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Vaughn v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

August 21, 2014


Assigned on Briefs July 16, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2001-D-1990 Monte D. Watkins, Judge

William L. Vaughn, Wartburg, Tennessee, Pro Se.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Roger D. Moore, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Norma McGee Ogle, JJ., joined.




The petitioner entered pleas of nolo contendere to two counts of aggravated sexual battery and was sentenced to consecutive ten-year terms. On direct appeal, this court affirmed the sentence imposed, and our supreme court denied his application for permission to appeal. State v. William L. Vaughn, No. M2002-01879-CCA-R3-CD, 2003 WL 21877929, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 1, 2003), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 22, 2003). Subsequently, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief, in which he made a number of claims. This court affirmed in part the post-conviction court's denial of those claims and remanded for a hearing on the claims of ineffective counsel. William L. Vaughn v. State, No. M2008-00193-CCA-R3-PC, 2009 WL 1684649, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 17, 2009), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 14, 2009). Following the remand, the post-conviction court conducted an evidentiary hearing, again ruling against the petitioner. He has appealed that second ruling to this court.

The petitioner acknowledges that his 735-page "brief, " filed in support of this appeal, is "large." We agree. Yet, he asserts that it is in compliance with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27(i), which limits the argument section of a brief to 50 pages, because the first 680 pages of this massive filing are styled "Introduction to Argument."[1] He ignores the fact that his "introduction, " itself, contains several hundred pages of legal arguments and case citations. What he then denominates as his "argument" consists of 54 pages rather than 50, as he claims. In spite of this blatant attempt of legerdemain, we will, in the interest of finality, consider this appeal.

In the 2009 remand to the post-conviction court, this court set out the claims as to ineffective assistance of counsel which the petitioner should be allowed to pursue at an evidentiary hearing, limiting these to the ineffective assistance of preliminary hearing counsel, the ineffective assistance of trial counsel at sentencing, other than allegations of a closed sentencing hearing, and the ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.

We will review this matter.


Post-conviction relief "shall be granted when the conviction or sentence is void or voidable because of the abridgment of any right guaranteed by the Constitution of Tennessee or the Constitution of the United States." Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-103 (2012). The petitioner bears the burden of proving factual allegations by clear and convincing evidence. Id. § 40-30-110(f). When an evidentiary hearing is held in the post-conviction setting, the findings of fact made by the court are conclusive on appeal unless the evidence preponderates against them. See Wiley v. State, 183 S.W.3d 317, 325 (Tenn. 2006). When reviewing factual issues, the appellate court will not reweigh the evidence and will instead defer to the post-conviction court's findings as to the credibility of witnesses or the weight of their testimony. Id. However, review of a post-conviction court's application of the law to the facts of the case is de novo, with no presumption of correctness. See Ruff v. State, 978 S.W.2d 95, 96 (Tenn. 1998). The issue of ineffective assistance of counsel, which presents mixed questions of fact and law, is reviewed de novo, with a presumption of correctness given only to the post-conviction court's findings of fact. See Fields v. State, 40 S.W.3d 450, 458 (Tenn. 2001); Burns v. State, 6 S.W.3d 453, 461 (Tenn. 1999).

To establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner has the burden to show both that trial counsel's performance was deficient and that counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the outcome of the proceeding. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984); see State v. Taylor, 968 S.W.2d 900, 905 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1997) (noting that same standard for determining ineffective assistance of ...

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