Court of Criminal Appeals Opinions

Format: 07/24/2019
Format: 07/24/2019
Ashley M. Cook v. State of Tennessee
M2018-01149-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest Durard, Jr.

The petitioner, Ashley M. Cook, appeals the summary dismissal of her petition for writ of error coram nobis, which petition challenged her 2008 convictions of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan Cooper
E2018-00622-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The Defendant, Jonathan Cooper, was indicted for two counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony; five counts of incest, a Class C felony; and five counts of rape of a child, a Class A felony. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-13-504, -13-522, -15-302. Following a jury trial, the Defendant was convicted of one count of aggravated sexual battery, three counts of incest, and three counts of rape of a child. The Defendant was acquitted of the remaining charges. The trial court later imposed a total effective sentence of fifty years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions; and (2) the trial court erred in allowing a witness to testify that he observed the victim crying during a forensic interview. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/21/19
Bendale Romero v. State of Tennessee
E2018-00404-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The petitioner, Bendale Romero, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his 2014 convictions of attempted first degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and aggravated assault on grounds that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Because the indictment was constitutionally deficient as to the charge of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, we vacate that conviction but otherwise affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/20/19
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Humberto Cuevas
E2018-01002-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

The defendant, Anthony Humberto Cuevas, appeals the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s decision imposing consecutive sentences for his guilty-pleaded convictions of aggravated burglary and theft of property valued at $60,000 or more but less than $250,000. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/20/19
Billy Dean Sizemore v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00278-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

The petitioner, Billy Dean Sizemore, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his 2012 conviction of delivery of a controlled substance, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

Lewis County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/20/19
State of Tennessee v. Derius Pettis
W2017-02473-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

A Shelby County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Derius Pettis, of one count of attempted voluntary manslaughter, a Class D felony; one count of employing a firearm during the attempt to commit a dangerous felony, a Class C felony; one count of reckless aggravated assault, a Class D felony; and three counts reckless endangerment, a Class E felony. After a sentencing hearing, he received an effective twenty-year sentence. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions and that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on duress and defense of a third person. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/17/19
State of Tennessee v. Telvin Toles
W2018-01175-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

Defendant, Telvin Toles, was convicted by a Shelby County jury of one count of felony murder. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense and voluntary manslaughter; that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction; that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling on the admissibility of certain photographs; that the trial court erred by allowing additional security officers to sit behind Defendant throughout the trial; that the trial court erred in overruling Defendant’s objections to certain questions asked by the State; and that the trial court erred in allowing expert testimony when the full ballistics report had not been produced during discovery. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/17/19
State of Tennessee v. Keith Lamont Brown aka "Kee Kee"
W2018-00731-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

The Defendant, Keith Lamont Brown, appeals his conviction for the delivery of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine for which he received a sentence of twenty-five years as a persistent offender. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/16/19
Christopher Danta Logan v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01176-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The Petitioner, Christopher Danta Logan, appeals the Tipton County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his pro se petition for
post-conviction relief. The Petitioner argues that he timely filed his petition alleging he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. The State agrees that the Petitioner timely filed his petition. After a review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that the
post-conviction court committed reversible error; therefore, we reverse the post-conviction court’s summary dismissal of the petition and remand for a hearing regarding the timeliness of the Petitioner’s post-conviction petition.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/15/19
State of Tennessee v. Ronnie Joe Edwards, Jr.
W2018-00805-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The defendant, Ronnie Joe Edwards, Jr., appeals the order of the trial court revoking his probation and ordering him to serve his original five-year sentence in confinement. Upon review of the record, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding the defendant violated the terms of his probation and the imposed sentence is proper. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/15/19
State of Tennessee v. John Steven Hernandez
M2016-02511-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Dozier

