Court of Criminal Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/31/2015
Format: 08/31/2015
George Hardin v. State of Tennessee and Eric Qualls, Warden
E2014-01458-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

The Petitioner, George Hardin, appeals the Bledsoe County Circuit Court’s denial of his third petition for habeas corpus relief from his 1988 conviction for first degree murder and his life sentence. He contends that (1) although he has filed two previous petitions for habeas corpus relief, the arguments contained in the petitions were not considered and (2) the 1990 judgment and a 1996 order are void because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter them. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Bledsoe County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/31/15
Billy Drew Massengill v. State of Tennessee
E2014-02431-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex Henry Ogle

The petitioner, Billy Drew Massengill, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his 2013 Cocke County Circuit Court guilty-pleaded convictions of the sale of less than 0.5 grams of cocaine, the sale and delivery of Oxymorphone, driving on a revoked license, theft of $500 or less, and failure to appear, for which he received an effective sentence of eight years. In this appeal, the petitioner contends that his guilty pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily entered and that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Cocke County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/31/15
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Paul Gagne, Jr.
E2015-00502-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob R. McGee

The petitioner, Thomas Paul Gagne, Jr., appeals the denial of his motion, filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, to correct what he believes to be an illegal sentence. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/31/15
State of Tennessee v. Eddie James Bright
M2014-01992-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

The defendant, Eddie James Bright, pled guilty to initiation of the process to manufacture methamphetamine, a Class B felony, and, following a sentencing hearing, was sentenced to ten years and one day incarceration.  On appeal, he argues that the State breached its contractual obligations to him by mentioning his pending charges at the sentencing hearing, contrary to the plea agreement’s preclusion of the mention of such charges at sentencing.  After review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new sentencing hearing.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/31/15
State of Tennessee v. Bruce Marvin Vann
W2014-02119-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Defendant, Bruce Marvin Vann, was indicted and, following a jury trial, convicted of three counts of rape of a child. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-522. The trial court imposed sentences of thirty-five years for each conviction and ordered the sentences to run concurrently, for a total effective sentence of thirty-five years to be served at 100 percent. On appeal, the Defendant contends (1) that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions; and (2) that the prosecutor committed misconduct during his closing argument. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/28/15
John A. Bailey v. State of Tennessee
W2014-02499-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

The Appellant, John A. Bailey, appeals as of right from the Madison County Criminal Court's denial of his two separate motions for correction of illegal sentences pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. On appeal, the Appellant argues that the trial court erred by summarily denying his motions without appointing counsel after he had stated colorable claims for relief regarding the legality of the concurrent nature of his various sentences and his eligibility for community corrections and subsequent placement in that program. Following our review of the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court's summary denial of the Appellant's Rule 36.1 motions.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Sandra Mitchell
W2015-00043-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

The defendant, Sandra Mitchell, pled guilty to theft of property of $60,000 or more but less than $250,000, a Class B felony. She received a twelve-year sentence to be served consecutively to a prior six-year sentence. On appeal, she challenges the trial court’s decision to impose consecutive sentences. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Gibson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/28/15
State of Tennessee v. James Hawkins
W2012-00412-CCA-R3-DD
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

Defendant, James Hawkins, appeals from his Shelby County Criminal Court jury convictions of premeditated first degree murder, see T.C.A. 39-13-202(a)(1); initiating a false report, see id. 39-16-502, a Class D felony; and abuse of a corpse, see id. 39-17-312, a Class E felony. The jury sentenced Defendant to death for the first degree murder conviction based upon its findings that the defendant was previously convicted of one (1) or more felonies whose statutory elements involve the use of violence to the person, see id. ' 39-13-204(i)(2); and that the defendant knowingly mutilated the body of the victim after death, see id. 39-13-204(i)(13); and that these aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. For the remaining felonies, the trial court imposed an effective sentence of 18 years' incarceration to be served consecutively to the death sentence. On appeal, Defendant alleges that (1) the trial court erred by denying Defendant's motion to suppress his statements given to the police; (2) the trial court erred by refusing to accept Defendant's guilty pleas to counts two and three of the indictment; (3) the trial court erred by admitting statements made by the victim through the victim's children, through Melvin Gaither, and through an application for order of protection; (4) the trial court erred by admitting evidence of other acts in violation of Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b); (5) the trial court erred by admitting photographs of bone fragments taken from the victim;(6) the trial court erred by admitting crime scene photographs that had not been provided during pretrial discovery; (7) the trial court erred by permitting improper closing argument by the State; (8) the evidence is insufficient to support Defendant's conviction of first degree murder; (9) the trial court erred by not requiring the State to provide discovery concerning an ongoing investigation of sexual abuse committed by Defendant's father against Defendant's sisters for use in the penalty phase of the trial; (10) the trial court erred by denying Defendant's special jury instruction request to charge the jury on the presumption that any sentence imposed for the first degree murder conviction would be carried out according to the laws of this State; (11) myriad aspects of Tennessee's death penalty statutes and procedure are unconstitutional in general and as applied to Defendant; (12) the trial court imposed an excessive sentence in both length and manner of service relative to the sentences for filing a false report and abuse of a corpse; and (13) the cumulative effect of these errors violated Defendant's right to due process. As an additional issue, Defendant alleges that the trial court erred by denying his petition for writ of error coram nobis. Following oral argument at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis and this court's full consideration, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Curtis Dewayne Staggs
M2015-00889-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

The Appellant, Curtis Dewayne Staggs, is appealing the order of the trial court denying his motion to correct a clerical error in the judgments of conviction.  The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20.  Said motion is hereby granted.

Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/28/15
Kenneth Ray Griffin v. State of Tennessee
E2015-00239-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Jerry Beck

The pro se Petitioner, Kenneth Ray Griffin, appeals the Washington County Criminal Court’s denial of his motion to reopen his petition for post-conviction relief. Because the Petitioner failed to comply with the statutory requirements for seeking discretionary review of the dismissal of his motion, this court is without jurisdiction in this case. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.

Washington County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Devon Elliott Cruze
E2014-01847-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

The Defendant, Devon Elliott Cruze, alias, appeals as of right from the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of judicial diversion and order that he serve his two-year sentence in split confinement following his guilty-pleaded convictions for two counts of theft of property and one count of burglary of an automobile. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-14-103, -14-402. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by failing to consider the applicable factors for judicial diversion and by denying judicial diversion. The Defendant further contends that the trial court erred by ordering his sentences for non-violent property offenses be served in split confinement in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-122. Following our review, we conclude that the trial court did not properly set forth the factors to be considered when denying judicial diversion and that this case should be remanded for a sentencing hearing where the trial court is instructed to consider and weigh the applicable factors on the record. Furthermore, we conclude that the trial court erred by sentencing the Defendant to a period of continuous confinement for a non-violent property offense. Therefore, the Defendant’s sentence is vacated and, on remand, the trial court should impose a sentence in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-122.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Mickey Edwards
W2014-00987-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

Mickey Edwards (“the Defendant”) was convicted of four counts of aggravated burglary, four counts of theft of property, one count of identity theft, and one count of fraudulent use of a credit card. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized during his arrest, the denial of his motion to sever the counts in the indictment, the denial of his motion to exclude evidence of his prior convictions, and the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. Upon review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/27/15
Robert Edward Williams, III v. State of Tennessee
M2014-01879-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

The Petitioner, Robert Edward Williams III, appeals as of right from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief.  In this appeal, the Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because trial counsel failed to adequately communicate with him and because trial counsel “coerced” the Petitioner to enter guilty pleas, rendering his pleas unknowing and involuntary.  Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Decornick Moore
W2015-00169-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn L. Peeples

The Defendant, Decornick Moore, pleaded guilty to attempt to commit second degree murder and received a ten-year sentence. More than ten years later, the Defendant filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Criminal Procedure Rule 36.1 requesting that the trial court correct an illegal sentence because his sentence should have been served consecutively to a previously imposed sentence. The trial court summarily dismissed the motion for failure to state a colorable claim. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred in dismissing his motion. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Haywood County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/26/15
State of Tennessee v. Ricky Hopson
W2014-01718-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

Defendant, Ricky Hopson, was convicted by a Shelby County jury of aggravated assault, a Class C felony. He received a sentence of ten years which was suspended and ordered to be served on probation. On appeal Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because he acted in self-defense at the time of the offense. After a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/26/15
State of Tennessee v. Kevin Ladell Grandberry
W2014-01549-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

A Fayette County jury convicted the Defendant, Kevin Ladell Grandberry, of burglary, theft of property valued at $500 or more but less than $1,000, vandalism less than $500, and theft of a motor vehicle valued at $1,000 or more but less than $10,000. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the Defendant as a career offender to a total effective sentence of twenty-seven years in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it ordered the Defendant to be shackled and handcuffed during the trial and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

Fayette County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/26/15
State of Tennessee v. Varquez K. Sails
M2014-01343-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

The Defendant, Varquez K. Sails, was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of second degree murder, first degree felony murder, and employing a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony.  The trial court merged the homicide convictions, dismissed the count pertaining to the weapons offense, and imposed a life sentence.  See T.C.A. § 39-13-202(a)(2) (first degree felony murder) (2014).  On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress an identification of him from a photograph lineup, (2) the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction, (3) the trial court erred in excluding evidence that an eyewitness to the crime misidentified defense counsel as the defense investigator on a separate occasion, (4) the trial court erred in prohibiting cross-examination regarding a witness’s gang affiliation, (5) the trial court erred in excluding testimony regarding the software used to generate the photograph lineup, (6) the trial court erred in excluding an expert witness’s opinion testimony regarding whether the photograph lineup was impermissibly suggestive, (7) the trial court erred in failing to grant a mistrial when a witness testified that the Defendant had been incarcerated previously, (8) the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument, and (9) the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).  We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/26/15
State of Tennessee v. Verchaunt Joshua Williams
M2014-02049-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael R. Jones

