Clayburn Peeples, 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.

 

McCoy v. State of Tennessee, W2022-01007-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 15, 2022).  After pleading guilty to burglary and theft of property valued at over $10,000, Jeffrey Glenn McCoy, Petitioner, was sentenced by the trial court to an effective sentence of 12 years as a Range III offender to be served consecutively to a sentence from South Carolina. His sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. See State v. Jeffrey Glynn1 McCoy, No. W2016-01619-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 6507232, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 19, 2017), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Apr. 23, 2018) (“McCoy I”). Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief that was dismissed as untimely. On appeal, the State conceded error and this Court remanded for appointment of counsel and further proceedings. See Jeffrey McCoy v. State, No. W2019-00574-CCA-R3-PC, 2020 WL 1227304, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 11, 2020) (“McCoy II”). On remand, the post-conviction court appointed counsel and an amended petition was filed. Petitioner alleged that trial counsel failed to inform him of his potential sentence, failed to litigate a motion to suppress, failed to present evidence that Petitioner was under the influence of methamphetamine, and failed to present evidence that Petitioner was not the leader in the commission of the offense. The postconviction court denied relief after a hearing, finding that there was no proof Petitioner’s plea was coerced or that any of trial counsel’s actions were deficient. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Benson, No. W2022-00703-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 23, 2023). The Defendant, Kyanedre Oshea-Malik Benson, was convicted in the Haywood County Circuit Court of one count of employing a firearm during the attempt to commit voluntary manslaughter, a Class C felony; one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a Class C felony; one count of attempted voluntary manslaughter, a Class D felony; ten counts of reckless aggravated assault, a Class D felony; and one count of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, a Class E felony.  After a sentencing hearing, he received an effective sentence of sixty-two years in confinement.  On appeal, the Defendant claims that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions of attempted voluntary manslaughter and employing a firearm during the attempt to commit voluntary manslaughter and that the trial court erred by refusing to merge one of his convictions of reckless aggravated assault into his conviction of attempted voluntary manslaughter.  Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Ragland, No. W2022-01303-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 13, 2023). A Haywood County jury convicted the defendant, Tondre Durpress Ragland, of attempted second-degree murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and aggravated assault, for which he received an effective sentence of twenty years in confinement. On appeal, the defendant contends the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction for aggravated assault. The defendant also argues the trial court erred in imposing partial consecutive sentences. Following our review, we affirm the defendant’s convictions. However, we reverse the imposition of consecutive sentences and remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing for consideration of the consecutive sentencing factors outlined in State v. Wilkerson, 905 S.W.2d 933 (Tenn. 1995).

 

Floyd v. State of Tennessee, W2022-00642-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 5, 2022).  The Petitioner, Floyd Hall, III, appeals the Haywood County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction for second degree murder. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that the post-conviction court erred by denying his claim that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel by trial counsel’s failure to file a motion to suppress a statement the Petitioner gave to the police. We affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

State of Tennessee v. Rodriguez, No. W2022-00894-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 8, 2023). The defendant, Isaias Rodriguez, was convicted of rape of a child, a Class A felony, and sentenced to forty years at 100% in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the defendant argues: (1) there was insufficient proof of the forensic interviewer’s years of experience as required by statute for admission of the victim’s forensic interview; (2) the trial court erred in failing to make specific findings regarding the qualifications of the child advocacy center as required by statute for admission of the victim’s forensic interview; and (3) the evidence is insufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction without the improperly admitted forensic interview of the victim. After review, we affirm the trial court’s finding regarding the interviewer’s years of experience and determine the defendant has waived his issue regarding the qualifications of the child advocacy center. In addition, we determine that the evidence is sufficient to sustain the defendant’s conviction. Therefore, we affirm thejudgment of the trial court.

 

In Re: Isaiah D., No. W2021-01168-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 9, 2022).  A mother and stepfather filed a petition to terminate a father’s parental rights. The trial court dismissed the petition after finding that the mother and stepfather failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence the existence of any ground for termination. Because the trial court failed to make specific findings of fact in its order dismissing the petition, we vacate the order and remand for the trial court to enter an order making sufficient findings of fact.

 

Friendship Water Co. v. City of Friendship, Tennessee, No. W2021-00659-COA-R9-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 10, 2022).  This is an interlocutory appeal considered pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Specifically at issue is the trial court’s ruling that a contract entered into between the parties is valid and enforceable. The City of Friendship insists that the contract at issue, which involves its purchase of a water distribution system, is void due to the operation of the Municipal Purchasing Law of 1983, Tenn. Code Ann. § 6-56-301 et seq. For the specific reasons stated herein, we respectfully reject the City’s argument and affirm the trial court’s holding that the contract at issue is enforceable.

 

Williams v. State of Tennessee, W2021-00823-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 26, 2022).  Bryan Williams, Petitioner, was convicted of multiple sex offenses and a panel of this Court affirmed his convictions on direct appeal. State v. Bryan Williams, No. W2013-00418-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 280398, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 24, 2014), no perm. app. filed. Petitioner now appeals from the Gibson County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, in which he alleged that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After reviewing the record, oral argument, and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Fitzgerald, No. W2021-00195-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 1, 2022).  The Defendant, Jerry Louis Fitzgerald, Jr., was convicted at trial of sexual battery and possession of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine with the intent to sell or deliver, and he received an effective sentence of fourteen years in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of sexual battery and that although he possessed the cocaine, the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he intended to sell or deliver it. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

 

Hopper v. Obion County School System, No. W2021-00805-COA-R9-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. June 13, 2022).  This is an interlocutory appeal from a personal injury case involving a minor who was struck in the eye by a mechanical pencil while attending an afterschool program. The trial court denied the school system’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the school system permission to seek an interlocutory appeal. Thereafter, the school system filed its application for permission to appeal, which we granted. We reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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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