Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Schaeffer v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

October 6, 2017

TYLER JAMES SCHAEFFER
v.
STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Assigned on Briefs March 21, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sevier County No. 17872-III Rex H. Ogle, Judge

         This case should serve as a cautionary tale for any prosecutor, defense attorney, or trial court who attempts to negotiate or accept a guilty plea involving concurrent state and federal sentencing. Petitioner, Tyler James Schaeffer, pled guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of aggravated assault, nine counts of vehicular assault, and one count of possession of a controlled substance analogue. He received an effective sentence of forty years to be served concurrently with a separate 100-year federal sentence. Now, Petitioner appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding that he received effective assistance of counsel due to trial counsel's failure to retain a mental health expert, failure to request a change of venue, failure to properly investigate potential witnesses, and failure to adequately explain concurrent state and federal sentencing. The State concedes that Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel based on the sentencing issue alone. Following our review of the record and submissions of the parties, the majority concludes that Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Reversed and Remanded

          Jessica Sisk, Newport, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tyler James Schaeffer.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Robert W. Wilson, Assistant Attorney General; Jimmy B. Dunn, District Attorney General; and Brad Jones, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          Timothy L. Easter, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams, J., joined. J. Ross Dyer, J., concurred in results only.

          OPINION

          TIMOTHY L. EASTER, JUDGE

         Factual and Procedural History

         On September 16, 2012, Petitioner drove his vehicle on Highway 441 in Sevier County, Tennessee. While texting about an impending drug deal, Petitioner crossed the centerline of the highway and collided head-on with a church van. The violent crash killed two passengers and injured eleven others. At the time of the collision, Petitioner possessed a controlled substance, and his blood test results showed that Petitioner had methylone, methamphetamine, and marijuana metabolite in his bloodstream while he was driving. A Sevier County Grand Jury indicted Petitioner with two counts of vehicular homicide by intoxication; two counts of reckless vehicular homicide; eleven counts of reckless aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; nine counts of reckless aggravated assault resulting in serious bodily injury; nine counts of vehicular assault; one count of driving under the influence; one count of production, manufacture, distribution, or possession of a controlled substance analogue; and one count of possession of synthetic derivatives or analogues of methcathinone.

         In March of 2013, a federal grand jury indicted Petitioner with fourteen counts arising from a string of robberies committed between July 26, 2010, and September 14, 2012. United States v. Schaeffer, 626 Fed.Appx. 604, 605 (6th Cir. 2015). Petitioner pled guilty to all counts except for four counts of using a firearm in a crime of violence and one count of using a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Id. at 606. One of the firearms charges was dropped, and Petitioner was found guilty by a jury of the remaining counts. Id. On March 3, 2014, Petitioner received a 100-year sentence for his federal convictions.

         On September 2, 2014, Petitioner entered a negotiated plea agreement in Sevier County Circuit Court. Petitioner pled guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide, two counts of aggravated assault, nine counts of vehicular assault, and one count of controlled substance analogue.[1] In exchange for his guilty plea, Petitioner received an effective sentence of 40 years to be served concurrently with a separate 100-year federal sentence. Petitioner did not file a subsequent direct appeal.

         A year after entering his guilty plea, Petitioner filed a timely pro se petition for post-conviction relief, asserting that he involuntarily entered into the plea agreement without understanding the nature and consequence of the plea and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel's failure to procure a mental health expert, failure to request a change of venue, failure to properly investigate the case, and failure to adequately advise him regarding concurrent state and federal sentencing. The post-conviction court subsequently appointed counsel to represent Petitioner, and Petitioner filed an amended petition. His amended petition only asserts the denial of effective assistance of counsel.

