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Posted by: Suzanne Craig Robertson on Apr 1, 2015

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Robert L. Jolley, Jr. and Megan A. Swain (on appeal), Knoxville, Tennessee, and Dale Potter, Assistant District Public Defender (at trial), Jacksboro, Tennessee, for the appellant, Dominic Eric Frausto.

Attorneys 2:

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Joseph F. Whalen, Acting Solicitor General; Leslie E. Price; Senior Counsel Criminal Justice Division; Jared Ralph Effler, District Attorney General; and Tracy Tipton Jenkins, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): CLARK

The dispositive issues in this appeal are: (1) whether the defendant’s extrajudicial statement was sufficiently corroborated for purposes of the corpus delicti rule to support his conviction of aggravated sexual battery; and (2) whether deviations from the jury selection procedures prescribed in Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 24 are subject to harmless error review or require automatic reversal without a showing of prejudice. First, we hold that the corpus delicti rule does not apply because the defendant testified at trial and adopted his extrajudicial statement, although he denied one portion of it on cross-examination. Even assuming the corpus delicti rule applies, the trustworthiness of the defendant’s extrajudicial statement was sufficiently corroborated by his own testimony and by that of the prosecution witnesses. Second, we hold that deviations from prescribed jury selection procedures are non-constitutional errors subject to harmless error analysis. Such errors require reversal only if a defendant establishes either that the error “more probably than not affected the judgment or would result in prejudice to the judicial process.” Tenn. R. App. P. 36(b). We conclude that the substantial deviations from Rule 24 during the selection of a jury for the defendant’s trial resulted in prejudice to the judicial process, which entitles the defendant to a new trial. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed; the defendant’s conviction is vacated; and this matter is remanded to the trial court for a new trial, consistent with this decision.