Court of Criminal Appeals Opinions

Format: 07/31/2015
Format: 07/31/2015
State of Tennessee v. Danny Branam
E2014-01345-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz

A Knox County jury convicted the Defendant, Danny Branam, of felony murder committed during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse and aggravated child abuse. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to life in prison for the felony murder conviction with a consecutive twenty-year sentence for the aggravated child abuse conviction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a mistrial and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/31/15
State of Tennessee v. Plaise Edward Spangler
E2014-01958-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg

The defendant, Plaise Edward Spangler, appeals the revocation of his probation, raising essentially the following issues: whether the trial court abused its discretion by finding that the defendant violated the terms of his probation by failing to submit to a drug screen and failing to pay court costs and fees when neither failure was willful; whether the trial court erred by not considering all lesser alternative means to incarceration, including intensive drug rehabilitation by referral to a drug court; and whether the trial judge committed plain error by not sua sponte recusing himself because he had been the prosecutor in a number of the defendant's previous criminal cases. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

McMinn County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/30/15
State of Tennessee v. Brent Allen Blye
E2014-00220-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Jerry Beck
A Sullivan County Circuit Court Jury convicted the appellant, Brent Allen Blye, of possession of 26 grams or more of cocaine with the intent to sell, a Class B felony; simple possession of dihydrocodeinone, a Class A misdemeanor; and simple possession of less than one-half ounce of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor. The trial court sentenced him as a Range II, multiple offender to an effective sentence of twelve years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. In this delayed appeal, the appellant contends that the trial court erred by refusing to allow him to question a co-defendant about her criminal history; that the trial court erred by giving, or failing to give, certain jury instructions; and that the trial court erred by allowing a police detective to testify about the value of the cocaine. The State concedes that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that the simple possession offenses could be committed with a mens rea of recklessness but contends that the error was harmless. The State maintains that the trial court committed no other error. Upon review, we conclude that the trial court erred in its jury instruction regarding the necessary mens rea for the lesser included offense of simple possession of cocaine but that the error was harmless. For the charged offenses of simple possession of dihydrocodeinone and marijuana, we conclude that the trial court also erred in its instructions on the necessary mens rea and that the error was not harmless. Therefore, we must reverse those convictions and remand for a new trial.
 
Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/30/15
Raymond Andrew Herbst v. State of Tennessee
M2014-01918-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

Petitioner, Raymond Andrew Herbst, filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that his guilty pleas to one count of rape and three counts of attempted rape were constitutionally infirm because he was not informed that he would be subject to lifetime community supervision.  Because due process does not require tolling of the statute of limitations, the decision of the post-conviction court is affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/30/15
State of Tennessee v. James W. Grooms, Jr.
E2014-00668-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The Defendant-Apellant, James W. Grooms, Jr., was convicted by a Hawkins County jury of two counts of aggravated assault, for which he received an effective sentence of four years and six months' confinement. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that (1) the trial court committed plain error by instructing the jury that aggravated assault was a lesser-included offense of attempted first degree murder, and (2) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for aggravated assault. Upon our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hawkins County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/30/15
Curtis Cecil Wayne Bolton v. State of Tennessee
E2014-00559-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ben H. Cantrell
The Petitioner, Curtis Cecil Wayne Bolton, was convicted of the first degree premeditated murder of his two and one-half year old son and received a life sentence. In the present post-conviction action, the post-conviction court granted relief on two ineffective assistance of counsel claims but denied relief on the Petitioner’s remaining ineffective assistance of counsel claims. In this appeal, the State contends that the post-conviction court erred by granting relief for ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to seek a severance and in failing to object to the State’s bolstering and vouching for the codefendant’s testimony. The Petitioner also contends that the post-conviction court erred by denying relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims related to failure to consult with a medical expert and investigate the medical evidence, failure to advise the Petitioner accurately during plea discussions regarding the sentence he would face if convicted, and failure to object to prosecutorial misconduct. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court granting post-conviction relief on the ground that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a severance.
 
Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/29/15
Mark Takashi v. State of Tennessee
E2014-01432-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

The Petitioner, Mark Takashi, appeals from the denial of post-conviction relief by the Criminal Court for Knox County. He was convicted of aggravated child abuse and sentenced to twenty-five years' imprisonment, to be served at 100 percent. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/29/15
State of Tennessee v. Louis Tyrone Robinson
W2015-00245-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

Appellant, Louis Tyrone Robinson, appeals the Circuit Court of Gibson County’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 36.1 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. The State has filed a motion requesting that this Court affirm the trial court’s judgment pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Following our review, we grant the State’s motion and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Gibson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/29/15
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth Ryan Mallady
M2014-01664-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter and Judge Robbie T. Beal

