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Scott v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 21, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs February 15, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2011-B-1498 Seth W. Norman, Judge

         After pleading guilty to one count of aggravated child abuse, Petitioner sought unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty plea. Subsequently, Petitioner sought post- conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, among other things. The post-conviction court denied relief, and Petitioner appeals. After a review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Jesse Lords, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Mitchell Nathaniel Scott.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Robert W. Wilson, Assistant Attorney General; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and Jennifer Smith, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

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



         Petitioner was indicted in May of 2011 by the Davidson County Grand Jury for two counts of aggravated child abuse and two counts of aggravated child neglect after his two-year-old son received second degree burns from scalding water in a bathtub. On January 28, 2013, Petitioner entered a best interest, open, guilty plea to one count of aggravated child abuse in exchange for the dismissal of the remaining counts of the indictment. Prior to sentencing, Petitioner attempted to withdraw the plea. The trial court held a hearing and denied the motion, finding that Petitioner did not provide sufficient justification to facilitate the withdrawal of his guilty plea. After a sentencing hearing, Petitioner was sentenced to seventeen years as a violent offender.

         On direct appeal, Petitioner challenged the trial court's denial of the motion to withdraw his guilty plea. See State v. Mitchell Nathaniel Scott, No. M2013-01169-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 1669964, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 25, 2014), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 18, 2014). This Court affirmed the denial of the motion, determining that the trial court properly examined the factors set forth in State v. Phelps, 329 S.W.3d 436 (Tenn. 2010). This Court determined that "the balance of the factors did not weigh in favor of [Petitioner]" and the trial court properly held that Petitioner "did not provide sufficient justification for the withdrawal of his plea." Mitchell Nathaniel Scott, 2014 WL 1669964, at *7.

         Petitioner then filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the State withheld exculpatory evidence. Counsel was appointed and an amended petition was filed. The amended petition alleged that trial counsel was ineffective by: (1) failing to meet with Petitioner; (2) failing to properly investigate the case prior to trial; (3) failing to interview witnesses; and (4) failing to file a motion to withdraw the guilty plea within a reasonable time of being instructed to do so by his client.

         At the hearing on the petition for post-conviction relief, Petitioner testified that he informed trial counsel of a potential problem with the indictment prior to trial. Specifically, Petitioner was concerned about the fact that he was charged in a four-count indictment when "the incident only occurred one time." He asked trial counsel to "fix" the indictment, but trial counsel informed him that the "DA was going off of his own theories of the incident." Petitioner admitted that trial counsel explained to him that the indictment reflected alternative counts and that he did not ask any clarifying questions.

         Trial counsel provided Petitioner with discovery in early summer of 2012, but they did not discuss the contents of the discovery until "like right before trial." They discussed Petitioner's "other cases" that were pending at the time. Petitioner explained that trial counsel was "going with the common-sense approach about the case, " meaning that trial counsel was going to try to show that the burns on the victim were accidental rather than intentional. Petitioner recalled that trial counsel explained the defense to him by telling him that the State "couldn't prove intent." Petitioner claimed that he was unhappy with this trial strategy, and asked trial counsel if he could get his sister, girlfriend, cousin, and brother to testify. To Petitioner's knowledge, trial counsel never interviewed these witnesses. Petitioner also asked trial counsel to get "the hot water maintenance report from where . . . first they repaired the hot water heater, and then they replaced it a few weeks later." According to Petitioner, trial counsel stated that the maintenance records were not "relevant to the case" even though the police department essentially conceded that there was a malfunction with the water heater.

         Petitioner testified that trial counsel did not explain the ramifications of the guilty plea. According to Petitioner, on the morning of trial, while seated at the defense table, he looked at trial counsel and told him that he wanted to plead guilty. Petitioner did not recall if trial counsel went over the plea petition or if he read it in its entirety. Petitioner thought that he discussed a plea agreement with trial counsel but could not "recall the actual conversation." Petitioner explained that entering the plea was his attempt to get out of going to trial because he did not think that trial counsel was prepared for ...

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