DAVID KEEN v. STATE OF TENNESSEE - Articles

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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Dec 20, 2012

Head Comment: With Dissenting Opinion

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Kelley Henry and Gretchen L. Swift, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, David Keen.

Attorneys 2:

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Deshea Dulany Faughn, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): KOCH

This appeal involves a prisoner who was sentenced to death in 1991. Nineteen years later, he filed a petition in the Criminal Court for Shelby County seeking to reopen his postconviction proceeding on the ground that he possessed new scientific evidence of his actual innocence. His evidence consisted of a newly-obtained I.Q. test score purportedly showing that he could not be executed by virtue of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-203 (2010) because he was intellectually disabled. The trial court declined to hold a hearing and denied the prisoner’s petition. The trial court determined, as a matter of the law, that the prisoner’s newly-obtained I.Q. test score was not new scientific evidence of his actual innocence of the offenses to which he earlier pleaded guilty. The prisoner filed an application for permission to appeal the denial of his petition to reopen in the Court of Criminal Appeals. In addition to asserting that the newly-obtained I.Q. test score was new scientific evidence of his actual innocence, the prisoner asserted that this Court’s decision in Coleman v. State, 341 S.W.3d 221 (Tenn. 2011), announced a new constitutional right and, therefore, provided another basis for reopening his petition for post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals entered an order on June 29, 2011, affirming the trial court’s denial of the petition to reopen because the I.Q. test score did not amount to scientific evidence of actual innocence for the purpose of Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2) (2006) and because Coleman v. State did not announce a new rule of constitutional law under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(1). We granted the prisoner’s application for permission to appeal to address whether the phrase “actually innocent of the offense” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2) encompasses ineligibility for the death penalty in addition to actual innocence of the underlying crime and whether our holding in Coleman v. State established a new constitutional right to be applied retroactively under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(1). We hold that the Tennessee General Assembly, when it enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2), did not intend for the phrase “actually innocent of the offense” to include ineligibility for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. We also hold that Coleman v. State did not establish a new rule of constitutional law that must be applied retroactively under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30- 117(a)(1). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals denying the prisoner’s petition to reopen his post-conviction petition.