Decisions – Miss.S.Ct. – April 16, 2015

Barnes v. Jefferson County School DIst. – grant of new trial – The family of 6 year old Greg Barnes Jr sued the School District after the bus driver stopped the bus on a bridge and dangled Greg over the edge of a bridge. Because this was a Tort Claims Act, there was a bench trial.  The trial court ruled for the School District.  After the trial, the School District  produced a bus driver handbook that had not been produced during pre-trial discovery.   The Barnes moved for  judgment notwithstanding the verdict as a sanction for the discovery violation.  During the JNOV hearing, the School District admitted that the proof should be reopened  the judge admitted he could not be impartial during a new trial since he had heard the evidence. The trial court granted  a new trial.  At some point, the School District admitted liability. The judge entered an order recusing himself.  Fourteen after that he entered an order denying the JNOV. According the the School District, this last order came about after the judge’s issued an order  “recusing himself from presiding over the new trial.” Barnes filed an interloc. arguing that the judge should not have denied the JNOV after recusing himself  and, further, that the JNOV should have been granted as sanctions for the discovery violation. The Miss.S.Ct. affirms finding that in granting the motion for new trial, the court necessarily denied the motion for jnov and the issue of sanctions is still before the court.

Jamil Chancellor v. State defendant’s theory of the defense –  Chancellor was convicted of armed robbery and carjacking and sentenced to 25 years with ten suspended and five added under the gun enhancement.   He had been accused of with robbing  Marcell Cox at gunpoint demanding his money and car keys  as Cox  was leaving his job at Elegante Coiffures.  A coworker exchanged gunfire with Chancellor and Chancellor was shot in the face and ran into the woods.    When Chancellor was caught, he told police that  he robbed Cox because his friend LaTanya Buckner was upset that Cox  refused to do anything after her car was stolen from the barber shop’s parking lot.  At trial. Chancellor’s theory of the defense was that he was forced by Buckner to commit the crime.  He argues on appeal that the court erred in refusing to allow Chancellor to adduce evidence that he had only finished the third grade as support for his defense.  The COA finds no error since Chancellor gave the jury this exact information when he testified. Chancellor also argues that the Court erred in not allowing him to elicit evidence as to Buckner’s prior arrests.  The Court  finds this issue to be without merit.  The arrests were unrelated to the crime and Chancellor was allowed to testify that Buckner was dangerous and that he was afraid of her and that she was in a gang and that she had also been arrested in connection with the carjacking.

Jeffery Stallworth v. Stateexpungement’s effect of requirement to register as a sex offender – Stallworth is a preacher in Jackson, MS. In 2001, he was indicted for five counts of sexual battery in Maryland. He pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor, sexual offense in the fourth degree. The conviction required that he register in Mississippi as a sex offender. In 2005, he filed suit in Hinds County arguing that his Maryland conviction was a non-registerable misdemeanor in the State of Maryland and asking that he be relieved from having to register in Miss. The trial court denied relief and the Miss.S.Ct. affirmed. Stallworth v. Miss. Dep’t of Public Safety, 986 So.2d 259 (Miss. 2008).  Stallworth also filed in Maryland to expunge his conviction. This was granted in February 2010. In December 2012, Stallworth petitioned the Hinds County Circuit Court that he be relieved of the duty to register as a sex offender because his conviction has been expunged. The trial court denied relief based on its finding that “Mississippi case law is silent as to how an expunged conviction would alter the petitioner’s duty to register as a sex offender.” On appeal, the Miss.S.Ct. reverses.

The narrow question presented is whether the expungement of a misdemeanor, fourth degree, sexual-offense conviction in another state by the court that entered the conviction entitles the petitioner to relief from his duty to register as a sex offender in Mississippi. The Hinds County Circuit Court denied the requested relief. But, because expungement of a conviction requires the courts to “restore one to the status occupied prior thereto,”1 we reverse.

Larry Collier v. State impeachment via former convictions –  Collier was charged with  four counts of selling cocaine as a subsequent drug offender. The buys were set up by Shirley Melvin, an informant oft used by the Rankin County Sheriff’s department.   Melvin testified at Collier’s trial.  The state had her trot out her many convictions.  She managed to leave out three of these which the defense then attempted to impeach her with.  The state objected on the grounds that the convictions were more than ten years old and that the defendant failed to notice the state of its intent to use these convictions pursuant to MRE 609. THe trial court ruled the priors inadmissible. On appeal, the Miss.S.Ct. finds that the judge’s ruling was error.  If a witness lies about her criminal past, 609 does not come into play. The Court, though, rules the error was harmless given that Melvin’s credibility was already tarnished  and in light of all the evidence against Collier.

Desoto County v. T.D. and Aaron Dennis –  sovereign immunity/failure to cancel arrest warrant –  An arrest warrant was issued for T.D. Dennis arising out of a domestic dispute.  The judge cancelled the warrant after she  complied with the judge’s order to attend an anger-management course. However, because the justice court clerk failed to send a cancellation notice to the local sheriff’s office, DeSoto County deputies later arrested T.D. and held her in jail until they discovered the mistake. . The plaintiffs sued DeSoto County for the clerk’s negligence. DeSoto County moved for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The circuit judge denied that motion. DeSoto County appealed. The Miss. S. Ct. reverses and renders.

Section 11-46-9 grants immunity to DeSoto County if: (1) its justice court clerk was “acting within the course and scope of [her] employment or duties” (there is no dispute that she was), and (2) the claim arises “out of a . . . judicial action or inaction, or administrative action or inaction of a . . . judicial nature . . . .”  We find that the Legislature could not have chosen language that more precisely and clearly provides immunity to the clerk. The statute uses no words of limitation. It provides immunity for all claims that arise from any “judicial action or inaction, or administrative . . . inaction of a . . . judicial nature . . . .

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