Tennessee Supreme Court Reinstates Denial of Post-Conviction Petition

October 2, 2020

The Tennessee Supreme Court held in a unanimous decision that under the Post-Conviction Procedure Act of 1995 an appellate court does not have the authority to consider an issue, or raise an issue on its own, that was not raised in the post-conviction trial court.

Petitioner Marty Holland pled guilty to attempted first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery for a 2014 attack of a man outside of a Hardeman County restaurant. As part of his plea, Holland agreed to serve a seventeen-year sentence. He also agreed to serve that sentence concurrently with a previously imposed federal sentence for an unrelated bank robbery charge.

Holland filed a petition for post-conviction relief arguing that (1) his conviction was the result of an unlawful search and seizure, (2) his conviction was the result of an unlawful bench warrant, (3) he lacked effective assistance of counsel, (4) he had newly discovered evidence, and (5) the evidence used in the conviction was obtained illegally. In his first amended petition, he also argued that his trial counsel failed to effectively communicate with him and to fully investigate his case. In his second amended petition, he argued that his confession to law enforcement was coerced and that he did not understand the nature and consequences of his plea deal. Holland did not argue or raise any issue related to his concurrent state and federal sentences. At the evidentiary hearing, neither the State nor Holland argued that the concurrent state and federal sentences were related in any way to the claims made by Holland in his post-conviction petitions. The post-conviction court did not make any specific findings or conclusions related to the concurrent state and federal sentences.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court’s denial of relief for Holland on the issues raised in the petition. However, the court remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing to consider one issue: whether Holland was fully informed of the circumstances of agreeing to serve concurrent state and federal sentences. The court explained that it was not apparent from the record the extent of coordination between the state and federal governments in reaching the agreement to serve the concurrent sentences, and while this type of agreement is not prohibited by law, it was necessary to determine whether Holland was fully informed of the consequences of his agreement.

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that the concurrent sentencing issue was waived and could no longer be a basis for relief. The Court reasoned that because the concurrent sentencing issue was not raised by the Petitioner in his post-conviction petition or on appeal, was not argued by either party during the post-conviction hearing or on appeal, and was not decided by the post-conviction court, the Court of Criminal Appeals was without authority to consider the issue or raise the issue on its own. Ultimately, the Court reinstated the denial of post-conviction relief.

To read the unanimous opinion in Holland v. State, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, visit the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.