Court of Criminal Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/28/2014
Format: 12/28/2014
State of Tennessee v. Gene Luigi Atkins
W2013-02544-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore Jr.

The defendant, Gene Luigi Atkins, was convicted of one count of initiation of methamphetamine manufacture process, a Class B felony. On appeal, he contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction; that the trial court erred by permitting a police officer to testify as an expert beyond the scope of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-435(d) (2010); that the trial court erred by not subjecting the officer’s testimony to the requirements of Tennessee Rules of Evidence 702 and 703; and that the failure to specify the parameters in which an officer was treated as an expert amounted to plain error because the trial court found that the expert testimony was sufficient corroboration to support a codefendant’s testimony. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/25/14
Richard Lynn Norton v. State of Tennessee
E2014-01033-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

According to petitioner, Richard Lynn Norton, in 1990, he pleaded guilty to escape and to a violation of the Motor Vehicle Habitual Offenders Act. Subsequently, he filed the instant petition for writ of error coram nobis in 2013, claiming that the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Walls, 62 S.W.3d 119 (Tenn. 2001), constitutes newly discovered evidence that renders his escape conviction void. The coram nobis court summarily dismissed the petition. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court.

Greene County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/25/14
State of Tennessee v. Dorothy Denise Cross
E2013-02133-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

Following a jury trial in the Knox County Criminal Court, Defendant, Dorothy Denise Cross, was found guilty as charged of four counts of misdemeanor assault of the victim, who we identify as “E.V.” or “the victim.” All four counts of the indictment related to the same incident, and each count charged misdemeanor assault under one of the alternative legal bases found in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-101. The trial court merged counts 2, 3, and 4 with count 1, sentenced Defendant to serve 11 months and 29 days in the Knox County Jail, suspended the incarceration, and placed Defendant on supervised probation for 11 months and 29 days. In her sole issue on appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction. After a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/25/14
State of Tennessee v. Charles McClain, Lavino Horne and Leterpa Mosley
W2013-00328-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley Jr.

Defendants, Charles McClain, Lavino Horne, and Leterpa Mosley were indicted by the Shelby County Grand Jury, charged with one count of premeditated murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of especially aggravated robbery. A jury found all three defendants guilty as charged in the indictment. The trial court merged the felony murder conviction with the premeditated murder conviction for each defendant and sentenced all three defendants to life in prison for first degree murder and 25 years for especially aggravated robbery. The trial court ordered the sentences to be served concurrently. On appeal, Defendants Mosley and Horne contend that the trial court erred by failing to sever their cases. All three defendants contend that the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions. Defendant Mosley contends that the trial court erred by allowing into evidence a video taken from the library where the incident occurred and by suppressing Defendant McClain’s statements to police. Defendant McClain contends that he was prejudiced by the State’s use of a hypothetical during voir dire and that the trial court improperly denied him the opportunity to rehabilitate a prospective juror. Having carefully reviewed the record before us and the briefs of all the parties, we find no error and affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/24/14
State of Tennessee v. Brian Caswell McGrowder
M2013-01184-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

A Davidson County Criminal Court Jury convicted the appellant, Brian Caswell McGrowder, of statutory rape by an authority figure, a Class C felony, and aggravated statutory rape, a Class D felony.  The trial court merged the latter conviction into the former and sentenced him to three years in confinement.  On appeal, the appellant challenges (1) the trial court’s refusal to grant a fourteen-day continuance after the court granted the State’s motion to amend the superseding indictment, (2) the sufficiency of the evidence for statutory rape by an authority figure, (3) the trial court’s failure to define “position of trust” for the jury, and (4) the State’s commission of prosecutorial misconduct during its opening statement and closing arguments.  Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/23/14
State of Tennessee v. Jerry Brandon Phifer
M2013-01401-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

The defendant, Jerry Brandon Phifer, was convicted of one count of aggravated robbery, a Class B felony, and one count of aggravated burglary, a Class C felony.  On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion to suppress the results of a traffic stop that occurred two weeks prior to his arrest; (2) denying the motion to suppress evidence seized as a result of the warrantless installation of a GPS tracking device; (3) finding that the State had probable cause to arrest the defendant; (4) finding that the defendant’s waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary; (5) declaring Jongho Lim an unavailable witness pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 804 and admitting his prior testimony as substantive evidence; (6) imposing consecutive sentences; and (7) violating the defendant’s due process rights based upon the cumulative effect of the errors.  After review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s findings in issues 1, 4, 5, and 6.  We conclude that the warrantless use of the GPS tracking device constituted an illegal search, and the evidence obtained therefrom, including the defendant’s arrest and statements to police, must be suppressed.  We reverse the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress the evidence and remand the case for a new trial.      