In this procedurally complex case, in 2006, a trial court found the Defendant, Kenneth Ryan Mallady, not guilty by reason of insanity for the offenses of first degree premeditated murder, attempted first degree premeditated murder, and aggravated assault.  The judge ordered that the Defendant be transported to Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute (“MTMHI”).  The Defendant was subsequently discharged from MTMHI  with the requirement that he participate in mandatory outpatient treatment.  In 2012, the trial court found that the Defendant had not complied with his mandatory treatment plan, appointed him counsel, and ordered him temporarily recommitted to MTMHI.  In 2014, the trial court held a hearing and ordered that he be permanently recommitted to MTMHI.  The Defendant appeals his permanent recommitment, contending that the trial court applied the incorrect legal standard when making its findings.  After a thorough review of the record and relevant authorities, we conclude that the record supports the trial court’s judgment.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/29/15
State of Tennessee v. Doyale Montez Blacksmith
M2014-01417-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte D. Watkins

The Defendant, Doyale Montez Blacksmith, was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of aggravated rape, a Class A felony, aggravated kidnapping, a Class A felony, and aggravated stalking, a Class E felony.  See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-502 (2014), 39-13-304 (2014), 39-17-315 (2010) (amended 2012).  The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range II, multiple offender to concurrent terms of thirty years for aggravated rape and fifteen years for aggravated kidnapping each at 100% service.  The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range III, persistent offender to five years for aggravated stalking and ordered the sentence be served consecutively to the aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping sentences, for an effective thirty-five-year sentence.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his aggravated rape conviction.  We affirm the Defendant’s aggravated rape conviction.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/29/15
State of Tennessee v. Darrell Dean Hochhalter
M2014-01106-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

The defendant, Darrel Dean Hochhalter, was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of six counts of sexual battery by an authority figure and one count of rape.  He was sentenced to five years for each count of sexual battery by an authority figure and twelve years for the rape conviction.  The court ordered that two of the sentences for sexual battery by an authority figure and the sentence for rape be served consecutively, for an effective term of twenty-two years.  On appeal, he argues that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions; (2) the trial court erred in admitting the forensic interview of the victim at trial; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him to twenty-two years in confinement.  After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.  However, we remand for entry of a corrected judgment in Count 7 to reflect the rape conviction as a Class B felony.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/29/15
State of Tennessee v. LeDerrius Thomas
W2014-01390-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris B. Craft

Appellant, Lederrius Thomas, was convicted of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder. The trial court sentenced appellant to life for his first degree murder conviction and to fifteen years for his attempted first degree murder conviction, to be served concurrently. Appellant now challenges his convictions, arguing that the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove premeditation and that the trial court erred in issuing a supplemental jury instruction regarding the element of premeditation. Following our review of the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Debra L. Heath
E2014-00555-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Eugene Eblen

The Defendant-Appellant, Debra L. Heath, has appealed the Morgan County Criminal Court’s denial of her motions to suppress evidence obtained during searches of her property. The appellate record, however, does not contain a motion for new trial, a transcript from a motion for new trial hearing, or an order denying a motion for new trial. Pursuant to Rule 3(e) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we conclude that the issue presented herein has been waived. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in accordance with Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Morgan County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/28/15
Michael Antonio Dodson v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00768-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

Petitioner, Michael A. Dodson, entered open pleas of guilty in the Davidson County Criminal Court to one count of aggravated rape, two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated robbery, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a felony.  Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a mixture of concurrent and consecutive sentences which resulted in an effective sentence of 86 years at 100% service.  The judgments were affirmed on appeal.  State v. Michael Antonio Dodson, No. M2010-01047-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 5831759 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 21, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. April 20, 2012).  He filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief.  Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief and dismissed the petition.  Petitioner has timely appealed, and following a review of the record and the briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Zantuan A. Horton
M2014-02541-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash

The defendant, Zantuan A. Horton, appeals the revocation of his probationary sentence, claiming that the trial court erred by ordering that he serve the balance of his sentence in confinement.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Dickson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/28/15
Roy Len Rogers v. State of Tennessee
E2015-00255-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

Petitioner, Roy Len Rogers, was convicted of first degree premeditated murder, second degree murder, and reckless endangerment. State v. Roy Len Rogers, No. E2011-02529-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 5371987, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 23, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Apr. 11, 2014). The trial court merged the second degree murder conviction into the first degree murder conviction and sentenced petitioner to a mandatory life sentence for the murder conviction and to a concurrent term of eleven months and twenty-nine days for the reckless endangerment conviction. Id. This court upheld petitioner's conviction on direct appeal. Id. The pro se petitioner filed the instant petition for post-conviction relief, in which he alleged numerous infractions of the trial court, trial counsel, and the State. The post-conviction court summarily dismissed the petition, stating that the issues had been addressed in petitioner's direct appeal. On appeal, petitioner argues that the post-conviction court erred by summarily dismissing his petition without appointing counsel. Following our review of the record, the parties' briefs, and the applicable law, we reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court and remand for appointment of counsel and further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Rhea County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Dominique Ramell Jarrett
E2014-02131-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Jude Don W. Poole

Appellant, Dominique Ramell Jarrett, entered a guilty plea to carjacking, a Class B felony, and received the agreed-upon sentence of eight years with the trial court to determine the manner of service. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court denied all forms of alternative sentencing and ordered appellant to serve his sentence in the Tennessee Department of Correction. It is from this judgment that he now appeals. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Bradley Dale Felton
M2014-02333-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte D. Watkins

