Jennifer Smith, 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. Jones, No. M2022-01620-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2024). In this delayed appeal, Defendant, Shatara Evette Jones, appeals her conviction for first degree murder for which she received a mandatory life sentence. On appeal, Defendant challenges: 1) the trial court’s restricting her right to cross-examine a State’s witness; 2) the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss, pursuant to State v. Ferguson, based on the State’s failure to preserve evidence; 3) the trial court’s denial of her motions to suppress her statement to police and cell phone data; 4) the trial court’s exclusion of evidence of the victim’s gang involvement and a rap video in which he is depicted holding a gun; 5) the trial court’s omission of an instruction in the written jury instructions; and 6) the sufficiency of the evidence of her conviction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Loyde v. State of Tennessee, No. M2023-00858-CCA-R3-ECN (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 22, 2024). In 2016, the Petitioner, Mack Mandrell Loyde, was convicted of aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, for which he received an effective sentence of life without parole. In 2018, this court affirmed his convictions and remanded for resentencing. State v. Loyde, No. M2017- 01002-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 1907336, at *1-3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 23, 2018), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 8, 2018). In 2019, the Petitioner filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel, the denial of which was affirmed on appeal. Loyde v. State, No. M2022-01132-CCA-R3-PC, 2023 WL 5447386, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 24, 2023). In 2023, five years after his convictions and sentence became final, the Petitioner, acting pro se, filed the instant petition for writ of error coram nobis, which was summarily dismissed as beyond the one-year statute of limitations. In this appeal, the Petitioner contends he is entitled to equitable tolling of the limitations period based on an affidavit from an individual, Brandy Oldaker, who claimed to have been involved in the underlying offenses and who denied the Petitioner was involved. The Petitioner claims the affidavit is newly discovered evidence of his innocence.Upon review, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Sloan & Higgins, No. M2023-00331-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 9, 2024). A Davidson County Jury convicted DaShawn Patrick Slone1 and Demetrius Trevon Higgins, Defendants, of first degree premeditated murder and abuse of a corpse. The trial court imposed effective sentences of life plus six years for Defendant Slone and life plus four years for Defendant Higgins. On appeal, Defendants contend that the evidence is insufficient to support their convictions. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Lawrence v. State of Tennessee, No. M2023-00471-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 27, 2023). The Petitioner, Terrance Lawrence, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, domestic assault, driving while his license was suspended, and possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony involving the use or attempted use of force, violence, or a deadly weapon, for which he is serving an effective sixty-year sentence. On appeal, he contends that the post-conviction court erred in denying relief based upon his ineffective assistance of counsel allegations. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Holloway, No. M2022-00862-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 9, 2023).  A Davidson County jury convicted the Defendant, Jamil Toure Holloway, of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, attempted first degree murder causing serious bodily injury, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The trial court imposed a life sentence plus thirty-one years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. The Defendant appeals, contending that there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

 

State of Tennessee v. Gerbis, No. M2023-00016-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 17, 2023). The Defendant, Lorie Ann Gerbis, was convicted following a bench trial of two counts of aggravated assault. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions. Specifically, she contends that the State’s evidence was inadequate to establish her identity as the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Bailey v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-01752-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 24, 2023).  The petitioner, Erick Bailey, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for fingerprint analysis under the Post-Conviction Fingerprint Analysis Act of 2021. After review, we conclude the post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion in summarily dismissing the petition and affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

Loyde v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-01132-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 24, 2023).  The petitioner, Mack Mandrell Loyde, 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.

 

