Paula Skahan, 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. Zapata, W2023-00111-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 14, 2023).  The Defendant, Guillermo Zapata, was convicted in the Shelby County Criminal Court of two counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the convictions and sentenced him to seven years, two months, and twelve days in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions, that the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss the indictment based on due process and speedy trial grounds, and that the trial court erred by instructing the jury on flight. Based upon our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Guy, W2023-00177-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 29, 2023).  The Defendant, Christopher Guy, appeals the trial court’s revocation of his effective six year probationary sentence for his convictions for two counts of misdemeanor domestic assault and one count of felony vandalism. The Defendant argues that (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction to revoke his probation because he had completed his probationary period by the time the revocation warrant was filed and (2) the revocation warrant should have been dismissed due to law enforcement’s failure to preserve evidence. The Defendant also contends that he should have been granted an appellate bond during the pendency of the appeal. The State responds that we should affirm the trial court’s revocation order and that the Defendant is not entitled to relief on his appellate bond issue. Following our review, we determine that the Defendant had completed the probationary periods on his misdemeanor domestic assault convictions before the issuance of the revocation warrant but that the revocation warrant was timely as to the probation for his felony vandalism conviction. We affirm in part and reverse in part and remand for entry of an amended probation revocation order and a corrected judgment for the Defendant’s felony vandalism conviction in accordance with this opinion.

 

State of Tennessee v. Butler, W2023-00566-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 28, 2023). The Appellant, John Butler, entered a guilty plea to three counts of aggravated assault and one count of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon and was placed on judicial diversion with a probationary period of six years. The State subsequently alleged that the Appellant violated his probation, and, following a hearing, the trial court revoked the Appellant’s diversion and entered judgments of conviction imposing an effective sentence of three years to be served in confinement. In this appeal, the Appellant contends the trial court erred in revoking the Appellant’s diversion and in ordering confinement. Upon our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.  Concurring / Dissenting Opinion: I concur in the majority’s conclusion that the trial court acted within its discretion in revoking the Defendant’s judicial diversion probation and imposing a three-year sentence. I part ways with my fellow panel members in my reasoning for this conclusion.

 

Dean v. State of Tennessee, W2022-01513-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 18, 2023).  The petitioner, Edward Dean, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

 

Anderson v. State of Tennessee, W2023-00067-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 18, 2023).  This is a State appeal, filed by the State Attorney General and Reporter, from the entry of an order granting the petitioner’s, Courtney Anderson’s, motion to reopen his postconviction and amending/reducing his original sentence of 162 years, 11 months, and 29 days to a time served sentence of 25 years. The State appealed, arguing the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the petitioner’s motion as it was barred by the one-year statute of limitations and the petitioner failed to prove the statute should be tolled. Additionally, the State submits that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to amend the petitioner’s sentence under the post-conviction statute and that the trial court’s actions amount to an improper commutation of the petitioner’s sentence. The petitioner contends that the State waived any challenge to the statute of limitations by failing to raise the issue below and that his claim meets the requirements of the statute and allows for the tolling of the statute, and therefore, the trial court properly granted the relief requested. Upon our thorough review of the applicable law and the briefs and arguments of both parties, we conclude that the instant petition is barred by the one-year statute of limitations and that the petitioner failed to establish and the trial court failed to find a proper basis for tolling the statute. Accordingly, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the petitioner’s motion and amend the petitioner’s sentence. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the trial court, reinstate thepetitioner’s original sentence, and remand this matter for further proceedings consistentwith this opinion.

 

State of Tennessee v. Payne, W2022-00210-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 30, 2023). In this case of first impression, the State appeals the trial court’s sentencing hearing order that the Defendant’s two life sentences be served concurrently after he was determined to be ineligible for the death penalty due to intellectual disability pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-203(g) (Supp. 2021) (subsequently amended). The State argues that the consecutive alignment of the Defendant’s original sentences remained final and that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider manner of service. The Defendant responds that the trial court had jurisdiction to sentence him, including determining the manner of service of his sentences, and did not abuse its discretion in imposing concurrent life sentences. After considering the arguments of the parties, the rules of statutory construction, and other applicable legal authority, we conclude that the trial court properly acted within its discretion in conducting a hearing to determine the manner of service of the Defendant’s life sentences. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

 

Skinner v. State of Tennessee, W2022-00563-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 13, 2023).  The Petitioner, Steven Skinner, appeals the summary dismissal of his third untimely petition for writ of error coram nobis. Upon review, we affirm.