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/23/14
Terrance B. Burnett v. State of Tennessee
W2014-00314-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker III

The Petitioner, Terrance B. Burnett, appeals the Lauderdale County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his third petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that the post-conviction court erred in dismissing his petition without appointing counsel and conducting an evidentiary hearing. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the postconviction court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/22/14
State of Tennessee v. Andre Wilson
W2013-02012-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The Defendant, Andre Wilson, was convicted by a Shelby County jury of aggravated robbery and felony reckless endangerment, for which he received an effective sentence of twelve years’ incarceration. The sole issue presented for our review is whether the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction of felony reckless endangerment. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/14
State of Tennessee v. Frank Kendale Sparkman, Jr.
M2012-02381-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy Easter

The appellant, Frank Kendale Sparkman, Jr., pled guilty in the Lewis County Circuit Court to selling one-half gram or more of cocaine, a Class B felony, and possession of less than one-half gram of cocaine, a Class C felony, and received an effective eleven-year sentence to be served on supervised probation.  On appeal, the appellant contends that the trial court erred by revoking his probation and ordering that he serve his effective sentence in confinement.  Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Lewis County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/14
State of Tennessee v. Bill Shannon Wilson
E2013-02551-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

A Campbell County jury found the Defendant, Bill Shannon Wilson, guilty of two counts of rape of a child. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to concurrent twenty-year sentences for the convictions. The Defendant asserts that the trial court erred when it: (1) denied the Defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal because the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions; (2) denied the Defendant’s motion for new trial in light of newly discovered evidence; (3) denied the Defendant’s motion for new trial based upon an “insufficient” indictment; and (4) allowed the State to call a rebuttal witness for the sole purpose of proving collateral matters by extrinsic evidence. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/14
Gary Lilley v. State of Tennessee
W2013-02779-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The Petitioner, Gary Lilley, pleaded guilty to first degree premeditated murder, and the trial court imposed a life sentence. The Petitioner filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief almost two years after pleading guilty, which the post-conviction court summarily dismissed. After a thorough review of the record, the briefs, and relevant authorities, we affirm the postconviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Sonny Lyles v. Jerry Lester, Warden
W2014-00392-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph H. Walker III

In 2011, the Petitioner, Sonny Lyles, pleaded guilty to multiple charges and received an effective sentence of twelve years and six months at 100%. In accordance with the plea agreement, this sentence was ordered to be served concurrently with a sentence in Arkansas. On February 18, 2014, the Petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in which he alleged that the 2011 judgments were void. He argued that because the state of Arkansas granted him an early release and he was transferred to Tennessee, his Tennessee sentence was now “consecutive” to his Arkansas sentence, which was not contemplated by the plea agreement. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the Petitioner’s petition. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Michael John Stitts v. State of Tennessee
W2013-02550-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan Jr.

A Madison County jury convicted the Petitioner, Michael John Stitts, of theft of property valued between $1,000 and $10,000. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to serve six years in confinement. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the Petitioner’s conviction and sentence. State v. Michael John Stitts, W2011-02673-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 257069, at *8 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 23, 2013), no Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed. The Petitioner filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief, claiming that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the Petitioner relief. The Petitioner appeals this denial, maintaining that his attorney was ineffective. After a thorough review of the record, the briefs, and relevant authorities, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Devaron Taylor v. State of Tennessee
W2013-01588-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey Jr.

The petitioner, Devaron Taylor, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the post-conviction court erred in finding that he received effective assistance of counsel. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Tyree Robinson v. State of Tennessee
W2013-00848-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula Skahan

The petitioner was convicted of first degree premeditated murder, felony murder, and especially aggravated robbery, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment and twenty years, to be served consecutively. He filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief, asserting that trial counsel was ineffective in dealing with a State’s witness; in not objecting to certain parts of the State’s closing argument; and in failing to conduct a proper investigation. The post-conviction court found that each claim was without merit, and, following our review, we conclude that the record supports that determination. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the post-conviction court denying relief.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
State of Tennessee v. Ricky Allen Hickman
M2013-02390-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee Russell

A Marshall County jury convicted the Defendant, Ricky Allen Hickman, of one count of rape of a child and three counts of aggravated sexual battery.  The trial court sentenced the Defendant to serve thirty-five years for the rape of a child conviction and twelve years for each of the aggravated sexual battery convictions.  The trial court ordered partial consecutive sentencing, for a total effective sentence of forty-seven years in the Tennessee Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for rape of a child; and (2) his sentence is excessive and contrary to law.  After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Christopher M. Collin v. James M. Holloway, Warden
M2014-00176-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

The Petitioner, Christopher M. Collin, appeals as of right from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Petitioner contends that his judgments of conviction were void because they improperly subjected him to community supervision for life. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Blain Steven Covert v. State of Tennessee - separate dissenting opinion
E2013-02531-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

