Jennifer Johnson Mitchell, 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. Walls, No. W2022-01379-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 25, 2024). A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Juanyai Walls, of two counts of first degree premeditated murder, two counts of felony murder, and two counts of especially aggravated robbery. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to serve an effective sentence of life plus fifteen years. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence is legally insufficient to support his convictions. He also asserts that the trial court erred by (1) allowing the introduction of written notes from the Defendant to his co-defendants while in custody; and (2) imposing consecutive sentences. Upon our review, we respectfully affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Brakefield, No. W2023-00766-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 23, 2024). A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Marshawn Brakefield, of attempted first degree murder involving serious bodily injury and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to serve an effective sentence of twenty-eight years. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions, arguing that the only proof at trial was the testimony of a single witness who was not credible. Upon our review, we respectfully affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Horne v. State of Tennessee, No. W2023-00675-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 3, 2024). Petitioner, Lavino Horne, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the post-conviction court correctly determined that the statute of limitations should be tolled for his untimely petition because he diligently pursued his petition after being abandoned by trial counsel. He further contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. The State responds that the post-conviction court erred by finding that extraordinary circumstances prevented Petitioner from timely filing his petition and denying the State’s motion to dismiss the petition as untimely. The State further argues that Petitioner failed to show that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review of the entire record, the briefs, and oral arguments of the parties, we conclude that Petitioner failed to show that the one-year statute of limitations should be tolled on due process grounds. Accordingly, Petitioner’s postconviction claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is barred by the statute of limitations and we reverse the post-conviction court’s denial of the State’s motion to dismiss the petition as untimely.

 

State of Tennessee v. Flynn, No. W2023-00184-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 9, 2024). A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, William Flynn, of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and aggravated assault in concert. For these convictions, the trial court imposed an effective life sentence. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and the jury instructions. After review, we affirm the judgments.

 

Bailey v. State of Tennessee, No. W2023-00809-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 21, 2023).  A Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Dariun Bailey, of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment, and the trial court sentenced him to twenty-two years of incarceration. State v. Bailey, No. W2015-00542-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 3645141, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 29, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 20, 2016). This Court affirmed his convictions on appeal. The Petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged, as relevant to this appeal, that his trial counsel: failed to adequately review and inspect discovery, coerced the Petitioner into testifying, and failed to adequately meet with the Petitioner to review the evidence and prepare him for trial. The post-conviction court dismissed the petition after a hearing. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

Gwin v. State of Tennessee, No. W2022-01704-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 11, 2023).  The Petitioner, Donald Gwin, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his jury-trial convictions for aggravated rape, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and aggravated assault, for which he is serving an effective thirty-five-year sentence. On appeal, he contends that the post-conviction court erred in denying relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Brown, No. W2023-00043-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 7, 2023).  The defendant, Corey Brown, was found guilty by a Shelby County jury of especially aggravated robbery for which he received a sentence of twenty-one years in prison. On appeal, the defendant contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction and that the trial judge failed to execute its responsibility as thirteenth juror. Following our review, we affirm the defendant’s conviction.

 

State of Tennessee v. Hemmingway, No. W2022-01248-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 14, 2023). The Defendant, Tyler Hemmingway, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of aggravated sexual battery and sentenced by the trial court as a Range I, standard offender to eight years at 100 percent in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and argues that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State to introduce a photograph of the Defendant’s bedroom that showed a pornographic poster on the wall. Based on our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. James a/k/a Durrell, No. W2022-01204-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 31, 2023).  Defendant, Durrell James a/k/a/ James Durrell, was convicted by a Shelby County Jury of three counts of aggravated stalking (Counts 1 through 3) and one count of stalking (Count 4). The trial court imposed a four-year sentence for each count of aggravated stalking in Counts 1 through 3, and eleven months, twenty-nine days for stalking in Count 4. The trial court further ordered that the sentence in Count 2 be served consecutively to Count 1 and concurrently with the sentences in Counts 3 and 4 for an effective eight-year sentence as a Range II multiple offender to be served in a local workhouse. On appeal, Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgments of the trial court but remand for correction of a clerical error on the judgment form for Count 2 to reflect that it is to be served consecutively to Count 1 and concurrently with Counts 3 and 4.

 

Hampton v. State of Tennessee, No. W2022-01473-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 19, 2023).  The Petitioner, Deshun Hampton, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction
relief, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered. Based on our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

Bostick v. State of Tennessee, No. W2022-00723-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 5, 2023).  The Petitioner, Christopher Bostick, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial ofhis petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that the post-conviction court erred by denying his claims that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

Barclay v. State of Tennessee, No. W2022-00406-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 4, 2023).  Petitioner, Ronnell Barclay, appeals as of right from the Shelby County Criminal Court’sdenial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his convictions for rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery, and sexual exploitation of a minor by electronic means. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel (1) did not communicate to Petitioner that the victim made a new disclosure on the first day of trial; (2) failed to request a continuance after the State informed the trial court and Petitioner of the new disclosure; and (3) incorrectly informed Petitioner of his potential exposure at trial as a result of the new disclosure. Following our review, we affirm in part; however, we remand the case to the post-conviction court for further findings of fact and conclusions of law relative to the exposure issue.

 

Marshall v. State of Tennessee, No. W2021-01131-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 10, 2022).  The Petitioner, Ebony Marshall, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for two counts of robbery and his effective twenty-five-year sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred by determining that his petition was untimely and by summarily dismissing his petition. We conclude that the petition for relief was timely filed. We reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court and remand for further proceedings.

 

Ward v. State of Tennessee, No. W2021-00952-CCA-R3-ECN (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 10, 2022). The petitioner, Leah Ward, appeals the dismissal of her petition for writ of error coram nobis, which petition challenged her 2005 Shelby County Criminal Court Jury conviction of first degree murder, arguing that the coram nobis court should have held a hearing on her petition. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Seddrick Curry, No. W2020-01103-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 28, 2022). The Petitioner, Seddrick Curry, pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated burglary, one count of theft of property valued at $10,000 or more but less than $60,000, and one count of theft of property valued at $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, and he was sentenced to an effective thirty-year period of incarceration. The Petitioner filed a motion to withdraw his guilty pleas, claiming that his pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily entered due, in part, to the ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the Petitioner’s motion, and the trial court’s decision was affirmed on appeal. The Petitioner then petitioned for post-conviction relief on the basis that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court denied his petition, and the Petitioner appeals. After review, we conclude that the issue presented on appeal has been previously determined, and we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

 

State of Tennessee v. Jeremiah Warren, No. W2021-00236-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 27, 2022). The Defendant, Jeremiah Warren, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s revocation of his fifteen-year community corrections sentence for his arson conviction. See T.C.A. § 39-14-301 (2018) (arson). On appeal, he contends that the trial court erred in revoking community corrections and ordering him to serve his sentence. We affirm the judgment 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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