STATE OF TENNESSEE v. NIGEL KAVIC WATKINS - Articles

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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Mar 9, 2012

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1: Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General & Reporter; Leslie E. Price and Angele Gregory, Assistant Attorneys General; Tom P. Thompson, Jr., District Attorney; David Earl Durham, Jason Lawson, and Brian W. Fuller, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

Attorneys 2: Shawn P. Sirgo, Nashville, Tennessee (on appeal); Comer L. Donnell, District Public Defender; Tillman W. Payne III, William Cather, and Tom Bilbrey, Assistant Public Defenders (at trial), for the appellee, Nigel Kavic Watkins. Stephen Ross Johnson; Wade V. Davies, and Ann C. Short, Knoxville, Tennessee; Aimee D. Solway, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Kathy Morante, Nashville, Tennessee; William Crabtree, Knoxville, Tennessee; and Garland Erguden, Memphis, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.

Judge(s): CLARK

We granted the State permission to appeal to determine whether the defendant’s dual convictions for reckless homicide and aggravated child abuse violate either the federal or state constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. Following briefing, oral argument, and a careful study of Tennessee law governing the issue presented, we ordered the parties in this appeal, and two other pending appeals involving related issues, to submit additional briefs addressing certain specific questions concerning the analyses that Tennessee courts apply in single prosecution cases when determining whether separate convictions under different statutes constitute the same offense for purposes of the double jeopardy protection against multiple punishments. We also scheduled consolidated reargument of these three appeals and invited certain prosecutorial and defense organizations to submit amicus curiae briefs. Having thoroughly reviewed relevant federal and state precedent and carefully considered the briefs provided by the parties and by the amici curiae, we have concluded that the four-factor test set forth in State v. Denton, 938 S.W.2d 373 (Tenn. 1996) should be abandoned. Furthermore, we have not found, nor have we been provided with, any textual reason or historical basis for interpreting the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Tennessee Constitution differently from the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution. Accordingly, we adopt the same elements test enunciated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304 (1932) as the test for determining whether multiple convictions under different statutes constitute the same offense for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Tennessee Constitution. Applying this test, we conclude that reckless homicide and aggravated child abuse are not the same offense because their elements differ. Thus, the defendant’s dual convictions do not violate either the federal or the state constitutional double jeopardy prohibition. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment merging the reckless homicide conviction into the aggravated child abuse conviction, and we reinstate the reckless homicide conviction. However, we affirm that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment remanding this matter to the trial court for resentencing.

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