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Commonwealth v. Muchrison

Supreme Court of Kentucky

March 22, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLANT
v.
BRIAN MUCHRISON APPELLEE

          ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2014-CA-001375-MR MASON CIRCUIT COURT NO. 14-CR-00037

          FOR APPELLANT: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Leilani K.M. Martin Assistant Attorney General

          FOR APPELLEE: Jason Apollo Hart Assistant Public Advocate Linda Roberts Horsman Assistant Public Advocate

          OPINION

          CUNNINGHAM JUSTICE

         In 2014, Appellee, Brian Muchrison, was tried and convicted by a Mason County Circuit Court jury of first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance and of being a first-degree persistent felony offender. He was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. His conviction arises from the sale of a quantity of heroin to a confidential informant, Jennifer Suister ("Jennifer").

         Jennifer had a romantic history with Appellee. She also had several other boyfriends around the time she executed the drug buy at issue here. One of her boyfriends was Christopher Trent. Trent had been arrested in Mason County for burglary and was represented by public defender Josh Hitch. Hitch would later represent Appellee.

         Trent told Hitch that he had "someone else" helping him get a favorable bond recommendation from the Commonwealth but refused to identify the person.

         Unbeknownst to Hitch, Jennifer had entered into an agreement with the Maysville Police Department to act as a confidential informant in exchange for Trent receiving a favorable bond recommendation from the Commonwealth. As a result, the Mason Circuit Court granted Trent's request for a surety bond. However, Trent violated the terms of his release and was subsequently arrested.

         As Appellee's case proceeded to trial, he prepared an alternate perpetrator theory j arguing that Jennifer fabricated the drug transaction that led to his charges. Appellee contended that he met with Jennifer on the night of the alleged drug buy hoping to have sex, not to sell her drugs.

         The day before Appellee's trial, the Commonwealth provided Hitch with discovery indicating that Jennifer had acted with the intention of "helping Christopher Trent with his current charges." She had been paid three hundred dollars and an extra one hundred dollars for every successful purchase she made.

         Hitch immediately called the Kentucky Bar Association's Ethics Hotline. His contact there informed him that he had a conflict but that it would be several days before a formal letter could be issued confirming that opinion. Hitch also filed a motion to withdraw as Appellee's attorney. Although Trent had already been sentenced, Hitch noted that Trent may elect to file post- conviction motions, which presumably would have required Hitch's continued representation. After a hearing on the motion to withdraw, the trial court denied the motion; the trial court ordered Hitch to'continue representing Appellee and discontinue representing Trent post-conviction.

         At Appellees' trial, Hitch attempted to impeach Jennifer's testimony concerning her need for money to pay her living expenses as the primary reason for fabricating her story that Appellee sold her drugs. Further, as the Appellee admits in his brief, Hitch also questioned Jennifer "about whether her motivation for working as a confidential informant was to receive favorable bond treatment for Mr. Trent. . . ." In addition to Jennifer's testimony, the Commonwealth introduced a recording of the drug buy. Although the video was of poor quality, the audio was discernable.

         As previously stated, Appellee was convicted and sentenced to a total of ten years' imprisonment. In a split decision, the Court of Appeals held, inter alia, that the trial court erred by failing to grant counsel's motion to withdraw.. As such, the Court of Appeals reversed Appellee's conviction and sentence. This Court granted the Commonwealth's motion for discretionary review. Having ...


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