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Pryor v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 28, 2018

JAMES EDWARD PRYOR APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/07/2017

          COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. DAL WILLIAMSON JONES COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, TRIAL JUDGE:

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: W. DANIEL HINCHCLIFF

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KAYLYN HAVRILLA MCCLINTON

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., CARLTON, WILSON AND GREENLEE, JJ.

          GREENLEE, J., FOR THE COURT:

         ¶1. James Edward Pryor challenges his conviction for driving a vehicle while under the influence of an impairing substance at an aggravated level (DUI).

         ¶2. The Jones County Circuit Court sentenced him to twenty-one years with four years suspended, with seventeen years to serve in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, followed by four years of post-release supervision. Pryor moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or, in the alternative, a new trial. The court denied his motion, and Pryor appeals.

         ¶3. He alleges that: (1) evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdict; (2) the jury was not properly instructed on the elements of aggravated DUI; (3) the circuit court erred when it allowed an accident reconstructionist to testify; (4) his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim should be preserved; and (5) the circuit court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence. We affirm the circuit court's judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶4. On a summer evening in 2013, a nurse was driving home from work when she noticed a black truck hurriedly approaching her from behind. Concerned by the driver's erratic behavior, she cautiously slowed, allowing the black truck to pass.

         ¶5. The black truck then swerved and rear-ended the tan truck driving ahead of the nurse. The collision pushed the tan truck off the road where it rolled several times and pinned one of its passengers beneath it. The nurse pulled over and called 911.

         ¶6. The black truck stopped, and its driver, Pryor, emerged. The nurse asked him to sit or lie down until help came, but he refused and repeatedly walked back and forth to his truck.

         ¶7. A patrolman with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety soon arrived and spoke with Pryor. He saw Pryor's staggered walk, heard his slurred speech, and smelled his breath. Pryor told him that he drank alcohol that day and did not remember the accident. The patrolman took Pryor to a nearby hospital, where a warrant permitted Pryor's blood to be drawn several hours later. The blood sample was sent to a crime lab.

         ¶8. Later, another patrolman measured and documented the debris. This patrolman also served as an accident reconstructionist. He reviewed photographs, took notes, and wrote a report. He later testified at trial as an expert.

         ¶9. Over the next several months, the crime lab tested Pryor's blood, and the pinned passenger underwent eight surgeries. The blood sample tested positively for both alcohol and methamphetamine. At the time of trial, the injured passenger-bedridden for nearly a year-could no longer work at his former construction job and struggled to work as a motel housekeeper once a week.

         ¶10. In March 2017, a jury found Pryor guilty of an aggravated DUI offense. The circuit court sentenced him to twenty-one years with four years suspended, with seventeen years to serve, followed by four years of post-release supervision. Pryor then moved for a JNOV or, in the alternative, a new trial, which the circuit court denied. He appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Was evidence sufficient to support the guilty verdict?

         ¶11. To determine whether evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction in Mississippi, we ask "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Brown v. State, 217 So.3d 805, 807 (¶5) (Miss. Ct. App. 2017) (citing Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 315 (1979)). An aggravated DUI conviction in Mississippi stems from the following:

It is unlawful for any person to drive or otherwise operate a vehicle within this state who (a) is under the influence of intoxicating liquor; (b) is under the influence of any other substance which has impaired such person's ability to operate a motor vehicle; . . . [or] (d) is under the influence of any drug or controlled substance, the ...

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