by Sharon Rondeau
(Jul. 3, 2022) — In early June, Tennessee inmate Jason Lamar White was transported from New Mexico to the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in Tiptonville, TN in anticipation of a post-conviction petition hearing in the Shelby County Criminal Court scheduled for July 5.
In May 2019, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) sent White to New Mexico through an interstate compact arrangement to serve the 60-year sentence he was given by Judge J. Robert “Bobby” Carter for allegedly conspiring to distribute drugs in a “drug free zone” while serving a prison term, nearly completed, for an unrelated crime committed when he was 18. As the jurist in the new case, at the October 2017 sentencing, Carter meted out the harshest possible sentence of 60 years in prison without the possibility of parole, rendering White a prisoner for life.
The post-conviction petition hearing has been repeatedly postponed for nearly a year, with the petition itself filed in April 2020 after White’s direct appeal was denied by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
According to Rule 28 of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Rules of Post-Conviction Procedure, “A petition for post-conviction relief is an application to the court, filed by or on behalf of a person convicted of and sentenced for the commission of a criminal offense, that seeks to have the conviction or sentence set aside or an appeal granted on the ground or grounds that the conviction or the sentence or the denial of an appeal violated the state or federal constitution.”
The rules promulgate from TCA 40-30-101 et seq. in which the legislature set forth the procedure for post-conviction appeals.
White’s petition was filed approximately eight months after the Supreme Court’s denial. According to the statute, a post-conviction petition must be filed within one year of the court decision being appealed.
The grounds upon which White filed the petition are stated on page 6 of his filing as:
In a June 22, 2022 Application for Extraordinary Appeal to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals at Jackson, White asked the court to consider his assertions that by numerous postponements, Carter was denying him his constitutional right to timely due process and the ability to access Tennessee law given his interstate transfer to New Mexico.
In a June 9 telephone call with The Post & Email from NWCX, White related that his trip from New Mexico to Tennessee was far more restrictive than the reverse trip three years earlier in that he was not permitted to leave the vehicle, even to use the bathroom. He was given “a plastic bag,” three sandwiches and a bottle of water for the 15-hour trip, he said.
After arriving at Northwest on or about June 2, White was placed in an “iron-bar cell,” he said, although he is not classified as a maximum-security inmate. He was forbidden interaction with the general population, he reported, as well as what would be considered standard telephone privileges.
Later that afternoon, The Post & Email spoke with TDOC Advisory Counsel Bryce Coatney about White’s allegations. Within several days, we were told White saw an improvement in conditions, including the ability to make calls to relatives.
In recent days, White was transferred to the Shelby County jail in anticipation of Tuesday’s hearing and placed in the general population, after which The Post & Email learned a new “lockdown” without telephone privileges had been imposed.
According to his online criminal record, which does not reflect White’s transfer to New Mexico, in February 2016 he was charged with two Class “A” felonies of “CONSPIRACY-MANUF/DEL/SELL/METH IN SCH ZONE” to which he pleaded “Not guilty” at trial in July 2017.
However, the Bill of Indictment issued by the Shelby County grand jury cited two lower-class felony charges under a different statute, TCA 39-17-433, expressed as “CONSP-PROMOTE-MANUF-METHAMPHETAMINE.”
The lower charges appeared on White’s online record until sometime last summer, when The Post & Email found them removed and replaced by two Class “A” charges and convictions invoking the “drug free zone.”
White’s judgment sheet contains a crossed-out and handwritten-in case number, incorrect birth year, and the charge noted as a “Class ‘A'” felony with the description, “Consp. – Promote, manufacture meth.”
The Lexis-Nexus tool located at the Tennessee Supreme Court’s website to access Tennessee Code Annotated shows a violation of TCA 39-17-433 as “a Class D felony.”
The text reads:
39-17-433. Promotion of methamphetamine manufacture.
