Court Opinions

Format: 10/22/2018
Format: 10/22/2018
Jerome Perkins v. State of Tennessee
M2017-00801-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

The petitioner, Jerome Perkins, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Wilson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/02/18
In Re: Mason C.
E2018-00535-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

Appellant/Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(ii); and (2) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-113(g)(9). Mother also appeals the trial court finding that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because Appellee, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, does not defend the ground of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Appellant’s parental rights on that ground. We affirm the termination of Appellant’s parental rights on the sole ground of severe child abuse and on the trial court’s finding that termination of her rights is in the child’s best interest.

Greene County Court of Appeals 10/02/18
Shawn Simmons v. Randy Lee, Warden
M2018-00150-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

The Petitioner, Shawn Simmons, appeals the Lincoln County Circuit Court’s denial of his request for a delayed appeal. Having construed the Petitioner’s pleading as a motion to reopen his first post-conviction petition, we dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction because the Petitioner failed to comply with the statutory requirements governing an appeal from the denial of a motion to reopen.

Lincoln County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/02/18
Mohammed Bassim Al-Khafajy, aka Mohammed Bassim Al-Khafiy v. State of Tennessee
M2017-02392-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

Petitioner, Mohammed Bassim Al-Khafajy, aka Mohammed Bassim Al-Khafiy, was indicted on multiple counts of drug and weapons charges after a police surveillance operation. He eventually pled guilty to one count of possession with intent to sell or deliver more than one half an ounce of marijuana and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony in exchange for a two-year sentence on the drug conviction and a mandatorily consecutive three-year sentence to be served at 100 percent on the firearm conviction. Petitioner sought post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel and the unknowing and involuntary nature of his plea. The post-conviction court denied relief and Petitioner appealed. After a review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/02/18
In Re: Estate of Mattie L. Mettetal, Deceased
E2017-01258-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

The petitioner, Ray W. Mettetal, Jr., filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to establish that the will of his mother, the deceased Mattie L. Mettetal, directs that the real property devised to him in the will should be administered as part of the estate. Petitioner asked the trial court to declare that the will required the administrator to pay the $40,057.35 in costs and improvements expended by petitioner on the real property out of the residuary of the estate. The court denied petitioner’s request. It held that the real property vested immediately in petitioner at the deceased’s death, and therefore it was not part of the probate estate for administration purposes. We affirm that decision. We reverse the trial court’s order to the extent it directs that attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses accrued in a prior appeal to this Court be deducted from petitioner’s distributive share of the estate.

Washington County Court of Appeals 10/02/18
State of Tennessee v. Gordon Scot Katz
E2017-02516-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

An Anderson County grand jury indicted the defendant, Gordon Scot Katz, with reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon. Following trial, a jury found the defendant guilty of the same, and the trial court imposed a sentence of two years. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction and alleges the trial court erred when denying the defendant’s request to cross-examine a witness regarding pending criminal charges and that the State presented alternate theories of liability, thereby calling the unanimity of the jury’s verdict into question. After hearing the arguments of the parties, reviewing the record, and considering the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
Walter George Glenn v. State of Tennessee
E2017-02019-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas C. Greenholtz

Petitioner, Walter George Glenn, appeals the denial of his petition for post-convictionrelief from his conviction for second degree murder. On appeal, Petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After thorough review, we determine that Petitioner received effective assistance of counsel and affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
Steven Anderson v. Esco Jarnigan, Sheriff, and State of Tennessee - concurring in part and dissenting in part
E2017-02534-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

I agree with the majority opinion affirming the habeas corpus court’s dismissal of the Petitioner’s habeas corpus petition on the basis that the petition fails to state a colorable claim. However, I disagree that the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court’s finding of direct criminal contempt.