Appellant, Bradley Dale Felton, pleaded guilty to attempted rape of a child, a Class B felony, and received an eight-year sentence, suspended to probation after serving one year in custody.  A probation violation warrant was filed, and the trial court sustained the violation and ordered appellant to serve fifteen weekends in jail and extended his probation by one year.  Appellant was subsequently arrested on a capias warrant for failing to serve his weekends in a consecutive manner, and following a revocation hearing, the trial court ordered his sentence into execution.  Appellant now appeals the judgment of the trial court, arguing that he was never ordered to serve his weekends consecutively.  The State concedes that appellant is correct and that the trial court should be reversed.  Upon review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Donald W. Higgins, III
M2014-01171-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman

The defendant, Donald W. Higgins III, appeals his Davidson County Criminal Court jury conviction of aggravated child neglect, claiming that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction, that the trial court erred by admitting photographs of the victim’s injuries, that the trial court erred by refusing to play at trial a portion of his recorded pretrial interview with the police, that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury that a violation of the duty to report was a lesser included offense of aggravated child neglect, and by imposing a Range II sentence.  Because the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to support the defendant’s conviction of aggravated child neglect, that conviction is reversed, and the charge is dismissed.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Michael Anthony Logan
M2013-02701-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte D. Watkins

Aggrieved of his Davidson County Criminal Court jury convictions of attempted especially aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, carjacking, reckless endangerment, and three counts of aggravated assault, the defendant appeals.  He claims that (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss based upon a violation of his right to a speedy trial; (2) the trial court denied his right to due process of law by failing to rule on his pretrial motions; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions of attempted especially aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault; (4) his conviction of reckless endangerment is void because that offense was not a lesser included offense of the charged offense of aggravated assault; (5) the dual convictions of aggravated robbery and carjacking violate principles of double jeopardy; (6) he was denied the constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him; (7) the trial court’s failure to enforce its subpoenas denied him the right to compulsory process; (8) the trial court should have either excluded certain evidence or granted the defendant’s motion for a continuance; (9) the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress certain evidence; (10) the trial court erred by failing to exclude an out-of-court identification of the defendant; (11) the trial court erred by failing to order the production of certain evidence; and (12) the trial court erred by imposing consecutive sentences.  Because felony reckless endangerment is not a lesser included offense of aggravated assault, the defendant’s conviction of that offense is reversed, and that count is remanded for a new trial on the remaining lesser included offense of assault.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Daniel H. Jones
E2014-02463-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin

Defendant, Daniel H. Jones, is currently serving an effective sentence of thirty-one years for a multitude of convictions. In October 2014, Defendant filed a motion under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, alleging that his aggregate sentence is illegal because it exceeds the maximum sentence for a Range I offender convicted of a Class B felony. The trial court summarily dismissed the motion, finding that Defendant had failed to state a colorable claim. Upon our thorough review of the record, we determine that Defendant has not presented a colorable claim for relief. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the trial court in full.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/24/15
State of Tennessee v. John Wesley Couch
M2014-01372-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin Lee Russell

The Defendant, John Wesley Couch, was found guilty by a Bedford County Circuit Court jury of promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, a Class D felony.  See T.C.A. § 39-17-433 (2014).  The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range I, standard offender to four years’ confinement, to be served consecutively to a Coffee County sentence and any other existing sentences.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction and (2) his sentence is excessive and contrary to law.  We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/24/15
Robert Guerrero v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00348-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella Hargrove

The petitioner, Robert Guerrero, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his 2008 Maury County Circuit Court jury convictions of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and aggravated assault, claiming that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel and that the post-conviction court erred by excluding witness testimony and by exhibiting bias. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/23/15
State of Tennessee v. James Thomas, Jr.
M2014-00972-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

Defendant, James Thomas, Jr., was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury for aggravated rape and domestic assault. A jury convicted Defendant as charged. The trial court sentenced Defendant to an effective sentence of 16 years and 6 months. In this appeal as of right, Defendant contends that: 1) the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for aggravated rape because Defendant was not “armed with” a weapon; 2) the trial court erred by overruling defense counsel’s objection to a detective’s testimony regarding the victim’s credibility; and 3) the prosecutor improperly commented on the victim’s credibility. Having reviewed the briefs of the parties and the entire record in this case, we conclude that although the evidence is legally sufficient to support Defendant’s convictions, the trial court should not have allowed the detective to testify regarding the victim’s credibility, and the prosecutor’s comments during closing argument constitute plain error. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed and this case is remanded for a new trial.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/23/15
State of Tennessee v. Corey Euene Huddleston
M2014-02543-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash

The Defendant, Corey Eugene Huddleston, pleaded guilty to escape, a Class E felony, and the trial court sentenced the Defendant to four years, suspended to supervised probation.  This conviction was ordered to run consecutively to the sentence the Defendant was serving at the time of his escape from the Dickson County Jail.  A violation of probation warrant was issued for the Defendant’s arrest based upon multiple violations of probation rules.  After a hearing, the trial court revoked the Defendant’s probation sentence and ordered service of the balance of the sentence in confinement.  The Defendant appeals, contending that the trial court’s decision to fully revoke his probation sentence was arbitrary.  After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Dickson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/22/15