Eubanks v. State

Citation291 So.3d 309
Decision Date27 February 2020
Docket NumberNO. 2018-KA-00282-SCT,2018-KA-00282-SCT
Parties Jontavian EUBANKS v. STATE of Mississippi
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CYNTHIA ANN STEWART, MADISON

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD, JACKSON

EN BANC.

GRIFFIS, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

¶1. Jontavian Eubanks appeals his convictions of burglary of a dwelling and conspiracy to commit burglary of a dwelling. Finding no error, we affirm.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Ashley Brown and Jessica Baugh were roommates at the Bay Meadows Apartments in Ridgeland. Brown and Baugh also worked together at Last Call Sports Bar in Ridgeland.

¶3. On January 9, 2016, Brown and Baugh finished their shift and met up with friends, including Stephanie Mejia, a coworker from the bar. Brown eventually left and went home. Baugh and Mejia continued to hang out, and Mejia arranged to spend the night at Brown's and Baugh's apartment. Because Mejia did not have a key to the apartment, Baugh told her that she would leave the door unlocked. Mejia then left Baugh to meet up with her friends. Baugh met her friend Chris Jones and the two went back to Baugh's apartment. According to Baugh, she and Jones arrived at her apartment around 4:00 a.m. on January 10, 2016.

¶4. During the night, Jones woke up Baugh and advised that someone had come into the apartment. Baugh was not concerned because she assumed it was Mejia. Later that morning, Brown woke up Baugh and advised that her car was gone. Brown's keys, along with her debit and credit cards, were also gone. Baugh began to look around the apartment and noticed that her iPad and Michael Kors bag were missing. The tips that Baugh had received from work were in the bag.1 Brown and Baugh called the police.

¶5. Officer Adrian Ready with the Ridgeland Police Department learned that Amonteel Pates had used Brown's credit card to purchase a pair of shoes on January 10, 2016. Pates was later arrested. When questioned about the incident at Brown's and Baugh's apartment, Pates acknowledged his involvement and culpability and provided the names of the other suspects to Officer Ready. Those suspects were Rahim Williams, Michael Tillman, Fabiyonne Peel, and Eubanks.2

¶6. According to Pates, Mejia called and told him that she had something for him to do. Pates explained that he understood this to mean that Mejia wanted him to commit some type of crime. Pates met Mejia at IHOP on the night of January 9, 2016. While Pates met with Mejia, Williams, Tillman, Peel, and Eubanks waited in the parking lot. Mejia advised Pates that Baugh had made good tips at work that night and that she wanted Pates to steal the money, along with Baugh's Michael Kors bag. Pates was aware that Mejia had arranged to spend the night at Baugh's and Brown's apartment and that Baugh would leave the door unlocked.

¶7. In the early morning hours of January 10, 2016, Pates drove to Baugh's and Brown's apartment in Mejia's car. When he arrived, Williams, Tillman, Peel, and Eubanks were already at the apartment. According to Pates, Williams, Tillman, Peel, and Eubanks went inside the apartment. Tillman came out of the apartment first and was carrying some keys and throwing out credit cards. Pates picked up all of the credit cards. Tillman located Brown's vehicle, an orange Dodge Charger, and drove off.

¶8. When Williams, Peel, and Eubanks came out of the apartment, they advised Pates that they were unable to locate the Michael Kors bag. Williams, Peel, and Eubanks then went back into the apartment a second time. When they emerged, Williams was carrying the Michael Kors bag, and Eubanks was carrying an iPad. Pates acknowledged that he, Williams, Tillman, Peel, and Eubanks all communicated via cell phone that night.

¶9. Officer Ready obtained arrest warrants for Williams, Tillman, Peel, and Eubanks and attempted to locate Eubanks at his home in Jackson. When he arrived at Eubanks's home, Officer Ready noticed that a vehicle registered to Peel was in the driveway. Officer Ready entered the home and located Eubanks in the rear bedroom; Eubanks was pretending to sleep on the bed. Peel was hiding beside the bed under a pile of clothes.

¶10. During his search of Eubanks's residence, Officer Ready located Baugh's iPad that had been stolen from her apartment. He also seized three cell phones. Officer Ready was able to identify the cell-phone numbers of each of the suspects and subpoenaed their cell phone records. The cell-phone records revealed that Eubanks, Pates, and Williams had been in communication with Mejia throughout the night of the alleged offenses. According to Brown and Baugh, Mejia was the only person who had permission to enter their apartment on the night of the alleged offenses.

