Court of Criminal Appeals Opinions

Format: 09/30/2020
Format: 09/30/2020
State of Tennessee v. Zachary Thompson
W2019-00023-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

Defendant, Zachary Thompson, was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury on self-defense and that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/20/20
Cordell Ash v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01172-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Cordell Ash, of especially aggravated robbery, attempted first-degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an effective sentence of thirty years in confinement. In this delayed appeal, the defendant argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for mistrial after the victim made a reference to the defendant’s alleged gang activity. After reviewing the record and considering the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Ruben Walton
W2019-01762-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

A Shelby County jury found the defendant, Ruben Walton, guilty of second-degree murder, and the trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-two years to be served at one hundred percent. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction, two evidentiary rulings of the trial court regarding threatening statements the defendant made prior to the murder, and his sentence. After our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/20/20
Demetrice A. Smith v. State of Tennessee
E2019-01689-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob R. McGee

The petitioner, Demetrice A. Smith, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his 2017
guilty-pleaded convictions of possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony drug offense and failure to appear, alleging that his guilty pleas were unknowing and involuntary because he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Because no final order issued in the court below, we lack jurisdiction to hear this appeal. Consequently, the appeal is dismissed, and the case is remanded to the post-conviction court for a new evidentiary hearing.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/19/20
State of Tennessee v. Trin Villa Suttles, III
E2019-01392-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

The defendant, Trin Villa Suttles, appeals his 2019 Hamilton County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded conviction of leaving the scene of an accident, arguing that the trial court erred by ordering that he serve his sentence of 11 months and 29 days in confinement. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/18/20
State of Tennessee v. James Alex Greer
M2019-00939-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gary McKenzie

The Defendant, James Alex Greer, was convicted of attempted first degree premeditated murder, a Class A felony, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class C felony, by a Putnam County Criminal Court jury. See T.C.A. §§ 39-12-101 (2014) (criminal attempt), 39-13-202(a)(1) (2014) (subsequently amended) (first degree premeditated murder), 39-17-1324 (2014) (subsequently amended) (employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony). The trial court imposed sentences of eighteen years and six years, respectively, and ordered mandatory consecutive sentencing pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(e)(1), for an effective sentence of twenty-four years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying defense counsel’s mid-trial request to withdraw based upon the Defendant’s attempt to waive the right to counsel and the Defendant’s demand to proceed pro se. We affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/17/20
Kelvin A. Lee v. Shawn Phillips, Warden
W2019-01634-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

The Petitioner, Kelvin A. Lee, appeals as of right from the Lake County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, in which he contended that his life without parole sentence for his first degree felony murder conviction was illegal because it was imposed for a crime he committed as a juvenile. The Petitioner contends that the petition stated a cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Curtis Johnson, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01809-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Following a bench trial, the Petitioner, Curtis Johnson, Jr., was found guilty of three counts of aggravated robbery, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of twenty-four years. This court affirmed the trial court’s judgments on appeal. State v. Curtis Johnson, Jr., No. W2016-02439-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 324455 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 5, 2018), no perm. app filed. The Petitioner timely filed a post-conviction petition, alleging that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief, concluding that the Petitioner had not proven Counsel was deficient or shown prejudice. On appeal, the Petitioner maintains his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
State of Tennessee v. Jennifer Langley And James Broce
E2019-00723-CCA-R9-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge William K. Rogers

In this consolidated, interlocutory appeal, we review the order of the trial court granting the motions of the defendants, Jennifer Langley and James Broce, to dismiss the drug-free zone enhancement alleged in their presentments. In reaching its conclusion, the trial court determined that the Mark Vance Memorial Greenway located in Sullivan County, Tennessee was not a public park and in turn, was not a designated drug-free zone under the Drug-Free School Zone Act. The trial court’s finding rendered the enhancement provision of the Act inapplicable to the defendants’ presentments. Upon our review, we conclude the trial court erred in dismissing the enhancement alleged in the presentments because the determination of whether the Mark Vance Memorial Greenway is a public park as contemplated by the Drug-Free School Zone Act is a question of fact to be decided by the finder of fact. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Christopher Lee Williams v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01195-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton

The Petitioner, Christopher Lee Williams, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, seeking relief from his convictions of aggravated kidnapping, reckless endangerment, and domestic assault, and resulting effective ten-year sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner claims that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
State of Tennessee v. Andy F. Nunez - Concurring
M2019-00473-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

