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James Devon Brown a/k/a James D. Brown a/k/a James Brown v. State of Mississippi
Case Number: 2018-KA-00011-COA
Judge: David McCarty
Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Plaintiff's Attorney: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: ALICIA MARIE AINSWORTH
Defendant's Attorney: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: HUNTER NOLAN AIKENS
James Devon Brown lived with his girlfriend, Lamonica Bodie, at her home in
Gautier, Mississippi. He was unemployed. On the morning of February 3, 2016, Lamonica
left the home to give a friend a ride to the bus station. Lamonica did not tell Brown what she
was going to do. That same morning Brown left the home in search of a job. While driving,
Brown saw Lamonica in her car with another man. Brown began to make repeated phone
calls to Lamonica. Through a serious of short phone calls—initiated by Brown and ending
with Lamonica hanging up—they arranged to meet back at Lamonica’s house.
¶4. Once there Lamonica and Brown discussed their relationship. While folding laundry
in the bedroom, Lamonica told Brown she wanted to end the relationship. She then asked
him to move out. Brown asked Lamonica if he could sleep on the couch until he got his tax
return money. Lamonica said no.
¶5. Brown suddenly took off his shirt and said, “I don’t have anything to lose.”
Lamonica, feeling uncomfortable, tried to reach for her keys and cellphone. Brown grabbed
her from behind and slid his forearm around her neck. As Lamonica tried to pull away, his
grip tightened. Brown’s arm constricted, and he “was choking [Lamonica] more.” Lamonica
said at first she could breathe “a little bit.” However, “all of a sudden it got tighter and
tighter and [she] couldn’t breathe.” Lamonica testified that as Brown’s grip got tighter she
“just knew [she] was going to die.” The pair then collapsed in a heap on the floor.
¶6. During the struggle Lamonica’s phone rang, but she could not answer it. Lamonica
convinced Brown to let her text the caller to see what the person wanted. Instead, Lamonica
texted her mother and told her to call 911. Unfortunately, Lamonica’s mother never received
the message. Lamonica was unsure whether or not she lost consciousness during the attack.
Eventually, Lamonica was able to comfort Brown by rubbing his head, ending the struggle.
Brown then told her to “tell them somebody else did this” to her. He then left he house, and
Lamonica went inside the bathroom and called 911. The dispatcher testified that during the
call Lamonica’s voice was “really strained.”
¶7. Officer Daniel Mathis responded to the call. When he arrived Lamonica was crying
and upset. She complained that her head hurt and her throat was sore. Officer Mathis called
for an ambulance. Lamonica told the officer that Brown had choked her in the bedroom
during a physical altercation. Officer Mathis noticed and photographed extensive bruising
on both sides of Lamonica’s neck and burst blood vessels in both eyes. The bruising and
burst vessels worsened over the following days.
¶8. Lamonica provided Officer Mathis with a description of Brown’s car. Several
minutes later, officers pulled Brown over and arrested him. Lamonica was transported via
ambulance to Singing River Hospital, where she was examined by Dr. Steven Boskovick.
Dr. Boskovick testified that Lamonica’s injuries were consistent with someone who had been
¶9. Lamonica later signed an affidavit stating that the incident was a misunderstanding,
and that she no longer wished to go along with or be a part of any prosecution. She said that
this affidavit was “before [she] understood what the consequences [were] going to be.”
¶10. During trial, Brown testified in his own defense. He swore he never put a hand on
Lamonica. He stated that he did not strangle her and that they had never been in a physical
altercation. His theory was that perhaps a man named Marcus did it. Brown requested that
the jury be given a lesser-included offense instruction on simple domestic violence. The trial
court denied Brown’s request.
DISCUSSION I. The lesser-included offense instruction was not warranted.
¶11. During trial, Brown requested a lesser-included offense instruction on simple
domestic violence. Whether a defendant is entitled to a lesser-included offense instruction
is a question of law. Downs v. State, 962 So. 2d 1255, 1258 (¶10) (Miss. 2007). This Court
reviews questions of law de novo. Id.