Morris v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-00926-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 9, 2023).  In April 2018, Petitioner, Adarion C. Morris, pleaded guilty in three separate cases and received an effective sentence of six years to be served on community corrections. However, after two community corrections violation warrants were filed, one in June 2018 and another in August 2018, the trial court held a hearing, revoked Petitioner’s community corrections sentence, and re-sentenced Petitioner to forty-eight years in the Department of Correction. This court affirmed the trial court’s revocation and sentence imposed on appeal. See State v. Adarion C. Morris, No. M2018-02034-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 5, 2019), no perm. app. filed. Petitioner subsequently filed a post-conviction petition alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when entering his guilty pleas, which rendered his pleas unknowing and involuntary. He also alleged counsel was ineffective at the revocation hearing and re-sentencing for not challenging the legality of the original community corrections sentence. After a hearing, the post-conviction court concluded Petitioner’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims regarding the guilty pleas were untimely and that the ineffective assistance of counsel claim relative to the revocation and re-sentencing was without merit. Petitioner appeals, arguing that he is entitled to due process tolling of the limitations period for his claims regarding his guilty pleas. After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Braden, No. M2022-00733-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 17, 2023).  In February of 2021, Defendant, Clinton D. Braden, pleaded guilty to burglary and identity theft. In exchange, he received a total effective sentence of 16 years suspended to community corrections. On May 4, 2022, Defendant admitted he again violated the terms of his community corrections program and offered no proof for the trial court to make findings of what consequences to apply. Defendant now appeals, and we affirm, the trial court’s judgment to impose his original sentence to serve in full.

 

Claybrooks v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-00579-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 13, 2023).  Petitioner, Charles Claybrooks, appeals the dismissal of his 2021 petition seeking postconviction relief from his 2010 convictions for one count aggravated robbery and two counts of aggravated assault. Following a hearing, the post-conviction court concluded that Petitioner “failed to demonstrate entitlement to the tolling of the statute of limitations” and dismissed the Petition. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Merriweather v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00990-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 29, 2022).  Petitioner, Charles Edward Meriweather, appeals the denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner argues that his judgments of conviction are void because the trial court was without jurisdiction to accept his 2011 guilty pleas. Following a thorough review, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Potts, No. M2020-01623-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 29, 2022).  The Defendant, Jeffrey Lee Potts, appeals his jury conviction for attempted second-degree murder, for which he received a Range I sentence of twelve years’ incarceration. In this direct appeal, the Defendant alleges that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction; (2) the trial court erred by prohibiting the defense expert from testifying about the reasoning and science upon which he based his opinion of the Defendant’s mental condition at the time of shooting; (3) the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion for a mistrial after the trial court stated in the jury’s presence that defense counsel could “rehabilitate” and “clean up” the expert’s testimony; and (4) the trial court erred in sentencing the Defendant, both in imposing the maximum sentence, as well as in imposing a sentence of continuous confinement. Following our review of the record and the applicable authorities, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

State of Tennessee v Taylor,  No. M2021-00954-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 4, 2022). Defendant, Corey Taylor, entered a guilty plea to aggravated assault and was sentenced to four years, suspended to supervised probation. Following a hearing on a warrant alleging a violation of probation based on new arrests and failure to report, the trial court found defendant in violation, revoked his probation, and ordered him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred in declining to dismiss the probation violation warrant on speedy trial grounds. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Marlon Jermaine Johnson v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00679-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. March 22, 2022). The Petitioner, Marlon Jermaine Johnson, acting pro se, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus relief from his convictions for the sale of less than .5 grams of cocaine in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-417(c)(2)(A) and for possession with intent to sell .5 grams or more of cocaine in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-417(c)(1).  On appeal, the Petitioner argues his sentence is illegal because the trial court entered his judgment incorrectly, resulting in errors on the face of the judgment.  Upon our review, we affirm the judgment summarily dismissing the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

 

Marlon Sontay v. State of Tennessee, No. M2020-01312-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. March 22, 2022). The Petitioner, Marlon Sontay, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery, and rape.  On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred by denying relief on his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim.  We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Vernell Evans, No. M2021-00963-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. March 7, 2022). The petitioner, Vernell Evans, appeals the denial of his Rule 36.1 motion to correct an illegal sentence, asserting his sentences are illegal because the trial court incorrectly imposed 100% service requirements for each sentence.  Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Courtney R. Logan v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00071-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 1, 2022). The Petitioner, Cortney R. Logan, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for the writ of habeas corpus.  The Petitioner is serving an effective thirty-one-year sentence for convictions for attempted first degree murder and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony.  On appeal, he contends that the habeas corpus court erred in denying his petition.  We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

 

Jimmy Heard v. James M. Holloway, Warden, No. M2021-00065-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 25, 2022). The Appellant, Jimmy Heard, appeals the trial court’s summary denial of his petition seeking habeas corpus relief.  The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20.  Said motion is hereby granted.

 

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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