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Holland v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 3, 2014


Assigned on Briefs September 9, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011-D-3597 Cheryl Blackburn, Judge

Ryan C. Caldwell, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lonnie Lanorris Holland, Jr.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson III, District Attorney General; and Brett Gunn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



The June 21, 2012 conviction judgment contained in the record shows that the petitioner pleaded guilty to second degree murder and received a sentence of 15 years' confinement. The petitioner's timely petition for post-conviction relief claimed that he was coerced into pleading guilty as a result of his trial counsel's deficiencies in not challenging a lineup identification and in not investigating or otherwise preparing the case.

The post-conviction court conducted an evidentiary hearing. Exhibited to the hearing was a transcript of the petitioner's guilty plea submission hearing in which the prosecutor stated the factual basis for a conviction. In September 2011, the victim and the eyewitness to the homicide were washing cars on Clarksville Pike in Nashville when an "SUV" pulled up, drove away, and then returned. The victim went to speak to the driver, perhaps about the price of a car wash, and the eyewitness heard a gunshot. The eyewitness turned in time to see the driver of the "SUV" shoot the victim again. He later identified the petitioner as the shooter.

The petitioner testified in the evidentiary hearing that his trial attorney "was more leaning for me to take the plea instead of going through and fighting the case." He admitted that he "understood what was going on" and that his attorney advised him of possible defenses. The petitioner testified, however, that his counsel should have moved to suppress a lineup identification. He stated that the other persons in the lineup did not resemble him at all.

The petitioner said that he had an alibi defense and that he had informed counsel that, at the time of the homicide, the petitioner was "home with [his] mother" after he had picked up his two children from the babysitter. He said that counsel replied "that it wouldn't be a good enough of an alibi."

The petitioner opined that counsel's lack of effort on his behalf stemmed from the petitioner's inability to give counsel "the full payment [all at] once."

On cross-examination, the petitioner admitted that counsel's efforts to persuade the petitioner to accept a plea offer consisted of counsel's opining that the plea offer was a good one. The petitioner said that he "really didn't want to take the plea" but that counsel "kept elaborating on if I don't take this plea that I could be . . . getting a life sentence or sixty years to life." The petitioner admitted that his trial counsel did not yell or threaten the petitioner. The petitioner testified that "it had me feeling like if I go to trial with him I don't think he's going to give me his best fight." He admitted that during his plea submission hearing he told the judge that his trial counsel had done everything that the petitioner wanted done and that counsel "did a pretty good job"; however, in the post-conviction hearing, he branded these statements as lies. The petitioner posited that, after he went to prison and reviewed cases in the law library, he decided that he "should have said something" during the plea submission hearing. The petitioner testified that, because his plea was a best interest plea, he believed he would have a subsequent opportunity to challenge the plea.

The petitioner's trial counsel testified that he had 35 years' experience in a law practice that was 99 percent criminal law in nature. He testified that he availed himself of the State's open-file discovery, participated in two preliminary hearings, utilized an investigator from the beginning of the case, visited the homicide scene, took photographs, and made diagrams. Counsel testified that he reviewed the collected materials with the petitioner. Counsel believed that, had the petitioner been convicted following a trial, his sentencing prognosis was grim because the petitioner was on probation for a manslaughter conviction at the time of the offense. Counsel denied ever telling a client to accept a plea offer; instead, he counseled clients to think about any offer in view of the risks. Counsel stated that he told the petitioner why he thought the plea offer was fair. Counsel reminded the court that counsel was not dealing with a "rookie, " that the petitioner "had been through the system, " and that he and the petitioner "had a very good working relationship." Counsel testified that he absolutely did not pressure the petitioner.

Counsel stated that had the case developed further toward a trial, he would have moved to suppress the lineup identification. Counsel testified, however, that he did not feel he would prevail on such a motion because the possible taint in the witness's identification did not occur by the hand of law enforcement personnel. Also, counsel was ...

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