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State v. Meadows

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 17, 2017


          Heard in the Court of Appeals 25 May 2017

         Appeal by Defendant from judgments entered 7 April 2016 and judgment entered 8 April 2016 by Judge Gary M. Gavenus in Superior Court, Madison County, No. 13 CRS 000248, after a jury trial before Judge R. Gregory Horne on 4 and 5 April 2016.

          Attorney General Joshua H. Stein, by Special Deputy Attorney General Daniel Snipes Johnson, for the State.

          Michael E. Casterline for Defendant-Appellant.

          McGEE, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Patty Meadows ("Defendant") was convicted on 7 April 2016 of one count each of trafficking opium by sale, by delivery, and by possession. The events leading to Defendant's arrest and conviction occurred on 14 September 2011.

         I. Factual and Procedural Basis

         In early September 2011, multiple sources informed the Madison County Sheriff's Office that Defendant's husband, Troy Meadows ("Troy"), was selling large quantities of prescription pills. A confidential informant, Jeffrey Chandler ("Chandler") told officers that Troy would be obtaining pills on 14 September 2011, pursuant to a prescription, for the purposes of illegal re-sale. Chandler informed officers that he had obtained this information from Jason Shetley ("Shetley") who, in the past, had illegally purchased pills from Troy.

         Sheriff's officers planned a controlled buy for 14 September 2011. The plan was for Chandler to ask Shetley to purchase pills from Troy, using bills provided by the Sheriff's Office, and thereby obtain probable cause to search Troy's and Defendant's house ("the Meadows home" or "the house") on Rollins Road. Officers gave Chandler $420.00 ("the buy money") on 14 September 2011 for the purchase. The buy money had been photocopied so that individual serial numbers were recorded. Chandler contacted Shetley to set up the purchase. Shetley was to make the purchase with the buy money provided by Chandler, and purchase twenty-five oxycodone pills for himself and fifty for Chandler. At trial, Shetley testified he called Troy about 9:00 a.m. on 14 September 2011 to tell him he wanted to purchase seventy-five oxycodone pills. Chandler then met with Shetley and Shetley's girlfriend, Catherine Davis ("Davis"). Chandler used approximately $20.00 of the buy money to purchase gas for Shetley's car ("the car"). Chandler, Shetley, and Davis then drove to the Meadows home.

         Madison County Sheriff's Detective Coy Phillips, now a captain ("Capt. Phillips"), was watching the house that morning. Shetley entered the Meadows home at approximately 9:45 a.m., while Chandler and Davis waited in Shetley's car. At trial, Shetley further testified that he never saw Troy that morning - that he "just pulled up, went and knocked on the door, and [Defendant] was in the kitchen and told me to come in. She had the pills out [on the table]. I bought the pills from her." According to Shetley, Defendant told him she had already counted out the seventy-five pills, and he then counted out twenty-five pills, which he put in a pill bottle he had brought with him. He then counted out an additional fifty pills, which he put in a plastic baggie provided by Defendant. Shetley testified that he gave Defendant payment, which she counted. Shetley then left the house.

         About five minutes after Shetley entered the house, Capt. Phillips observed him exit the house and return to the car. Shetley, Chandler and Davis then drove away from the Meadows home. Capt. Phillips continued to watch the house until a deputy arrived "to secure [the house] because we were going to execute a search warrant at [the house]." Shortly after the car left the house, it was stopped by officers, including Madison County Chief Deputy Michael Garrison ("Chief Garrison"), [1] and the occupants were searched. Shetley testified that, when he saw police approaching, he threw his bottle of twenty-five pills out the car window, but that Chandler held onto the plastic baggie that contained the fifty pills. Officers recovered a plastic baggie containing fifty oxycodone pills from Chandler, and recovered a bottle containing twenty-five oxycodone pills from the side of the road in the vicinity of the car. Officers had maintained constant visual contact with Chandler from the time he was given the $420.00 until the time they stopped and searched the car and its occupants. One of the photocopied twenty dollar bills was found in Shetley's sock, but the remainder of the buy money was not recovered from the car or its occupants. Shetley and Davis were arrested, and taken to the Sheriff's Office.

         Chief Garrison testified he secured the house immediately after arresting Shetley and Davis and, at that time, Defendant was the only person at the house. Chief Garrison left the house at approximately 10:00 a.m., while deputies remained to keep the house and Defendant secure. Troy and Defendant's daughter arrived sometime after 10:00 a.m., though the exact times they were at the house are unclear. Chief Garrison further testified he returned to the house just after 4:00 p.m. to execute a search warrant he had obtained, and that the house and its occupants were continuously monitored until the search of the house was completed, after 7:00 p.m. According to Chief Garrison, Troy "did show up there [at the house] and then we transported him back to the [S]heriff's [O]ffice." Troy was also arrested that day. Chief Garrison testified that "to the best of [his] recollection, " Troy did not return to the house after being transported to the Sheriff's Office. Capt. Phillips testified that he interviewed Troy at the Sheriff's Office from 4:29 p.m. until 7:16 p.m., and then returned to the Meadows home. Capt. Phillips did not indicate in his testimony that he brought Troy with him when he returned to the Meadows home, and Defendant's counsel did not ask Capt. Phillips that question.

