Robert T. Bateman, 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. Gragg, No. M2023-00777-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 4, 2024). The Appellant, Terry L. Gragg, appeals his conviction of aggravated assault for which he received a sentence of four years’ probation.  On appeal, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not act in self-defense.  After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

 

State of Tennessee v. Craft, Davis, and Tablack, No. M2022-01720-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 1, 2024). Michael Craft, Jackie Dewayne Davis, and Zachary Stuart Tablack, collectively “Defendants,” pled guilty as Range I offenders to two counts of voluntary manslaughter with the issue of judicial diversion and, alternatively, the length and manner of service of their sentences, to be determined by the trial court. Following a sentencing hearing, the court sentenced each Defendant to concurrent terms of six years’ incarceration. On appeal, Defendants Davis and Tablack claim that the trial court erred by denying judicial diversion, by denying probation, and by sentencing them to the maximum sentence. Defendant Craft claims that the court erred by imposing the maximum sentence. Discerning no reversible error, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

 

State of Tennessee v. Mosby, No. M2022-01070-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 1, 2024). In 2013, the Defendant, Jordan Isaiah Mosby, pleaded guilty to attempted second degree murder, and the trial court imposed a ten-year sentence suspended to supervised probation. In 2019, the trial court issued a probation violation warrant, alleging that the Defendant had absconded. After a hearing, the trial court found that the Defendant had violated his probation by absconding to Florida. The trial court ordered him to serve his ten-year sentence in confinement. The Defendant then filed a Rule 35 motion seeking to modify the revocation order. After a hearing, the trial court denied the Defendant’s motion. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the trial court erred by ordering him to serve his sentence in confinement, by not granting him credit for time he successfully served on probation, and by ruling that the Defendant’s custody in the Tennessee Department of Correction prevented the court from modifying the sentence. After a thorough review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

 

State of Tennessee v. Houbbadi, No. M2022-01751-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 8, 2023).  The Defendant, Hamid Houbbadi, was convicted by a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury of first degree premediated murder, first degree felony murder, and especially aggravated burglary, for which he received an effective sentence of life plus twelve years. The Defendant raises three issues on appeal: (1) whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain his convictions; (2) whether the trial court erred by admitting orders of protection the victim obtained against the Defendant; and (3) whether the trial court erred in imposing a twelve-year sentence for his especially aggravated burglary conviction and ordering that it be served consecutively to his life sentence. Based on our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Sanchez, No. M2023-00180-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 5, 2023).  The defendant, David Elias Hernandez Sanchez, appeals the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s denial of his bid for judicial diversion of the four-year sentence imposed for his guilty-pleaded conviction of aggravated assault. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v. Major, No. M2021-01469-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 31, 2023).  The State of Tennessee appealed the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s order granting the Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence recovered during the search of her car.  On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred because probable cause existed to search the Defendant’s car based on a police dog’s signal for the presence of narcotics.  We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for reinstatement of the charges.  Dissent: I concur with the majority opinion’s conclusion based on the narrow issue raised by the parties and the existing law in Tennessee.  I write separately, however, to highlight how the legalization of hemp has fractured the foundation underlying the rule that a drug detection dog sniff is not a search subject to Fourth Amendment protections.  In my view, the cases before this court thus far miss the primary issue—whether a drug detection dog sniff that no longer discloses only contraband is itself a search that must be supported by probable cause.

 

State of Tennessee v. Fucci, No. M2022-01425-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 13, 2023).  The defendant, James Tyler Fucci, appeals the denial of his request for judicial diversion of the six-year sentence imposed for his Montgomery County Criminal Court guiltypleaded conviction of aggravated assault. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm. We remand for entry of a judgment on Count 2 reflecting that the charge was dismissed in accordance with the plea agreement.

 

Williams v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-01496-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 7,, 2023). Petitioner, Kellum Williams, appeals as of right from the Montgomery County Circuit
Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his convictions for first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and especially aggravated kidnapping and resulting sentence of life without the possibility of parole plus twenty-five years. Petitioner contends that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel based upon trial counsel’s failure to: (1) sufficiently emphasize at trial the theory that the victim died in Montgomery County rather than in Robertson County, as testified to by the State’s experts; (2) seek an independent expert “to test samples from the crime scene”; (3) raise as a defense that venue of the trial should have been in Robertson County instead of Montgomery County; and (4) more extensively question witnesses to demonstrate Petitioner’s “non-participation in the events leading to [the victim’s] death.” Petitioner further asserts that he is entitled to relief based upon cumulative error. Following a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Green, No. M2022-00889-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 12, 2023).  The State appeals the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence recovered during the search of the car in which the defendant was a passenger. The State asserts that the trial court erred because the scent of marijuana provided probable cause for the search regardless of the possibility that legal hemp was the source of the odor. After review, we conclude the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s motion to suppress. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s motion for suppression, reinstate the indictments against the defendant, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

 

State of Tennessee v. Wojnarek, No. M2022-00326-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 10, 2023).  The Defendant, Michael Wojnarek, appeals the revocation of his probation and reinstatement of his original sentence in confinement, arguing that the trial court erred by considering evidence found in violation of the Fourth Amendment and by failing to make adequate findings in support of its decision. Based on our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Wright v. State of Tennessee, No. M2022-00416-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 16, 2023).  The Petitioner, Darcell Dominique Wright, appeals from the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred when it held that the Petitioner’s claim of limited ability to access the penitentiary law library due to lockdowns did not entitle him to due process tolling of the one-year statute of limitations for filing his petition. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Watson, No. M2021-01354-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 28, 2022).  The petitioner, Rashaud Deavon Watson, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel and entered a voluntary and intelligent plea. Following our review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of the petition.

 

State of Tennessee v. Merriweather, No. M2021-01278-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 19, 2022).  The Defendant, Demetris Lovell Merriweather, appeals the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s summary denial of his pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. After review, 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.

 

License

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