Tennessee Supreme Court Reinstates Murder Conviction Stemming from Memphis Robbery Attempt

March 6, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reinstated a Memphis man’s conviction for first-degree felony murder while clarifying Tennessee law regarding the requirements to make an arrest and when a confession can be a basis for a conviction.

Courtney Bishop and an accomplice schemed to rob a drug dealer at gunpoint in 2008, but instead, the victim was shot and killed. When the police arrested the accomplice, he named Mr. Bishop as the shooter. Police then arrested Mr. Bishop, who confessed. He repeated his confession at trial, testifying that he accidentally killed the victim during a botched robbery attempt. A jury convicted him of attempted aggravated robbery and first-degree felony murder.

Before trial, Mr. Bishop had successfully sought to exclude his 2008 confession. Mr. Bishop asserted that his statement should be suppressed because it was the result of his illegal arrest. Mr. Bishop argued that his arrest was illegal because the accomplice’s statements implicating him in the shooting of Maurice Taylor did not provide the police with probable cause to arrest him.

On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed Mr. Bishop’s attempted aggravated robbery conviction and granted Mr. Bishop a new trial on the modified charge of second-degree murder.

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals and upheld the original convictions.

First, the Court determined that the accomplice’s statement was reliable enough to give police probable cause to arrest Mr. Bishop. The accomplice’s identification of Mr. Bishop as the shooter was credible because the police had already gathered most of the facts in the accomplice’s statement through independent investigation.

The Court also clarified the longstanding Tennessee rule that a person cannot be convicted based entirely on a confession that has not been corroborated by other evidence, unless that confession is given under oath in court, as was the case with Mr. Bishop.

Read the opinion in State of Tennessee v. Courtney Bishop, authored by Justice William C. Koch, Jr.