In 2013, a Davidson County jury convicted the Defendant, John Steven Hernandez, of first degree premeditated murder for a killing that occurred in 1993, for which the trial court imposed a sentence of life in prison. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it: (1) did not dismiss the charge against him based on pre-indictment delay; (2) did not dismiss the charge against him based on post-indictment delay; (3) denied his motion to suppress evidence; (4) made several erroneous evidentiary rulings; and that (5) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction; and that (6) the Defendant is entitled to a new trial based upon the cumulative effect of the errors. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/15/19
Sara Elizabeth Arnold v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00809-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

In 2017, the Petitioner, Sara Elizabeth Arnold, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for an agreed eight-year sentence and the dismissal of an attempted first degree murder charge she also faced. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that her guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered because she was mentally incompetent and her trial counsel was ineffective for failing to have her mental condition evaluated. The post-conviction court denied the petition, finding that she had undergone two mental evaluations that concluded she was competent prior to entering her plea. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the mental evaluations conducted on her were not proper assessments of her mental state and asks this court to obtain a copy of her institutional record. After review, we reverse the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/15/19
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee - Dissenting
W2018-00237-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

I respectfully disagree with the majority’s conclusion that the Petitioner is not entitled to relief based upon his claim of bias by the post-conviction judge. Rather, I conclude that the post-conviction judge’s comments at the conclusion of the hearing were so egregious that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned and, thus, warranted recusal. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, R.J.C. 2.11(A) (“A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned….”). Because the judge presided over the proceedings when disqualified from doing so, I would reverse the post-conviction court’s order denying the Petitioner post-conviction relief and remand for a new hearing with a different judge.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00237-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The petitioner, Brice Cook, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Dexter Sappington v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01516-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

The petitioner, Dexter Sappington, Jr., appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel prior to and during his guilty plea hearing. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Hardeman County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan Alexander
W2018-00442-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles C. McGinley

A Hardin County jury convicted the defendant of two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm (counts 1 and 2), possession of a Schedule II controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver (count 3), possession of unlawful drug paraphernalia (count 4), and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony (count 5). On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions in counts 3 and 5 and asserts the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the inference of casual exchange pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-419. Upon our review of the record, we conclude sufficient evidence exists to support the defendant’s convictions and the defendant failed to preserve the jury instruction issue for appeal. In reviewing the sentencing determinations of the trial court, however, we note several errors in the completion of the judgment forms for counts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Specifically, there are clerical errors in the felony classifications as marked in counts 1, 2, and 3 (in count 1, the trial court incorrectly classified the conviction as a Class C felony rather than a Class B felony; in count 2, the trial court incorrectly classified the conviction as a Class E felony rather than a Class C felony; and in count 3, the trial court incorrectly classified the conviction as a Class C felony rather than a Class B felony). Additionally, in merging the defendant’s convictions in counts 1 and 2, the trial court failed to impose a sentence for the merged conviction of count 2. Finally, in count 4, the trial court incorrectly sentenced the defendant for a misdemeanor conviction rather than the felony for which he was found guilty, warranting a new sentencing hearing on the same. Consequently, we remand the case to the trial court for sentencing as to counts 2 and 4 and the entry of corrected and completed judgment forms as to counts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Hardin County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Bethel Hendrix
M2017-00386-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

A Williamson County Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Thomas Bethel Hendrix, of two counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of child abuse, and the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of twenty-five years in confinement. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by admitting certain statements he made to law enforcement and that the trial court erred by failing to merge his convictions into a single conviction of aggravated child abuse. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court but conclude that the Appellant’s convictions must be merged. Accordingly, the case is remanded to the trial court for merger of the convictions into a single conviction of aggravated child abuse. We note that merger of the convictions does not affect the Appellant’s twenty-five-year sentence because the trial court ordered that he serve the sentences concurrently.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Reginald Tyrone Donnell v. Russell Washburn, Warden
M2018-00706-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

The Petitioner, Reginald Tyrone Donnell, filed a petition for habeas corpus relief from his two convictions of second degree murder, contending that the indictment charging him was void and that a fatal variance existed between the indictment and the proof adduced at trial. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the petition for failure to comply with the procedural requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-21-107, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the habeas corpus court’s summary dismissal of the petition.

Trousdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Torey Martez Underwood
E2018-00811-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Scott Green

The defendant, Torey Martez Underwood, appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of alternative sentencing for his guilty-pleaded conviction of attempted second degree murder. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/10/19
State of Tennessee v. Rocky G. Tanner
M2018-00639-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Wallace

After a bench trial in July 2017, the defendant, Rocky G. Tanner, was found guilty of driving on a revoked or suspended license in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-50-504. At trial and in his motion for new trial, the defendant challenged the State’s ability to require drivers to maintain a valid license as unconstitutional. The defendant now challenges, for the first time, the constitutionality of Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-24-105(b) “claiming having his license suspended due to failure to pay court costs . . . is not legal under the United States Constitution.” However, because the defendant did not present this challenge to the trial court, he has waived consideration of his claim. Thus, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Stewart County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/09/19
Derrick Richardson v. State of Tennessee
E2018-01352-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

The Appellant, Derrick Richardson, appeals as of right from the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s judgment summarily denying his petition for a writ of error coram nobis. The State has filed a motion to dismiss this appeal due to an untimely notice of appeal. Following our review, we conclude that the interest of justice requires a waiver of the timely filing of the notice of appeal and deny the State’s motion to dismiss. We further conclude, however, that an opinion in this case would have no precedential value and affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Jared Worthington
W2018-01040-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

The Defendant, Jared Worthington, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of DUI per se, a Class A misdemeanor, and reckless driving, a Class B misdemeanor, after the State dismissed his DUI by impairment charge. He was sentenced by the trial court to concurrent terms of one day for the reckless driving conviction and 11 months, 29 days for the DUI conviction, suspended to probation after service of ten days in the county jail. On appeal, the Defendant raises the following issues: (1) Whether the trial court erred in its rulings regarding the admission and publication of the dashboard camera video of the Defendant’s arrest; (2) Whether the trial court violated the Tennessee constitution by disparaging the evidence, which took the form of instructing the jury that much of the video was irrelevant; (3) Whether the trial court erred by not allowing defense counsel to question officers about the potential bias created by the fact that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) blood alcohol or drug concentration test fee (“BADT”) was collected only in those cases in which a defendant is convicted; and (4) Whether the trial court “shifted the burden of proof,” thereby violating the Defendant’s constitutional due process rights, by asking defense counsel in the presence of the jury whether the Defendant intended to put on any proof. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/08/19
Lashun Gray v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01262-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

Petitioner, Lashun Gray, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for attempted first degree murder and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, for which he received an effective sentence of thirty years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, Petitioner contends that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel based on: (1) trial counsel’s advice on whether Petitioner should testify at trial; (2) trial and appellate counsels’ failure to object to and appeal the jury instructions pertaining to criminal responsibility for the acts of another; and (3) trial counsel’s failure to properly advise Petitioner regarding the State’s plea offer of twenty-five years with a thirty-percent release eligibility. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/08/19
Jakeil Malik Waller v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01235-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Petitioner, Jakeil Malik Waller, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner was convicted of second degree murder and reckless endangerment and received an effective sentence of twenty-seven years. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Jennifer Murray Jewell
M2017-01931-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

The Appellant, Jennifer Murray Jewell, entered a best interest guilty plea to theft of property valued over $60,000, a Class B felony. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the Appellant received a sentence of ten years to be served on supervised probation. After a hearing, the trial court ordered the Appellant to pay $100,000 in restitution by monthly payments of $861.80 during her sentence. On direct appeal, this court held that the State failed to adduce sufficient proof of the victim’s loss; therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court to determine the amount of the victim’s loss and restitution. On remand, the Appellant represented herself at the second restitution hearing. The trial court determined that the victim suffered a total loss of $341,122.65 and ordered restitution of $47,000, to be paid in monthly installments of $500 for the remaining ninety-four months of her probationary sentence. On appeal, the Appellant contends that she was denied her right to counsel at the second restitution hearing and that the trial court failed to consider her ability to pay in determining the amount of restitution. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/07/19