Hamblen County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
Steven Anderson v. Esco Jarnigan, Sheriff, and State of Tennessee
E2017-02534-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex Pearson

The Petitioner, Steve Anderson, appeals from the Hamblen County Criminal Court’s dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus from his 1985 convictions for receiving and concealing stolen property, possession of engines and transmissions with altered numbers, arson of an automobile, and escape and his forty-two-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that the habeas corpus court erred by dismissing his petition and by finding him in contempt of court, which resulted in a ten-day sentence in confinement. Although the habeas corpus court erred by dismissing the petition pursuant to the mootness doctrine, we conclude that the petition fails to state a colorable claim for habeas corpus relief. Furthermore, we reverse the judgment of the habeas court relative to the contempt determination and dismiss the charge.

Hamblen County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
Jason Lyles v. State of Tennessee
M2017-01786-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

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

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
State of Tennessee v. Shawn Nelson Smoot
E2017-00367-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffery H. Wicks

A Roane County grand jury indicted the defendant, Shawn Nelson Smoot, with the first degree murder of the victim, Brooke Morris, and later convicted him of the same, for which he received an enhanced sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The defendant raises the following issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred when allowing the introduction of evidence seized during the warrantless search of his home under the theory of inevitable discovery; (2) the trial court erred when allowing expert ballistics and firearms identification testimony; (3) the trial court erred when allowing the introduction of evidence related to the victim’s order of protection against the defendant; (4) the trial court erred when denying the defendant’s motion to rehear all pretrial motions; (5) the trial court erred when allowing the victim’s landlord to render hearsay testimony regarding an incident between the victim and the defendant; (6) the trial court erred when allowing several witnesses to offer improper character evidence under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b); (7) the trial court erred when denying the defendant’s request for a trial continuance so he could obtain a mitigation expert; (8) the trial court erred when allowing the State to amend the indictment to include an additional witness twelve days before trial; (9) the trial court erred when denying two motions for mistrial; (10) the trial court erred when admitting the autopsy report as evidence; (11) the trial court erred when admitting the prior consistent statement of the defendant’s roommate into evidence; (12) the trial court erred when excluding the victim’s text messages to her friends from evidence; (13) the trial court erred when instructing the jury on flight; (14) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct when making improper comments to the jury regarding evidence; (15) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct when commenting during closing arguments on the defendant’s failure to testify; (16) the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdict; (17) the State made an improper “golden rule” argument during the sentencing phase of trial; (18) the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole; and (19) the cumulative effect of these errors warrant a reversal of the verdict. Based on the arguments of the parties, our review of the record, and the pertinent law, we conclude the trial court erred when admitting the evidence seized during the search of the defendant’s residence, when admitting certain hearsay statements contained in the order of protection documents, and when admitting the prior consistent statement of the defendant’s roommate. These errors were harmless, and their cumulative effect did not change the outcome of either phase of trial. Discerning no further errors, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Roane County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
Linda Sue Hassler v. Ridley David Hassler
E2017-02365-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

The parties negotiated, signed, and submitted to the trial court a marital dissolution agreement. The trial court approved and incorporated the MDA into its final judgment. Twenty-nine days after entry of the judgment, Ridley David Hassler (husband) filed a “motion to set aside” the final judgment and MDA. He told the trial court that he wanted to repudiate the MDA, arguing that it was ambiguous and that he and Linda Sue Hassler (wife) had differing interpretations of it. The trial court denied the motion, finding the MDA unambiguous, valid, and enforceable. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 10/01/18
State of Tennessee v. Larry W. Hopkins
M2017-01962-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

The Defendant, Larry W. Hopkins, was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of two counts of aggravated rape, Class A felonies. See T.C.A. § 39-13-502 (2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to concurrent terms of twenty-five years’ incarceration at 100% service. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the trial court erred by limiting his cross-examination of the victim and (2) the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/01/18
Nedra Finney v. Franklin Special School District Board Of Education, Et Al.
M2017-02080-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

