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Lajeniss v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

July 7, 2015


Assigned on Briefs March 25, 2015

Appeal from the Criminal Court for Sullivan County No. C60, 687 Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., Judge

C. Brad Sproles, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the Appellant, David Anthony LaJeniss.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Senior Counsel; Barry Staubus, District Attorney General; and William Harper, 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

Guilty Plea Proceedings

The Sullivan County Grand Jury indicted the Petitioner with one count of attempted first degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault.[1] The Petitioner pleaded guilty to both counts of aggravated assault, which were merged. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the Petitioner was sentenced out of range to twelve years' incarceration with a 30% release eligibility. The attempted first degree murder charge was dismissed.

During the plea colloquy, the trial court explained that a Range I sentence for aggravated assault normally carried three to six years and a Range III sentence normally carried ten to fifteen years. The Petitioner affirmed that he understood the charges against him, their respective ranges of punishment, and that he was not a Range III offender. Additionally, the following exchange took place:

THE COURT: Now, I'm sure your attorney also explained to you that if you went to trial on this attempt to commit first-degree murder that that's a Class A felony and it carries 15 to 25 years and so it would appear probably what you're doing is agreeing to a longer sentence but at a lower percentage. Is that what you're doing as part of your plea agreement in this case?
THE COURT: Now do you have any questions about that?
[THE PETITIONER]: No, sir, I just wanted to ask if you could file for immediate transfer.

The trial court informed the Petitioner of his rights to a trial by jury, to have representation during a trial, to be present at the trial, to cross-examine witnesses, to maintain his innocence, to call his own witnesses, to remain silent, and to appeal. The Petitioner affirmed that he understood these rights and that he knowingly and voluntarily gave them up in exchange for the plea agreement. The Petitioner denied being forced, threatened, coerced, intimidated, or pressured into accepting the plea agreement. He also stated that he was not under the influence of any drug or narcotic.

The State made the following offer of proof:

[O]n July the 7th, 2010[, ] officers with the Kingsport Police Department were called to 1501 Waverly Road in Kingsport, Sullivan County. When they arrived there they found the victim in this case whose name was Lloyd Allen McDavid who had been beaten and assaulted by three individuals, Mr. Troy Bartley, Mr. Andrew Goldbach, and [the Petitioner]. The State's proof would be that, on that evening Mr. McDavid was walking in the area of the Waverly Road near the back of the laundry mat when he ran into those three individuals who produced an axe handle as well as a knife and began threatening Mr. McDavid calling him a snitch. Evidently Mr. Bartley had learned that Mr. McDavid had been cooperating with the Kingsport Vice Unit and the three of those individuals then began attacking Mr. McDavid hitting him several times in the head, kicking him in the body. As a result of this assault Mr. McDavid was taken to Holston Valley Hospital where he was treated for various injuries including a broken left arm . . . .

Before entering his plea, the Petitioner confirmed his satisfaction with the representation of trial counsel. After accepting the Petitioner's plea, the trial court merged both counts of aggravated assault and sentenced the Petitioner to twelve years' incarceration with a Range I 30% release eligibility.

Post-Conviction Proceedings

The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief claiming he received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel failed to, among other things: (1) properly advise the Petitioner about the possibility of his co-defendants' testifying against him at trial; (2) obtain forensic tests of the weapons used in the commission of the offense; (3) interview or subpoena possible defense witnesses; (4) investigate the victim's level of intoxication at the time of the offense; (5) obtain a recorded conversation with the victim that could have been used to impeach the victim's testimony; and (6) advise the Petitioner that he could have filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea within thirty days of its entry. Additionally, the Petitioner claimed that his guilty plea was involuntarily and unknowing.

At the post-conviction hearing, the Petitioner testified that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to "properly" advise him about the possibility that his co-defendants, Troy Bartley and Andrew Goldbach, could testify against him at trial. Trial counsel told the Petitioner that his co-defendants may testify against him. However, the Petitioner claimed that Mr. Goldbach was actually deceased at the time the Petitioner entered his ...

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