I concur in the results reached by the majority opinion. I write separately to express my opinion that the trial court erred by ruling that the evidence sought by Defendant via the subpoena would be irrelevant. The proposed evidence was never submitted at the pre-trial hearing. Thus, the trial court could only speculate as to what any evidence would reveal. However, any error was harmless in my opinion.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
State of Tennessee v. Andy F. Nunez
M2019-00473-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

Andy F. Nunez, Defendant, and two co-defendants, Joseph Santillan and Daniela Cruz, were indicted for first degree murder, felony murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, attempted aggravated robbery, and reckless endangerment after a Nashville visitor was shot and killed while walking with his friend in September of 2016. Prior to trial, the State entered into a use immunity agreement with co-defendant, Ms. Cruz. Her case was severed from Defendant’s and Mr. Santillan’s case and she ultimately testified for the State. Prior to trial, counsel for Defendant subpoenaed the ten most recent use immunity agreements in first degree murder cases where a testifying co-defendant’s indictment was severed and the case proceeded to final judgment. The State filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The trial court granted the motion. The case proceeded to trial. Based partly on co-defendant Cruz’s testimony, Defendant was convicted as charged. He received an effective sentence of life plus five years. After trial, Ms. Cruz entered into a plea agreement to a reduced charge. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by granting the motion to quash the subpoena. After a review, we determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Lavar R. Jernigan v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00182-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The Petitioner, LaVar R. Jernigan, appeals the order of the Rutherford County Circuit Court denying post-conviction relief from his convictions for six counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, for which he received an effective sentence of thirty years’ imprisonment. See State v. LaVar Jernigan, No. M2016-00507-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 1019513 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 15, 2017). The Petitioner argues the State failed to disclose the existence of a “notebook” compilation containing over 6000 text messages between the victim and the Petitioner, in violation of Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure and in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194 (1963). He additionally argues that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to (1) advise the Petitioner of the existence of the notebook thereby resulting in the Petitioner’s rejection of a four-year offer by the State to settle the case; (2) object to the admission of the “notebook” at trial; and (3) prepare and preserve the record in his direct appeal. Upon our review, we vacate the Petitioner’s convictions, reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court, and remand this matter for a new trial.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/20
Michael Cory Halliburton v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01458-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

The Petitioner, Michael Cory Halliburton, appeals the denial of his petition for postconviction relief, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
Mario Bateman aka Mario Woods v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01388-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

In 2007, a Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Mario Bateman a/k/a Mario Woods, of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced him to life in prison. This court affirmed the conviction. State v. Mario Bateman a/k/a Mario Woods, No. W2007-00571-CCA-R3-CD, 2008 WL 4756675, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Oct. 28, 2008), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Mar. 23, 2009). The Petitioner then unsuccessfully filed, in turn, a petition for post-conviction relief, a writ of error coram nobis, and a federal habeas corpus petition. He then filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis at issue in this case, alleging that he had newly discovered evidence in the form of an affidavit from the victim’s father asserting that the victim was “violent, aggressive, and a bully.” He contended that he may have been convicted of a lesser-included offense had the jury heard this testimony and asked that the lower court toll the statute of limitations. The lower court summarily dismissed the petition for a writ of error coram nobis, finding that the Petitioner could have discovered the evidence sooner, that the evidence was cumulative to the evidence presented at trial, and that the Petitioner had not shown that the evidence might have affected the outcome of the trial. The Petitioner filed this appeal. After review, we affirm the lower court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
State of Tennessee v. William Brian Robinson
M2019-00451-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

The Defendant, William Brian Robinson, was convicted by a jury of second degree murder, for which he received a sentence of seventeen years. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-210. On appeal, the Defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred by denying his request to present evidence that the State had previously pursued two theories of guilt that were inconsistent with its theory at trial; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction, specifically, challenging the mens rea element of knowing; (3) the trial court erred by allowing a witness to testify about blood spatter evidence when that witness had not been qualified as an expert; and (4) the cumulative effect of these errors requires a new trial. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial on the charge of second degree murder, during which the Defendant shall be permitted to present evidence of the State’s previous theories of guilt.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
Robert Wayne Garner v. Grady Perry, Warden
M2019-01349-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

The Petitioner, Robert Wayne Garner, appeals as of right from the Giles County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus, in which he contended that his life sentence for his first degree felony murder was illegal because the statute governing his release eligibility does not allow for the possibility of parole. The Petitioner contends that the petition stated a cognizable claim for habeas corpus relief. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Giles County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/13/20
State of Tennessee v. Ramon Luis Hernandez, Jr.
M2019-01482-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