¶12. A defendant has an “absolute right” to a jury instruction for a lesser-included offense
if the evidence supports such an instruction. Id. at 1260 (¶22). Failure to give such an
instruction when warranted is reversible error. Id. Evidence supports an instruction of a
lesser-included offense if, when viewed in the light most favorable to the party requesting
the instruction, a reasonable juror could not exclude the lesser-included offense beyond a
reasonable doubt. Taylor v. State, 577 So. 2d 381, 383 (¶6) (Miss. 1991). Alternatively, if
the evidence can only support the principal charge, then the lesser-included offense should
be refused. Id. at (¶11).
¶13. The question is then whether Brown was entitled to the lesser-included instruction.
Under the plain language of the law, he is not. A person is guilty of aggravated domestic
violence when they strangle, or attempt to strangle, a person they are in a current or former
dating relationship with. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7(4)(a)(iii) (Rev. 2014). “Strangle” is
defined in the Code as “restrict[ing] the flow of oxygen or blood by intentionally applying
pressure on the neck, throat or chest of another person by any means or to intentionally block
the nose or mouth of another person by any means.” Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7(9)(a) (Rev.
¶14. Brown’s proposed jury instruction provided that if the jury found Brown “attempted
to cause or purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to Lamonica Bodie, or
. . . attempted physical menace to put Lamonica Bodie in fear of imminent serious bodily
harm” then it should find him guilty of Simple Domestic Violence.1
¶15. Our Supreme Court has held that “where an altercation begins with a simple assault
but, as a matter of law, escalates in a continuous sequence of events to an aggravated assault,
the simple assault is subsumed into the aggravated assault.” Downs, 962 So. 2d at 1262
(¶29). Further, our Supreme Court has also “upheld the refusal of a trial court to give a
lesser-included offense instruction on simple assault when the evidence clearly supported the
crime of aggravated assault.” Id. at (¶30).
¶16. If a reasonable juror could, viewing all of the evidence in a light most favorable to
Brown, find him guilty of simple domestic violence beyond a reasonable doubt, the
instruction should have been included. In weighing whether to grant the lesser-included
instruction, the trial court stated:
1 Mississippi Code Annotated § 97-3-7(3)(ii), the subsection for Simple Domestic Violence, also provides that if the defendant “negligently causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily harm.” This was not included on Brown’s proposed lesser-included offense instruction. 5
I have tried to look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the defendant, how a jury could possibly find him guilty of the lesser-included offense. The testimony is clearly that, from the victim, that he choked her, if not to unconsciousness, almost to unconsciousness. The defendant’s testimony is that he never touched her.
¶17. Strangulation automatically falls under aggravated domestic violence. In this case
there was evidence Lamonica was strangled, meaning section 97-3-7-(4)(a)(iii) was
appropriate. There was no evidence of simple domestic violence. Brown only offered
evidence that he did not do anything.
¶18. Brown initiated the altercation by grabbing Lamonica from behind and putting his arm
around her neck. Lamonica testified that this limited her breathing. Brown continued to
tighten his grip to the point where Lamonica could not breathe. Brown’s actions fall within
the statute’s definition of “strangle.”
¶19. Because a reasonable jury could not have found Brown guilty of simple domestic
violence, the trial court’s rejection of a lesser-included instruction was proper.
II. The indictment was properly amended.
¶20. On the day trial was set, Brown rejected the State’s plea offer. The State then
requested another continuance and moved to amend the indictment against Brown to change
his status to a habitual offender pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 99-19-83
(Rev. 2015). Brown filed a pro se motion objecting to the habitual offender amendment.
The motion to amend was granted.
A. Sufficiency of Indictment
¶21. Brown argues that the State’s amended indictment charging him as a habitual offender
was “fatally defective” under Rule 14.1 of the Mississippi Rules of Criminal Procedure.
Whether an indictment is so flawed as to require reversal is a question of law. Brown v.
State, 934 So. 2d 1039, 1043 (¶16) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). Rule 14.1 states that prior
convictions used for enhanced punishment must be identified in the indictment including:
the name of the crime, the name of the court in which each such conviction occurred, and the cause number(s), the date(s) of conviction, and, if relevant, the length of time the accused was incarcerated for each such conviction.
