Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s conviction for aggravated assault but modified his sentence, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction but the trial court erred in sentencing Defendant to enhanced punishment because Defendant did not receive proper notice of the State’s intention to seek enhanced sentencing. Defendant was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced as a career offender. Defendant unsuccessfully objected to his classification as a career offender based on the State’s failure to file a pre-trial notice of intent to seek enhanced punishment. In its oral sentencing findings, the trial court noted that Defendant had the requisite prior convictions to qualify as a career offender and that, in a prior case, the State had filed a proper notice. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the sentence and remanded for entry of a corrected judgment, holding (1) a new enhancement notice must be filed in a separate case that is wholly unrelated to a prior case in which the State provides such notice; and (2) having received no properly filed notice of the State’s intent to seek enhanced punishment, Defendant was entitled to relief. View "State v. Williams" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court dismissing death-sentenced inmates’ challenge to Tennessee’s current three-drug lethal injection protocol, holding that the inmates failed to establish that the three-drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution. This appeal was the third time the Supreme Court addressed the facial constitutionality of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol. In the first two appeals the Court upheld the particular protocol in question. At issue in the instant appeal was Tennessee’s current three-drug protocol. The trial court dismissed the inmates’ complaint for declaratory judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the inmates failed to establish that the three-drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment; and (2) the majority of the other issues raised by the inmates on appeal were rendered moot, and the inmates were not entitled to relief on their remaining issues. View "Abdur'Rahman v. Parker" on Justia Law

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The question these consolidated cases presented for the Tennessee Supreme Court's review centered on whether the trial court erred in suppressing evidence seized from the defendants’ residences in the 19th Judicial District because the warrants were signed by a Judge of the 23rd Judicial District. The Court held that, in the absence of interchange, designation, appointment, or other lawful means, a circuit court judge in Tennessee lacks jurisdiction to issue search warrants for property located outside the judge’s statutorily assigned judicial district. Nothing in the record on appeal established the 23rd Judicial District Circuit Court Judge obtained jurisdiction to issue search warrants for property in the 19th Judicial District. As a result, the searches were constitutionally invalid. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ motions to suppress was affirmed. View "Tennessee v. Frazier" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act (ERRA), Tenn. Code Ann. 40-6-108, represents an impermissible encroachment by the legislature upon the Supreme Court’s authority and responsibility to adopt exceptions to the exclusionary rule and therefore violates the Tennessee Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause. Defendant was convicted to two counts of first degree premeditated murder and other crimes. The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions and sentences, holding (1) in light of today’s holding that the ERRA is unconstitutional, the trial court erred when it denied Defendant’s motion to suppress in reliance on the ERRA; (2) a good-faith clerical error that results in an inconsequential variation between three copies of a search warrant required pursuant to Rule 41, in and of itself, does not entitle the moving party to suppression of the evidence collected pursuant to the warrant, and therefore, the trial court properly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress under this good-faith exception; and (3) Defendant’s remaining arguments on appeal did not warrant reversal of her convictions. View "State v. Lowe" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court granting Defendant’s motion to suppress a blood sample drawn from Defendant pursuant to a search warrant because the arresting officer failed to leave a copy of the warrant with Defendant, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, a good-faith exception should be applied to Tenn. R. Crim. P. 41’s exclusionary rule. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the warrant on the basis of the exclusionary rule set out in Rule 41. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this matter to the trial court for further proceedings, holding that, given the specific facts of this case, a good-faith exception to Rule 41’s technical requirement that the officer executing a search warrant leave a copy of the warrant with the person searched should apply to this case. View "State v. Daniel" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether a Brady claim is cognizable in the context of a petition for writ of error coram nobis and whether Appellant’s petition for a writ of error coram nobis should be dismissed as time-barred even though the State was not brought into the coram nobis proceedings at the trial court level and, consequently, did not assert the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in the trial court. Appellant filed a coram nobis petition alleging that the State committed a Brady violation. The trial court dismissed Appellant’s petition in part because it was filed after expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed because the petition did not present newly discovered evidence warranting coram nobis relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) an error coram nobis proceeding is not the appropriate procedural vehicle for obtaining relief from an alleged Brady violation; (2) timeliness under the statute of limitations is an essential element of a coram nobis claim that must be demonstrated on the face of the petition; (3) the facts supporting an equitable tolling request must likewise appear on the face of the petition; and (4) the trial court did not err in dismissing the coram nobis petition in this case. View "Nunley v. State" on Justia Law

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A new rule applies retroactively to cases pending on direct review when the new rule is announced but is subject to other jurisprudential concepts such as appellate review preservation requirements and the plain error doctrine. On appeal, the Supreme Court vacated Defendant’s convictions under the criminal gang offense statute, see Tenn. Code Ann. 40-35-121(b), holding (1) the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016), declaring the criminal gang offense statute unconstitutional applied to Defendant’s appeal because it was pending on direct review when Bonds was decided; (2) Defendant’s entitlement to relief must be evaluated by applying the plain error doctrine because Defendant failed to challenge the constitutionality of the statute in trial court; and (3) Defendant established the criteria necessary to obtain relief pursuant to the plain error doctrine. The Court remanded the matter to the trial court for resentencing on Defendant’s remaining convictions without any classification or sentence enhancement pursuant to the criminal gang offense statute. View "State v. Minor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals reversing Defendant’s convictions for four counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and four counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and reinstated Defendant’s three convictions for attempted voluntary manslaughter and three convictions for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The court held (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s request for a separate trial from that of his codefendants; (2) Defendant did not waive the issue of whether his multiple convictions for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony violated the prohibition against double jeopardy; and (3) Defendant’s three convictions for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony did not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy. The court remanded to the trial court for resentencing and corrected judgments. View "State v. Harbison" on Justia Law

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Tennessee’s theft statute, Tenn. Code Ann. 39-14-103, encompasses theft of real property. Defendant physically entered and occupied for one week a vacant house valued at more than two million dollars and filed documents with the county register of deeds office purporting to reflect her ownership of the property. Defendant was convicted of theft of property valued at over $250,000 and aggravated burglary. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the theft statute applies to theft of real property by occupation, seizure, and the filing of a deed to the property; (2) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s convictions; and (3) the trial court did not err in limiting Defendant’s cross-examination of a prosecution witness and her closing argument. The court remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. View "State v. Gentry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Deficiencies in the State’s timely filed notice of intent to sentence Defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as a repeat violent offender did not entitle Defendant to relief via the plain error doctrine. The court of criminal appeals set aside Defendant’s sentence of life without parole and remanded to the trial court for resentencing due to the deficiencies in the State's notice, holding that the document filed by the State did not qualify as notice pursuant to the repeat violent offender statute. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the judgment of the trial court, holding (1) although the notice was imperfect, it fairly informed Defendant of the State’s intent to seek enhanced sentencing and triggered Defendant’s duty to inquire into the errors and omissions; and (2) Defendant failed to establish that the deficiencies in the notice adversely affected a substantial right - one of the necessary criterion to obtain relief via the plain error doctrine. View "State v. Patterson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law