Alex E. Pearson, Judge


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. Gilliam, No. E2023-00533-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 26, 2024). A Hawkins County jury convicted the Defendant, Travis Scott Gilliam, in three cases involving violations of the Sex Offender Registry, community supervision for life, and related offenses. In a fourth case, the Defendant pled guilty to the offense of aggravated assault and agreed to a six-year sentence running consecutively to the other cases. After a hearing, the trial court imposed partially consecutive sentences for a total effective sentence of fourteen years plus eleven months and twenty-nine days. In this appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred in imposing consecutive sentences and that the judgments conflict with the trial court’s oral announcement. Upon our review, we dismiss the appeal in Case No. 22-CR-36 because this sentence was entered pursuant to a valid plea agreement and was the subject of a valid waiver of appeal. Regarding the other cases, we respectfully affirm the trial court’s judgments. We also remand these cases for entry of corrected judgments reflecting the alignment of the sentence as announced at the sentencing hearing.


Lawson v. Hawkins County, No. E2020-01529-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 5, 2023). This appeal concerns governmental immunity. Steven W. Lawson (“Decedent”), by and through his widow, Penny Lawson, and on behalf of Corey Lawson, Decedent’s child (“Plaintiffs,” collectively), sued the Hawkins County Emergency Communications District Board (“ECD-911”), Hawkins County, Tennessee, and Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency (“the EMA”) (“Defendants,” collectively) in the Circuit Court for Hawkins County (“the Trial Court”) alleging negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness in Defendants’ response to a road washout that led to Decedent’s death. Defendants filed motions for judgment on the pleadings, which the Trial Court granted partly on grounds that claims of recklessness could not proceed against the Defendant entities under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“the GTLA”). Plaintiffs appealed. We reversed. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed this Court, holding that when the GTLA removes immunity for negligence, it does so for ordinary negligence only. The matter was remanded to this Court for further proceedings. We hold, inter alia, that while Defendants’ immunity is removed under the GTLA by Plaintiffs’ ordinary negligence claims, the public duty doctrine bars those claims. However, ECD-911’s immunity also is removed by Plaintiffs’ claim of gross negligence under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-108, and the third special duty exception to the public duty doctrine allows that claim to proceed against ECD-911. We reverse the Trial Court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings to ECD-911 and remand for Plaintiffs’ case to proceed against that entity. Otherwise, we affirm.


State of Tennessee v. Alley, E2022-01523-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 28, 2023).  The Hawkins County Grand Jury charged the Defendant, Kim Owen Alley, by presentment with one count of theft of $60,000 or more but less than $250,000, one count of transacting business as an unregistered broker-dealer, and one count of fraudulent acts or devices. A few months later, another presentment was issued charging the Defendant with two additional charges: one count of money laundering and one count of theft of $2,500 or more but less than $10,000.2 Prior to trial, the State entered a nolle prosequi for the theft count in the second presentment. Then, following the State’s proof at trial, the trial court dismissed all three charges from the first presentment because the evidence presented did not correspond to the dates alleged in the presentment. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted the Defendant of the remaining money laundering count, and the trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range I, standard offender to ten years’ incarceration with a release eligibility of thirty percent. On appeal, the Defendant argues: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his money laundering conviction; (2) the trial court erred in providing a jury instruction for theft of property as a part of the jury instruction for money laundering after all the theft charges had been dismissed; and (3) his ten-year sentence is excessive. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. [Footnote omitted.]


Gomez v. State of Tennessee,  No. E2022-00661-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 20, 2023).  The petitioner, Humberto Paulino Gomez, appeals the denial of his petition for postconviction relief, which petition challenged his 2020 Greene County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded convictions of second degree murder and attempted second degree murder, for which he received an effective 20-year sentence. On appeal, the petitioner argues that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel and that his plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered. Discerning no error, we affirm.


State of Tennessee v. Russell, E2022-01428-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 29, 2023).  The Defendant, Demarcus Taiwan Russell, Jr., was convicted by a Greene County Criminal Court jury of driving under the influence (“DUI”), simple possession of marijuana, driving on a suspended license, and speeding. He was sentenced by the trial court to an effective term of 11 months, 29 days, suspended to supervised probation after service of two days in the county jail. On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence for his DUI conviction and argues that the State made an improper closing argument. Based on our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. Concurring and Dissenting Opinion:  Author would have reversed for improper closing argument.