MRCrP 14.1(b) (emphasis added). Brown argues that the State’s failure to specify the length
of time he was actually incarcerated for his previous offenses invalidates the indictment.
¶22. Yet, the new criminal rules were not in effect at the time of Brown’s amended
indictment. The indictment was amended in February 2017, four months before the Rules
went into effect. Instead, the applicable rule is Rule 11.03 of the Uniform Rules of Circuit
and County Court Practice which states:
In cases involving enhanced punishment for subsequent offenses under state statute:
The indictment must include both the principal charge and a charge of previous convictions. The indictment must allege with particularity the nature or description of the offense constituting the previous convictions, the state or federal jurisdiction of any previous conviction, and the date of judgment.
¶23. At the time of the amendment, the State was not required to include the length of
incarceration. Because the amended indictment was sufficient and satisfied all of the
required elements at the time, Brown’s argument is without merit.
B. Amendment of Indictment
¶24. Brown continues his challenge to the indictment by arguing that the State
inappropriately amended it to include a habitual-offender enhancement, and on the day
scheduled for trial. The standard of review to an amendment to an indictment is de novo.
Spears v. State, 942 So. 2d 772, 776 (¶5) (Miss. 2006). Brown alleges that not only was he
prejudiced by the amendment, but also that the State requested a continuance for the sole
purpose of circumventing Rule 14.1’s thirty-day requirement.2
¶25. The State informed the trial court that they intended to amend the indictment on the
same day the State requested a continuance. However, Brown again cites the Mississippi
Rules of Criminal Procedure, which were not yet in effect. The rule in place at the time
All indictments may be amended as to form but not as to the substance of the offense charged. Indictments may also be amended to charge the defendant as an habitual offender or to elevate the level of the offense where the offense is one which is subject to enhanced punishment for subsequent offenses and the amendment is to assert prior offenses justifying such enhancement . . . . Amendment shall be allowed only if the defendant is afforded a fair opportunity to present a defense and is not unfairly surprised.
URCCC 7.09. “The rule does not speak to the timing of the amendment, only that the
defendant must be ‘afforded a fair opportunity to present a defense’ and ‘not [be] unfairly
surprised.’” Gowdy v. State, 56 So. 3d 540, 545 (¶16) (Miss. 2011); URCCC 7.09. Because
Rule 14.1 was not in effect at the time, we find this claim without merit.
¶26. There was also no prejudice to Brown. “The test for whether an amendment to the
indictment will prejudice the defense is whether the defense as it originally stood would be
2 Mississippi Rule of Criminal Procedure 14.1(b)(2) states that the State shall “after indictment, and at least thirty (30) days before trial or entry of a plea of guilty, file with the court formal notice of such prior conviction(s).” 8
equally available after the amendment is made.” Shumaker v. State, 956 So. 2d 1078, 1087
(¶25) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007).
¶27. The prior felony convictions were used to increase the sentence Brown faced, and did
not affect the core of the charge of aggravated domestic violence. This did not impact
Brown’s ability to prepare a defense, especially because trial was continued.
¶28. The core prejudice Brown alleges is that if he knew he would be charged as a habitual
offender, he could have altered his plea negotiations. However, Brown admits that he
continued to reject the State’s plea offer even after the amendment. As a result, there is no
III. Pro Se Issues A. The sentence was not unfairly imposed.
¶29. Brown also filed a pro se supplemental brief in addition to his appellant’s brief. He
alleges that his sentence to life without parole pursuant to section 99-19-83 was
unconstitutional. Specifically, he claims the sentence was imposed upon him as punishment
for rejecting the State’s plea deal and seeking his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
¶30. A trial court cannot impose a heavier sentence to punish a defendant for electing to
go to trial. Gillum v. State, 468 So. 2d 856, 854 (Miss. 1985). As a habitual offender, once
the jury found him guilty, the trial court was required to levy the sentence. “[H]owever,
where the record reveals without a doubt that the sentence imposed was based solely upon
defendant’s prior convictions . . . [the] trial court’s sentencing discretion will not be
disturbed.” Id. Brown’s previous convictions made him applicable for habitual-offender
status under the statute, and the trial court properly sentenced him as such. We find no
evidence in the record that Brown was in any way “punished for rejecting a plea deal.”
