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State v. Russell

July 29, 2009


Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County Nos. 80135A, 84456, 84457, & 84458 James B. Scott, Special Judge; Ray L. Jenkins, Judge.


The Defendant, Timothy Preston Russell*fn1, pled guilty to one count of theft of property valued $10,000 or more but less than $60,000, a Class C felony, and three counts of theft of property valued $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, a Class D felony. He was sentenced to eight years as a Range II, multiple offender for the Class C felony and six years as a Range II, multiple offender for each Class D felony. Two six-year sentences were to be served concurrently to each other but consecutively to the eight-year sentence, to which another six-year sentence ran concurrently, for an effective fourteen-year sentence. The trial court denied probation and imposed incarceration. Appealing the denial of his motion to withdraw the four guilty pleas, the Defendant contends that he should be able to withdraw his guilty pleas to correct manifest injustice and that the trial court erred in not advising him that he would not be able to withdraw the guilty pleas if the court did not accept the plea agreement. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph M. Tipton, Presiding Judge

Opinion on Remand

JOSEPH M. TIPTON, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which JERRY L. SMITH and CAMILLE R. MCMULLEN, JJ., joined.


After this court dismissed the defendant's direct appeal as untimely, this case was remanded by the Tennessee Supreme Court for consideration of the merits of the Defendant's issues. The summary of facts presented by the State at the plea hearing showed the following events. The Defendant obtained $13,606.72 from a "kiting" scheme at a bank. The Defendant also obtained a Ford truck by writing a check for $4,300 to Mr. Christopher Crawford on a closed bank account. The Defendant advertised a Mazda for sale, and Mr. Khalid Elbasit purchased the car from the defendant for $1,500. As the Defendant never conveyed title to the car, the victim returned it and asked for his payment to be returned. The Defendant issued Mr. Elbasit a check for $1,500 drawn on a closed account. The Defendant attempted to purchase a truck from Mr. James Shipley, who would not allow the defendant to pay with a check. The truck and its title were later stolen, and the truck was not recovered. The Defendant altered the truck's title to make it appear to be the title for a Mazda, which the Defendant sold to Mr. Teddy Burk for $2,500. The Mazda had a lien on it and was repossessed by the creditor.

The transcript of the plea hearing reflects that the Defendant was advised during the hearing of (1) the right to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury and the presumption of innocence; (2) the ranges possible for the offenses as a Range II, multiple offender; (3) that these convictions could be used to enhance future sentences; (4) the right to counsel; (5) the right to plead not guilty; (6) the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses and to compel favorable witnesses to testify; (7) the right to be protected against compelled self-incrimination and the right to testify; and (8) the lack of a trial after the plea, with only a hearing to determine the propriety of probation. The court also clarified with the State that the Defendant had not been promised probation but instead was told he could apply for probation. The Defendant pled guilty to four felony theft charges, three of which were Class D felonies with sentences of six years as a Range II, multiple offender. The remaining felony conviction was a Class C felony with an eight-year sentence as a Range II, multiple offender.

At the probation hearing, the presentence report was entered into evidence. The State requested that the trial court impose confinement for the Defendant's sentences. The Defendant informed the court that he wanted the "most extreme alternative sentencing possible." The trial court found that in view of the Defendant's interests, behavioral record, employment history, social history, physical and mental condition, extensive prior record, refusal to conform his conduct to societal mores, the victim impact statements, the public interest, and deterrence value, confinement was necessary for the interests of the Defendant and the public as a whole.

The Defendant filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty pleas in which he alleged that the special judge had imposed a fourteen-year sentence to be served on enhanced probation for thirty-five percent of the sentence, with the balance to be served on probation and that the subsequent trial judge had rejected this manner of service and imposed confinement. The trial court denied the motion after finding that the Defendant had signed the waiver of right to jury trial form on which it stated that the agreed sentence was "only a recommendation and that the Court is not bound by this recommendation in any way." The trial court found that the Defendant understood the court had the discretion to accept his plea and either to deny or to impose probation.

The Defendant filed a pro se notice of appeal. In his brief, the Defendant compares his case with State v. Crowe, 168 S.W.3d 731, 742 (Tenn. 2005), and argues his guilty pleas should be withdrawn because he entered them under a misunderstanding of their effect. He claims the language on the "WAIVER OF TRIAL BY JURY AND REQUEST FOR ACCEPTANCE OF PLEA OF GUILTY" is ambiguous and should be construed against the State. He contends that because the handwritten terms of the plea agreement as reflected in this waiver form say "Apply ENHANCED PROBATION" next to "to serve" with lines drawn through "serve" to negate it, he did not understand that he was only applying for probation and was not guaranteed probation for his four felonies. He claims the word "serve" was not scratched out when he signed the agreement.

The State responds that because the Defendant did not meet his burden of showing that the pleas should be withdrawn to correct manifest injustice, the trial court properly denied the motion to withdraw the pleas. The State claims the Defendant was not promised probation.

Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(f) permits a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea under certain circumstances. If a sentence has yet to be imposed, the trial court may grant a motion to withdraw "for any fair and just reason." Tenn. R. Crim. P. 32(f)(1). If the defendant has been sentenced, a trial court may still grant a motion to withdraw a guilty plea before the judgment becomes final but only "to correct manifest injustice." Tenn. R. Crim. P. 32(f)(2). Our supreme court has held that "a judgment of conviction entered upon a guilty plea becomes final thirty days after acceptance of the plea agreement and imposition of the sentence." State v. Green, 106 S.W.3d 646, 650 (Tenn. 2003). "Whether a ...

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