LIVESTREAMING: Cook v. State of Tennessee

May 28, 2020

The final case of the day is now livestreaming:


Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee–The defendant, Brice Cook, was tried and convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Following the denial of his direct appeal, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief that alleged multiple theories of ineffective assistance of counsel during trial and on appeal and also claimed that the State committed discovery violations.  After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the defendant’s petition.  The defendant appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals reasserting the claims from his original petition as well as a new claim that the post-conviction judge was unconstitutionally biased toward him during the post-conviction proceeding and deprived him of his right to due process.  The defendant sought a new post-conviction hearing and for the court to recuse the post-conviction judge from the case.  A majority of the intermediate court affirmed the denial of the petition and held that the defendant failed to carry his burden regarding the ineffective assistance of counsel claims.  Additionally, while the majority cautioned the post-conviction judge against sharing his personal comments about the proceedings or the parties, the court determined that the judge’s comments did not evidence bias against the defendant.  Moreover, the court held that the defendant waived the claim of judicial bias because he did not file a timely motion to recuse the post-conviction judge as is required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rules.  The dissenting opinion in the Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the post-conviction judge should have disqualified himself regardless of a motion from the defendant and that, through his comments about trial counsel and the post-conviction process, the post-conviction judge expressed bias that effected the fairness of the proceeding.  Additionally, the dissent concluded that any motion by the defendant would have been futile because the comments giving rise to the claim of judicial bias came at the end of the hearing.  On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the defendant argues that the post-conviction judge violated his right to a fair post-conviction proceeding and that he should be entitled to a new hearing with a different judge.  Additionally, the defendant contends that he did not waive the judicial bias claim because the judge had a duty to recuse himself even absent a motion to recuse, and a biased trial judge is a structural, constitutional error that requires reversal.  The State argues that the defendant waived the claim of judicial bias, and plain error review is not available in post-conviction proceedings.  Additionally, the State argues that the post-conviction judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the defendant’s original petition for relief, and the post-conviction judge did not commit reversible error in expressing his own thoughts on the petition or the parties after he made his ruling.  Lastly, the State argues that the defendant waived any additional constitutional claims that were not previously raised in the Court of Criminal Appeals.