Pruitt v. State

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee. Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee
Citation460 S.W.2d 385,3 Tenn.Crim.App. 256
PartiesCharles Edward PRUITT, Plaintiff in Error, v. STATE of Tennessee, Defendant in Error.
Decision Date27 July 1970

Page 385

460 S.W.2d 385
3 Tenn.Crim.App. 256
Charles Edward PRUITT, Plaintiff in Error,
STATE of Tennessee, Defendant in Error.
Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee.
July 27, 1970.
Certiorari Denied by Supreme Court Nov. 2, 1970.

[3 Tenn.Crim.App. 258]

Page 386

J. W. Dietzen (on appeal only), Chattanooga, for plaintiff in error.

David M. Pack, Atty. Gen., Robert H. Roberts, Asst. Atty. Gen., Nashville, John Seymour, Asst. Dist. Atty. Gen., Chattanooga, for defendant in error.


OLIVER, Judge.

Charles Edward Pruitt, the defendant below, indigent and represented there and here by court-appointed counsel, was convicted in the Criminal Court of Hamilton County for (1) burglarizing an automobile, for which he was sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary for three years, and (2) as an habitual criminal, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the penitentiary. Unsuccessful in his motion for a new trial, he is now before this Court upon appeal in the nature of a writ of error duly perfected.

The presentment was in four counts, the first charging that the defendant 'feloniously and burglariously' broke into and entered a specified automobile with the intent to commit larceny and stole a described revolver therefrom, the second with receiving the revolver knowing it to have been stolen and with the intent to deprive the owner thereof, the third with concealing the same revolver with like knowledge

Page 387

and intent, and the fourth count charged him with being an habitual criminal.

In the trial, the court followed the procedure set forth [3 Tenn.Crim.App. 259] in Harrison v. State, 217 Tenn. 31, 394 S.W.2d 713, conducting a separate trial under the habitual criminal count after concluding a trial upon the first three counts of the presentment, during which knowledge of the habitual criminal count and proof of prior convictions were withheld from the jury. The Court said in Harrison:

'It results and we so hold, it is prejudicial error to allow knowledge or evidence of previous convictions, enhancing the penalty upon conviction of the present crime, to be placed before the jury prior to their determination of defendant's guilt or innocence of the present crime.'

In his first Assignment of Error the defendant contends, as he did in his motion for a new trial, that during the trial upon the first three counts of the presentment the trial court erroneously admitted testimony showing commission of a separate unrelated crime by the defendant. A summary of the material evidence is necessary to place this question in proper perspective.

About five or six days after Mr. John Voris Williams' .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver was stolen from the glove compartment of his automobile, the defendant accosted the manager and the owner of a super market as they were returning from the bank with $20,000 in cash for the store's operation and, with a drawn revolver held partially under his coat, forced them back into the car which they had just parked in the store's parking area. He got in the back seat and ordered the manager to drive as he directed. The police were alerted by someone who observed this occurrence, as a result of which the license number of the automobile and a description[3 Tenn.Crim.App. 260] of it and its occupants were broadcast by police headquarters to all mobile units, and in a very short time a number of police cars intercepted the automobile. Pursuant to the defendant's instructions to tell the police that he was a store employee and that everything was all right, the store manager replied to a policeman's query about what was going on by saying, 'Not anything.' Not satisfied with that response, the policeman required all of them to get out of the car and submit to a search. Seeing that the defendant no longer had a gun, the store manager told the police that he had had one, whereupon, the police searched the rear seat area of the automobile where the defendant had been seated, and under some clothing found Williams' stolen revolver, which he identified shortly thereafter and at the trial by its serial number. The defendant did not testify or introduce any evidence in this phase of the trial.

The State's case against the defendant was based wholly upon circumstantial evidence, the circumstance of his possession and use of the revolver recently stolen from the owner's car. The defendant's first complaint is the admission of testimony that he attempted to rob the grocery store operators, a separate and unrelated crime not charged in the presentment.

