Newell v. State

Decision Date08 October 2015
Docket NumberNo. 2013–CT–00030–SCT.,2013–CT–00030–SCT.
Citation175 So.3d 1260
PartiesJames C. NEWELL, JR. a/k/a James C. Newell a/k/a James Newell a/k/a Chuck Newell v. STATE of Mississippi.
CourtMississippi Supreme Court

Office of the State Public Defender by Hunter Nolan Aikens, George T. Holmes.

Office of the Attorney General by Billy L. Gore.

EN BANC.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

WALLER, Chief Justice, for the Court:

¶ 1. In 2008, James Newell was convicted of manslaughter for the shooting death of Adrian Boyette at the Slab House bar in Lowndes County, Mississippi. After this Court reversed Newell's conviction, he was retried and again convicted of manslaughter. The Court of Appeals reversed this conviction, finding that the trial court erred in its admission of certain expert testimony. We granted Newell's petition for writ of certiorari to address his remaining claims that the Court of Appeals declined to address. Finding those arguments to be without merit, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reverse the judgment of the Lowndes County Circuit Court, and remand the case for a new trial.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶ 2. The instant appeal arises from Newell's second trial for killing Adrian Boyette. The facts of this case are well-documented by the Court of Appeals' opinion:

On April 30, 2008, Newell married his wife, Diane. Within the next two weeks, Newell suspected Diane of cheating on him with Tony Hayes, and had contacted a lawyer about divorcing her. On May 14, 2008, Diane moved out of their home in Vernon, Alabama. Later on that same day, around 5 p.m., Newell telephoned her and left two voice mail messages. In the first message, Newell threatened to “pop a cap” in Diane and Tony; however, in the second message, Newell told Diane that they “were not worth it.” Later that night, Newell went to the Slab House, a bar in Lowndes County, Mississippi, to see if Diane was there with Tony.
When Newell arrived at the Slab House around 9 p.m., he saw Adrian Boyette and Jason Hollis standing near Diane's truck. Newell approached Boyette. Newell testified that he asked Boyette if he knew where the owner of the truck they were standing near was. Several law enforcement officers testified that Newell had told them that he asked Boyette if he was the person who had been answering Diane's phone. The conversation between Boyette and Newell became heated. Newell walked back to his truck, followed by Boyette. As Newell was getting into his truck, Boyette slammed the truck door on Newell's leg. After Newell closed the truck door, Boyette began beating on the hood of the truck, threatening to [mess him] up.” During this time Newell removed the handgun he carried from the glove box and placed it beside him on the seat. Boyette pulled on the driver-side door. Boyette threatened to “cut [Newell] up” and reached for his pocket. Newell grabbed the gun, pushed the door open, and shot Boyette. Newell jumped back in his truck and drove off to his home in Vernon.
Police soon arrived at the Slab House and put out a “BOLO,” or be on the lookout, for Newell's vehicle. Soon after Newell arrived home, his sister called 911 to report that Newell was outside his house threatening to commit suicide with a gun. Police officers soon responded to the call. Investigator David Sullivan arrived to find Newell outside with a gun to his head, surrounded by other officers. Since Sullivan knew Newell personally, he sat on a bench next to Newell, talked with him, and convinced him to place the gun in his lap. During the conversation, Newell asked the police to check his truck for Boyette's fingerprints and to obtain Diane's cell phone to show that she had been talking to other men. After Sullivan ordered the truck fingerprinted and the phone seized, he was able to convince Newell to give him the gun and surrender peacefully. At trial, Newell testified that he was threatening to kill himself because he did not think anyone would believe that he shot Boyette in self-defense.

Newell v. State, 176 So.3d 78, 78–80, 2014 WL 4695871, at **1–2, (Miss.Ct.App.2014). Newell was indicted for deliberate-design murder, but the jury at his first trial found him guilty of manslaughter. On appeal, this Court reversed Newell's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, finding that the trial court had erred in excluding Boyette's toxicology results from evidence. Newell v. State, 49 So.3d 66, 73 (Miss.2010).

¶ 3. This Court issued its mandate for Newell's initial appeal on December 23, 2010. Newell was not retried until August 21, 2012. During this period, Jason Hollis, one of the State's witnesses at Newell's first trial, went missing. Accordingly, the State filed a motion to utilize a transcript of Hollis's prior testimony at Newell's second trial. This motion was granted over Newell's objection. At the conclusion of the second trial, Newell was found guilty of manslaughter.

