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Miller v. State

Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals

October 13, 2017

Justin Shawn Miller
v.
State of Alabama

         Appeal from Baldwin Circuit Court (CC-15-114)

          BURKE, JUDGE

         Justin Shawn Miller appeals his convictions for first-degree robbery, a violation of § 13A-8-41, Ala. Code 1975, and conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery, a violation of § 13A-4-3(a), Ala. Code 1975, and his resulting sentences of 20 years' imprisonment and 10 years' imprisonment, respectively. Miller was also ordered to pay a $100 fine, a $100 Alabama Crime Victims' Compensation Assessment, an undefined restitution amount, and court costs in each case.

         On December 19, 2014, the Baldwin County grand jury indicted Miller on one count of first-degree robbery and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Gulf Shores. Trial proceedings began on October 18, 2016, before Judge Braxton Kittrell, Jr. The following evidence was presented at trial:

         Emily Hunter Lee, Miller's former coworker at the Marriott, testified that she had been in contact with Miller approximately six weeks before the robbery of the Marriott. At that time, Lee and Miller discussed how easy it would be to steal liquor from a hotel liquor closet because they had the employee code and there were no security cameras near that area. Lee testified that she did not think it was a serious conversation and that she was "completely joking" about stealing the liquor. (Supp. R. 12.)

         Lynn Stiebe, a general manager at the Marriott at the time of the incident, testified that she had previously hired Miller to work the front desk at the Marriott. On one occassion, Miller brought his gun to the hotel in his backpack and showed it to several employees. Stiebe later terminated Miller's employment because he failed to show up for several consecutive shifts.

         Deborah Morris, an employee at the Marriott, testified that in the early morning hours of July 22, 2014, she was working the desk at the Marriott when a man appeared suddenly. Morris claimed that the man came from the left, which was a secured area where an "employee-entrance door" is located. (Supp. R. 35.) The employee entrance door required a code to gain access to the building. The man had a gun and demanded that Morris give him the money she had in her drawer. Morris gave the man all the money in the drawer, which totaled $556.55. The man then left the Marriott through the front door.

         Joshua Thomas testified that he had been staying at Miller's apartment around the time of the incident. On the night of July 21, 2014, Thomas left work between 10 and 11 p.m. As Thomas was walking back to Miller's apartment, Miller, who was driving in his Jeep sport-utility vehicle, picked Thomas up. Thomas asked Miller if Miller knew of any way for Thomas to make some money, because he was homeless. Miller told Thomas that he could take Miller's pistol and go to the Marriott and steal $600. According to Thomas, Miller told Thomas the security code to the door and explained how easy it would be to get the money from the woman who was working the desk. Miller and Thomas returned to Miller's house. Thomas got dressed in black clothing and a black hat, and put a torn up shirt over his face. Thomas stated that Miller removed the bullets from the gun and gave the gun to Thomas. Miller drove Thomas to the Marriott and showed Thomas where he would be waiting on him after the robbery. Thomas identified a video recording in which one could see Thomas and Miller sitting in Miller's white Jeep. Thomas testified that the video was taken when Miller was showing Thomas the layout of the Marriott. Miller also showed Thomas the door that Thomas would enter using the code that Miller had given Thomas, and the location of security cameras.

         Thomas testified that he went in the door, took the money from an employee, and left through the front door of the lobby. Thomas stated that he then got in Miller's Jeep. Thomas claimed that he got approximately $570 from the Marriott clerk, and that he kept approximately $300. Miller also kept some of the money. Miller and Thomas returned to Miller's apartment and went to sleep. The following day, Thomas saw his face on the news and went to the Gulf Shores Police Department to turn himself in. Thoms testified that he eventually told the truth to the detectives about Miller's involvement. Thomas later pleaded guilty and was given youthful-offender status. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to testify at Miller's trial.

         Detective Brad Conway with the Gulf Shores Police Department testified that he responded to a call regarding the robbery. After talking to Morris and Stiebe, Detective Miller asked whether anyone had recently quit or been fired, because it appeared that the suspect may have had some knowledge about the Marriott based on the route the suspect took and his avoidance of security cameras. Stiebe told Detective Conway that Miller had recently been let go and, after further investigation, Miller was arrested.

         Miller and his father testified on Miller's behalf. Miller claimed that he had not been involved in the robbery, and that he had actually turned Thomas in to the authorities when he saw him in the video of the robbery.

         During trial, the court charged the jury on the crime of first-degree robbery. The court continued to charge the jury as follows:

"The law also provides that a person is legally accountable for the behavior of another constituting a crime if, with the intent to promote or assist the commission of the crime, he either procures, induces or causes such other person to commit the crime or aids or abets such other person in committing a crime.
"Aiding and abetting comprehends all words of assistance, encouragement, presence of constructive support ... to render assistance should it become necessary.
"A person to be guilty of aiding and abetting, you must find that there was by prearrangment or on the spur of the moment the criminal events contemplated and that the person who is guilty as an aider and abettor must be present with the intent to assist should it become necessary. Does not actually assist but be there in case it becomes necessary."

(Supp. R. 213-14.) The court also charged the jury on conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery. The court instructed the jury that the defendant could be guilty of both first-degree robbery and conspiracy to be first-degree robbery, neither of the crimes, or just one of the crimes. At the conclusion of the court's jury instructions, the court asked both parties whether the court had "overlooked anything, " and both parties indicated that they were satisfied. (Supp. R. 217.) The jury then retired for deliberations. Miller asked the judge for an exception to the judge's refusal to give his requested instruction on the "uncorroborated testimony of the co-defendant." (Supp. R. 219). The judge then called the jury back to the courtroom and further instructed the jury that the defendant could not be convicted solely on the testimony of an accomplice without the presence of corroborating evidence.

         After some deliberation, a spokesperson for the jury asked the judge for a "deeper explanation of the difference between the two charges, the conspiracy and then the [first-degree robbery] charge." (Supp. R. 221.) The judge reread the law on both charges, as well as aiding and abetting as it relates to the first-degree-robbery charge. The judge also confirmed to the jurors that they could find that the defendant was guilty of both or neither of the charges, or that he was guilty of one charge but not the other charge. The jury retired to deliberate again. Later, the jury returned with another question, seeking an explanation of the difference between conspiracy and aiding and abetting. After a lengthy discussion and an attempt by the judge to articulate the charges, defense counsel stated: "Judge, I think we've almost gone too far where its almost a mistrial. They're almost getting a judicial directive in the examples that are so similar to the facts at hand." (Supp. R. 237.) After more discussion, the jurors were released for the night and were told to return to continue ...


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