The rule governing admissibility of evidence of other crimes not charged in the indictment is so well established that it is common knowledge in the legal profession, and has been reiterated and applied in a great variety of factual contexts by the Supreme Court of this State. The Court said in McGowen v. State, 221 Tenn. 442, 427 S.W.2d 555:

'* * * Proof in a criminal prosecution which tends [3 Tenn.Crim.App. 261] to show that the accused is guilty of the commisison of other crimes and offenses is generally incompetent and inadmissible for the purpose of proving the commission of the particular crime charged. 29 Am.Jur.2d 366 (Evidence, § 320); Liakas v. State (1956) 199 Tenn. 298, 286 S.W.2d

Page 388

856. There are, however, numerous exceptions to this rule. For example, evidence may be introduced of other crimes or acts of misconduct to show (1) motive, (2) guilty knowledge, (3) intent, or (4) identity. Caruthers v. State (1966) (219) Tenn. (21) 406 S.W.2d 159; Sykes v. State (1903) 112 Tenn. 572, 82 S.W. 185. See also McCormick on Evidence (1954), § 157; 29 Am.Jur.2d 369--378 (Evidence, §§ 321--326).'

The case of Liakas v. State, 199 Tenn. 298, 286 S.W.2d 856, was one in which the defendants were convicted of receiving and concealing stolen men's suits, property of Levy Brothers in Nashville. A search of a car in a parking lot (for which one of the defendants had a claim check) disclosed suits stolen from a Memphis store operated by one Daniels, according to his testimony. Rejecting the defendants' contention on appeal that admitting Mr. Daniels' testimony violated the rule prohibiting proof of other crimes, the Court, in an opinion by former Chief Justice Burnett, said this:

'In 20 Am.Jur., page 287, Sec. 309, Evidence, the following very sound and general rule is thus stated:

"A person, when placed upon trial for the commission of an offense against the criminal laws, is to be convicted, if at all, on evidence showing his guilt of the particular offense charged in the indictment[3 Tenn.Crim.App. 262] against him. It is a well-established common-law rule that in criminal prosecution proof which shows or tends to show that the accused is guilty of the commission of other crimes and offenses at other times, even though they are of the same nature as the one charged in the indictment, is incompetent and inadmissible for the purpose of showing the commission of the particular crime charged, unless the other offenses are connected with the offense for which he is on trial.'

'This rule has many well recognized exceptions as is said by the annotator of 125 A.L.R. at page 1036:

"Thus, evidence of other crimes may be admissible for purposes of identifying the defendant, or for establishing a mental state, such as guilty knowledge, motive, or intent on the part of the defendant, or for establishing a common scheme or plan for the commission of several crimes so related to each other that proof of one tends to establish the others."

In Carroll v. State, 212 Tenn. 464, 370 S.W.2d 523, the defendant was convicted of raping Mrs. Carroll. Mrs. Sneed, who lived in the second apartment down the hall from Mrs. Carroll, was permitted to testify that the defendant criminally assaulted her. On appeal the defendant assigned admission of this testimony as prejudicial error. The Court affirmed in an opinion by Mr. Justice Felts, wherein it is said:

'Defendant assigns error upon the admission of the testimony of Mrs. Edna Sneed 'as to the facts and things that went on in her apartment, wherein she [3 Tenn.Crim.App. 263] alleged that the defendant made a criminal assault on her.' It is urged that this was evidence of other and independent crimes which did not elucidate or tend to prove defendant's guilt of the charge upon trial, and was, therefore, inadmissible and highly prejudicial to him.

'We have many cases in which we have discussed the question of the admissibility of evidence of other crimes than that for which the accused is on trial. We need not undertake to review them. Some of the more recent ones are: Sims v. State, 208 Tenn. 615, 348 S.W.2d 293; Jones v. State, 200 Tenn. 553, 292 S.W.2d 767; Harris v. State, 189 Tenn. 635, 227 S.W.2d 8; Woodruff v. State, 164 Tenn. 530, 51 S.W.2d 843; Mays v. State, 145 Tenn. 118, 238 S.W. 1096.

Page 389

'The general principle to be collected from these, and other authorities, is that evidence of another crime or crimes than that charged in the indictment and for which defendant is on trial, is not admissible unless such evidence is relevant to prove his guilty of that crime. The test of relevancy is furnished not by law, but by logic and general experience (Thayer, Preliminary Treatise on Evidence (1898), 264--266). Morgan, Basic Problems of Evidence (1961), 183--194; Trautman, Logical or Legal Relevancy--A Conflict in Theory, 5 Vand.L.Rev. 385, 403--410.

'It is generally agreed that evidence of other crimes by defendant is not admissible merely to prove his disposition to commit such a crime as that on trial; but such evidence is admissible when it is relevant to [3 Tenn.Crim.App. 264] prove some other material issue on trial; for instance, when it tends to establish (1) motive; (2) intent; (3) absence of mistake or accident; (4) a common scheme or plan for commission of two or more crimes so related to each other that proof of one tends to establish the others; and (5) the identity...

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