Therefore, we find this argument is without merit.
B. Brown’s right to a speedy trial was not violated.
¶31. Brown was indicted for aggravated domestic violence on July 7, 2016. On August 7,
2016 a “Waiver Arraignment/Plea/Trial Setting/Schedule Order” was entered. On the same
day Brown filed his “Motion for Discovery/Speedy Trial Demand.” The first trial setting was
for November 9, 2016. On that day the defense requested and was granted a continuance so
they could meet with the victim. By the next trial setting on February 7, 2017, the defense
had not yet met with the victim. The State requested a continuance to provide them the
opportunity to do so. At the next trial setting, Brown rejected the State’s plea offer. On that
same day the State requested another continuance.
¶32. Brown’s counsel filed a “Motion for Mental Evaluation” on May 1, 2017. An order
granting the motion was entered on May 5, 2017. An identical order granting the motion was
also entered on July 17, 2017. A mental evaluation was conducted on August 3, 2017. In
between the “Order for Mental Evaluation and Treatment” and the evaluation itself, the State
made two requests for continuances. One request was made on May 9, 2017, and the other
on June 2, 2017. Both of these continuances were requested to allow time for Brown’s
mental evaluation. Also while awaiting the mental evaluation, Brown filed a pro se “Motion
to Dismiss for Failure to Provide a Fast and Speedy Trial” on June 27, 2017.
¶33. On the day before trial, which was scheduled for August 29, 2017, Brown’s counsel
withdrew his pro se “Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Provide a Fast and Speedy Trial.”
Trial commenced on August 29, 2017.
February 3, 2016 Arrest
July 7, 2016 Indictment for aggravated domestic violence
September 7, 2016 “Waiver Arraignment/ Plea/ Trial Setting/ Schedule Order” entered; Brown filed “Motion for Discovery/ Speedy Trial Demand”
November 9, 2016 Trial scheduled; Defense requested and was granted a continuance to meet with the victim
January 9, 2017 Brown’s pro se letter to the circuit clerk requesting a speedy trial received
February 7, 2017 Trial scheduled; State requested continuance so defense could meet with the victim
February 15, 2017 Brown rejected the State’s plea offer; State requested a continuance and filed “Motion to Amend as Habitual Offender Pursuant to MS Code Annotated § 99-19-83”
March 30, 2017 Brown’s pro se “Motion to Object to the Amending as Habitual Offender Pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated § 99-19-83” filed
May 1, 2017 Brown’s “Motion for Mental Evaluation” filed
May 5, 2017 “Order for Mental Evaluation and Treatment” entered
May 9, 2017 State requested continuance pending results of Brown’s mental evaluation
June 2, 2017 State requested another continuance for Brown’s mental evaluation
June 27, 2017 Brown’s pro se “Motion to Dismiss Charges for Failure to Provide a Fast and Speedy Trial” entered
July 17, 2017 “Order for Mental Evaluation and Treatment” entered
August 28, 2017 Brown’s counsel withdrew “Motion to Dismiss Charges for Failure to Provide a Fast and Speedy Trial”; “Order Amending Indictment to Charge Defendant as Habitual Offender Pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated § 9919-83” entered
August 29, 2017 Trial
1. Brown’s statutory right to a speedy trial was not violated.
¶34. “While the right to a speedy trial is protected both constitutionally and statutorily, any
inquiry into a violation of the right to a speedy trial must necessarily begin with an analysis
of a state statutory right, as the State has the right to craft laws so long as they are not in
violation of the minimum standards set by the federal constitution.” Shumaker, 956 So. 2d
at 1082 (¶3). Mississippi safeguards the right to a speedy trial by providing that “[u]nless
good cause be shown, and a continuance duly granted by the court, all offenses for which
indictments are presented to the court shall be tried no later than two hundred seventy (270)
days after the accused has been arraigned.” Miss. Code Ann. § 99-17-1 (Rev. 2014).
¶35. Brown waived his arraignment on September 7, 2016. When a defendant has waived
arraignment, “that date is considered day one on the speedy trial calendar for purposes of
defendant’s statutory speedy trial claim.” Walker v. State, 196 So. 3d 978, 982 (¶17) (Miss.
