Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals reversing the trial court's ruling that Defendant's statements during a post-polygraph interview were inadmissible pursuant to Tenn. R. Evid. 403, holding that the trial court did not erroneously assess the evidence or incorrectly evaluate the danger of unfair prejudice when determining whether to exclude Defendant's post-polygraph statements under Rule 403. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the trial court concluded the Rule 403 balancing test within the parameters of its sound discretion and that the analysis by the court of criminal appeals essentially constituted a reweighing of the evidence before the trial court and a substitution of its judgment for that of the trial court. Because this approach was contrary to the Court's abuse of discretion standard of review, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "State v. McCaleb" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals declining to grant the State's request to abandon the doctrine of abatement ab initio, holding that, due to changes in Tennessee's public policy in the arena of victims' rights, the doctrine of abatement ab initio must be abandoned. During an appeal from his conviction, the defendant in this case died. The defendant's attorney filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to apply the doctrine of abatement ab initio, which the Supreme Court adopted in Carver v. State, 398 S.W.2d 719 (Tenn. 1966). The doctrine stops all proceedings from the beginning and renders the defendant as if he or she had never been charged. The State opposed the motion and urged the appellate court to abandon the doctrine. The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to do so and abated Defendant's conviction. The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment, dismissed the appeal, and reinstated the trial court's judgment, holding that the doctrine of abatement ab initio must be abandoned and that, in this case, because there was no evidence that any interest would benefit from allowing the deceased defendant's appeal to continue, the appeal should be dismissed. View "State v. Al Mutory" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court convicting Defendant of felony reckless endangerment, which is not a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault as indicted in this case, holding that the mandates of Tenn. R Crim. P. 7(b)(1) were not followed in this case and that the actions of counsel did not rise to the level of causing an effective amendment to the indictment. The lower courts concluded that Defendant, through the actions of counsel, caused an effective amendment of the indictment. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of conviction and dismissed the case, holding (1) Rule 7(b)(1) sets forth the procedure for amending an indictment with a defendant's counsel, and those mandates were not followed in this case; and (2) the actions of counsel amounted at most to acquiescence rather than an affirmative request for the trial court to consider felony reckless endangerment as a lesser offense. View "State v. Myers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court ruling that certain portions of the Public Safety Act of 2016 (the PSA) were facially unconstitutional on grounds of separation of powers, due process, and equal protection, holding that the constitutionality of the PSA provisions at issue was not ripe for consideration by the trial court. Defendant A.B. Price, Jr. attempted to plead nolo contendere to sexual battery, and defendant Victor Sims attempted to plead guilty to aggravated assault. The trial court declared the portions of the PSA facially unconstitutional, accepted Defendants' pleas, and inserted in each judgment the special conviction that the probated portion of defendants sentences were not subject to the PSA. The court of criminal appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the constitutional issues identified and ruled upon by the courts below were not ripe for adjudication. View "State v. Price" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence obtained from Defendant's computer pursuant to a search warrant, holding that Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1007 does not require search warrants to be applied for by the office of the district attorney general. A police officer applied for and obtained the search warrant, by which pornographic images of minors were recovered from Defendant's computer. In his motion to suppress, Defendant argued that suppression was warranted because the search warrant was not applied for by the district attorney general. The trial court denied the motion to suppress. Defendant subsequently pled guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a minor. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the search warrant and supporting affidavit were not required to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. 39-17-1007. View "State v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from the grant of Defendant’s motion to suppress, the Supreme Court Court adopted the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), but nevertheless affirmed the decision to suppress the evidence, holding that neither of Defendant’s arrests fell within the good-faith exception. A police officer arrested Defendant without a warrant because he was on a list of individuals who had been barred from housing authority property. Upon performing a search incident to arrest, the officer seized marijuana from Defendant. Almost three weeks later, the same officer again arrested Defendant on the same property based on the same list and again seized marijuana from Defendant. When it was discovered that the list was incorrect and that Defendant’s name should have been removed before he was arrested, the trial court suppressed the evidence in both cases. The court of criminal appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) it is appropriate at this point to adopt the good-faith exception set forth in Herring; but (2) the facts of this case did not support application of the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. View "State v. McElrath" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant’s convictions of the premeditated and felony murder of Clarence James and the premeditated and felony murder of Lillian James and Defendant’s sentences of death, holding that no reversible error occurred during the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) Defendant was not denied his constitutional right to counsel; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting into evidence certain testimony; (3) the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s convictions; (4) the trial court did not err in denying the appointment of a mitigation expert; and (5) Defendant’s death sentences were appropriate and not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction of attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, holding that the evidence was insufficient to support an inference that Defendant intended to record, and believed he would record, the minor victim engaged in a “lascivious exhibition” of her private body areas. In this case, Defendant hid a video camera in the minor victim’s bedroom and aimed it to record the area where the victim normally changed clothes. The victim was fully clothed when she returned to her bedroom, noticed the camera, and turned it off. Defendant was convicted of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, i.e., attempted production of child pornography. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the evidence showed at most that Defendant intended to produce material that would include images of the minor victim engaged in everyday activities ordinarily performed in the nude; and (2) therefore, the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that Defendant attempted to produce material that would include a depiction of a minor in a lascivious exhibition of her private body areas, as required under Tennessee’s child sexual exploitation statutes and construed in State v. Whited, 506 S.W.3d 416 (Tenn. 2016). View "State v. Hall" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirming the decision of the trial court to revoke Defendant’s judicial diversion for refusing to admit certain facts during his sex offender treatment, holding that Defendant’s due process rights were not violated because he was not specifically informed in conjunction with his nolo contendere plea that his judicial diversion could be revoked if he refused to admit certain facts during his sex offender treatment. Defendant pled nolo contendere to one count of solicitation of a minor and was placed on judicial diversion with a one-year probationary term. Defendant was required to register as a sex offender and to participate in sex offender treatment but was discharged from his treatment program for noncompliance. Thereafter, the trial court revoked Defendant’s diversion, adjudicated him guilty, and extended his probation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that due process does not require that a sex offender placed on judicial diversion with a probationary period to be informed specifically in conjunction with his plea that his judicial diversion and probation may be revoked if he is discharged from sex offender treatment due to his refusal to acknowledge that he committed the elements of the offense to which he pled. View "State v. Albright" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was what showing, if any, a defendant must make to prevail on a motion for reduction of sentence under Tenn. R. Crim. P. 35 where the defendant pleaded guilty without an agreement as to sentencing pursuant to Tenn. R. Crim. P. 11(c)(1)(B). Defendant pleaded guilty without an agreement as to sentence. The trial court granted Defendant’s Rule 35 motion and reduced his aggregate sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, concluding that a defendant must present post-sentencing information or developments warranting a reduction of sentence to prevail on a Rule 35 motion. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court’s judgment, holding (1) the standard applied by the Court of Criminal Appeals is limited to Rule 35 motions seeking reduction of specific sentences imposed in exchange for guilty pleas; and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that Defendant’s initial sentence was excessive and granted Defendant’s Rule 35 motion. View "State v. Patterson" on Justia Law