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 and reinstated the judgment of the trial court suspending a bonding company for violating a local rule of court requiring an agent of the bonding company to be present at court appearances of defendants for whom the bonding company serves as surety, holding that the local rule is valid and enforceable. The bonding company in this case conceded that it violated the local rule but asserted that the local rule was inconsistent with Tennessee statutes and was arbitrary and capricious. The court of criminal appeals concluded that the part of the local rule requiring an agent of the bonding company to attend all court appearances was arbitrary, capricious, and illegal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the local rule does not conflict with state statutes and is not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; and (2) the trial court did not err by suspending the bonding company for violating the local rule. View "In re Cumberland Bail Bonding" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the court of criminal appeals' judgment affirming Defendant's conviction for one count of second degree murder, an alternative count of first degree felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and three counts of aggravated assault, holding that, while the trial court erred in admitting certain testimony, substantial justice did not require that plain error relief be granted. At issue was whether the trial court committed reversible error in allowing the State to elicit testimony about a statement made by a non-testifying codefendant whose trial was severed and whose statements were the subject of a motion in limine granted by the trial court. After he was convicted, Defendant filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding that the doctrine of curative admissibility permitted the testimony and, for the first time, raising a contention that the testimony violated his constitutional right of confrontation. The court of criminal appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the testimony should not have been allowed, but Defendant was not entitled to plain error relief on his claim that the trial court violated his constitutional rights of confrontation by permitting the testimony; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on the claims he preserved for plenary review. View "State v. Vance" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for burglary, holding that application of the burglary statute under the circumstances of this case did not violate due process or prosecutorial discretion. Defendant's conviction arose from her involvement in a scheme to enter a Walmart retail store, steal merchandise, and have another individual return the merchandise for a gift card. Defendant had previously been banned from Walmart retail stores for prior acts of shoplifting, and the owners of these stores had issued documents to Defendant precluding Defendant from entering the stores. The State sought an indictment against Defendant for burglary rather than criminal trespass, reasoning that Defendant entered Walmart without the effective consent of the owner and committed a theft therein. Defendant appealed her burglary conviction, arguing that the burglary statute is unconstitutionally vague as applied to the extent that it implicates due process rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the language of the statute criminalizing burglary is clear and unambiguous on its face; (2) the statute is not unconstitutionally vague as applied, and nothing in the statute precludes its application to the fact scenario in this case; and (3) the prosecutor did not exceed her discretion in interpreting and applying the statute. View "State v. Welch" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the criminal court's May 3, 2017 order and confirmed that the criminal court's February 3, 2012 remained intact and final, holding that the criminal court did not have authority to grant motions filed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and to modify an order dismissing criminal prosecutions several years after the order became final. On February 3, 2012, the criminal court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Defendant's indictments for violating certain registration requirements applicable to violent sexual offenders. The criminal court based its determination that Defendant's previous Florida sexual battery conviction required him to comply only with reporting provisions relating to sexual offenders. In December 2014, the TBI filed a motion for relief from the February 3, 2012 order, arguing that the criminal court lacked authority to determine Defendant's offender classification. The criminal court agreed and partially vacated its February 3, 2012. The Supreme Court held that the criminal court had no authority to modify or partially vacate its February 3, 2012 order, except to correct clerical errors, oversights, or omissions in accordance with Tenn. R. Crim. P. 36. View "State v. Allen" on Justia Law

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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