(a) It is an offense for a person to promote methamphetamine manufacture. A person promotes methamphetamine manufacture who:
(1) Sells, purchases, acquires, or delivers any chemical, drug, ingredient, or apparatus that can be used to produce methamphetamine, knowing that it will be used to produce methamphetamine, or with reckless disregard of its intended use;
(2) Purchases or possesses more than nine (9) grams of an immediate methamphetamine precursor with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine or deliver the precursor to another person whom they know intends to manufacture methamphetamine, or with reckless disregard of the person’s intent; or
(3) Permits a person to use any structure or real property that the defendant owns or has control of, knowing that the person intends to use the structure to manufacture methamphetamine, or with reckless disregard of the person’s intent.
(b) Expert testimony of a qualified law enforcement officer shall be admissible to establish that a particular chemical, drug, ingredient, or apparatus can be used to produce methamphetamine. For purposes of this testimony, a rebuttable presumption is created that any commercially sold product contains or contained the product that it is represented to contain on its packaging or labels.
(c) Possession of more than fifteen (15) grams of an immediate methamphetamine precursor shall be prima facie evidence of intent to violate this section. This subsection (c) shall not apply to the following persons or entities that lawfully possess drug products in the course of legitimate business activities:
(1) A pharmacy or pharmacist licensed by the board of pharmacy;
(2) A wholesale drug distributor, or its agents, licensed by the board of pharmacy;
(3) A manufacturer of drug products, or its agents, licensed by the board of pharmacy; and
(4) A licensed health care professional possessing the drug products in the course of carrying out the health care provider’s profession.
(d) For purposes of this section, “structure” means any house, apartment building, shop, barn, warehouse, building, vessel, railroad car, cargo container, motor vehicle, housecar, trailer, trailer coach, camper, mine, floating home, watercraft, or any other structure capable of holding a clandestine laboratory.
(1) If the chemical, drug, ingredient, or apparatus to produce methamphetamine is purchased in violation of subdivision (a)(1) in more than one (1) county, venue for purposes of prosecution under this section is proper in any county in which such an item was purchased.
(2) If immediate methamphetamine precursors are purchased in violation of subdivision (a)(2) in more than one (1) county, venue for purposes of prosecution under this section is proper in any county in which a precursor was purchased.
(f) A violation of this section is a Class D felony.
Acts 1999, ch. 446, § 1; 2005, ch. 18, § 11; 2011, ch. 292, § 4; 2011, ch. 309, § 1.
TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED
Copyright © 2022 by The State of Tennessee All rights reserved
White’s post-conviction petition can be read in its entirety here:
At trial, White had two co-defendants, one of whom, Kristina Cole, was sentenced to 13.5 years in prison without a prior criminal record. In a June 14, 2017 letter to the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (BOPR) responsive to a complaint Cole filed against him, Attorney Mark McDaniel stated the charge brought against Cole and White as “Conspiracy to Possess Methamphetamine with Intent to Sell in a Drug Free Zone.”
The letter was written approximately three months before Cole and White were sentenced in the alleged scheme.
The law on which White was convicted is stated in his online record as TCA 39-17-417, which in its current form gives rise to a “Class ‘A'” felony when the amount “of any substance containing amphetamine or methamphetamine or any salt of an optical isomer of amphetamine or methamphetamine” is 300 grams or more.
Cole also filed a post-conviction petition heard and denied by Carter in a four-page ruling dated November 6, 2020.
However, following a January 5, 2022 hearing on Cole’s appeal, an appellate court in April reversed and remanded Carter’s decision based on its finding that the trial court failed to perform a “finding of fact” as to Cole’s claims.
According to Carter in a court transcript from October 25, 2021 where White was not present but in which Carter addressed White’s “elbow counsel,” J. Shae Atkinson, “…obviously post convictions need to be heard as expeditiously as possible.”
On page 7 of a transcript dated March 22, 2022, Carter admits he is “behind” in holding the post-conviction hearing.