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 concluding that Rader Bonding Company, Inc. should have been relieved from forfeiture on a $7,500 bond in connection with Defendant's DUI charge and affirmed the court's conclusion that Rader remained obligated on a $2,500 bond in connection with Defendant's driving on a revoked license charge, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it entered a final judgment of forfeiture against Rader for the total amount of the bond. At issue was whether Rader remained obligated under a bond agreement entered on Defendant's arrest for DUI, second offense, when a subsequent indictment charged Defendant with driving under the influence, fourth offense. The Supreme Court held (1) sureties remain obligated pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 40-11-130(a)(1) and -138(b) and Young v. State, 121 S.W.2d 533 (Tenn. 1938); and (2) because both the driving on a revoked license and DUI charges remained the same and were not resolved by a statutory disposition that would have relieved Rader of liability on the bond, the trial court's entry of the final judgment of forfeiture against Rader was not an abuse of discretion. View "In re Rader Bonding Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of criminal appeals affirming Defendant's arson conviction but reversing his conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim, holding that the proof at trial was sufficient to support Defendant's conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim. A jury convicted Defendant of arson and of presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim in the amount of $10,000 or more but less than $60,000. The court of appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction of arson but concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support the false or fraudulent insurance claim conviction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the proof was sufficient to support the jury's conclusion that Defendant violated the false or fraudulent insurance claims statute. View "State v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part the court of criminal appeals' judgment vacating Defendant's sentence, holding that the amended theft grading statute was properly applied by the trial court even though the offense occurred before the amendment's effective date. In 2016, before Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016 took effect and amended Tenn. Code Ann. 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses, Defendant pleaded guilty to theft of property in the amount of $1,000 or more but not less than $10,000. The conviction was a Class D felony at the time of the offense. The trial court applied the amended version of the statute in sentencing Defendant after the amendment's effective date, which graded theft in the amount of $1,000 or less as a Class A misdemeanor. The court of criminal appeals vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class D felony. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to section 39-14-105, allowing a defendant convicted of an offense that occurred before the effective date of the Act to be sentenced under the amendments. View "State v. Menke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals vacating Defendant's sentence and remanding for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class E felony, rather than a Class A misdemeanor, holding that that the trial court exceeded its authority in modifying the offense class and sentence pursuant to the amended version of Tenn. Code. Ann. 39-14-105 following the revocation of Defendant's probation. Before Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016 took effect and amended Tenn. Code Ann. 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses, Defendant pleaded guilty to theft of property in the amount of $500 but less than $1,000. The conviction was a Class E felony at the time of the offense. Following the revocation of Defendant's probation the trial court applied the amended version of section 39-14-105, which graded Defendant's offense as a Class A misdemeanor, and imposed a misdemeanor sentence. The court of criminal appeals vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class E felony. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court erred in modifying the offense class and sentence pursuant to the amended version of the theft grading statute. View "State v. Tolle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals vacating Defendant's sentence and remanding for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class D felony, rather than a Class E felony, holding that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tenn. Code Ann. 39-14-105. Before Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016 took effect and amended Tenn. Code Ann. 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses, Defendant was convicted of theft of property in the amount of $1,000 or more but not less than $10,000. The conviction was a Class D felony at the time of the offense. The trial court applied the amended version of the statute in sentencing Defendant before the amendment's effective date, which graded theft of more than $1,000 but less than $2,500 as a Class E felony. The court of criminal appeals vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class D felony. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to the theft grading statute, section 39-14-105; and (2) the trial court erred in sentencing Defendant under the amended version of the statute prior to its effective date. View "State v. Keese" 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 granting Defendants' motion to suppress, holding that the warrantless search of a probationer's residence who is subject to a search condition does not require officers to have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity prior to conducting the search. Law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of the residence of a probationer and her husband, resulting in the discovery of illegal drugs and drug-related contraband. Pursuant to probation conditions imposed in a previous case, the probationer had agreed to a warrantless search of her person, property, or vehicle at any time. In affirming the trial court's decision to grant Defendants' motion to suppress, the court of criminal appeals concluded that the State was required to have reasonable suspicion to support the probation search and that the State lacked such suspicion in this case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because of the probation conditions to which the probationer was subject, the probation search of portions of the probationer's residence was constitutionally allowable; and (2) the search of probationer's husband's personal belongings located within Defendants' shared bedroom was proper pursuant to the doctrine of common authority. View "State v. Hamm" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of five separate misdemeanor thefts aggregated into a single Class D felony, holding that the separate misdemeanor thefts were properly aggregated into a single felony charge and that the evidence sufficiently established that the separate thefts arose from a common scheme, purpose, intent, or enterprise. The separate misdemeanor thefts were aggregated into a single felony count pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. 39-14-105(b)(1), which provides that, in a prosecution for theft of property, the State may charge multiple criminal acts committed against one or more victims as a single count of the criminal acts arose from a common scheme, purpose, intent or enterprise. On appeal, Defendant argued that the separate thefts may be aggregated only when the thefts are from the same owner, from the same location, and pursuant to a continuing criminal impulse or a single sustained larcenous scheme. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding (1) the statutory aggregation provision does not incorporate the limitations expressed in Byrd, and the aggregation of the five alleged thefts into one count in this case was not improper; and (2) there was sufficient evidence for the jury to aggregate the five alleged thefts into one count. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of being a felon in possession of a handgun, holding that the trial court erred in denying Defendant's request for a jury instruction on the defense of necessity. The evidence presented at Defendant's criminal trial indicated that Defendant obtained a handgun during a physical altercation, during which the handgun fell from another individual's possession and dropped to the floor. The trial court denied Defendant's request for an instruction the defense of necessity. The court of criminal appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding (1) the defense of necessity was fairly raised by the evidence, and the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury accordingly; and (2) Tennessee law does not preclude plenary review of a claim of error based on a trial court's failure to instruct the jury on a general defense when the request was not made in writing. View "State v. Cole-Pugh" on Justia Law

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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