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Gatlin v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 23, 2017

WILLIAM B. GATLIN
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          February 14, 2017 Session

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Marshall County No. 25-CR-157-PCR F. Lee Russell, Judge

         Petitioner, William B. Gatlin, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. Petitioner alleges that the jury at his original trial was subjected to an improper outside influence, thereby violating his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury. Petitioner also contends that the post-conviction judge was disqualified and should have recused himself because he had also presided as the trial judge in Petitioner's original trial. Upon our review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

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

          Casey A. Long, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, William Bryan Gatlin.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Clark B. Thornton, Senior Counsel; Robert J. Carter, District Attorney General; and Weakley E. Barnard, 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.

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         In 2013, Petitioner was convicted by a jury of one count of possession of marijuana with intent to sell, one count of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. The trial court merged the marijuana convictions and imposed a total effective sentence of two years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days. On direct appeal, Petitioner challenged the trial court's denial of "his motion to suppress the evidence obtained during the knock-and-talk encounter and the warrantless entry into his apartment" as well as the sufficiency of the evidence. State v. William Bryan Gatlin, No. M2013-02440-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 59746, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 2, 2015), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 22, 2015). This Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. Id. at *1.

         With the assistance of counsel, Petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief. As pertinent to this appeal, Petitioner alleged a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury based on a newspaper editorial that claimed that the jury was kept in the courtroom for eleven hours with only a lunch break and that at least one juror had doubts about the guilty verdict.[1] Petitioner argued that this editorial suggested that the jury "reached their verdict under an improper motivation, " basing their decision to find Petitioner guilty "upon their desire to terminate their duties and be released to go home and not . . . upon the sufficiency of the evidence."

         At a status hearing on January 8, 2016, counsel apparently sought recusal of the Honorable F. Lee Russell as the post-conviction judge because he had also presided as the trial judge.[2] Judge Russell granted a continuance for counsel to submit a brief on the issue. Counsel filed a brief on January 26, 2016, arguing that a trial judge is statutorily disqualified from hearing a subsequent post-conviction petition that does not allege ineffective assistance of counsel. On February 17, 2016, the Honorable Forest A. Durard, Jr., presiding judge for the Seventeenth Judicial District, designated Judge Russell to hear the post-conviction petition, finding that as "the judge who originally presided over Petitioner's case . . . he would be most familiar with the same." A post-conviction evidentiary hearing was held on March 11, 2016.

         At the beginning of the hearing, post-conviction counsel confirmed that there was no allegation of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The post-conviction court inquired whether trial counsel was aware of the allegation made in the editorial and whether the issue was waived for failing to address it on direct appeal. Post-conviction counsel said that the editorial was published after the appeal was filed but before it was heard.[3] Trial counsel was present during the post-conviction hearing but did not testify. Petitioner also did not testify.

         The first witness to testify was Karen Hall, the author of an editorial in the Marshall County Tribune that referenced, without mentioning any specific names, Petitioner's original trial. Ms. Hall explained that the editorial was intended to "work people up about the local elections" and encourage people to "speak their mind if they were unhappy and needed more time to think or weren't ready to decide." Ms. Hall testified that her daughter, Maria Hall, had served as a juror on Petitioner's trial. Juror Hall told her mother that she felt that the jury had been "asked to stay too long and they were tired and they couldn't hold out and make a good decision." Ms. Hall testified that she believed her daughter was a truthful person.

         The editorial was entered into evidence and reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

The Tribune has been informed that law enforcement and the District Attorney's office recently needed - or wanted - to finish a jury trial in one day. By the time the jurors retired to deliberate, they had been in the courtroom, except for a lunch break, for 11 hours. A member of the jury told me all they wanted to do was find the defendant guilty so they could go home. This particular jury member had some doubts about the evidence, and didn't think "guilty" was the right verdict, but just didn't have the will to keep the other jurors there to argue it out.
Making the jurors work until after 9 p.m. wasn't fair on them, and wasn't fair on the defendant.
. . . Jury members could have spoken up and said, "We're tired, we can't think any more - please let us go home and come back to finish this tomorrow!"

         Ms. Hall admitted that she did not verify the information that Juror Hall told her because she was writing an editorial rather than a news story. Ms. Hall testified that since the publication of her editorial, she had received a letter from Judge Russell informing her that the allegation about the lack of breaks was incorrect. The letter, dated May 12, 2014, was entered into evidence. The letter stated that the judge had reviewed the trial transcript and determined that the jury received the following breaks:

10:57 A.M. - 11:30 A.M.
12:26 P.M. - 1:32 P.M. (lunch break)
2:02 P.M. - 2:20 P.M.
4:24 P.M. (offer and jury declined break)
5:36 P.M. - 5:41 P.M.
6:19 P.M. - 7:32 P.M. (supper break)
9:03 P.M. (jury excused for deliberations and invited to take whatever breaks they needed to take during deliberations and that if any one of them was too tired to continue that night all twelve would need to come back the next morning to continue deliberations)

         Next, Maria Hall testified that she served as a juror on Petitioner's trial. She remembered that she arrived at the courthouse for jury selection around "quarter to nine in the morning, " that the trial started "sometime after lunch, " and that she was released from her duty as a juror "sometime after nine." It was sometime after dark when the jury started their deliberations. She could not remember how long she and the other jurors deliberated, but she did not "think it was more than an hour."

         Juror Hall testified that she was originally of the opinion that Petitioner was not guilty of "dealing drugs." She did not believe that a certain piece of evidence was a tally sheet of drug sales. She expressed her opinion to the other jurors but was not successful in convincing them. Juror Hall eventually voted guilty because she was under the impression that the jury had to come to a unanimous decision. Juror Hall testified that she did not understand what a "hung jury" was at the time. Juror Hall testified that the jury was not offered the opportunity to go home for the night and return the following day to continue deliberations. She stated that she would have accepted that offer because she was anxious to get home to feed animals in her care. However, she was not sure that a break would have changed her ...


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