         Chief Garrison testified that, after serving the search warrant, he "identified a large quantity of narcotics and medications on the dining room table." Items recovered included "other pill bottles, empty pill bottles, white pills and pink pills[, ]" and plastic baggies similar to the one recovered from Chandler that contained the fifty pills Shetley had purchased for him. Chief Garrison testified that, after officers had searched the house for more than three hours in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the remainder of the buy money, he confronted Defendant directly. Chief Garrison testified that he told Defendant: "I knew my buy money was in the house and I wanted to get it." According to Chief Garrison, Defendant "told me it was in a pocket, a jacket pocket in the, I believe it was the bedroom closet." Chief Garrison testified that officers recovered $380.00 from "a blue jacket hanging in a closet" that was later identified as the remaining buy money.

         Chief Garrison then identified State's exhibit 12 as an envelope containing the $380.00 of buy money recovered from the Meadows home. Chief Garrison read from the log sheet attached to State's exhibit 12, and testified that the log sheet "has [the] suspect['s] name, which is Troy Meadows, the date and time recovered which is 9/14/11 at . . . 7:01 p.m. It has Detective Matt Davis was the recovering deputy. The description, it says, $380 U.S. currency recovered from back bedroom, blue jacket pocket."

         Although both Chief Garrison and Capt. Phillips testified they believed Defendant was involved in the 14 September 2011 transaction, Defendant was not arrested until 22 July 2013.[2] Defendant testified at trial, contradicting the testimony of Chief Garrison and Shetley. Defendant testified she had no knowledge of the drug transaction, that she never saw Shetley that morning, and that she did not know where the $380.00 was hidden until Troy told her sometime after 6:30 p.m. The two containers of pills were sent to the State Bureau of Investigation ("S.B.I.") lab to be analyzed by Colin Andrews, who determined the pills were oxycodone, and described them in his report as "a pill bottle containing 25 pink tablets [and] a plastic bag containing 50 pink tablets." Defendant was found guilty of all three trafficking charges on 7 April 2016. Defendant appeals.

         II. Analysis

         A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         Defendant argues she was denied effective assistance of counsel because her defense counsel "elicited damaging testimony from [Capt.] Phillips that Shetley was 'honest[, ]'" and also failed to object to Chief Garrison's testimony that "[Defendant] was as guilty as Troy was." We disagree.

         "A defendant's right to counsel includes the right to the effective assistance of counsel. When a defendant attacks his conviction on the basis that counsel was ineffective, he must show that his counsel's conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." State v. Braswell, 312 N.C. 553, 561-62, 324 S.E.2d 241, 247-48 (1985) (citations omitted). However,

if a reviewing court can determine at the outset that there is no reasonable probability that in the absence of counsel's alleged errors the result of the proceeding would have been different, then the court need not determine whether counsel's performance was actually deficient.

Id. at 563, 324 S.E.2d at 248-49. Because we hold "there is no reasonable probability that in the absence of counsel's alleged errors the result of the proceeding would have been different, " we reject Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel ("IAC") arguments without making any determination concerning whether Defendant's counsel was actually deficient. Id. at 563, 324 S.E.2d at 249.

         1. Vouching for Shetley's Credibility

         Concerning Defendant's first argument, her counsel questioned Capt. Phillips concerning two interviews he conducted with Shetley after Shetley's arrest:

Q. My question was, when you conducted that first interview [on 14 September 2011], did you feel, leaving that interview did you feel or form an opinion as to whether or not [Shetley] was being honest with you?
A. Yes, sir, I did.
Q. So you felt after that first interview he was telling you the truth?
A. No, sir.
Q. So at that time you had an idea, hey, this isn't, this doesn't make sense.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did you during that first interview ask [Shetley] about his drug use at the time?
A. Yes, sir, I did.
Q. And what was his response to, to whether or not he used drugs?
A. He said he didn't use drugs.
Q. And [Shetley] gave you another statement [on 16 September 2011], did he not?
A. He did, yes, sir.
Q. Did he at that time admit or deny having a drug problem?
A. At this point he admitted it, yes, sir.
Q. And again, [Shetley] admitted to you that he had a very bad drug problem.
A. Yes, sir, he stated he had a pill problem.
Q. And based on your knowledge and experience as a law enforcement officer, do people with drug problems typically break into other people's houses to supply their habit?
A. Sometimes.
Q. Did Mr. Shetley admit that to you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you filled out this Officers Investigation Report as ...

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