Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Bias Claim Rejected

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial of relief to a defendant who had pleaded guilty to robbery and then sought the judge's recusal for sentencing

On November 23, 2020, Defendant entered an open guilty plea to robbery. Pursuant to the negotiated plea agreement, Defendant was to be sentenced as a Range II multiple offender. On January 15, 2021, Defendant filed a motion to recuse the trial judge from sentencing him on the grounds that the trial judge, while serving as an assistant district
attorney general in 1990, prosecuted Defendant in a highly publicized trial on three charges of sexual offenses. Defendant averred that the trial judge was prejudiced against him because, during the trial, the trial judge/former prosecutor stated, “[t]here is a dark side to [Defendant] which teachers and coaches don’t see, and when that dark side surfaces, no young girl is safe.” Defendant’s convictions in that case were overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Defendant also alleged prejudice on the grounds that the trial judge prosecuted him on a drug charge in 2002 for which conviction he was sentenced as a Range III persistent offender to a sentence of split confinement with a lengthy period of probation. Defendant pointed out that, by contrast, he was convicted on the same day in a forgery and theft case prosecuted by another assistant district attorney and was sentenced as a Range II multiple offender. Finally, Defendant alleged that the trial judge showed prejudice against Defendant when he remarked at Defendant’s arraignment in this case that it had “been a while” since Defendant was before the court.

At the hearing on the recusal motion

At the conclusion of the recusal hearing, the trial court noted that Defendant’s 1990 trial was “highly publicized” because Defendant was recognized for his athletic ability. The trial court stated, “He’s one of the best running backs that’s ever come out of Sumner County, and I found myself in a difficult position as a prosecutor in this case.”

The trial court denied bias and denied relief.

The court affirmed the sentence. (Mike Frisch)


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