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Butler v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 6, 2017

CORDELL L. BUTLER
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs June 21, 2016

         Direct Appeal from the Criminal Court for Davidson County No. 2013-C-2570 Steve R. Dozier, Judge.

         The Petitioner, Cordell L. Butler, filed in the Davidson County Criminal Court a petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of conspiracy to sell over fifty grams of hydromorphone and possession of over fifty grams of hydromorphone. The Petitioner alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective and that his guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary. The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon 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.

          Holly L. Troutman, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Appellant, Cordell L. Butler.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; Glenn R. Funk, District Attorney General; and J. Wesley King and Edward S. Ryan, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.

          NORMA MCGEE OGLE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which JOHN EVERETT Williams and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          NORMA MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE.

         I. Factual Background

         The Petitioner was charged with conspiracy to sell fifty grams or more of a substance containing hydromorphone, a Schedule II controlled substance, within a school zone; possession of fifty grams or more of a substance containing hydromorphone with intent to sell within a school zone; and being a convicted felon in possession of a weapon. The potential sentence for each drug offense was sixty years, and the weapon offense had a potential sentence of three to fifteen years. In exchange for the dismissal of the weapon charge and the school zone enhancement, the Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to sell over fifty grams of hydromorphone and possession of over fifty grams of hydromorphone, Class A felonies. The plea agreement provided that the Petitioner would be sentenced as an especially mitigated offender to concurrent sentences of twenty years for each offense and that he would be eligible for release after serving twenty percent of the sentences in confinement.

         At the June 19, 2014 guilty plea hearing, the Petitioner told the trial court that he understood the plea agreement, that he knew the rights he was waiving by entering his guilty pleas, that his guilty pleas were not the result of threats, and that he was satisfied with trial counsel. The State recited the following factual basis for the pleas:

[I]f the State's witnesses were called to testify, they would testify that with regard to count one, conspiracy charges, police were investigating a drug conspiracy that began in June of 2012 through May of 2013 where co-defendants James Hannah, Ricky Vaughn and others were selling large quantities of Dilaudid pills. The [Petitioner] from time to time assisted that conspiracy on some occasions he could transport the defendants to the Nashville airport for [the] purpose of them going out of town to pick up the pills.
[Regarding the possession charges, ] on April 10th, 2010, [the Petitioner] was arrested at the [G]reyhound bus station at 709 5th Avenue South. He was in possession of 4, 815 Dilaudid pills that he obtained from New York.

         Thereafter, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective and that his guilty pleas were not knowing and voluntary. At the post-conviction hearing, the Petitioner testified that he met with trial counsel two or three times prior to accepting the State's offer. Each meeting lasted fifteen or twenty minutes. The Petitioner said that he thought trial counsel was "a fine attorney" and "a good guy" but that he had "a lot . . . on his plate" and was "just a little overworked and overwhelmed" because he was transitioning from the public defender's office to private practice.

         The Petitioner said that the discovery materials included six compact discs (CDs) of recordings from wiretaps. The Petitioner and trial counsel discussed the discovery materials, but the Petitioner could not listen to the CDs because he did not have a device to play the discs or a transcript of the recordings. The Petitioner acknowledged that he saw the "takedown reports" and some supplemental reports from the Metro Nashville Police Department.

         The Petitioner said that he wanted counsel to file a motion to suppress and take his case to trial instead of accepting a plea offer. The Petitioner thought evidence that pills were found on him at the jail would be suppressed because of Detective Young's preliminary hearing testimony that the Petitioner had no drugs or weapons when he was arrested. Nevertheless, trial counsel did not have the preliminary hearing transcribed and advised the Petitioner to accept a plea offer instead of pursuing the suppression issue. Trial counsel warned the Petitioner that the State would rescind plea offers and would not make any other offers if the Petitioner filed the motion. Additionally, trial counsel advised the Petitioner that he would likely receive a sentence of sixty years if he were convicted at trial. The Petitioner said that trial counsel did not discuss any potential defenses and discussed only the plea offer. The Petitioner said that he "felt threatened because [trial counsel said] if [the Petitioner went] through with a suppression hearing [he] would get 60 years, [he] would get this much time and never get an offer."

         The Petitioner said that he thought the reason counsel never discussed a defense was because trial counsel was "busy." Nevertheless, the Petitioner said that he ...


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