 

Love v. State of Tennessee, W2022-00655-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 8, 2023).  Makyle J. Love, Petitioner, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, he alleges that the post-conviction court improperly denied post-conviction relief because trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel. After a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Howell, W2022-00337-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 3, 2023).  Jonathan Howell, the Defendant, appeals as of right from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of probation following his plea of guilty to theft of property valued at $60,000 or more. The Defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying an alternative sentence and by basing its denial solely on deterrence. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Thomas, W2022-00019-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 20, 2023).  In 1998, a Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Derwin V. Thomas, of two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, one count of especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of first degree murder. The trial court sentenced him to consecutive sentences oflife without the possibility of parole. The Defendant unsuccessfully sought review on multiple occasions, by direct appeal, post-conviction petition, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, and a petition for a writ of error coram nobis. Most recently, the Defendant filed a “Motion for Life Imprisonment,” alleging that the State failed to give him proper notice of its intention to seek life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and a Motion for Rule 36.1 relief, alleging that the trial court failed to charge the jury with relevant lesser included offenses. The trial court summarily dismissed both the Defendant’s motions, and the Defendant now appeals. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred when it dismissed his motions. After review, because the notice of appeal in this case was untimely filed and because the Defendant has offered no facts supporting a waiver of this untimely filing in the interests of justice, the appeal is hereby dismissed. [Footnote omitted.]

 

State of Tennessee v. Crass, W2021-01216-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 19, 2022).  The Williamson County Grand Jury indicted Tony Dale Crass, Defendant, with driving under the influence (DUI), DUI per se, and possession of a firearm while under the influence. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the State did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop and that video evidence of Defendant’s driving was erased and deleted as a result of a malfunctioning recording system in Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper Joey Story’s patrol car. The trial court concluded that the loss of video evidence constituted a violation of the State’s duty to preserve potentially exculpatory evidence recognized in State v. Ferguson, 2 S.W.3d 912 (Tenn. 1999), and deprived Defendant of the right to a fair trial. The trial court granted the motion to suppress and dismissed the indictment, and the State appealed. We conclude that the video was not lost or destroyed by the State, (2) that a Ferguson violation is not applicable to a suppression hearing based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a traffic stop, (3) that the trial court misapplied the “degree of negligence” Ferguson factor by equating perceived public policy decisions on the part of the State to negligence, and (4) that Defendant’s right to a fair trial can be protected without dismissal of the indictment. We reverse the judgment of the trial court, reinstate the indictment, and remand for further proceedings.

 

Woods v. State of Tennessee, W2021-01332-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 29, 2022).  he Petitioner, Darin Woods, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for attempted second degree murder, attempted aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, for which he is serving an effective twenty-seven year sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred in denying relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

Richardson v. State of Tennessee, W2021-00981-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 29, 2022).  The Petitioner, Gaines Richardson, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for aggravated robbery, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that the evidence was insufficient to establish his convictions. After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Porter, W2021-01216-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 19, 2022). The Defendant, Demerrick Porter, was convicted in the Shelby County Criminal Court of second degree murder, attempted second degree murder, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and received an effective sentence of thirty-eight years in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions of second degree murder and attempted second degree murder. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Champion v. State of Tennessee, W2021-00767-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 19, 2022).  Petitioner, Randy Champion, appeals as of right from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his convictions for especially aggravated robbery, attempted second degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, attempted aggravated robbery, and attempted especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel (1) failed to use a peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror who was an active Tipton County prosecutor and (2) failed to object to the State’s inconsistent theories, thereby waiving this court’s plenary review of the issue on direct appeal. Following our review, we affirm.

 

Levy v. State of Tennessee, No. W2021-00891-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 15, 2022).  The petitioner, Marcus Levy, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his conviction of first degree murder, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

 

Gary v. State of Tennessee, No. W2021-00315-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 19, 2022). A Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Quartez Gary, of attempted first-degree murder and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-three years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, this court affirmed the judgments. State v. Quartez Gary, No. W2017-01495-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 3689143 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 31, 2018), no perm. app. filed. The Petitioner timely filed a pro se post-conviction petition and an amended petition through appointed counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

State of Tennessee v. Kevvon Clark, No. W2020-01036-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 24, 2022). The Defendant, Kevvon Clark, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder; first-degree felony murder; two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, a Class A felony; aggravated rape, a Class A felony; and aggravated robbery, a Class B felony, for which he is serving an effective life sentence. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202 (2018) (subsequently amended) (first degree murder), 39-13-305 (2018) (especially aggravated kidnapping), 39-13-502 (2018) (subsequently amended) (aggravated rape), 39-13-402 (2018) (aggravated robbery). On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions for first degree murder, one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape, and (2) this court should grant relief, as a matter of plain error, from the trial court’s failure to give a jury instruction in accord with State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012). We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

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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