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State v. Bell

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

March 4, 2015

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
CHRISTOPHER BELL

Assigned on Briefs January 6, 2015.

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Shelby County Nos. 13-02461, 13-02515 Paula Skahan, Judge.

Stephen C. Bush, District Public Defender; Barry W. Kuhn (on appeal) and Kamilah Turner (at plea hearing), Assistant District Public Defenders, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Christopher Bell.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Marques Young, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Roger A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Alan E. Glenn and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.

OPINION

ROGER A. PAGE, JUDGE.

I. Facts

This case arose from two separate incidents. The first occurred on July 1, 2012, when Eileen Williams discovered that someone had entered her home through a broken window. Nothing was stolen from the home. Fingerprints later connected appellant to the home invasion.

The second incident occurred on November 27, 2012. Appellant, age fifteen, went to the door of a seventy-two-year-old woman, Sarah Ann Erwin, under the guise of asking to rake leaves in her yard. However, when Ms. Erwin denied that work was needed, appellant drew a gun, pointed it at Ms. Erwin, and demanded her purse. When Ms. Erwin attempted to close her door, appellant pushed it open. Ms. Erwin then ran into her home to retrieve a weapon but fell in her attempt to escape. When she fell to the ground, appellant shot her. The bullet entered Ms. Erwin's buttocks and lodged in her armpit, damaging her liver, diaphragm, stomach, colon, and breast. Appellant demanded that Ms. Erwin retrieve her purse and made her crawl "on all fours" into the kitchen where her purse was located. Even though the victim indicated the location of her purse after she and appellant had entered the kitchen, appellant demanded that Ms. Erwin retrieve the purse from the table and hand it to him, threatening to shoot her if she did not comply. Ms. Erwin threw her purse to appellant, and appellant ran from her home. As a result of her injuries, Ms. Erwin endured a four-hour surgery, three weeks in the hospital, and three weeks in rehabilitation.

Appellant was later apprehended and was indicted on two counts of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated robbery, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The juvenile court conducted a transfer hearing on November 25, 2013, and transferred appellant's case to criminal court. In criminal court, appellant pleaded guilty to especially aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and aggravated criminal trespass. The trial court sentenced appellant to seventeen years for the especially aggravated robbery conviction, four years for the aggravated burglary conviction, six years for the employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony conviction, and eleven months and twenty-nine days for the aggravated criminal trespass conviction. All sentences were aligned concurrently except the four-year aggravated burglary conviction and the six-year firearm conviction, which were aligned consecutively with one another but concurrently with the remaining sentences, for an effective sentence of seventeen years. As part of his guilty plea, appellant reserved the following certified question: "Whether the statutory requirements for transfer from juvenile court were followed and whether the transfer to Criminal Court was therefore proper."

II. Analysis

Appellant argues that the juvenile court failed to properly consider whether appellant was amenable to rehabilitation prior to transferring appellant's case to criminal court. The State responds that appellant's certified question is not dispositive and that the trial court properly conducted appellant's transfer hearing.

While the State argues that the certified question is not dispositive, this court has stated:

We note that the process of obtaining appellate review of a lawyer juvenile judge's order transferring a child to be tried as an adult is rather awkward. The criminal court has no authority to decline jurisdiction. Thus, the criminal court is put in a position of being forced to dispose of the case on the merits even though an appellate court must later determine whether the decision of the juvenile court transferring the child to the criminal court was correct. Thus, it appears that in order to review the decision of the lawyer juvenile judge, the juvenile in criminal court must either (1) enter a plea of not guilty and thus preserve the issue for review, if convicted, or (2) reserve the issue on a plea of guilty or nolo contendere pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(i) or (b)(2)(iv) of the Tennessee ...

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