Sentencing Reforms Progress in U.S. Senate

The Obama Administration made some headway last week in its effort to reduce what it sees as overly harsh sentences for drug crimes, Associations Now reports. The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) is looking to commute the sentences of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders still serving prison time due to sentences imposed during the crack cocaine epidemic. The ABA Journal cites a New York Times report that President Barack Obama is looking to grant clemency to offenders as part of the administration's effort to "undo a disparity that flooded the nation’s prison system and disproportionately affected black men."

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted to advance the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related crimes by half. But not everyone at DOJ agrees with the administration's position. The National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys announced its opposition to the proposal last week. And outside groups that have long advocated for mandatory minimum reform expressed concern that an amendment added during committee consideration creates a new new mandatory minimum in cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Today's Opinions

Click on the category of your choice to view summaries of today’s opinions from that court, or other body. A link at the end of each case summary will let you download the full opinion in PDF format.

00 - TN Supreme Court
00 - TN Workers Comp Appeals
00 - TN Supreme Court - Rules
03 - TN Court of Appeals
08 - TN Court of Criminal Appeals
00 - TN Attorney General Opinions
00 - Judicial Ethics Opinions
00 - Formal Ethics Opinions - BPR
00 - TN Supreme Court - Disciplinary Orders

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TN Court of Appeals


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Robert L. J. Spence, Jr. And Kristina Alicia Woo, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Conrad Ernest Frye.

Tommy L. Fullen and Joseph T. Townsend, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Katrina Annemarie Smith Kimball.


This case arises from a dispute between family members over the proper distribution of assets from two separate trusts. Appellant contends that the grantor of one of the trusts revoked a modification of the trust prior to her death pursuant to a settlement agreement with Appellant. The trial court declined to give effect to a settlement agreement because it was never signed by the parties prior to the grantor’s death. Additionally, Appellant contends that the trial court erred in its interpretation of various provisions in each of the trusts. After thoroughly reviewing the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Al H. Thomas and Aaron L. Thomas, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellants, Derrick Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Ozell Johnson, Odell Johnson, Terrence Johnson, children of Deborah Johnson, deceased.

J. Kimbrough Johnson and Elizabeth T. Collins, for the appellees, Jerry R. Floyd, M.D., and Mid-South Wellness Center, Inc.

Katherine M. Anderson, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tewfik Rizk, M.D.


This case is before us upon mandate from the Tennessee Supreme Court for reconsideration of our previous opinion, Johnson v. Floyd, No. W2012-00207-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 2500900 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 29, 2012), in light of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Rajvongs v. Wright, --- S.W.3d ----, 2013 WL 6504425 (Tenn. 2013). Based on the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision, we reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Stanley L. Summer, Maryville, Tennessee, appellant, pro se.

Hilary Hayes Williams Burgin, Maryville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Nancy J. Summer.


This is an appeal from a final judgment of divorce entered on March 19, 2007. The Notice of Appeal was not filed until December 2, 2013, more than (30) days from the date of entry of the final judgment to which it is directed. Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Stephan L. Beasley, Pro Se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Michelle L. Consiglio-Young, Assistant Attorney General; and Mike Bottoms, District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


Petitioner’s third habeas corpus petition attacking his conviction for first degree murder, with a sentence of life without parole, was dismissed by the trial court without an evidentiary hearing. Petitioner argues on appeal that he is entitled to relief because (1) the trial court failed to require the State to make an appropriate election of offenses; (2) the indictment was erroneously amended; (3) Petitioner was never given notice of the offense he was charged with; and (4) a final ground that can only be accurately described by a direct quote from Petitioner’s brief: “whether the unanimity of the verdict was decided upon imparcially [sic] due to multiple offenses that have never been recognized by the Grand Jury that has always been a Constitutional right of any citizen born in the United States that have alleged to have committed an offense.” We affirm the judgment of the trial court pursuant to Rule of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeal 20.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


James R. Lening, Nashville, Tennessee, pro se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Rachel E. Willis, Senior Counsel, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


The Petitioner, James R. Lening, appeals the Circuit Court for Lauderdale County’s denial of his pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus. The State has filed a motion requesting that this court affirm the trial court’s judgment pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Following our review, we grant the State’s motion and affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Michael R. Martin, Nashville, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


This matter is before the Court upon the State’s motion to affirm the judgment of the trial court by memorandum opinion pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals. The Petitioner, Michael Ricardo Martin, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that his petition was erroneously transferred to the Criminal Court for Davidson County without a judgment entered, and, thus, the Petitioner was deprived of his right to object to the transfer. Upon a review of the record, we agree that the lower court was correct that the Petitioner is not entitled to relief. This case meets the criteria for affirmance pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Accordingly, the State’s motion is granted, and the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Charles A. Brasfield and Lyle A. Jones, Covington, Tennessee, for the Appellee, Daniel Antonio Payne.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Mike Dunavant, District Attorney General; James Walter Freeland, Jr., Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellant, State of Tennessee.


