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Adams v. Lindamood

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 13, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Wayne County No. 15849 Robert L. Jones, Judge

         The Appellant, Montez Adams, appeals the trial court's summary dismissal of his petition seeking habeas corpus relief. The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. Said motion is hereby granted.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Trial Court Affirmed Pursuant to Rule 20, Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals

          Andrea D. Sipes, Jackson, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Montez Adams.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General & Reporter; Brent C. Cherry, Senior Counsel, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert W. Wedemeyer and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ. joined.


          Thomas T. Woodall, Presiding Judge

         The Appellant and several co-defendants were charged in a four-count indictment on September 30, 1996, with first degree murder committed during the perpetration of especially aggravated burglary (felony murder), especially aggravated burglary, conspiracy to commit especially aggravated burglary, and theft of property. He was convicted on all four counts. State v. Montez Antuan Adams et al., No.02C01-9709-CC-00352, 1998 WL 556174 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sep. 1, 1998). This Court affirmed the judgments of conviction, as modified. Id. The Appellant was ultimately unsuccessful in his pursuit of post-conviction relief. Montez Antuan Adams v. State, No. W2004-01013-CCA-R3-PC, 2005 WL 1105185 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 6, 2005). The Appellant then pursued the instant habeas corpus action.

         At issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly dismissed his challenge to the sufficiency of the first count of the indictment charging him with felony murder. Count One of the indictment charged, in relevant part:

[The Appellant] on or about June 3, 1996, in Madison County, and before the finding of this indictment, did unlawfully and recklessly kill [the victim] during the perpetration of Especially Aggravated Burglary, in violation of T.C.A. §39-13-202, all of which is against the peace and dignity of the State of Tennessee.

         According to his argument, that count of the indictment listed an incorrect mens rea for the offense of felony murder. The trial court dismissed the habeas corpus petition without a hearing. The Appellant appealed, and the State has filed a motion to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. For the reasons stated below, said motion is hereby granted.

         Article I, Section 15 of the Tennessee Constitution guarantees the right to seek habeas corpus relief, and Tennessee Code Annotated Sections 29-21-101 et seq. codify the applicable procedures for seeking such a writ. The grounds upon which our law provides relief are very narrow, however. McLaney v. Bell, 59 S.W.3d 90, 92 (Tenn. 2001). Habeas corpus relief is available in this state only when it appears on the face of the judgment or the record of the proceedings that the trial court was without jurisdiction to convict or sentence the defendant or that the sentence of imprisonment has otherwise expired. Archer v. State, 851 S.W.2d 157, 164 (Tenn. 1993). In other words, habeas corpus relief may only be sought when the judgment is void, not merely voidable. Taylor v. State, 995 S.W.2d 78, 83 (Tenn. 1999). "[W]here the allegations in a petition for writ of habeas corpus do not demonstrate that the judgment is void, a trial court may correctly dismiss the petition without a hearing." McLaney, 59 S.W.3d at 93.

         "[T]he validity of an indictment and the efficacy of the resulting conviction may be addressed in a petition for habeas corpus when the indictment is so defective as to deprive the court of jurisdiction." Dykes v. Compton, 978 S.W.2d 528, 529 (Tenn.1998). However, so long as the indictment performs its essential constitutional and statutory purposes, habeas corpus relief is not warranted. Id. An indictment passes constitutional muster if it provides: (1) notice of the charge against which the accused must defend himself; (2) an adequate basis for the entry of a proper judgment; and (3) protection of the accused from double jeopardy. State v. Hill, 954 S.W.2d 725, 727 (Tenn. 1997). In addition, an indictment must "state the facts constituting the offense in ordinary and concise language, without prolixity or repetition, in such a manner as to enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended, and with that degree of certainty which will enable the court, on conviction, to pronounce the proper judgment." Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-13-202.

          At the time of the offenses in this case, the first degree murder statute provided that felony murder was the "killing of another committed in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any first degree murder, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse or aircraft piracy." Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202(a)(2) (1997). That statute provides that "[n]o culpable mental state is required" for felony murder "except the intent to commit" the underlying felony." § 39-13-202(b). As noted above, however, the indictment in this case recited the language of the first degree murder statute before it was amended in 1995 when felony murder was defined as the "reckless killing of another committed" during the underlying felony. See Tenn. Code Ann. ยง 39-13-202(a)(2) (1991). Contrary to the State's assertion, the effective date of the 1995 amendment was July 1, 1995, not July 1, 1996. 1995 Tenn. Pub. Ch. 460 (S.B. 1749). Thus, the Appellant faced prosecution under the statute as ...

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