Defendant, Ramon Luis Hernandez, Jr., pled guilty to one count of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor involving over 50 images. Defendant agreed to consecutive sentencing, with the trial court to determine the length and manner of service of the sentences after a sentencing hearing. The trial court sentenced Defendant to five years for each offense for an effective sentence of ten years of incarceration. After a review, we conclude that the trial court sentenced Defendant to a sentence within the range for each conviction and followed the proper sentencing procedure. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion and the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/12/20
State of Tennessee v. Jeffrey Wayne Haithcote
M2018-01943-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

The Appellant, Jeffrey Wayne Haithcote, pled guilty in the Bedford County Circuit Court to two counts of selling heroin and one count of possessing heroin with intent to sell, Class B felonies. As a condition of his pleas, he reserved certified questions of law concerning whether the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the search of his residence because the affidavit underlying the search warrant did not establish probable cause. Upon review, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress.

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/11/20
Derrick D. Carr v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00201-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brody N. Kane

Petitioner, Derrick D. Carr, was indicted by a Wilson County grand jury for two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count of especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of reckless endangerment involving a deadly weapon. Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, Petitioner pled guilty to second-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder and received concurrent twenty-five-year prison sentences. Petitioner subsequently filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief claiming that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel and that he had newly discovered evidence from one of the victims. After an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition. After a careful review of the record, we affirm.

Wilson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/10/20
State of Tennessee v. Demarius Jerome Pitts
M2019-00866-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

Defendant, Demarius Jerome Pitts, pleaded guilty to possession of a Schedule IV drug with intent to sell or deliver. After denying judicial diversion, the trial court sentenced Defendant to serve three years to be suspended to supervised probation. On appeal, Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his request for judicial diversion. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/10/20
State of Tennessee v. Donte Davis
M2019-01314-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

Donte Anton Davis, Defendant, was indicted by a Coffee County grand jury for violation of the Sex Offender Registry. Defendant entered a guilty plea, and the trial court sentenced Defendant as a career offender to serve six years in confinement. Defendant filed a timely notice of appeal and argues that his sentence was excessive and that the trial court failed to include specific findings to support its denial of the mandatory minimum sentence. The State argues that the trial court exercised proper discretion and sentenced Defendant appropriately. After a thorough review of the record, we find no error in the judgment of the trial court.

Coffee County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/20
State of Tennessee v. Charles Thomas Johnson
M2019-00707-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

The Defendant, Charles Thomas Johnson, was convicted by a Lincoln County Circuit Court jury of possession of heroin with the intent to sell, possession of heroin with the intent to deliver, possession with the intent to sell 0.5 gram or more of cocaine, and possession with the intent to deliver 0.5 gram or more of cocaine, Class B felonies. See T.C.A. § 39-17-417 (2018). After the appropriate merger, the trial court imposed consecutive terms of twelve years for possession with the intent to sell heroin and eight years for possession with the intent to sell cocaine, for an effective twenty years’ confinement. The trial court ordered the Defendant to serve his effective sentence consecutively to a conviction in an unrelated case. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions, (2) the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss pursuant to State v. Ferguson, 2 S.W.3d 912 (Tenn. 1999), based on lost or destroyed evidence, and (3) the trial court erred by denying his request for alternative sentencing and by imposing consecutive service. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Lincoln County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/20
Vaughn Harris a.k.a. Vaughn Sherwin Harris v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01873-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jennifer Smith

On September 3, 2019, Vaughn Harris, Petitioner, filed pro se petitions for post-conviction relief in three Davidson County cases. The petitions were filed years after the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-30-102(a) had expired. The post-conviction courts summarily dismissed the petitions as untimely. Petitioner appealed claiming that the statutory exceptions in Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-30-102(b) provided jurisdiction for the post-conviction courts to consider the petitions and/or that he was entitled to due process tolling of the statute of limitations. Pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 16(b), we ordered the three appeals to be consolidated because they involved “common questions of law and/or common facts.” After review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the summary dismissal in all three cases.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/20
Alberto Conde-Valentino v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00617-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton

The Petitioner, Alberto Conde-Valentino, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, seeking relief from his convictions of first degree felony murder and especially aggravated robbery and resulting effective sentence of life in confinement. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/06/20