Decisions – COA – Aug. 1, 2017 – part 2

Edwina Robbins v. State of Mississippi –  other crimes/bad act evidence – Robbins was charged along with two others in holding up Lisa Barnes with a knife and stealing her car keys and $40.  She was convicted.  Apparently Barnes had gone to Robbins’ home to discuss a debt Robinns owed for crack cocaine. Prior to trial, Robbins moved to prohibit the state from introducing evidence that  Robbins was a drug dealer, and Barnes owed
Robbins money for drugs, and evidence that, after Barnes left Robbins’s house, another person came to Robbins’  house and was robbed.  The trial court allowed the evidence and Robbins raises this as error on appeal.  The COA finds that the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence and, even if it were error, it was harmless.

Heath Grames v. Holly Gramesdivided custody – Heath and Holly were married in 1995, had four children – two sons and two daughters – and  separated in January 2014.  The boys preferred to live with their father and the oldest girl expressed a preference to live with her mother.   The chancellor gave physical custody of the boys to Heath and the girls to Holly.  Heath appeals arguing that it was error to separate the children.  The COA upholds the chancellor’s ruling.  Nor was the visitation schedule erroneous. The chancellor devised it based on the fact that Holly was moving to Utah. “In order for
the children to see each other as much as possible, the chancellor ordered visitation of all four children to alternate between Holly and Heath for any week-long holidays.”

Lamarcus Wallace  v. State of Mississippi –   right to confrontation – Wallace was convicted of killing  Tony Jones.  A few hours before Jones was found dying from gunshot wounds, law enforcement had been called because of a disagreement between Wallace and Jones wherein Jones was reported to have a gun.  An officer told Wallace to leave and as Wallace left,  he made threatening statements to Jones.  When Jones was found shot, law enforcement immediately looked for Wallace. The fact that there were three eywitnesses didn’t hurt.  On appeal Wallace claims he should have been granted a mistrial because several jurors slept during the trial.  Wallace did call this to the trial court’s attention but never asked for a mistrial. He also argues that  his right to confront witnesses was denied.  The forensic examiner who tested the gunshot-residue sample did not testify at trial. Instead, the chief of the  Trace Evidence Section who technically reviewed all the reports issued by the crime lab testified.  The COA finds no error. “It is clear from his testimony that Whitehead was actively involved in the production of the report and had intimate knowledge of the testing procedures.”  He also argues that it was error for the State to comment on the lack of Wallace’s alibi witness.  Wallace testified that he was in Greenville when Jones was shot.  The State then asked, “Is Tavarous here today?” Wallace responded, “No.”  Wallace failed to preserve this issue because he failed to object or raise in his posttrial motions.

Amber Toney, Administratrix for the Estate of Larry Donnell Toney, and Amber Toney, Individually and On Behalf of the Wrongful Death Beneficiaries of Larry Donnell Toney, Deceased v. Southern Crane & Rigging, Inc. – wrongful death –  In April 2011, T. K. Stanley employee Larry Toney was killed while dismantling oil-field equipment on a site in Wayne County.  He died when a flare stack fell on him.  The TKS foreman had erroneously thought the flare stick was welded the concrete slab. When the guy wires attacked to the flare stack were removed, it fell over. Southern Crane moved for summary judgment.  Toney, instead of responding, moved to amend her complaint.  The trial court granted summary judgment and the COA affirms.

Kadarius White v. State of Mississippiegregious discovery violation – Kadarius White was convicted of two counts of armed robbery, two counts of armed carjacking, and possession of stolen property arising from five separate crimes.  The COA reverses on the grounds that just prior to opening statements, “the district attorney disclosed that the State possessed approximately ninety-five minutes of recorded phone conversations involving White, and the State intended to introduce unspecified parts of the recordings, including an alleged “confession,” into evidence at trial.”  The DA had had the tapes for two years and failed to disclose them even when specifically asked for  them.  The court delayed the trial just long enough to allow the defense to listen to the tapes but denied a longer continuance or a mistrial.   Since this is a violation of criminal procedure 101, the COA reverses and remands. “The district attorney’s only excuse for the violation in this case—that, due to “oversight,” detectives did not provide the evidence to him until after jury selection—is inadequate as a matter of law. ”

Mississippi Department of Public Safety and Albert Santa Cruz, in his Official Capacity as Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Public Safety v. Stacy Smith, Greg Nester, and Kristopher Wingert –  civil service – Smith, Nester and Wingert were  permanent state civil-service employees working at the Crime Lab.  In 2005 MDPS told them they were being transferred to the  MBI but that they would retain their positions, salaries,
and position identification numbers (PINs).  In 2008 they learned that they lost their  Crime Lab PINs when MDPS assigned them MDPS PINs. In February 2011, they filed grievances with MBI, claiming that the loss of their Crime Lab PINs limited their opportunities for promotions and pay increases and that other forensic scientists were allowed to retain their Crime Lab PINs and corresponding career paths.   They eventually filed a petition for mandamus.  The trial court  remanded the case to the Employee Appeals Board for exhaustion.  The EAB dismissed the matter.  Smith et al appealed and moved for summary judgment arguing that the MDPS failed to follow the Mississippi State Personnel Board’s  rules regarding “intra-agency transfer.” The trial court granted the motion and ordered MDPS to  “(1) . . . reinstate [the Appellees’ MDPS] Crime Lab PINs with the appropriate job description; (2) place [the Appellees] in the forensic[-]scientist step appropriate with their experience and performance; (3) pay [the Appellees] all
back pay due along with fringe benefits, including contributions to PERS and
on[-]call pay; and (4) give [the Appellees] prospective placements and steps
earned by experience.”   MDPS appeals. The COA affirms.


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