A. Blake Neill, Judge

Biography

Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion.

Scroll down for important information.

 

 

State of Tennessee v. Leavy, No. W2023-00670-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 5, 2024).  A Tipton County jury convicted Jeremiah Leavy, Defendant, of first degree murder, felony murder, aggravated robbery, and especially aggravated kidnapping. The trial court merged the two murder convictions and imposed an effective sentence of life plus fifteen years’ imprisonment. On direct appeal, we affirmed Defendant’s convictions, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied Defendant’s application for permission to appeal. Defendant then sought post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court dismissed his petition, and we affirmed the post-conviction court’s dismissal. Defendant then moved to correct a clerical mistake that he was not on probation at the time of the offense. The trial court entered an order to correct the record accordingly. At issue here, Defendant subsequently moved under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 to correct what he alleged was an illegal sentence, and the trial court denied his motion. On appeal, Defendant contends that the trial court erred in denying relief. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Haley v. Grady Perry, Warden, No. W2023-00223-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 15, 2023).  The Petitioner, Jerry P. Haley, appeals from the Lauderdale County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus from his convictions for aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated criminal trespass and his effective sixty-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that the habeas corpus court erred by dismissing his petition. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Small, No. W2022-01349-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 28, 2023).  The Defendant, Eric Martell Small, was convicted by a Tipton County jury of evading arrest in a motor vehicle endangering others, a Class D felony; driving while license revoked, a Class A misdemeanor; violation of the financial responsibility law, a Class C misdemeanor; and violation of the open container law, a Class C misdemeanor. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred in admitting hearsay testimony and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. Based on our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Brairs v. Irving, No. W2022-01159-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 22, 2023). Plaintiffs sued for injuries and damages allegedly resulting from an automobile accident. The trial court dismissed one of two defendants based on the statute of limitations. Although the complaint was filed within one year of the accident, the original summons went unserved, and plaintiffs did not obtain issuance of new process until over a year after the issuance of the previous process. On appeal, plaintiffs contend that, because the automobile accident resulted in a criminal prosecution, the time period for issuance of new process under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 3 was extended. We affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Adams, Jr. , No. W2022-01338-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 14, 2023). The Defendant, Robert Lee Adams, Jr., was convicted in the Tipton County Circuit Court of attempted second degree murder and received a sentence of thirty years in confinement. On appeal, he contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Logan v. Vantell, Warden, No. W2022-01413-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Crim. App. June 15, 2023).  The Petitioner, Courtney R. Logan, appeals the Hardeman County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his fifth petition for writ of habeas corpus relief. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

 

State of Tennessee v. Rogers, No. W2022-00885-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. May 25, 2023). Defendant, Latrice Rogers, appeals the trial court’s order denying her motion to withdraw her guilty plea. Defendant pled guilty to multiple charges as indicted with sentencing to be determined. One week after the trial court sentenced Defendant to three years’ imprisonment, Defendant filed a motion to withdraw her plea. Before the trial court ruled on the motion, Defendant filed a notice of appeal from the final judgment. The trial court later denied the motion to withdraw the plea. Defendant appeals the trial court’s denial of her motion to withdraw her guilty plea. After a thorough review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Bland, No. W2022-00174-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. May 2, 2023). The Defendant, Jasmine Lashay Bland, was convicted by a Tipton County Circuit Court jury of leaving the scene of an accident, assault, and burglary of a vehicle. She was sentenced by the trial court as a Range I, standard offender to concurrent terms of two years for the felony burglary of a vehicle conviction, six months for the assault conviction, and thirty days for the leaving the scene of an accident conviction, with the sentences suspended after thirty days of incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court committed reversible error by not allowing her to cross-examine the victim about a potential source of bias related to the victim’s alleged insurance claim for personal injuries. Based on our review, we conclude that this issue is waived because it was not raised in the trial court. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Anderson v. Lauderdale County, Tennessee, No. W2022-00332-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2023). Plaintiff filed an action against Lauderdale County under Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-8-301 to – 303, more than one year after his cause of action accrued. The trial court examined the gravamen of the complaint and determined a one-year statute of limitations applied rather than the two or six-year limitations periods advocated for by the plaintiff. Discerning no error in the court’s analysis of the issues, we affirm.

 

Shoemaker v. Dickerson, Warden, No. W2022-00620-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2022).  The Petitioner, Michelle Shoemaker, is appealing the trial court’s summary dismissal of her habeas corpus petition. After reviewing the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal, the court finds that this is an appropriate matter for affirmance under Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20.

 

Williams v. State of Tennessee, No. W2021-01493-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 12, 2022).  The pro se petitioner, Michael Williams, appeals the denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus by the Hardeman County Circuit Court, arguing the trial court erred in summarily dismissing his petition because his sentence is illegal. After our review, we affirm the summary dismissal of the petition pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

 

Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.

 

Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.

 

Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.

 

For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.

 

Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.

 

In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.

 

Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.

 

So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.

 

You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”

 

Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).

 

Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.

 

Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.

 

So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.

 

The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.

 

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