Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
WILLIAM T. JOHNSON
STATE OF TENNESSEE
Assigned on Briefs October 21, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Hamilton County No. 284499 Don W. Poole, Judge
John Allen Brooks, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, William T. Johnson.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; Neal Pinkston, District Attorney General; and Jason Demastus, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Kelly Thomas, Jr., J., joined. James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., filed a separate concurring opinion.
ROBERT L. HOLLOWAY, JR., Judge.
The Jury Trial
Following a jury trial, the Petitioner was convicted of aggravated criminal trespass, theft under $500, and two counts of robbery. He was sentenced to 11 months and 29 days each for aggravated criminal trespass and theft under $500 and to 15 years for each robbery conviction. The trial court ordered the 15-year sentences for robbery to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the Petitioner's other two sentences.
Following review on direct appeal, this Court affirmed the Petitioner's judgments of conviction, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied the Petitioner's application for permission to appeal. State v. William Toby Johnson, No. E2009-02374-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 4436616 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 26, 2011), perm. to app. denied (Tenn. Jan. 11, 2012).
The Petitioner subsequently filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging numerous grounds. After the appointment of counsel, an amended petition was filed, in which the Petitioner alleged that he had been denied effective assistance of counsel at trial. On January 22, 2014, the matter was heard.
Testimony of Trial Counsel
At the post-conviction relief hearing, the Petitioner's trial counsel testified that he had practiced law for over 20 years and had worked in criminal defense since 1998. He estimated that he had conducted "75 plus" criminal trials. Trial counsel explained that another attorney was initially appointed to represent the Petitioner and had developed the case with the help of an investigator. Following his appointment, trial counsel received the complete file from the other attorney. Trial counsel met with the Petitioner five or six times to make sure he "understood [the Petitioner's] position in regard to the case." Counsel recalled that the Petitioner received a plea offer for a 10-year sentence and then a second offer for eight years, but the Petitioner rejected both offers and went to trial.
Trial counsel testified that while the jury was deliberating, he received permission from the trial court to leave the courthouse to coach a middle school basketball game. Trial counsel had an attorney from his office come to the courtroom to wait with the Petitioner. Trial counsel testified that he was "in telephone communication with [the stand-in attorney] the entire time." Counsel did not remember if he got permission from the Petitioner before leaving. Counsel explained, however, that attorneys frequently leave court to go to their offices or do other things while a jury deliberates. Trial counsel felt "absolutely certain" that his absence would not affect the outcome of the case. Counsel received a phone call when the jury reached its verdict, and ...