Karen R. Howell v. State of Tennessee,  No. E2022-01480-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 15, 2023). After the Petitioner, Karen R. Howell, pled guilty to three counts of first degree felony murder and one count of attempted first degree murder, the trial court sentenced her to serve three consecutive sentences of life without the possibility of parole plus twenty-five years. Subsequently, she filed a petition under the Post-Conviction Fingerprint Analysis Act of 2021 seeking an analysis of the original murder weapons. The post-conviction court summarily dismissed the petition, finding there was no reasonable probability that a fingerprint analysis would result in a more favorable sentence. Upon review, we respectfully affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


State of Tennessee v. Mabe, Jr., E2022-00149-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 7, 2023).  The defendant, Luther Ray Mabe, Jr., appeals his Hawkins County Criminal Court jury convictions of aggravated robbery and theft of property valued at more than $1,000, for which he received an effective sentence of 10 years’ incarceration. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his aggravated robbery conviction and argues that his sentence is excessive. We affirm the judgments of the trial court but remand for entry of a corrected judgment reflecting the correct grade of theft for which the defendant was convicted and merging the theft conviction into the aggravated robbery conviction. Concurring Opnion I fully concur with my respected colleagues’ reasoning and judgment as it relates to the Defendant’s sentencing issue. Regarding the Defendant’s sufficiency challenge, however, I respectfully disagree with the majority’s contention that the facts at trial do not support the State’s theory on appeal regarding when the shotgun was taken. Specifically, I believe that the facts at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, demonstrate that the Defendant had not completed the taking of the shotgun at the time that the Defendant and the victim struggled over control of the rifle.


Campbell v. State of Tennessee, No. E2022-01526-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 11, 2023). The Petitioner, Ricky Campbell, Jr., pleaded guilty to theft of more than $10,000. Thereafter, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, which the post-conviction court denied after a hearing. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.


Grimaldi v. Christopher, M.D.,  No. E2022-00025-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2023). This is a contract dispute between a doctor and healthcare entities. The trial court awarded summary judgment to the healthcare defendants, and the doctor appeals. We find no basis to overturn the ruling of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Jackson, E2022-00298-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 13, 2023).  The Defendant, Darries Leon Jackson, was convicted by a Hawkins County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Defendant raises five issues on appeal: (1) whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain his conviction; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of the Defendant’s shooting of the victim’s daughter in violation of Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b); (3) whether the trial court erred by allowing the Defendant’s wife to testify about conversations with the Defendant in violation of the Defendant’s marital privilege; (4) whether the jury’s overhearing of jury-out proceedings deprived the Defendant of his right to a fair trial; and (5) whether the Defendant was denied his right to a speedy trial. Based on our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Pilley, E2022-00348-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 17, 2023). The Defendant, Katherine E. Pilley, pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine, a Class A misdemeanor. See T.C.A. § 39-17-418(a), (c)(1) (2018) (subsequently amended) (simple possession of methamphetamine). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to eleven months, twenty-nine days suspended to probation after thirty days in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant presents a certified question of law, challenging the trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress evidence obtained during the warrantless search of the Defendant’s car. Because the certified question is overly broad as it fails to identify the scope and limits of the legal issue reserved, we conclude that we are without jurisdiction to consider this appeal. The appeal is dismissed.


Allen v. State of Tennessee, No. E2022-00373-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 8, 2022).  The pro se Petitioner, Thomas N. Allen, appeals from the summary dismissal of his petition filed pursuant to the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001 (“the Act”), wherein he sought DNA testing of evidence related to his first degree murder conviction. After reviewing the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


Burkes v. State of Tennessee, No. E2021-00861-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2022).  The Petitioner, Jerry Burkes, appeals from the Greene County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for money laundering, theft of property valued at $60,000 or more, and twelve counts of sales tax evasion. On appeal, he argues he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Petitioner also contends that the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by withholding records relevant to his tax liability; that he was convicted upon an invalid presentment; that he was deprived of a fair and impartial grand jury in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; that the trial court admitted evidence at trial in violation of Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b); and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for money laundering.  After reviewing the record, we conclude that the Petitioner failed to establish that he received ineffective assistance from appellate counsel and that the remainder of the Petitioner’s claims have been previously determined, waived, or do not entitle him to relief. Accordingly, we affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of relief. [Footnote omitted.]


State of Tennessee v. Myers, E2021-00841-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Jul 22, 2022).  A jury convicted the Defendant, Garet Myers, of evading arrest in a motor vehicle, a Class E felony; reckless endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor; speeding, a Class C misdemeanor; and driving without a license, a Class B misdemeanor. The trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of two years, with thirty days to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation. The Defendant appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, the court’s refusal to approve the Defendant’s request for a special jury instruction, the exclusion of evidence, and the trial court’s denial of judicial diversion. After a thorough review of the record, the parties’ briefs, oral argument, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Singh, No. E2021-01040-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 20, 2022).  Defendant, Daljit Singh, appeals the criminal court’s dismissal of his general sessions appeal from payment of a traffic citation after he filed a motion to withdraw payment of the citation. Following our review of the entire record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Hadley v. State of Tennessee, No. E2021-00203-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 20, 2022). A juvenile entered a best interest plea to and was adjudicated delinquent for the offense of sexual battery. The juvenile was placed on probation under the supervision of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. He sought relief through a post-conviction petition in the trial court. The State moved to dismiss the petition. Pursuant to the juvenile’s concession that no valid claims could be brought, the trial court dismissed the petition. Discerning no error, we affirm.


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.



"The Book" - Information on Tennessee Trial Judges Copyright © 2023 by BirdDog Law, LLC. All Rights Reserved.