All Content

Posted by: Landry Butler on Feb 27, 2017

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys 1:

George Morton Googe, District Public Defender; and Jeremy B. Epperson, Assistant District Public Defender, for the appellant, Gerald Lamont Byars.

Attorneys 2:

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; James G. (Jerry) Woodall, District Attorney General; and Jody S. Pickens, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): THOMAS

Following a jury trial, the Defendant, Gerald Lamont Byars, was convicted of attempted possession of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine with intent to sell, attempted possession of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine with intent to deliver, simple possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The jury also found that the two attempted cocaine possession offenses constituted criminal gang offenses, and the Defendant received enhanced punishment — a sixteen-year sentence, with the attempted cocaine possession counts and the gang enhancement counts all being merged into a single conviction. He now appeals as of right, arguing (1) that the evidence was insufficient to support his attempted cocaine possession convictions and the gang enhancement violations; (2) that the trial court erred by qualifying a Haywood County Sheriff's Officer as an expert in gang activity; (3) that the gang enhancement statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-121, is unconstitutional, entitling him to plain error relief; and (4) that his sixteen-year sentence is excessive. Following our review of the record, we ascertain no error in the guilt phase of the trial on the underlying attempted cocaine possession offenses in Counts 1 and 2. However, because the criminal gang enhancement statute as employed by the State in the guilt phase of the trial on Counts 5 and 6 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is facially unconstitutional, plain error requires us to reverse the judgments of the trial court in Counts 1, 2, 5, and 6, vacate and dismiss the criminal gang enhancements in Counts 5 and 6, and remand for modification of the judgments in Counts 1 and 2 and a new sentencing hearing on those counts. Because the Defendant does not challenge his misdemeanor convictions or sentences in Counts 3 and 4, those judgments are affirmed.