This is an appeal of the termination of a tenured teacher’s employment pursuant to the Tenure Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-5-501 to – 515. The Director of Schools of the Franklin Special School District filed Charges for Dismissal of the tenured teacher on the grounds of unprofessional conduct, incompetence, inefficiency, insubordination, and neglect of duty. The charging document alleged multiple incidents of unprofessional conduct based on a lack of adherence to required procedures, particularly in the area of special education laws and procedures. It further alleged that the teacher was placed on a Corrective Action Plan for the 2014-2015 school year, during which the teacher was found to be in violation of the plan on multiple occasions. Moreover, at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, the teacher was suspended for three days without pay as a result of an incident that occurred on May 11, 2015, during which the teacher improperly restrained a special education student, which violated the student’s individualized education plan. The charging document also identified, inter alia, an incident that occurred on October 28, 2015, when the teacher got into a physical altercation with a special education student who refused to return the teacher’s day planner and which resulted in the two falling to the floor. Following an evidentiary hearing, the Impartial Hearing Officer recommended dismissal on the grounds of unprofessional conduct. When the school board voted to sustain the Hearing Officer’s decision, the teacher sought review in chancery court. The chancery court affirmed the teacher’s dismissal based on the grounds of unprofessional conduct and incompetence. This appeal followed. Because the Hearing Officer did not find that the ground of incompetence had been proven, and that decision was not appealed, the ground of incompetence was not before the court. Therefore, it may not be considered as a ground for dismissal. However, we affirm the decision to dismiss the tenured teacher’s employment with the school district on the ground of unprofessional conduct.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
Rachel L. Bell v. Michael Gardner
M2017-01520-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R.Ash

A debtor in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case hired an attorney to represent him in his divorce. Several years later, the attorney filed suit against the debtor for unpaid legal fees. The debtor raised the statute of limitations as a defense. The attorney claimed she delayed filing suit after receiving a letter from the debtor’s bankruptcy counsel. The letter asked the attorney to “[p]lease cease collection pursuant to the automatic stay of 11 USC § 362.” Applying the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the trial court “decline[d] to apply the statute of limitations as unjust” and granted judgment to the attorney for the unpaid fees. Because the court erred in concluding that the debtor was equitably estopped from asserting his statute of limitations defense, we reverse.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
William James Jekot v. Pennie Christine Jekot
M2016-01760-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

Following his retirement, an alimony obligor petitioned to terminate his alimony. The parties agreed that the obligor’s retirement represented a substantial and material change in circumstances since the original support decree. But the obligor also conceded his ability to pay the alimony. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the obligor failed to meet his burden of proof and denied his request to terminate his alimony obligation. The court also awarded the obligor’s former spouse her attorney’s fees without specifying the basis for the award. On appeal, the obligor argues, among other things, that his former spouse had the burden of proving her continuing need for alimony once a substantial and material change in circumstances was conceded. We affirm the denial of the request to terminate alimony but vacate the award of attorney’s fees.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
Clair Vanderschaaf, Et Al. v. Victor Bishara, Et Al.
M2017-00412-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

Following his retirement, an alimony obligor petitioned to terminate his alimony. The parties agreed that the obligor’s retirement represented a substantial and material change in circumstances since the original support decree. But the obligor also conceded his ability to pay the alimony. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the obligor failed to meet his burden of proof and denied his request to terminate his alimony obligation. The court also awarded the obligor’s former spouse her attorney’s fees without specifying the basis for the award. On appeal, the obligor argues, among other things, that his former spouse had the burden of proving her continuing need for alimony once a substantial and material change in circumstances was conceded. We affirm the denial of the request to terminate alimony but vacate the award of attorney’s fees.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
Gary Allen McKennie v. State of Tennessee
W2017-01561-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

The Petitioner, Gary Allen McKennie, sought coram nobis relief from his convictions, alleging that his guilty pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily entered; therefore, the convictions were void. The coram nobis court denied the petition, finding that it was not timely and that coram nobis relief was unavailable to a Petitioner who had entered a guilty plea. The Petitioner appeals the coram nobis court’s ruling. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court.

Carroll County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
State of Tennessee v. Rodney Carson Forbes
E2017-02093-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

Rodney Carson Forbes, Defendant, filed a Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 motion seeking pretrial jail credits. The trial court summarily dismissed the motion for failure to state a colorable claim. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
Derrick Helms v. State of Tennessee
E2017-02421-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

Petitioner, Derrick Helms, appeals the summary denial of his pro se petition for postconviction relief. He argues that the post-conviction court did not follow the proper procedures for a preliminary consideration of his petition and that the allegations in the petition, when taken as true, stated a colorable claim for relief. The State concedes that the post-conviction court erred in its summary denial of relief without the appointment of counsel and a hearing. Upon review, we reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court and remand the case for further proceedings.

