Tennessee Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments for April Docket at Memphis Law School

The Tennessee Supreme Court will be at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law to hear three cases in the Historic Courtroom April 3, 2024. The first two cases will be heard at 9:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. CST, respectively, while the third case will be heard at 1:15 p.m. CST.

The cases will be livestreamed here: www.youtube.com/@TNCourts/featured

The details of the cases are as follows:

  • State of Tennessee v. Christopher Oberton Curry, Jr. – Christopher Oberton Curry was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony crime of violence, along with several other offenses.  At trial, the State introduced a certified judgment of conviction for a July 2017 robbery, a Class C felony.  The trial court determined that robbery was a crime of violence and instructed the jury to determine the defendant’s guilt as to “convicted felon in possession of a firearm after being convicted of a felony crime of violence, that being robbery.”  The jury convicted Mr. Curry on all counts. The trial court imposed a 10-year sentence for the firearm conviction, a Class B felony, and aligned the other sentences to be served concurrently.  Mr. Curry appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for being a felon in possession of a handgun because the State failed to establish that his previous felony (robbery) was a crime of violence.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court, concluding robbery is a crime of violence even if not contained in the statutory list of violent crimes.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Mr. Curry’s application for permission to appeal to consider (1) whether there was sufficient evidence to support Mr. Curry’s conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm, and (2) whether the trail court’s jury instructions properly defined the term “crime of violence.”
  • Leah Gilliam v. David Gerregano, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue et al. – In January 2011, Plaintiff Leah Gilliam applied for and obtained a vanity license plate bearing the registration characters “69PWNDU.”  The Department of Revenue, which administers the State’s vanity license plate program, revoked the registration more than ten years later, determining the registration sequence could be read to signify sexual acts or sexual domination.  Ms. Gilliam brought this action against the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, challenging the revocation under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, the Due Process Clause, and void-for-vagueness doctrine.  The case was assigned to a three-judge panel, which unanimously dismissed Ms. Gilliam’s claims.  The three-judge panel concluded Tennessee’s vanity plates are not protected by the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause because they constitute government speech.  On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the three-judge panel’s decision, concluding that the personalized character sequencing on vanity plates conveys an individualized message and the public overwhelmingly perceives vanity plates as conveying a personal, not governmental, message. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the Commissioner’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether Tennessee vanity plates constitute government speech or personal speech under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause.
  • State of Tennessee v. Andre Jujuan Lee Green – In February 2020, an officer completed a traffic stop on a vehicle for operating on high beams.  Andre Jujuan Lee Green was a passenger in the vehicle. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer indicated that he could smell a strong fragrance.  The officer conducted an open-air sniff of the vehicle using a service dog, which alerted on the vehicle.  The officer searched a backpack found with Mr. Green in the vehicle and found below one ounce of marijuana, a loaded Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, Ziploc bags, and a working scale.  Mr. Green was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver, possession of a firearm with intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia.  He filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained by law enforcement, arguing the canine sweep was not valid to provide probable cause to search because a canine cannot distinguish between the smell of legalized hemp and illegal marijuana. The trial court granted the motion to suppress and dismissed the charges against Mr. Green, but the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, concluding the smell of marijuana provides probable cause for a search.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Mr. Green’s application to appeal to consider whether the scent of marijuana detected by a canine during a protective sweep can provide probable cause for a warrantless search where the canine cannot distinguish between the illegal marijuana or the legal hemp, which are indistinguishable by smell.

Media planning to attend oral arguments should review Supreme Court Rule 30 and file any required requests.