Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – March 5, 2015

Jerome Totten v. State –   sufficiency of evidence of worth of stolen goods – Totten was found guilty of burglary of a dwelling and grand larceny and  sentenced as a habitual offender to terms of twenty-five and ten years to be served concurrently.  On appeal he argues that the  State failed to present sufficient evidence that the actual fair market value of the items stolen in the burglary equals or exceeded  $500.  Totten was charged with burglarizing the home of  Corey Rakestraw and taking a clothes’ dryer, a laptop,  two chainsaws, an Amish heater, and tools.  Totten was caught after selling or attempting to sell various of the items.   Rakestraw testified to the value of the items: he had  paid $125 for the dryer approximately two weeks before the burglary; $350 for the laptop at Walmart;  $185 for the heater  at a surplus warehouse.  He testified that one of the chainsaws was worth $200 and the tools over $1000. The Court affirms.

Joseph Hartfield v. Statestatement against interest –  three people, Hartfield, Dixon and Graham,  were indicted for the murder of Hartfield’s wife, Tabitha.   Dixon testified against Hartfield and Graham in separate trials.  Graham was called to testify at Hartfield’s trial and she invoked her 5th right to remain silent. Hartfield attempted to introduce letters that Graham had sent to Hartfield and Graham’s boyfriend and mother – letters that inculpated Graham and exculpated Hartfield.  The prosecution objected that the letters were hearsay.  The Ct.of App. reversed finding that the letters should have been admitted pursuant to MRE 804(h)(3) as statements against interest where there were corroborating circumstances that indicating trustworthiness.   Since Graham had admitted guilt and had made statements that she and Dixon murdered Tabitha, the letters should have been admitted.  Indeed, it was an abuse of discretion to exclude them.  On cert., the MSC reverses the COA and reinstates the verdict. The Court held that two of the letters did not contain statements against interest.

As to the other letters, including letters to the defendant,  Graham confessed to some elements of the crime of acting as an accessory after the fact but only because  Dixon threatened to kill her unless she aided him.

Finally, regardless of whether Graham acknowledged participation in covering up a murder, she made those statements while incarcerated and awaiting her trial on murder and conspiracy charges. Her letters are nothing more than an attempt to exonerate herself from her pending murder charge and place all blame on Dixon. The fact that she may also have implicated herself in a much lesser crime is of no consequence. In other words, a easonable person in Graham’s position would be furthering her interest by claiming that her participation was after the fact only. We have held that “post-arrest statements made by one accused pointing the finger at another are as a matter of common experience among the least trustworthy of statements . . . .” Williams, 667 So. 2d at 20. In sum, we cannot say that a reasonable person in Graham’s position would not have made the statements unless believing
them to be true. As such, Graham’s statements were not against her penal interest, and they were not admissible under Rule 804(b)(3).

Miss. Bar v. Robert Ogletree – commingling – Ogletree  was hired to do a child support modification and given a $400 retainer. He deposited this into his general operating account. Ogletree terminated his representation of Buckley and gave  Buckley a check for $400 from one of his trust accounts to refund Buckley’s partial payment of the retainer. The check was returned for insufficient funds. Ogletree then delivered $440 in cash to Buckley. Buckley’s wife submitted an informal complaint. The Bar asked for all records on his trusts accounts and found commingling. The Complaint Tribunal suspended him for six months.  The Bar appeals arguing that a stiffer penalty was warranted. The MSC affirms.

The Court grants cert in Nekole Bennett v. Highland Park Apartments 

Bennnett v. Highland Park Apartments –  premises liability – Bennett and her children were residing at Highland Park Apartments when they were the victims of a home invasion. The assailants were never caught. Two weeks later the Bennetts filed a premises liability complaint against the apartment complex. The trial court  granted summary judgment for the defendants. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reverses finding that the plaintiffs’ expert noted that there were 1000 calls for service at the complex within a five year period (several involving guns) and that reasonable jurors could have found that the lack of an armed security guard and a gate the was not in working condition were substantial factors in bringing about the harm to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs also asked that Weill be recused but the Court finds that the request came too late.

I can’t pull this case up on the Court’s docket so I cannot  post a link to the cert. petition.

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