also heard testimony from Jones's former girlfriend, Sophia Tell. Tell testified that she and Jones were dating on October 9, 2013, although they no longer dated at the time of the trial. According to Tell, she borrowed Jones's car for most of the day on October 9, 2013, to run errands with her friend, her friend's boyfriend, and her friend's children. After finishing the errands, Tell returned to the apartment complex that evening. Tell stated that she saw no backpack as she locked the car. After returning the car keys to Jones, Tell testified that she visited a relative for about thirty minutes to an hour. As she left the relative's apartment, Tell noticed the commotion at the apartment complex and saw "a lot of people" standing near Jones's car.

         ¶10. Tell testified that she owned the gun found in Jones's car. Contrary to Officer Allen's testimony that the gun was in plain view, Tell stated that she stored the gun out of sight underneath the driver's seat when she got into the car the morning of October 9, 2013. After leaving her relative's apartment that evening, Tell testified that she saw Jones, who was handcuffed and standing near his car, speaking to a police officer. According to Tell, she heard the officer ask for permission to search the car, and then she heard Jones refuse consent. After Jones's refusal, Tell stated that the officer reached into Jones's pocket, retrieved the car keys, and unlocked the car.

         ¶11. Jones also testified about the events of October 9, 2013. Jones stated that Tell borrowed his car keys the morning of October 9, 2013, and then she returned the keys that evening. According to Jones, he remained inside most of the day and played a video game with his cousin. That evening, however, Jones testified that he and some friends were standing near his car when someone yelled, "The officer is around the corner." Jones stated that, as police officers began to arrive, someone ran by his car and threw a gun on the ground. Jones testified that police officers then began to handcuff and search people.

         ¶12. According to Jones's testimony, an officer approached him and claimed to smell marijuana. Jones stated that he told the officer he did not smoke and that he had no marijuana in his possession. In response to the officer's request to search him, Jones said that he consented. However, Jones testified that he refused the officer's request to search his car because he had not been in the car the entire day, and he had no idea what might be inside the car.

         ¶13. Jones testified that the officer placed him in handcuffs and seated him on the curb before proceeding to search his car without consent. According to Jones, the officer never mentioned seeing a gun but instead wanted to know what was inside a backpack on the back seat of Jones's car. Jones testified that, upon finding the scale and two bags of drugs inside the backpack, the officer searched the car again and found the gun underneath the car seat. Although Jones testified that the gun belonged to Tell, he denied knowing the backpack's owner. Furthermore, Jones testified that he had no idea the gun, the backpack, or the backpack's contents were in his car. He further denied ever telling Officer Allen and Agent Peacock that the gun belonged to his mother.

         ¶14. After learning Jones was a convicted felon, the officers placed Jones into a patrol car. As the officers did so, Jones testified that they realized his phone was on an active call to his aunt. Jones stated that the officers took his phone and terminated the call. At the police station, Jones testified that he never gave a statement to Officer Allen and Agent Peacock and that Agent Peacock never asked him about a gun. Instead, Jones stated that Agent Peacock tried to get him to "set up somebody else on a bust charge[, ]" and that, when Jones refused, Agent Peacock threatened to charge him "with everything."

         ¶15. After the defense rested, the State recalled Officer Allen as a rebuttal witness. During rebuttal, Officer Allen reiterated that, while talking to Jones on October 9, 2013, he observed a gun in plain sight in Jones's car. Prior to seeing the gun, Officer Allen testified that he had no reason to search Jones's car. Officer Allen further testified that he received Jones's permission before searching the car. After returning to the police station, Officer Allen stated that he and Agent Peacock interviewed Jones. Officer Allen testified that ...

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