In case number 6994, the Defendant, Daniel Antonio Payne, who was on bond pending the resolution of his charges, pled guilty to one count of driving while license suspended, one count of felony evading arrest, and two counts of theft over $1000.00. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to concurrent sentences of ten years for each of the theft convictions, six years for the felony evading arrest conviction, and six months for the driving while license suspended conviction. At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, the trial court revoked the Defendant’s bond in case number 6994. As the Defendant was being taken into custody, he was found in possession of marijuana, which resulted in the charges in case number 7515. Subsequently, in case number 7515, the Defendant pled guilty to felony possession of marijuana. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to six years, to be served concurrently with his sentence in case number 6994. On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred in not imposing mandatory consecutive sentences for case numbers 6994 and 7515. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we conclude that consecutive sentencing was mandatory. We reverse the trial court’s judgment in case number 7515 and remand for sentencing consistent with this opinion.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; and Barry W. Kuhn (on appeal) and Jim Hale (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Patrick Stanton.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin E.D. Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Marianne Bell, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: PAGE

Appellant, Patrick Stanton, was convicted of one count of aggravated burglary, a Class C felony, and one count of theft of property valued at $500 or less, a Class A misdemeanor. The trial court sentenced appellant as a Range III, persistent offender to fifteen years for his felony conviction and eleven months and twenty-nine days for his misdemeanor conviction. On appeal, appellant argues that the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove that he had the requisite intent to commit a theft prior to entering a habitation or that he actually committed a theft. Following our review of the parties’ briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm appellant’s convictions.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Vanessa P. Bryan, District Public Defender and Susan V. Logan, Assistant Public Defender for the appellant, John Nolan Sunde.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; Kim R. Helper, District Attorney General, and Tammy J. Rettig, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: SMITH

Appellant, John Nolan Sunde, was indicted by the Williamson County Grand Jury for aggravated assault and domestic assault. After a jury trial, Appellant was convicted of both charges. The trial court merged the convictions into a single conviction for aggravated assault and sentenced Appellant to three years in incarceration. The trial court suspended the sentence “on time served” and ordered Appellant to attend an anger management class and ordered him to have no contact with the victim. Appellant’s motion for new trial was denied, and he initiated this appeal. On appeal, he argues: (1) that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction because the State failed to prove serious bodily injury; (2) the trial court erred in admitting multiple photographs of the victim; and (3) the trial court erred in sentencing Appellant to anger management class. After a review of the record, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the victim suffered serious bodily injury to sustain the conviction for aggravated assault; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting photographs of the victim’s injuries at trial; and the trial court properly ordered anger management classes as a condition of probation. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Emily Todoran, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jeremie Alan Thomas.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Meredith Devault, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. (Torry) Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Bret Gunn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.


Petitioner, Jeremie Alan Thomas, appeals from the dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief after an evidentiary hearing. Petitioner sought relief from his convictions for two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, one count of especially aggravated robbery, and one count of aggravated robbery. Petitioner pled guilty to these charges as a result of a negotiated plea agreement, and he received all concurrent sentencing with an effective sentence of 20 years of incarceration. On appeal Petitioner asserts that his guilty pleas were not knowingly and voluntarily entered due to ineffective assistance of trial counsel. After a thorough review of the briefs and the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Mathis T. Vaughn, Pro Se, Only, Tennessee.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Assistant Attorney General; and Mike Bottoms, District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

Judge: SMITH

Petitioner, Mathis L. Vaughn, was convicted in 1993 of first degree murder during the perpetration of a robbery. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. See State v. Mathis T. Vaughn, No. 01C01-0312-CR-00425, 1994 WL 256993, at *1 (Tenn., June 9, 1994). Subsequently, Petitioner unsuccessfully sought post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. See Mathis T. Vaughn v. State, No. M2007-00755-CCAR3- PC, 2001 WL 303034, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, Mar. 29, 2001), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. Sept. 17, 2001). Petitioner first sought habeas corpus relief in 2006; it was denied. See Mathis T. Vaughn v. James Worthington, Warden, No. E2007-00808-CCA-R3- HC, 2008 WL 58956, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Knoxville, Jan. 4, 2008). Petitioner again seeks habeas relief, arguing that his judgment is void because it lists his conviction offense as first degree murder when the jury actually convicted him of first degree felony murder. The habeas corpus court dismissed the petition. Petitioner appeals. After a review, we determine that the habeas corpur court properly dismissed the petition where Petitioner failed to establish that the judgment was void or that his sentence had expired. Consequently, the judgment of the habeas corpus court is affirmed.

Guns-in-Cars Bill Voted Down in Senate

A proposed amendment to add further protections for employees who bring their guns to work was defeated in the Tennessee Senate yesterday, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The so-called "guns-in-cars" law made it legal for employees to keep their guns locked in their vehicles while at work, but confusion remains over whether they can be legally fired for doing so. A proposed clarification by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, which would have prohibited employers from firing employees who were in compliance with the law, was defeated 23-8.