Ct. App. 2015). Brown filed his “Motion for Discovery/Speedy Trial Demand” that same
day. At the first trial setting, on November 9, 2016, Brown requested a continuance, which
tolled the speedy-trial clock. At the next trial setting on February 7, 2017, the State requested
a continuance to provide Brown the opportunity to meet with the victim. Because this
continuance was for Brown’s benefit and he did not object, the clock was again tolled. At
the next trial setting on February 15, 2017, the State requested another continuance. No
explanation was given for the request. Therefore, this continuance weighs against the State.
¶36. The defense filed a motion for a mental evaluation on May 1, 2017. The trial court
granted the motion. The evaluation was conducted on August 3, 2017. The time between
the motion and the evaluation weigh against Brown. Poole v. State, 826 So. 2d 1222, 1228
(¶16) (Miss. 2002) (“Motions made and granted on behalf of the defense are charged against
them.”). Brown then went to trial on August 29, 2017.
¶37. One hundred twenty-four days elapsed between Brown’s indictment and the first trial
setting. An additional seventy-five days ticked by between the State’s unexplained
continuance request and Brown’s request for a mental evaluation. Twenty-seven more days
went by between Brown’s competency evaluation and his trial on August 29, 2017. All
together the delays attributable to the State total 226 days. This time period is within the 270
days the State is statutorily mandated to bring a defendant to trial. Therefore, Brown’s
statutory right to a speedy trial was not violated.
2. Brown’s constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated.
¶38. Defendants are also guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by the United States and
Mississippi Constitutions. U.S. Const. Amend. VI; Miss. Const. art. 3, § 26.
¶39. A balancing test is used to determine whether a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has
been violated. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972). This test involves assigning a
weight to, and balancing, the following factors: (a) length of delay; (b) reason for delay; (c)
defendant’s assertion of his or her right to a speedy trial; and (d) prejudice to the defendant.
Id. These factors are viewed in totality and no single factor alone is dispositive. Simmons
v. State, 678 So. 2d 683, 686 (¶13) (Miss. 1996).
a. Length of Delay
¶40. The length of delay serves a bifurcated purpose as it not only establishes prejudice,
but it is also used as a “triggering mechanism” to establish if a speedy trial analysis is proper.
Brengettcy v. State, 794 So. 2d 987, 992 (¶11) (Miss. 2001) (explaining that “where the delay
is not presumptively prejudicial, there is no need to review the remaining Barker factors”).
¶41. An eight-month delay is presumptively prejudicial. Smith v. State, 550 So. 2d 406,
408 (¶15) (Miss. 1989). In calculating the length of delay for a constitutional speedy trial
claim, the clock begins to run once a person has been accused. Id. at (¶12). This can be
when there is a formal indictment or information, or when a person has been arrested. Id.
¶42. Brown was arrested on February 3, 2016. His trial commenced August 29, 2017.
This delay of 573 days is presumptively prejudicial; a fact conceded to by the State. The
delay sufficiently triggers an analysis of the remaining Barker factors.
b. Reason for Delay
¶43. A defendant has no duty to bring himself to court, as this is the duty of the State.
Simmons, 678 So. 2d at 687 (¶18). Instead, the burden to prove a justifiable reason for the
delay also falls on the State. Smith, 550 So. 2d at 408 (¶17).
¶44. Different degrees of weight are assigned to the differing reasons for delay. Perry v.
State, 233 So. 3d 750, 756 (¶11) (Miss. 2017). If the State acted strategically, with bad faith,
or has declined to show good cause for the delay, this factor is weighed in favor of the
defendant. Id. at 758 (¶15). On the other hand, delays attributable to the defendant are
counted against him and the speedy-trial clock is tolled. Id. Lastly, while negligence or
overcrowded courts are not acceptable, they are also not weighed as heavily against the State
as an intentional delay. Perry, 233 So. 3d at 756 (¶11) (citing Barker, 407 U.S. at 531).