The defendant, Verchant Joshua Williams, was convicted of one count of first degree (premeditated) murder, one count of tampering with evidence, a Class C felony, and one count of abuse of a corpse, a Class E felony.  On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence of his convictions for tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse, arguing that the two convictions should merge.  Following our review of the briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/26/15
State of Tennessee v. John Henry Pruitt
M2013-02393-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

A Hickman County jury found the Defendant, John Henry Pruitt, guilty of two counts of first
degree murder, one count of attempted first degree murder, and three counts of aggravated assault. Thereafter, the jury sentenced the Defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for both the first degree murder convictions. The trial court imposed a consecutive sentence of twenty-five years for his attempted first degree murder conviction and concurrent six-year sentences for each of the three aggravated assault convictions. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the execution of a search warrant. The Defendant also contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions for first degree murder and attempted first degree murder, and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his sentence of life without the possibility of parole. After a thorough review of the record and relevant law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/26/15
State of Tennessee v. Antoneo Williams
E2014-01076-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob R. McGee

A Knox County Criminal Court Jury convicted the appellant, Antoneo Williams, of attempted second degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and reckless endangerment. The jury also found him to be a criminal gang member who committed criminal gang offenses, resulting in enhanced punishment for his attempted murder and aggravated assault convictions, and the trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of fifty-three years in confinement. On appeal, the appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions; that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his audio-recorded conversation with a fellow jail inmate, who was acting as a government agent; and that the trial court erred by using his juvenile criminal history to enhance his offender classification. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/15
Shon Quintel Blanks v. State of Tennessee
E2014-01342-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy A. Reedy

The petitioner, Shon Quintel Blanks, filed a petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of possession of cocaine with the intent to sell, a Class B felony, and possession of marijuana with the intent to sell, a Class E felony, and the accompanying ten-year sentence. The petitioner alleged that his counsel was ineffective and that his guilty pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily entered. The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Bradley County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/15
State of Tennessee v. John A. Snider
W2014-01848-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Defendant, John A. Snider, pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court for Madison County to three counts of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, simple possession of a controlled substance, possession of synthetic cannabinoid, and possession of drug paraphernalia. See T.C.A. §§ 39-17-417 (Supp. 2012) (amended 2014) (possession of psilocybin, marijuana, diazepam, alprazolam with intent to sell), 39-17-418 (2010) (amended 2014) (simple possession of oxycodone), 39-17-425 (2014) (possession of drug paraphernalia), 39-17-438 (Supp. 2012) (amended 2013, 2014, 2015) (possession of synthetic cannabinoids). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to an effective ten years, ordered him to serve eleven months, twenty-nine days in confinement, and ordered him to serve the remainder on community corrections. On appeal, the Defendant presents a certified question of law regarding the legality of the warrantless entry into the Defendant’s home and the seizure of the Defendant from his doorway. We dismiss the appeal because the certified question is not dispositive of the case.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/15
State of Tennessee v. Allen Anthony Hammett
E2014-01947-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex Henry Ogle

The Defendant, Allen Anthony Hammett, entered best interest guilty pleas in case number 18648 to aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, and in case number 18930 to violating the sex offender registry, a Class E felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-504 (2014), 40-39-208 (2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range I, standard offender to concurrent terms of ten years for the aggravated sexual battery conviction and two years for the registry violation. Following the guilty plea hearing, the Defendant sought to withdraw his pleas alleging that they were involuntarily and unknowingly entered and that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied relief. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to withdraw his best interest guilty pleas. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/15
State of Tennessee v. Fredrick Sledge
W2014-02305-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Fredrick Sledge, of first degree felony murder and especially aggravated robbery, and it imposed a sentence of death for the first degree felony murder conviction. The trial court imposed a consecutive twenty-year sentence for the especially aggravated robbery conviction. The Defendant appealed his convictions and sentences, and we affirmed his conviction and sentence for the especially aggravated robbery conviction. We also affirmed his conviction for first degree felony murder but concluded that errors during the sentencing phase required reversal of the death sentence. We remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing for the first degree felony murder conviction. See State v. Fredrick Sledge, No. 02C01-9405-CR-00089, 1997 WL 730245, at  (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Nov. 25, 1997). On remand, the Defendant was sentenced to life for the first degree murder conviction to be served consecutively to his twenty-year sentence for the especially aggravated robbery conviction. State v. Fredrick Sledge, No. W2001-02402-CCA-R3-CD, 2003 WL 57313, at  (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 6, 2003). The Defendant’s sentence was affirmed by this court. Id. In 2014, the Defendant filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 36.1 seeking to correct an illegal sentence. The trial court summarily denied the Defendant’s motion. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/15
State of Tennessee v. Robert Townsend
W2014-00992-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

A Shelby County jury found the Defendant, Robert Townsend, guilty of first degree premeditated murder. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against him. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court‟s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/15