Barry Steelman, 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. Davis, No. E2023-00579-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 15, 2024). Trevale Demarco Davis, Defendant, appeals the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s probation revocation of his effective five-year sentence for three counts of aggravated burglary and one count of robbery. On appeal, Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by revoking his probation. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.


Bates v. State of Tennessee, No. E2023-00278-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 4, 2024). The Petitioner, Roderick Bates, appeals from the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s denial of his post-conviction relief from his jury-trial convictions for especially aggravated burglary and first degree murder, for which he is serving an effective life sentence. On appeal, he contends that the post-conviction court erred in denying relief for his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


State of Tennessee v. Brown, E2022 – 00557-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 25, 2023).  The defendant, Benjamin Spencer Brown, appeals the trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentences for his Hamilton County Criminal Court jury convictions of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. Discerning no error, we affirm.


State of Tennessee v. Mobley, E2022 – 00440-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 17, 2023).  A Hamilton County jury convicted the Defendant, Stephen M. Mobley, of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count of aggravated assault, and one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court merged the attempted first degree murder and aggravated assault convictions and imposed an effective sentence of life imprisonment plus twenty six years. In his first appeal, the Defendant contended that the trial court erred when it failed to make requisite findings based on Batson v. Kentucky regarding the State’s use of a peremptory challenge to strike an African-American potential juror during voir dire. State v. Stephen Maurice Mobley, No. E2020-00234-CCA-R3-CD, 2021 WL 3610905, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Knoxville, Mar. 31, 2021). This court remanded the case for the trial court to make appropriate findings pursuant to Batson. On remand, the trial court concluded that the State’s exercise of the peremptory challenge did not violate Batson. The Defendant again appeals, contending that the trial court erred. After our review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.


State of Tennessee v. Walker, E2021-01115-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 27, 2022).  The pro se petitioner, Stephen V. Walker, appeals the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his motion to correct an illegal sentence, filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. Discerning no error, we affirm.


State of Tennessee v. Bell, E2021-00874-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 29, 2022). Defendant, Conner Lewis Bell, was indicted by the Hamilton County Grand Jury for one count of attempted first degree murder, one count of aggravated assault, and one count of aggravated robbery. Defendant pleaded guilty to the lesser-included offense of reckless aggravated assault, and the remaining counts were dismissed. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Defendant received a sentence of three years as a Range I offender to be suspended on probation. Defendant requested judicial diversion, which the trial court denied following a hearing. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the trial court’s denial of diversion.


Davis v. State of Tennessee,  E2021-01120-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 20, 2022).  Petitioner, Montez Davis, was convicted of second degree murder, reckless endangerment, and unlawful possession of a weapon by a Hamilton County jury. State v. Montez Davis, No. E2011-02066-CCA-R3CD, 2012 WL 6213520, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 13, 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Apr. 10, 2013). The post-conviction court denied several of Petitioner’s claims but ultimately granted post-conviction relief and vacated Petitioner’s second degree murder conviction. The State appealed and Petitioner filed a cross-appeal. After a thorough review, we reverse the post-conviction court’s grant of post-conviction relief and reinstate Petitioner’s second degree murder conviction.


State of Tennessee v. Gass,  No. E2021-00692-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 10, 2022).  Douglas Cody Gass, Defendant, entered an open guilty plea to reckless aggravated assault (Count 10), felony evading arrest (Count 11), and vehicular homicide (Count 12); and the remaining nine counts were dismissed. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of twenty years—four years to serve in Count 10, six years to serve in Count 12, and four years suspended to ten years’ probation in Count 11— and aligned the sentences consecutively. Defendant claims that the trial court erred in setting the length of his sentences, in imposing consecutive sentences, and in denying alternative sentencing in Counts 10 and 12. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Smith, No. E2021-00394-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 29, 2022). The defendant, Patti Elizabeth Smith, appeals the denial of her Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 motion to reduce the sentence imposed for her 2018 guilty-pleaded conviction of reckless endangerment. Because the defendant has served the entirety of her sentence and been released from custody, we dismiss the appeal as moot.


McMillion v. State of Tennessee, No. E2020-01260-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 4, 2022). The petitioner, Jeremy McMillon, 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 and that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct at trial. Because the petitioner has failed to establish that he is entitled to postconviction relief, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.  [Footnote omitted.]


State of Tennessee v. Kenneth George Arnold, No. E2020-00383-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 4, 2022). The defendant, Kenneth George Arnold, challenges his Hamilton County Criminal Court jury convictions of rape, aggravated sexual battery, and sexual battery by an authority figure, challenging the sufficiency of the convicting evidence and the imposition of consecutive sentences. 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.



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