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Thompson v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

February 11, 2019

THOMPSON
v.
THE STATE.

          DILLARD, C. J., DOYLE, P. J., and MERCIER, J.

          Dillard, Chief Judge.

         Following trial, a jury convicted Dennis Thompson on one count of possession of substances with intent to use such substances for the manufacture of a controlled substance. Thompson now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress unlawfully seized evidence and that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, [1] the evidence shows that on April 14, 2015, an investigator with the Clinch County Sheriff's Office received information from an informant that Thompson and his friend, Clifton Tyson, were manufacturing methamphetamine at a mobile home owned by Tyson in Homerville, Georgia. Consequently, shortly after receiving the tip, three sheriff's investigators, including the investigator familiar with the informant, went to Tyson's mobile home with the intent of conducting a "knock and talk."[2] Upon arriving at the home, the lead investigator knocked on the door and could hear people inside-i.e., footsteps, talking, and the shaking of a bottle with something inside it that sounded like a baby rattle. A minute or so later, Tyson opened the door, and, immediately, the lead investigator smelled a pungent chemical odor and observed a haziness inside the home, both of which, in his experience, were hallmarks of a methamphetamine lab. And fearing a possible chemical explosion, the lead investigator asked Tyson for consent to search the mobile home. Tyson consented, and he and Thompson then quickly exited the mobile home. At that point, given the strong chemical odor and haziness inside the home, the lead investigator told one of the other investigators to call the local fire department for assistance and to wait for their arrival before initiating a search of the residence.

         After the firefighters arrived, the lead investigator and one of the firefighters donned protective gear and self-contained breathing apparatuses and entered the mobile home to conduct a search. Just inside the door, the investigator observed plastic soda bottles containing tubing. Then, proceeding to the kitchen just a few feet away, the investigator observed water softener salt in the sink, which looked as if someone attempted to rinse it down the drain, and, underneath the sink, he found a jar containing a yellow liquid that appeared to be an accelerant. Additionally, the investigator discovered a second jar, containing what appeared to be ammonium nitrate. Following his search of the kitchen, the lead investigator went to the home's bedroom, where he discovered an ammunition bag containing a red funnel, anhydrous ammonia packets, liquid fire, a glass bottle, pliers, and a razor knife. And based on his experience in investigating meth labs, the items recovered from Tyson's home, and the chemical odor and haze emanating from the home, the lead investigator concluded that Tyson and Thompson were manufacturing methamphetamine, as the informant alleged. Shortly thereafter, Tyson and Thompson were arrested.

         The State charged Tyson and Thompson, via the same indictment, with one count of possession of substances with the intent to use such substances for the manufacture of a controlled substance. Subsequently, Tyson filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the search of his mobile home, arguing that he had not consented to the search. Thompson joined Tyson's motion, but at the conclusion of a hearing on the issue, in which Tyson, Thompson, and two of the investigators testified, the trial court denied it.

         The case then proceeded to trial, during which the lead investigator testified as to his extensive background investigating methamphetamine labs, the process involved in the manufacture of methamphetamine, and his discovery of the various materials associated with such manufacture in Tyson's mobile home. The lead investigator further testified that based on the materials discovered and the pungent chemical smell and haze inside the home, in his opinion, Tyson and Thompson had been in the process of manufacturing methamphetamine. Additionally, the other investigator testified that she received information from her confidential informant that Thompson had a bottle of lye and was going to Tyson's home to "cook" meth. Tyson also testified in his own defense, again denying that he consented to the search of his home. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the trial, the jury found Tyson and Thompson guilty on the charge as alleged in the indictment. This appeal by Thompson follows.

         1. Thompson first contends the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence that he maintains was seized as a result of an unlawful search of Tyson's mobile home. We disagree.

         When the facts material to a motion to suppress are disputed, "it is generally for the trial judge to resolve those disputes and determine the material facts."[3] This principle is well established, and the Supreme Court of Georgia has "identified three corollaries of the principle, which limit the scope of review in appeals from a grant or denial of a motion to suppress in which the trial court has made express findings of disputed facts."[4] Our appellate courts generally must (1) accept a trial court's findings unless they are clearly erroneous, [5] (2) construe the evidentiary record in the light most favorable to the factual findings and judgment of the trial court, [6] and (3) limit our consideration of the disputed facts to those expressly found by the trial court.[7] But we review de novo the trial court's "application of law to the undisputed facts."[8] With these guiding principles in mind, we will now consider Thompson's claim of error.

         Here, Thompson maintains that the search of Tyson's mobile home was unlawful because Tyson did not consent to the search. In further support of this argument, Thompson notes that the other investigator testified that she walked out of earshot in order to call the fire department when the lead investigator sought Tyson's consent and, thus, did not actually hear Tyson agree to the search.

         Setting aside the issue of whether Thompson has standing to challenge the search of Tyson's home, [9] "[a] valid consent eliminates the need for either probable cause or a search warrant."[10] And once voluntary consent is legally obtained, it continues "until it either is revoked or withdrawn."[11] That said, the burden of proving the validity of a consensual search is on the State, and "to meet its burden, the [S]tate must show that the consent was voluntarily given and was not merely acquiescence to a claim of lawful authority."[12] But contrary to Thompson's claim, as discussed supra, the lead investigator testified during the hearing on the defendants' motions to suppress and at trial that Tyson did consent to the search. These discrepancies between the defendants' testimony and that of the lead investigator created an issue of credibility for the trial court as to whether the investigator did in fact request consent to search and whether Tyson actually consented, and we must accept the trial court's determination in this regard unless it is clearly erroneous.[13] And here, to the extent the trial court's ruling "reflects a resolution of this question of credibility in favor of the State, we find no error as such is supported by the evidence."[14]

         2. Thompson further contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction of possession of substances with intent to use such substances for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Again, we disagree.

         When a criminal conviction is appealed, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, and the appellant no longer enjoys a presumption of innocence.[15] And, of course, in evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, we do not "weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility, but only determine whether a rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt."[16] Thus, the jury's verdict will be upheld so long as there is "some competent evidence, even though contradicted, to support each fact necessary to make out the State's case."[17]

         Turning to the conviction at issue, OCGA § 16-13-30.5 (a) (1) provides that "[i]t shall be illegal for a person to possess, whether acquired through theft or other means, any substance with the intent to . . . [u]se such substance in the manufacture of a . . . Schedule II controlled substance[, ]" including methamphetamine. Moreover, a defendant who does not directly commit a crime nevertheless may be convicted as a party to the crime if he intentionally aids in or abets its commission.[18] And here, the State charged Thompson, individually and as a party concerned in the commission of a crime, with possession of substances with intent to use such substances for the manufacture of a controlled substance. Specifically, the State alleged that Thompson possessed the items recovered from Tyson's mobile home, which the lead investigator testified were used to ...


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