         At the post-conviction hearing, trial counsel testified that he has been the District Public Defender for the Fourth Judicial District since 1989 and that he was appointed to represent Petitioner. The testimony of both Petitioner and trial counsel indicated that prior to Petitioner's entry of the guilty plea, trial counsel met with him multiple times over the course of two months. According to trial counsel's testimony, Petitioner and trial counsel discussed possible defenses, sentencing exposure, the status of this case relative to his federal case, and accident reconstruction. Trial counsel maintained that he went over the discovery with Petitioner, but Petitioner claimed that while he saw copies of his discovery, trial counsel did not review it with him. According to Petitioner, trial counsel "was trying to coerce me into [pleading]" during these meetings, and "he wasn't interested in the facts or anything." When asked to expound, Petitioner stated, "Because every time he talked to me, he talked to me with a plea offer[.]"

         Petitioner recounted that, during his meetings with trial counsel, Petitioner told trial counsel about speaking with his mother about five minutes prior to the collision and stopping at a friend's house not long before the collision. Petitioner did not know whether trial counsel ever spoke with the potential witnesses. Trial counsel could not remember whether Petitioner mentioned potential witnesses to him, but he stated that it is possible Petitioner mentioned somebody he had been partying with the night before the collision. Petitioner admitted that he did not speak with trial counsel regarding undergoing a mental evaluation despite suffering what Petitioner described as a "pretty severe brain injury." Trial counsel did not remember Petitioner ever asking for a mental evaluation, and based on his interactions with Petitioner, he did not see an obvious need for one.

         As a part of his investigation, trial counsel retained an accident reconstruction expert who opined this was an obvious case of fault because the two vehicles hit almost head-on traveling at a rate of sixty miles an hour. According to trial counsel, had the case proceeded to trial, the accident reconstruction expert would not have been called as an expert.

         Petitioner testified that the collision involving Petitioner received a lot of media attention, and he frequently saw the story on the news while incarcerated. He claims that when he expressed concerns about this to trial counsel, trial counsel informed Petitioner that he would look into requesting a change of venue. Trial counsel admitted that he discussed pursuing a change of venue, but he did not file a motion because venue is never decided until jury selection. According to Petitioner, he primarily entered into the plea agreement because he believed that his state and federal sentences would run concurrently, but his fear that he would not receive a fair trial in Sevier County also played a role in his decision to plead guilty.

         Trial counsel admitted that he did not discuss the details of Petitioner's federal case with him "to a great extent." Trial counsel said that he spoke with Petitioner's attorney in the federal case and knew what Petitioner's defense was in federal court. Trial counsel further asserted that when speaking with Petitioner, he "discussed that should he go to trial and be convicted, the Court could run his sentence consecutively to his federal sentence[.]" However, according to Petitioner, he specifically asked trial counsel if his state sentence was going to run concurrently with his federal sentence according to his plea agreement, and trial counsel responded, "[Y]es, it's going to run concurrent with [your] federal sentence." Trial counsel disclosed that because the state proceedings occurred later in time, he thought that the parties could agree to run the sentences concurrently. Further, trial counsel stated that he went over the plea forms with Petitioner, which indicated that the state sentence was to run concurrently with Petitioner's federal sentence.

         At the post-conviction hearing, Petitioner blatantly proclaimed, "[Trial counsel] told me several times that my state sentence was going to run concurrent with my federal sentence, and in the plea agreement it said in bold print at the bottom to run concurrent with federal sentence. If it wasn't running concurrent I was insisting on going to trial in the case." The plea agreement signed by Petitioner, trial counsel, and the District Attorney General was entered into evidence and conspicuously states in all capitals and bold font, "ALL OF THE ABOVE TO RUN CONCURRENTLY WITH FEDERAL SENTENCE." Petitioner reiterated that he would not have accepted the plea agreement if his state and federal sentences had not been concurrent. The following exchange took place between Petitioner and his post-conviction attorney:

Q. What did you understand the terms of your state sentence were in relation to your federal sentence?
A. To run at the same time, to run concurrent with my federal sentence. That was my main reason for taking the plea, ma'am.
. . ..
Q. How, who advised you regarding the concurrent versus ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.