Brody N. Kane, Judge

Biography

Report 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. Beasley, No. M2023-00419-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 24, 2024). Defendant, Matthew F. Beasley, appeals the trial court’s order revoking his probationary sentence for aggravated assault and ordering him to serve the balance of his ten-year sentence in confinement. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we find no abuse of discretion and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Benitez, No. M2023-00074-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 16, 2023).  The Defendant, Alain Benitez, appeals the Smith County Criminal Court’s imposition of
consecutive sentencing for his two convictions of first degree felony murder. Upon review, we conclude that we must dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

 

Clemmons v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-00560-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 30, 2023).  Petitioner, Mark Anthony Clemmons, appeals as of right from the Wilson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his guilty pleaded convictions for possession with intent to sell not less than one-half ounce nor more than ten pounds of marijuana; possession with intent to sell a Schedule III controlled substance (dihydrocodeinone); and two counts of sale of not less than one-half ounce nor more than ten pounds of marijuana, for which the trial court imposed an effective twenty seven- year sentence. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel based upon trial counsel’s failure to explain the consequences of entering an open plea. Following our review, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Meadows, No. M2021-01357-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 28, 2023).  Defendant, Kevin Meadows, was convicted as charged by a Jackson County Criminal Court jury of felony murder, aggravated arson, theft of property valued between $1,000 and $2,500, and two counts of tampering with evidence. The trial court imposed an effective life sentence. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred in admitting Facebook Messenger communications when the State failed to properly authenticate the messages by establishing that the account belonged to Defendant. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Malone, No. M2022-00255-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 16, 2022).

Defendant, Nicholas J. Walden, appeals the trial court’s order revoking his probationary sentence for theft of property valued between $1,000 and $10,000 and ordering him to serve his original four-year sentence in confinement. Following our de novo review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Daniels v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00113-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 15, 2022). Petitioner, Joe Edward Daniels, appeals as of right from the Jackson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his convictions for first degree premeditated murder, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse, and various traffic violations. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel’s failure to: (1) conduct a reasonable investigation or utilize a criminal defense investigator; (2) object when the trial court indicated it would not charge the jury with attempt; and (3) request a jury instruction on facilitation of a felony. Petitioner contends that the cumulative effect of trial counsel’s deficient performance rendered his trial fundamentally unfair and justifies the granting of a new trial. Following a thorough review, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Murray, No. M2021-00688-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 30, 2022).  The defendant, Keithandre Trevon Murray, appeals his Macon County Circuit Court jury convictions of first degree murder, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, the admission of Facebook messages, the absence of African Americans in the jury pool, the admission of certain testimony, and the imposition of consecutive sentences. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Shepard, No. M2021-01346-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 23, 2022).  The defendant, Michael Shepard, appeals the summary dismissal of his motion, filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, to correct what he believes to be an illegal sentence imposed for his 2017 Wilson County Criminal Court Jury convictions of statutory rape by an authority figure. Discerning no error, we affirm the ruling of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Benitez, No. M2021-00073-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 27, 2022). Defendant, Alain Benitez, appeals his convictions for two counts of first degree felony murder and two counts of robbery, for which he received an effective sentence of two consecutive life sentences. Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence presented at trial is insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court erred by admitting into evidence messages sent between Defendant and his girlfriend through Facebook Messenger; (3) the trial court erred in admitting “forensic evidence”; and (4) the trial court abused its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences. Upon review, we affirm Defendant’s convictions but reverse the imposition of consecutive sentencing and remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing. The new sentencing hearing is limited to consideration of the factors outlined in State v. Wilkerson, 905 S.W.2d 933 (Tenn. 1995), to determine the propriety of consecutive sentencing.

 

State of Tennessee v. Stewart, No. M2021-00595-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 27, 2022). The defendant, Arthur M. Stewart, appeals the order of the trial court revoking his probation and ordering him to serve his original four-year sentence in confinement. Upon our review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the revocation of the defendant’s probation but reverse the trial court’s imposition of the original sentence and remand for the trial court to make findings concerning the consequence imposed for the revocation in accordance with State v. Craig Dagnan, — S.W.3d —, 2022 WL 627247 (Tenn. Mar. 4, 2022).

 

Rashad Dewayne Seay, Jr. v. State of Tennessee, No. M2020-01287-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. March 15, 2022). A Wilson County jury convicted the Petitioner, Rashad Dewayne Seay, Jr., of two counts of the sale of .5 grams or more of a Schedule II controlled substance, and the trial court sentenced him to consecutive sentences of eighteen years for each offense.  The Petitioner timely filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which the court summarily dismissed as untimely.  On appeal, we reversed the summary dismissal.  Rashad Dewayne Seay, Jr. v. State, No. M2017-01128-CCA-R3-PC, 2018 WL 3203442, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, June 29, 2018), no perm. app. filed.  On remand, the post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing after which it filed a written order denying the Petitioner relief.  On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred because his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to ensure the Petitioner was present during the jury instructions, failing to ensure that the jury was properly instructed, failing to adequately investigate and prepare an identification expert, and failing to inform the Petitioner of the consequences of withdrawing his direct appeal.  After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

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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