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State v. Hamilton

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

July 6, 2015


Session March 25, 2015

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 102689 Bobby R. McGee, Judge

Stephen Ross Johnson, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant

Gary Hamilton. Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Senior Counsel; Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General; and Ashley McDermott, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Robert L. Holloway, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which John Everett Williams and Norma McGee Ogle, JJ., joined.



Factual and Procedural Background

The Defendant was employed at Fulton High School as the in-school suspension ("ISS") teacher's assistant. M.C.[1] was placed on ISS because he had violated the school dress code and was escorted to the Defendant's classroom. The Defendant asked for M.C.'s name when M.C. entered the classroom, but M.C. did not respond and simply walked to a desk at the back of the room. The Defendant again asked M.C. for his name, and M.C. mumbled something in response. The Defendant asked M.C. for his name a third time, and M.C. "responded loudly and with a rude tone."

M.C.'s teacher had not provided the Defendant or M.C. with work for M.C. to complete while in ISS. The Defendant allowed M.C. to leave the ISS classroom with a hall pass in order to retrieve his work from his teacher. The Defendant expected M.C. to return within ten minutes.

M.C. did not return for twenty minutes. During that time, the Defendant received a phone call from Assistant Principal Ara Rickman ("Principal Rickman"), advising the Defendant that she had seen M.C. in the hallway and that the Defendant should not have allowed M.C. to leave the ISS classroom. When M.C. returned, he did not have the hall pass. The Defendant asked where M.C. had been, and M.C. responded in a rude tone, "Upstairs." The Defendant asked where M.C. had left the hall pass, and M.C. responded, "I don't know, I left it somewhere." Because M.C. was speaking to the Defendant in a rude manner, the Defendant told him to report to Principal Rickman's office. M.C. protested and "was slow to follow [the Defendant's] instructions[.]" A shouting match ensued, and the Defendant followed M.C. into the hallway.

Once in the hallway, M.C. and the Defendant engaged in an altercation. The Defendant pushed M.C. against a wall to restrain him. While M.C. was pinned against the wall, both he and the Defendant hit each other. The school band director, a school administrator, and the school resource officer heard the commotion, and by the time they arrived, the Defendant had restrained M.C. on the floor. While the school resource officer was attempting to separate the Defendant and M.C., the Defendant punched M.C. in the face.

The Defendant was escorted outside where he spoke with members of the school administration. Later that day, he provided a written statement of what had occurred, as well as a letter of resignation. Ultimately, the Defendant was terminated from his position and charged with assault.

The Defendant applied for pretrial diversion and submitted fourteen letters of support written on his behalf by members of his family, members of his church, and former co-workers. In his application, the Defendant pointed to his resignation letter to show that he "felt that his response to [M.C.]'s conduct that day was not befitting that of a teacher or teaching assistant" and noted that "he has consistently exhibited a humble and remorseful attitude about what happened." Further, the Defendant stated that he did not have a criminal history. The Defendant noted that he had exhibited good behavior since the incident and had found another job. He also claimed that denial of pretrial diversion was not necessary to deter others from committing similar crimes and that he was amenable to correction. Additionally, the pretrial diversion application illustrates that people who knew the Defendant viewed this as an isolated incident; that the Defendant had a close, stable, and supportive family; that he was an engaged and successful student in high school, had entered the work force after two years of college, and had returned to school at the age of forty to complete a bachelor's degree while continuing to work full-time; that he had worked continuously since leaving college in 1985; that he was generous with his time and energy and wanted to help people; that he was active in his church; that he was devoted to his family; and that he did not drink alcoholic beverages or take illegal drugs.

The district attorney general denied pretrial diversion. In his written denial, the district attorney general considered (1) the circumstances of the offense; (2) the Defendant's criminal record, social history, and present condition including mental and physical conditions; (3) the deterrent effect on other criminal activity; (4) the Defendant's amenability to correction; and (5) whether pretrial diversion would serve the ends of justice and the best interests of both the public and the Defendant.

As to the circumstances of the offense, the district attorney general described the Defendant as the "aggressor" and noted that the Defendant had "acknowledged that his actions 'put him in a bad light.'" Further, the district attorney general expressed concern about "inconsistencies" between the Defendant's written statement immediately following the incident and his account of the facts in his application for pretrial diversion.

As to the Defendant's social history, the district attorney general concluded that the Defendant had a good reputation in the community; was loving, respectful, and a positive role model; and was hard-working, reliable, and helpful. The district attorney general gave the Defendant "credit" for a positive social history and lack of criminal record but found "that the other factors which support prosecution significantly outweigh the positive effect of these facts." The district attorney general also noted that the Defendant's application did not ...

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