¶45. Brown’s trial was initially set for November 9, 2016. On the day of trial Brown
requested a continuance so he could meet with the victim. The continuance was granted and
the trial was reset for the next term. At the second trial date the State requested another
continuance because Brown had not yet met with the victim. A week later the State
requested and was granted a mental evaluation. While awaiting completion of the mental
evaluation, the case was continued twice more.
¶46. Because Brown requested the first continuance, the time between that continuance
request and the next trial date (ninety days) tolled the speedy-trial calculation. The remainder
of the continuances were requested by the State. Normally, these continuances would weigh
against the State. However, these continuances were requested so that Brown could meet
with the victim and have a competency evaluation per his request—they were for his own
benefit. Further, our Supreme Court has held that “a delay attributable to obtaining a mental
evaluation requested by the defense is not counted against the State.” Id. at 757 (¶15). In
our speedy-trial calculation we weigh the following in Brown’s favor: the time from Brown’s
arrest to the first trial setting, the unexplained continuance by the State, and the dates
between Brown’s mental evaluation and his final trial. Therefore, 383 of the 573 days weigh
against the State and in Brown’s favor.
c. Assertion of Right
¶47. A defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy trial weighs in his favor. Id. at 758
(¶17). Conversely, a defendant’s failure to assert his right will weigh against him. Simmons,
675 So. 2d at 687 (¶19) (The failure to file a motion to dismiss only slightly favors the State
because the “primary burden is on the State.”).
¶48. Brown filed a “Motion for Discovery/Speedy Trial Demand” on September 7, 2016.
He then filed a pro se “Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Provide a Fast and Speedy Trial” on
June 27, 2017. In between these motions Brown filed a “Motion for Mental Evaluation.”
“When a defendant moves for a speedy trial but simultaneously requests a continuance, the
defendant’s speedy-trial request cannot be viewed as a request for be tried promptly.” Perry,
233 So. 3d at 758 (¶17). Therefore, even though Brown had demanded a speedy trial, his
request for a mental evaluation did not “manifest a desire to be tried promptly.” Id. Further,
counsel for Brown withdrew his “Motion to Dismiss” on August 27, 2017. Therefore, this
factor weighs in favor of the State. Whitaker v. State, 757 So. 2d 1060, 1063 (¶9) (Miss. Ct.
App. 2000) (explaining that the defendant’s withdrawal of demands for speedy trial and
agreement of continuances after asserting said motions benefitted the State).
¶49. The defendant bears the burden of persuasion under the prejudice prong of the Barker
analysis for determining whether the defendant was denied the right to a speedy trial.
Johnson v. State, 68 So. 3d 1239, 1245 (¶16) (Miss. 2011). The accused does not have to
make an affirmative demonstration of prejudice to prove that his right to a speedy trial has
been violated. Id. at 1244 (¶15). “However, without a showing of any prejudice, this prong
of the balancing test cannot weigh in favor of the defendant.” Id. Prejudice may be
demonstrated by: (1) pretrial incarceration; (2) anxiety and concern of the accused; or (3)
impairment of the defense. Perry, 233 So. 3d at 759 (¶19).
¶50. Brown alleges that his defense was impaired “due to the fact that the actual perpetrator
of this crime, Marcus, had disappeared.” There is no evidence in the record that Brown tried
to subpoena Marcus or made any attempt at all to locate him. We find this claim without
¶51. Brown also alleges that his defense was impaired because Lamonica originally signed
an affidavit attesting that the charges were a misunderstanding, which she later recanted. For
speedy trial purposes, changes in a witness’s testimony are not necessarily due to the passage
of time and do not, by themselves, constitute proof of prejudice due to delay. Miller v. State,
956 So. 2d 221, 225 n.10 (Miss. 2007).
¶52. Brown failed to demonstrate he suffered prejudice. Without a showing of prejudice,
Brown cannot make out a claim of a due process violation. Simmons, 678 So. 2d at 687
¶53. The only Barker factor that weighs in Brown’s favor is the length of delay which
triggered the Barker analysis. All of the other factors weigh against Brown and in favor of
the State. Based upon a balance of the four Barker factors, we hold that Brown was not
deprived of his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
Outcome: For the above reasons, we affirm the conviction.