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Triplett v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

September 4, 2018


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/14/2017






          WILSON, J.

         ¶1. Willie Triplett was convicted of burglary of a church following a jury trial in the Neshoba County Circuit Court. On appeal, Triplett argues that his confession should have been suppressed pursuant to the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution because he was arrested without "probable cause" and his subsequent confession was "obtained by exploitation of his illegal arrest." However, Triplett did not raise this issue at trial. Rather, the trial judge found that Triplett's confession was voluntary and admissible under the Fifth Amendment and Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and Triplett did not raise a further objection based on an allegedly illegal arrest.

         ¶2. It is well established that "an objection on one or more specific grounds constitutes a waiver of all other grounds." Fleming v. State, 604 So.2d 280, 292 (Miss. 1992); see Evans v. State, 275 So.2d 83, 85 (Miss. 1973) (holding that defendant "effectively waived" any objection to his confession based on an allegedly illegal arrest because at trial he only argued that the confession was not voluntary). We conclude that Triplett waived any objection based on an allegedly illegal arrest because he did not raise that issue at trial.

         ¶3. Triplett also argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him and that the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. However, these arguments are based in part on Triplett's procedurally barred claim that his confession should have been suppressed as the product of an illegal arrest. Taking Triplett's confession into account, there is sufficient evidence to sustain the conviction, and the verdict was not against the overwhelming weight of the evidence. Accordingly, we affirm.


         ¶4. On August 31, 2016, Investigator Ralph Sciple of the Neshoba County Sheriff's Department received a phone call from Gerald Beam, the owner of a local pawn shop. Beam told Sciple that a black man had just tried to pawn a Mantis tiller. Beam suspected that the tiller was stolen, although the record does not indicate why Beam was suspicious. Beam gave Sciple the tag number for the vehicle that the man was driving, a large white SUV. Sciple determined that the SUV, a 2006 Chevrolet Suburban, was registered to Darry and Elizabeth Williams.

         ¶5. The Williamses lived on the Choctaw Indian Reservation, so Sciple contacted Captain Robert York of the Choctaw Police Department. York said he knew the Williamses and also knew "that there was a black male [at their house] from time to time." York used the information that Sciple provided him to obtain a search warrant from the Choctaw Tribal Court.[1] Sciple testified that the search warrant covered the Williamses' SUV and residence and any other buildings on their property. Sciple testified that he "was hoping to find some stolen property in the SUV."

         ¶6. Choctaw police executed the search warrant at the Williamses' home on September 1. Sciple was not present when the search began, but he arrived shortly thereafter. When Sciple arrived, York had handcuffed a black man (Triplett) and was talking to him "off to the side." Elizabeth Williams also was present.

         ¶7. No Mantis tiller was found during the search. However, as police searched the SUV, they found two Peavey speakers, a Peavey mixer, a wireless connector, a microphone, and a bag of cables. No one at the residence claimed ownership or knowledge of the sound equipment. Sciple testified that the "first thing [he] noticed" about the equipment was that it looked like it "didn't belong" in the SUV. Sciple thought that the equipment looked like it might be used in a church. There had not been any report of a church burglary at that point. Nonetheless, Sciple photographed and took custody of the equipment "in case something did come up regarding stolen items." Triplett was also taken into custody at that time.

         ¶8. Three days later, on Sunday, September 4, the pastor at the East Philadelphia Church of God, Reverend Charles Hardy, discovered that speakers and other sound equipment were missing from the church. He called the sheriff's department to report a possible burglary. Hardy testified that worship services are held at the church only the first and third Sundays of each month, but Sunday School is taught each Sunday. Hardy believed that the equipment was stolen during the previous week because no one reported that anything was missing when the church was open for Sunday School on August 28. However, Hardy could not say for certain when the equipment was taken. Hardy also testified that there was a broken window in the back of the church, which he thought was the burglar's point of entry.[2] Hardy thought that the burglar probably left the church through the back door, since he would have been carrying heavy sound equipment. Hardy said that several people had keys to the church, including himself, a custodian, his daughter, and possibly others. After reporting the crime, Hardy went to the sheriff's department and identified the sound equipment that was found in the Williamses' SUV as the church's sound equipment.

         ¶9. On September 7, Sciple interviewed Triplett about the church burglary. By this point, Triplett had been in custody for seven days. Sciple advised Triplett of his Miranda rights, and Triplett signed a waiver of rights form. Triplett signed a written statement that stated in full: "I Willie Triplett did break into chruch [sic] & took goods."[3]

         ¶10. Triplett was indicted for burglary of a church, and his case proceeded to trial. During the trial, two suppression hearings were held outside the presence of the jury. During the first hearing, the State first called Darry Williams, who testified that his daughter, Amelia, does not live at his house permanently but "comes and goes," and Triplett had spent the night there with her. Williams also testified that on occasion Amelia and Triplett had taken the keys to his SUV and driven the SUV, but neither of them owned or had permission to use it. Next, Sciple testified about the tip he received from Beam and the search of the Williamses' SUV. Sciple also testified that Triplett did not have any ownership interest in the SUV or the Williamses' residence. Finally, Triplett testified that he stayed at the Williamses' house frequently between May and August, except for a period in July and August when he had been "locked up" in jail "for old fines." However, Triplett admitted that he did not own the Williamses' SUV.

         ¶11. At the conclusion of the testimony during the first suppression hearing, Triplett's trial counsel orally "move[d] . . . to suppress inferences that . . . the pictures of the [stolen sound equipment] be used against Mr. Triplett because they were seized from the house that he was living at whether or not he owned an ownership interest in that house." Triplett's counsel also asked "to suppress any evidence of a connection between Mr. Triplett and the [photographs of the stolen sound equipment]." After counsel made his oral motion, the following exchange occurred:

Trial judge: Suppress any inferences?
Defense counsel: Suppress any testimony that Mr. Triplett - after Mr. Triplett was arrested on this, . . . the police took a statement from Mr. Triplett regarding these items that we believe the State would seek to introduce at a later date. If Mr. Triplett was not arrested in connection with these items initially, then he would not have been in custody to have given a statement.
Trial judge: Okay. I want to be sure I understand that at this juncture, the statement ...

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