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Green v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville, Nashville

December 22, 2014


Assigned on Briefs October 29, 2014

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011C2562 Cheryl A. Blackburn, Judge

Morgan E. Smith, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Joseph Howard Green, Jr.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson III, District Attorney General; and Bret Gunn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee. State of Tennessee.

JOHN EVERETT WILLIAMS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROGER A. PAGE and ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., JJ., joined.



Facts and Procedural History

This case arose out of an altercation between the petitioner and the victim during which the petitioner stabbed and killed the victim. Prior to the guilty plea hearing, Drs. Kimberly Brown and Thomas Xavier interviewed the petitioner and concluded that he was competent to stand trial. They also recommended that the petitioner continue to receive and to comply with mental health services at the jail to maintain his competency. They further found that an insanity defense would be unsuccessful because the evidence did not suggest that the petitioner was experiencing a mental illness that left him unable to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of his actions during the incident with the victim.

At the petitioner's guilty plea hearing, the State set forth the following facts as the underlying basis for the petitioner's guilty plea:

If this case had gone to trial, the State's proof would be that on July the 8th of 2011, I think it would be undisputed, that [the petitioner] owed the victim in this case, Mr. Robert Burris (phonetic), some money. I think it would further be the proof that Mr. Burris wanted his money and had made some overtures toward [the petitioner] about getting his money. That was the situation when Mr. Burris rode by [the petitioner's] house on July the 8th of 2011 with his cousin, a Ms. Samelta Glen (phonetic), in her vehicle. She was driving. Mr. Burris told Ms. Glen to stop the vehicle when he saw [the petitioner]. And, of course, he knew [the petitioner] owed him money. So he jumped out and went over and confronted [the petitioner] about the money. That confrontation turned into a fight. At one point Mr. Burris walked away back to the vehicle and was fine at that point. But then there were some more words, and Mr. Burris left the vehicle and went back and engaged with [the petitioner] again. It was during that second time that [the petitioner] stabbed Mr. Burris with a knife, and that ultimately caused Mr. Burris to die. This was here on 4395 Summertime Drive. I think this occurred in front of the [petitioner]'s house.

The petitioner told the trial court that he signed a petition to enter a plea of guilty to the reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter and a six-year sentence. He was a Range II, multiple offender based upon his prior felony convictions. The petitioner was serving a six-year sentence for a probation violation at the time of the hearing, and he agreed that he understood he would serve his sentence for voluntary manslaughter consecutively to his six-year sentence. He asked the court if he would receive any pretrial jail credit for the voluntary manslaughter charge, and the court informed him that he would receive pretrial credit for the period of time from when he was arrested for second degree murder to the point when he was served with his probation violation.

The trial court informed the petitioner that he was charged with second degree murder. The court explained the elements of second degree murder and told the petitioner that he faced a potential sentence of fifteen to twenty-five years. The court then defined the elements of voluntary manslaughter, explaining that the difference between the crimes was that a voluntary manslaughter killing resulted from a "heat of passion." The court explained that as a Range II offender, the petitioner faced a sentence of six to ten years' incarceration. The petitioner agreed that counsel had discussed the crime for which he was initially charged, the crime to which he was pleading guilty, and the respective ranges of punishment. The petitioner agreed that he had thoroughly discussed his case with counsel and that she had explained to him the petition to enter a plea of guilty. The petitioner also confirmed that he understood that the conviction for voluntary manslaughter would remain permanently on his record.

The petitioner stated that he had received his high school diploma and that he was able to read. The petitioner stated that he normally took medication but that he was not medicated at the time of the hearing. He recalled that he took Risperdal, Cogentin, and Zyloprim, but he could not remember the names of all of his medications. The petitioner typically took his medication in the evening, but he did not take it the evening prior to the guilty plea hearing because he fell asleep early and missed "pill call." The court asked if his lack of medication was affecting his understanding of the proceedings, and he responded, "Not really, " and confirmed that he was aware that he was pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. The court again asked the petitioner if he was affected by his lack of medication, and he replied, "Somewhat." He explained that he did not believe that he should have been charged with a crime in this case. The court interrupted the petitioner to clarify that it was not asking whether he believed that he should not have been indicted but whether he understood the guilty plea proceedings. The petitioner again reiterated that he was "[s]omewhat" affected by not taking his medication, and he contended that the effect was his failure to understand why he was being charged with a crime. The court asked if the petitioner wanted to plead guilty and explained that by pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter, the petitioner would be admitting that he intentionally and knowingly killed another person but that his will was "overborn" at the time of the killing.

After a conference between the petitioner and counsel, the trial court again defined the elements of voluntary manslaughter. In an attempt to clarify some of the petitioner's confusion, the prosecutor told the court that he believed that the petitioner was trying to communicate to the court that he felt like he acted in self-defense in killing the victim. The prosecutor conceded that the petitioner had "a decent argument about self-defense." As a result, the prosecutor offered the plea agreement, which was a compromise between the sentence the petitioner could receive at trial and a complete acquittal. The petitioner confirmed that he believed he acted in self-defense when he expressed confusion as to why he was charged with a crime, and he confirmed that he understood the plea agreement was a compromise between a guilty verdict as to second degree murder and a complete acquittal. However, when asked a second time if he understood that the plea agreement was a compromise, the following exchange occurred between the court and the petitioner:

Petitioner: Somewhat. But I don't think -- I don't --
Trial Court: Well, I mean, if you don't want to plead guilty, that's fine. I'm just trying to find out that you are making this decision, this is your voluntary choice, and that you are making this after you've discussed this with everybody and you've chosen to do this but the fact that you haven't taken your medication is not affecting your decision. That's all I'm trying to find out so . . .
Petitioner: I understand
Trial Court: You do understand. So this is what you ...

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