Cumberland County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
State of Tennessee v. Victor Martin
W2017-01610-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris B. Craft

The Defendant, Victor Martin, was convicted by a jury of especially aggravated robbery, attempted especially aggravated kidnapping, and setting fire to personal property, for which he received an effective sentence of forty-seven years’ incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant argues (1) that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, contending that the State failed to establish use of deadly weapon, serious bodily injury, confinement that exceeded the accompanying felony, or his identity; (2) that the State committed a Ferguson violation by failing to preserve both a second photographic lineup and a single photograph shown to the victim on an iPad, thereby violating his due process rights requiring dismissal of the indictment or, alternatively, a limiting instruction; (3) that admission of the victim’s medical records was improper given that the affidavit from the hospital’s custodian of records was insufficient violating Tennessee Rule of Evidence 902(11); and (4) that the trial court erred by giving the jury an instruction on flight because it was not supported by the proof. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
State of Tennessee v. Terry Patterson
W2017-01481-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

The Defendant, Terry Patterson, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of aggravated child abuse, a Class A felony, in Count 1; voluntary manslaughter, a Class C felony, in Count 2; aggravated child neglect, a Class A felony, in Count 3; second degree murder, a Class A felony, in Count 4; and aggravated child endangerment, a Class A felony, in Count 5. He was sentenced to twenty-five year terms for the aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, aggravated child endangerment, and second degree murder convictions, and six years for the voluntary manslaughter conviction. The court ordered that the sentences for the aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, and aggravated child endangerment convictions be served concurrent with each other but consecutive to the sentences for the second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter convictions, which were ordered to be served concurrent with each other, for an effective term of fifty years in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant argues that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions; (2) his convictions for second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter should be merged, as should his convictions for aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect and aggravated child endangerment; and (3) the trial court erred in imposing partial consecutive sentences. After review, we modify the Defendant’s conviction for voluntary manslaughter in Count 2 to reckless endangerment and impose a sentence of four years for that conviction, the judgment of which should indicate the merger of Count 2 into Count 4; reverse the Defendant’s conviction for aggravated child endangerment in Count 5; and remand for entry of a corrected judgment in Count 4 to indicate the merger of Count 2 into Count 4. We affirm the trial court’s judgments in all other regards.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
State of Tennessee v. Donald Ragland
W2017-02001-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

The pro se Appellant, Donald Ragland, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his motion to correct and illegal sentence. The State has filed a motion requesting that this court affirm the lower court’s denial of relief pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Because the Appellant has failed to establish that his sentences are illegal, we conclude that the State’s motion is well-taken. Accordingly, we affirm the summary dismissal of the motion.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
State of Tennessee v. Tony Gibson
W2017-01235-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

The defendant, Tony Gibson, appeals his Shelby County Criminal Court jury convictions of tampering with evidence, claiming that the trial court erred by admitting certain evidence. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/18
Misty Oliver Allen v. Mario Pryor Allen
W2017-02332-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge David M. Rudolph

This is a post-divorce child custody and relocation action involving one child, who was seven years of age when the case was commenced. Following the parties’ divorce, the mother was designated as the primary residential parent of the child and was awarded 225 days of co-parenting time annually. The father was awarded 140 co-parenting days per year with the child. In response to notice that the mother intended to relocate to California with the child, the father filed a petition in opposition to relocation and a petition to modify custody. The mother subsequently filed an answer and a petition requesting injunctive relief and modification of the existing permanent parenting plan. After the father’s attorney failed to appear for the hearing or inform the trial court in advance of his whereabouts, the trial court dismissed the father’s petitions for failure to prosecute. The trial court subsequently granted the mother’s petition for injunctive relief and allowed the mother to move to California with the child. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/28/18