¶ 4. Newell appealed his conviction, and the case was assigned to the Court of Appeals. On appeal, Newell raised the following issues:

(1) the verdict was not supported by the weight and/or sufficiency of the evidence; (2) the trial court erred in giving several jury instructions; (3) the trial court erred in allowing Dr. Stephen Hayne to testify that Boyette was in a “guarded position” at the time of the shooting; (4) the trial court erred in allowing evidence of Newell's telephone messages from Diane's phone; (5) the trial court erred in allowing the State to read Hollis's testimony; and (6) the trial court erred in denying Newell's motion to dismiss for a violation of his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Newell, 176 So.3d at 79–80, 2014 WL 4695871, at *2. The Court of Appeals reversed Newell's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, finding that Dr. Hayne's testimony was inadmissible, but it did not address Newell's other assigned issues. Id. at **2–3, 79–81. Newell then petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the Court of Appeals had erred in failing to address his sufficiency-of-the-evidence and speedy-trial claims, because a ruling in his favor on either of these claims would preclude a new trial. He also argued that the Court of Appeals should have addressed his other evidentiary arguments, as those issues likely would come up again on remand. This Court granted Newell's petition to address these arguments.

DISCUSSION

¶ 5. Before addressing the merits of Newell's claims, we pause to explain our reasons for granting the petition for writ of certiorari in this case. On appeal, Newell challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction and claimed that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. Unlike an evidentiary error, which would result in a new trial, the resolution of either of the aforementioned issues in Newell's favor would have resulted in the dismissal of the charges against him. If the appellate court determines that the State presented insufficient evidence of an element of the offense at trial, “the proper remedy is for the appellate court to reverse and render.” Bush v. State, 895 So.2d 836, 843 (Miss.2005). [T]he Double Jeopardy Clause precludes a second trial once the reviewing court has found the evidence legally insufficient[.] Burks v. United States, 437 U.S. 1, 18, 98 S.Ct. 2141, 57 L.Ed.2d 1 (1978). In addition, [t]he sole remedy for a speedy-trial violation is reversal of the trial court's decision and dismissal of the charges against the defendant.”

Bateman v. State, 125 So.3d 616, 628 (Miss.2013) (citations omitted). The Court of Appeals should have addressed Newell's arguments regarding the sufficiency of the evidence and his speedy-trial rights, even if it also determined that the trial court had committed an error in the admission or exclusion of evidence. And if those issues were decided in the State's favor, the Court of Appeals still should have addressed each of Newell's evidentiary arguments, as they are “likely to arise once again on remand.” Brooks v. State, 763 So.2d 859, 864 (Miss.2000). We will address Newell's assignments of error in full.

I. Whether the State presented sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

¶ 6. On retrial, Newell was charged with manslaughter, and he relied on self-defense under the “Castle Doctrine” as his primary defense. On appeal, he argues that the State presented insufficient evidence to overcome his theory of self-defense and support a conviction for manslaughter. However, this Court has held that [t]he issue of justifiable self-defense presents a question of the weight and credibility of the evidence rather than sufficiency and is to be decided by the jury.” Wade v. State, 748 So.2d 771, 774 (Miss.1999) (quoting Meshell v. State 506 So.2d 989, 991–92 (Miss.1987) ) (emphasis added). Accordingly, we must not disturb the jury's verdict unless we are “convinced that the verdict is so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence that to allow it to stand would sanction an unconscionable injustice.” Gossett v. State, 660 So.2d 1285, 1294 (Miss.1995). In our review of the evidence, we must be mindful that jurors are permitted to accept or reject the testimony of witnesses, and we “need not determine with exactitude which witness or what testimony the jury believed or disbelieved in arriving at its verdict. It is enough that the conflicting evidence presented a factual dispute for jury resolution.” Gandy v. State, 373 So.2d 1042, 1045 (Miss.1979).

¶ 7. Newell now presents a thorough argument concerning the statutory requirements for asserting the Castle Doctrine and alleges that [t]he evidence in this case was such that no reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the circumstances in [Section 97–3–15(3) ] were not met and that the presumption of reasonable fear did not apply.” We find this argument to be without merit. This Court previously determined that Newell was entitled to a jury instruction on the Castle Doctrine, finding that “if [the jury] believed Newell's version of...

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