I would affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court and therefore respectfully
dissent from the majority opinion.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Blain Steven Covert v. State of Tennessee
E2013-02531-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Joseph M. Tipton
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

The State appeals the Campbell County Circuit Court’s grant of post-conviction relief from the Petitioner’s convictions for aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor and his effective ten-year sentence. The State contends that the trial court erred by granting the Petitioner relief because he failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. We have reviewed the trial court’s decision granting post-conviction relief and conclude that the Petitioner failed to show that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Donna Leigh Pearson v. State of Tennessee
M2013-02539-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

The petitioner, Donna Leigh Pearson, appeals the summary dismissal of her amended petition for post-conviction relief.  Because the post-conviction court erred by summarily dismissing the amended petition as conceded by the State, the case is remanded to that court for an evidentiary hearing solely on the issue of counsel’s handling of the delayed direct appeal.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/14
DENNIS CEDRIC WOODARD, JR. v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
M2013-01857-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Crigler

The petitioner, Dennis Cedric Woodard, Jr., appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief and/or petition for writ of error coram nobis as untimely.  He asserts that the statute of limitations should be tolled in the interest of justice because he did not learn until well after its expiration that his trial counsel simultaneously represented one of the witnesses against him, Henry Young, without his knowledge.  After review, we reverse the summary dismissal and remand for an evidentiary hearing.   
 

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/14
State of Tennessee v. Letalvis Darnell Cobbins
E2013-00476-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter C. Kurtz

For his involvement in the January 2007 murders of the victims C.N. and C.C.,1 appellant, Letalvis Darnell Cobbins, was found guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder, facilitation of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape, for which he received an effective sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus one hundred years. He appeals his convictions and sentences on the following grounds: (1) whether misconduct of the trial judge constituted structural constitutional error; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant’s motion for change of venue; (3) whether the trial court erred in admitting certain photographs; (4) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant’s motion to continue; (5) whether the trial court erred in allowing testimony concerning a firearm that appellant had possessed prior to the offense date; (6) whether the trial court erred in allowing family members to wear buttons with the victims’ likenesses; and (7) whether the trial court erred in imposing an effective sentence of one hundred years to be served consecutively to his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. We have thoroughly reviewed the record in this case and discern no error. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/12/14
Thomas Edward Kotewa v. State of Tennessee - Concur
E2014-00430-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

JAMES CURWOOD WITT, JR., J., concurring. I write separately in concurring with the majority because some aspects of the case are worth explaining futher. In assessing whether the petitioner has framed a case for a due process tolling of the coram nobis statute of limitations, we see that the petition, even as amended by counsel, does not specify when and by what means the petitioner discovered the claim of affiant John D. Carter that, during the investigation of the homicide, Mr. Carter gave a statement to police that would have supported a claim of self-defense. Thus, the state of the record does not enable this court to discern whether the application of the statute of limitations afforded the petitioner a “‘reasonable opportunity to assert a claim in a meaningful time and manner,’” Workman v. State, 41 S.W.3d 100, 102 (Tenn. 2001) (quoting Seals v. State, 23 S.W.3d 272, 279 (Tenn. 2000)), or if it did not, whether the petitioner’s “‘reasonable opportunity after the expiration of the limitations period to present his claim in a meaningful time and manner’” expired before he filed the petition, Workman, 41 S.W.3d at 103-04 (quoting Williams v. State, 44 S.W.3d 464 (Tenn. 2001)). In other words, we cannot tell, despite the petitioner’s conclusory allegations, whether the delay of approximately five years in filing a timely petition for writ of error coram nobis is essentially reasonable.

Anderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/11/14
Thomas Edward Kotewa v. State of Tennessee
E2014-00430-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

In 2006, the Petitioner, Thomas Edward Kotewa, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. See Thomas E. Kotewa v. State, No. E2007-02193-CCA-R3-PC, 2009 WL 1635177, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Knoxville, June 11, 2009), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 19, 2009). For this conviction, the trial court sentenced the Petitioner to serve an agreed-upon sentence of fifteen years. In February 2012, the Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis alleging that he had discovered new evidence. The State filed a response to the petition requesting the trial court dismiss the petition on the basis that, among other things, it was untimely filed. The trial court agreed, and it dismissed the petition, finding that the petition was untimely filed. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that the trial court erred when it dismissed his petition. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Anderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/11/14
State of Tennessee v. Heather Lee Lane
E2013-01855-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Jerry Beck

Defendant, Heather Lee Lane, pleaded guilty to violation of a habitual traffic offender order, a Class E felony, with an agreed upon sentence of two years as a Range II multiple offender with the trial court to determine manner of service of the sentence. The trial court ordered Defendant to serve her two-year sentence in confinement. On appeal, Defendant contends the trial court erred by denying her alternative sentencing. We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/10/14