Tennessee Supreme Court Allows Defendant's Motion for a New Trial to Proceed

August 28, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that although a defendant’s motion for new trial contained no specific grounds for relief, the trial court retained jurisdiction to hear the motion and permit its amendment.

On April 13, 2008, Charles E. Lowe-Kelley fired a gun at a vehicle carrying 11 passengers and killed two of the passengers. A jury convicted Lowe-Kelley of two counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree murder committed in the perpetration of attempted first degree murder and nine counts of attempted first degree murder. The trial court sentenced the defendant to two consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole for the murder convictions. For the attempted murder convictions, the trial court imposed nine 15-year sentences to be served concurrently with each other and concurrently with the consecutive life sentences.

Eighteen days after the sentencing hearing, the defendant’s trial counsel filed a motion requesting a new trial and withdrew. The motion contained no specific grounds for relief. The trial court then appointed new counsel. Defendant’s new counsel filed a motion to amend the previously filed motion for new trial to include specific grounds for relief. The trial court permitted the amendment of the motion for new trial and denied the amended motion on its merits.

On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the original motion for new trial was a “nullity” because it contained no specific grounds for relief and that the trial court did not retain jurisdiction to hear the motion or permit its amendment.

Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the original motion for new trial met the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 despite its failure to allege specific grounds for relief and that the trial court retained jurisdiction to hear the motion and permit its amendment. The case is remanded to the Court of Criminal Appeals to consider the defendant’s appeal of the denial of the amended motion for new trial.

To read the State of Tennessee v. Charles E. Lowe-Kelley opinion authored by Justice Janice M. Holder, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/lowekelleyceopn.pdf.