Tennessean Sues Metro Over Vandy Rape Case

The Tennessean and a coalition of other media organizations sued the city of Nashville yesterday over its refusal to release records from a rape investigation that led to charges against four former Vanderbilt University football players. According to the newspaper, an agreement signed by prosecutors and defense attorneys keeps video and photo evidence secret. Metro officials repeatedly have denied the Tennessean’s requests for records, including materials prepared by the university. The lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, says records created by nongovernmental entities and obtained by the Metro Police Department do not fall under any exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act. The media groups ask the court to order release of the records and pay their legal fees.

Informed Voters Project Garners Judges' Support

The Conference of Chief Justices unanimously voted in favor of a resolution supporting the National Association of Women Judges' (NAWJ) Informed Voters Project last week during its mid-year meeting. According to a press release, the resolution applauds the effort noting that “voters casting a ballot for judges rarely have available relevant, accurate, and easy to access information on individual candidates or on the role of the judiciary.” The non-partisan voter education project is focused on increasing public awareness about the judicial system, informing voters that politics and special interest attacks have no place in the courts and providing voters with the tools they need to cast an informed vote. Tennessee is just one of a few states participating in a pilot program of the project this year.

State Sets Execution Dates for 10

The state of Tennessee is scheduled to execute 10 death row inmates between April 2014 and November 2015 after it changes the drug protocol to be used in lethal injections, the Administrative Office of the Courts confirmed to the Tennessean. In October, state officials asked the Tennessee Supreme Court for execution dates for the inmates but opponents asked a Davidson County judge to halt the executions over questions about the drug the state now plans to use.

Domestic Violence Program Extended

The Legal Challenge, a program that encourages Nashville-area attorneys to become more involved in domestic violence prevention, has been extended through February by the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Supported by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, District Attorney Torry Johnson and YWCA leaders, the program aims to get attorneys who are not typically involved in domestic violence cases to learn more about the issue and volunteer to perform pro bono work for victims. The YWCA created a brief online course in domestic violence that attorneys can take prior to volunteering. Law firms with the most participation will be recognized by the YWCA in April. The Tennessean has the story.

Mickel Installed as CBA President

Timothy L. Mickel, a partner in the Chattanooga law firm of Evans Harrison Hackett, was installed as president of the Chattanooga Bar Association (CBA) at the association’s 116th annual meeting on Jan. 22. Mickel was sworn in by Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge W. Neil Thomas. Mickel has served on the CBA Board of Governors since 2009. He also serves as president of the Justices Ray L. Brock, Jr. and Robert E. Cooper American Inn of Court and is a past chairman of the Board of the American Red Cross of Greater Chattanooga, the Chattanoogan reports.

Chattanooga Federal Bar to Hold Annual Meeting

The Chattanooga chapter of the Federal Bar Association will hold its annual meeting next Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m at the Convention Center. Attorney Gary L. Henry of Gearhiser, Peters, Elliot & Cannon will be installed as president. The chapter also will welcome former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as guest speaker. The Chattanoogan has more.

'Scandal' Lawyer to Keynote Memphis Law Event

The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law will host a Diversity and Pre-Law Day Feb. 21 from 9 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. as part of the university’s ongoing commitment to diversity in the legal profession. Judy Smith, former press aide to President George H.W. Bush and current president of Smith & Co., a leading strategic and crisis communications firm, will give the keynote address. Smith is the inspiration behind the hit television drama “Scandal.” With this year’s theme of “Planning for Success,” participants will receive tips on preparing for law school, submitting a competitive application and applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Chattanooga Rep. Floyd Announces Retirement

Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, announced today that he is retiring from the state House, the Chattanoogan reports. “The desire to spend more time with my family and the need to properly recover from recent surgery has prompted me to not seek re-election,” he stated. Signal Mountain resident Tommy F. Crangle has announced his intention to qualify as a Republican candidate to succeed Floyd. Crangle is a licensed professional engineer and a former senior executive with the Tennessee Valley Authority. He retired early in the late 90’s.

General Sessions Judge Seeks Re-election

Davidson County General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland (Division X) has announced his campaign for re-election in the May 2014 Democratic primary. Moreland has served 18 years on the bench. He was first appointed in 1995, elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2006. Prior to his appointment he worked as an attorney in Nashville for 12 years focusing on both civil and criminal law. “It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve the citizens of our county as General Sessions Judge,” Moreland said in a press release.

Hamilton County Candidates Submit Campaign Finance Reports

Candidates running in Hamilton County judicial races submitted campaign finance reports last Friday, the Chattanoogan reports. Attorney J.B. Bennett, who is vying for circuit court, division I, raised more than $100,000 in the two-month period covered by the report. Stuart James and Catherine White also are seeking the post. In the race for criminal court clerk, Republican Rep. Vince Dean was able to convert his state funds for use in the current race against longtime incumbent Gwen Tidwell, a Democrat. Others filing reports included County Commissioner Larry Henry, who is running for circuit court clerk, and General Sessions Court Judge Christie Mahn Sell.

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About this publication: Today's News is a compilation of digests of news reports of interest to Tennessee lawyers compiled by TBA staff, links to digested press releases, and occasional stories about the TBA and other activities written by the TBA staff or members. Statements or opinions herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tennessee Bar Association, its officers, board or staff.

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