¶11. Eubanks, Pates, Peel, Williams, and Tillman were indicted on Count I, burglary of a dwelling, Count II, conspiracy to commit burglary of a dwelling, Count III, motor-vehicle theft, and Count IV, conspiracy to commit motor-vehicle theft. Pates pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twenty-five years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), with ten years to serve. As part of his plea agreement, Pates testified against Eubanks at trial.

¶12. Eubanks was convicted of Count I, burglary of a dwelling, and Count II, conspiracy to commit burglary of a dwelling, and was sentenced to serve twenty-five years in the custody of the MDOC on Count I and five years on Count II, with the sentences to run concurrently to each other, but consecutively to any and all other sentences. He was further ordered to pay $698.50 in court costs, fees, and assessments. Eubanks was acquitted on Counts III and IV.

¶13. Eubanks filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, a new trial. The motion was denied. Eubanks timely appealed. On appeal, Eubanks asserts that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion for funds to retain an expert for trial, (2) denying his motion for funds to retain an expert for a Daubert3 hearing, (3) overruling his Batson4 challenge, and (4) permitting hearsay testimony to establish essential elements of the charged offenses.

ANALYSIS
I. Whether the trial court erred by denying Eubanks's motion for funds to retain an expert.

¶14. Before trial, the State advised that it intended to call representatives from T-Mobile, AT & T, and C Spire, as well as an investigator from the Attorney General's Office, to testify regarding the cell-phone records of Eubanks, Pates, Williams, and Tillman. In response, Eubanks filed a motion in limine to exclude the expert witnesses' testimonies. In the motion, Eubanks asserted that "[t]he purpose of the [cell-phone] records and testimony [wa]s to show which cellular towers the various cell phones ‘pinged’ off of during calls or texts made during or about the time of the alleged criminal activity." Eubanks argued that "[t]he science behind the ‘pinging’ of a particular phone on a particular cell tower ... is flawed." As a result, Eubanks moved in limine to exclude any expert testimony concerning his location "at [a] given time by use of cell phone data."5

¶15. Eubanks also filed a motion for funds to retain an expert and to proceed in forma pauperis . The trial court deferred ruling on the motion because defense counsel had not offered any information regarding the name of the expert or the associated costs. Eubanks then filed a "Supplemental Motion for Expert and Funds and To Proceed In Forma Pauperis" and included that information. In the motion, Eubanks asserted that he needed an expert who was knowledgeable "as to technical cell phone tower issues ... to review the [cell-phone] records and evidence [in order] to assist with cross-examination and [to] rebut [the State's expert] testimony." Eubanks further asserted that he needed the assistance of an expert to prepare for the Daubert hearing on his motion in limine. According to Eubanks, he "d[id] not have the funds to pay for such an expert" and therefore "s[ought] the [c]ourt's intervention for payment of these funds."6

¶16. At the motion hearing, the trial court found that because the State was not relying on expert testimony alone to prove an element of the offense, Eubanks was not entitled to an expert to assist in his defense. As a result, the trial court denied Eubanks's motion for expert and funds. The trial court did not consider Eubanks's motion to proceed in forma pauperis . Eubanks's motion in limine was denied.

¶17. On appeal, Eubanks argues that the trial court erred "in refusing to grant funds for an expert." Eubanks asserts he needed an expert to (1) assist in the preparation for trial and (2) assist in the preparation for a Daubert hearing. Although Eubanks separately raises these issues in his brief on appeal, this Court addressed both issues jointly.

¶18. A trial court's decision to deny a request for funds to hire an expert is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Ruffin v. State , 447 So. 2d 113, 118 (Miss. 1984).

That there can conceivably be instances when the state in fairness should be required to pay the cost of an expert needed by the defense to insure a fair trial for an indigent accused must be conceded. Those cases can only be left to the discretion of the trial court, and they will be rare.

Id. at 118.

¶19. The United States Supreme Court has held that the "basic tools of an adequate defense or appeal" must "be provided to those defendants who cannot afford to pay for them." Ake v. Oklahoma , 470 U.S. 68, 77, 105 S. Ct. 1087, 84 L. Ed. 2d 53 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Britt v. North Carolina , 404 U.S. 226, 227, 92 S. Ct. 431, 30 L. Ed. 2d 400 (1971) ). In order to determine whether an expert is a "basic tool[ ] of an adequate defense," three factors are considered: (1) "the private interest that will be affected by the action of the State"; (2) "the governmental interest that will be affected if the safeguard is to be provided"; and (3) "the probable value of...

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