Monday, October 17, 2011

TN Supreme Court Affirms Defendant's Four Violent Felony Convictions


The TN Supreme Court decided today to affirm the conviction of Christopher Lee Davis for aggravated robbery, carjacking, attempt to commit especially aggravated kidnapping, and attempt to commit first degree murder. The Defendant was one of two men who pulled up to a car wash in Trousdale County planning to rob a man washing his car. The victim, Glen McDaniel, was approached by the two men wearing bandanas over their faces. Both men were African American, and both men were tall. The Defendant was wearing a red hat that had a depiction of a $100 bill embroidered on it. The two men forced Mr. McDaniel into his car, pointing a gun at him the entire time. He drove to an ATM where he was forced to empty his bank account. Mr. McDaniel was told to drive back to the car wash where he pleaded with the two men to take his car and leave him there. They refused. The Defendant first stated that Mr. McDaniel was going with them. At that point, the other man got a roll of black duct tape and began to bind Mr. McDaniel's arms behind his back. Mr. McDaniel then put up a fight. Because of the struggle, the Defendant exclaimed that he was going to kill Mr. McDaniel "right here!" Mr. McDaniel was able to get away on foot while the two men drove off in his Monte Carlo.

The next day, after obtaining a description from Mr. McDaniel of the two men and the Monte Carlo, officers found the car parked at a boat dock. They began the process of investigating the car when a white Crown Victoria slowly pulled into the parking lot where the Monte Carlo sat. According to officers the two men in the car were African American, and when they saw the officers, "they're eyes got as wide as saucers." They jerked the car in the opposite direction, back onto the road and turned around to head back the opposite way. One of the officers, Detective Tarlecky, suspected the people in the Crown Victoria to be the suspects because, in his experience, carjackers often leave cars in remote places only to come back and continue to strip the car of its parts. Detective Tarlecky felt he had enough reasonable suspicion to pull the Crown Victoria over. The driver of the car consented to a search of the car. Pursuant to that search, Detective Tarlecky found the key to the Monte Carlo. At that point, the officer arrested both men. A subsequent search of the Defendant's home also yielded various instruments of the crime including the hat, the bandanas, and the missing cd player from the Monte Carlo.

At trial, the Defendant was convicted on all counts. He was sentence to a total of 49 years in prison. These convictions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals. The Defendant argues, however, that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull the car over. Thus, all the evidence recovered from the warrantless search should have been suppressed.

The Supreme Court stated that in order to determine whether the trial court was correct in concluding that the officer had reasonable suspicion to search the car, it must examine all the fact surrounding the situation. It stated that reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard than probable cause, and that it is "a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the subject of a stop of criminal activity." The Court agreed that the officer had reasonable suspicion. The facts that led to a reasonable suspicion included the general description of the suspects, the fact that the car had not been completely stripped of valuable items, the abrupt and evasive behavior of the Crown Victoria's driver, and the startled and suspicious demeanor of both occupants in the Crown Victoria. Given the totality of the circumstances, the Court explained, a rational trier of fact could have found that the officer had reasonable suspicion to search the car.

The other issue on appeal was whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient enough to warrant a conviction for attempt to commit first degree murder. In order to satisfy the elements of attempt to commit first degree murder, the state must prove that there exists premeditation and that the Defendant had the intent to commit the crime. The Court again relied heavily on the specific facts to determine whether the intent to kill was present, including the fact that the Defendant pointed his gun at the victim the entire time, and also the fact that he stated he was going to kill the victim "right here." The Court also held that the Defendant's conduct was premeditated since he arrived at the scene with a gun and duct tape, expecting to use both items. A reasonable jury could infer from these facts that the Defendant had the intent to kill and that his actions were premeditated. This was enough to satisfy the TN Statute for attempt to commit first degree murder.

While the Court ultimately affirmed all four convictions, it remanded the case back to the trial court to determine if his sentence (a combination of periods of years of incarceration, some to be served consecutively and others to be served concurrently) was calculated correctly.

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