Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – May 1, 2014

Taylor v. State – Sixteen-year-old Bernard Taylor was convicted of aggravated assault after he shot into a car containing five people wounding three of them.   He was charged with three counts of aggravated assault.  Each contained a firearm enhancement.  His theory was self defense and while the jury was instructed on this theory, Taylor was denied a simple assault instruction which he assigns as error on appeal.  He also argues that the gun enhancement was an issue that should have been decided by the jury under Apprendi.  The Miss. S. Ct. buys neither argument.  Based on the presence of a deadly weapon and the defendant’s concession that he intentionally shot at the victims (albeit in self defense) he was not entitled to an instruction on simple assault. As far as the Apprendi argument, the jury necessarily found that Taylor used a firearm when it found him guilty and, thus, it did not violate Apprendi for the trial court to sentence him based on this fact.

Abeyta v. State –      Abeyta was convicted of killing his mother Pamela.   Abeyta was 29 years old, a drug and alcohol abuser, and known to take his mother’;s credit and debit cards to pay for alcohol.   On October 10, 2010, Pamela’s friend was visiting and Pamela was upset about her son stealing her money.  The friend left and Abeyta came home and beat and killed his mother. Her body was found wrapped in a sheet in the woods.  On appeal Abeyta argues that he was entitled to a heat of passion manslaughter instruction, that there was insufficient evidence of deliberate design to support a murder verdict and that the trial court erred in admitting gruesome photos.  Abeyta argued that his testimony that he and his mother were arguing about the debit card and he lost it was sufficient to support a heat of passion instruction.  The Miss. S.Ct. disagrees holding that mere words can never rise to the provocation that would change murder to manslaughter.  As for deliberate design, Abeyta admitted killing his mother.  She was beaten severely and strangled for over a minute. The fact that he may have been voluntarily intoxicated does not negate deliberate design. And, of course, the gruesome photos issue never wins. (Essentially, if the defendant doesn’t want gruesome photos, he should take more care in how he kills his victim). 

Hardy v. State – Hardy was convicted of two counts of culpable negligence manslaughter arising out of a boating accident. He was sentenced to 44 years with 26 to serve.  He argues that the case should have been dismissed because the state failed to preserve the boat and Hardy maintained the boat had a steering problem. However, there were pictures of the steering mechanism available. Plus, there was ample evidence that Hardy was impaired and even if the steering failed that does not “exonerate Hardy of the litany of actions that that created the fatal collision.   There was no speedy trial violation; the trial court did not err in allowing the jury to hear about Hardy’s alcohol consumption; the indictment was not defective; and the trial court did not err in not giving a spoilation instruction.  

Hopkins v. State – Hopkins was convicted as an habitual on one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. On appeal he argues sufficiency of the evidence (because there were other people living in the house where the crack was found)  and 404(b) evidence.   The crack was found in plain view in the living room and kitchen and there was plenty of evidence that Hopkins lived there.  This was sufficient to show constructive possession.  As far as evidence of a sale made to a CI, since the CI did not testify, there was no evidence of the actual sale.  However the officers could testify about meeting with the CI,the audio of the transaction and the CI’s returning with the crack.   


Hester v. Lowndes County School District –  This case was on cert. and was argued last month.  Today the Court “ungrants” cert. via the following order:   
Stacy Oliver Hester v. Lowndes County School District

       Lowndes Chancery Court; LC Case #: 2010-0818; Ruling Date: 03/30/2012; Ruling Judge: Dorothy Colom; Consolidated with 2012-CT-00852-SCT Lowndes County School District v. Joseph Lynn Wright; Lowndes Chancery Court; LC Case #: 2010-0817-C; Ruling Date: 05/22/2012; Ruling Judge: Dorothy Colom; Disposition: Petition for writ of certiorari filed by counsel for Stacy Oliver Hester and Joseph Lynn Wright was granted by order of this Court on February 20, 2014, in order to carefully review the issues and record in this matter. Having done so, the Court now finds that there is no need for further review, and that the writ of certiorari should be dismissed. On the Court’s own motion, the writ of certiorari is dismissed. To Dismiss: Waller, C.J., Dickinson and Randolph, P.JJ., Lamar, Kitchens, Pierce, King and Coleman, JJ. Not Participating: Chandler, J. Pierce, J., for the Court. Order entered.

2 thoughts on “Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – May 1, 2014

  1. “(Essentially, if the defendant doesn’t want gruesome photos, he should take more care in how he kills his victim).” … Thus tending to PROVE the heat-of-passion argument!

    … But srsly, how often are the gruesome photos probative of anything? They arouse the jury’s anger against the perp, without doing anything to prove that the perp is in fact the guy sitting in the court.

  2. If memory serves, the Court has reversed only once based on gruesome photos and that was because the body had been laying out for a while and was full of maggots. AND, when the case was retried, it seems those same photos were not considered a problem. So, as long as the court picks through the photos and excludes the MOST gruesome ones, no case is getting reversed on gruesome photos. Sort of like speedy trial issues. You can forget winning on the issue of gruesome photos. A defendant is better off on the front end where he has some control over gruesomeness.

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