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Bennett v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

January 29, 2018


          Session October 10, 2017

         Interlocutory Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 107676 Steve Sword, Judge

         In this interlocutory appeal, the petitioner, Braylen Bennett, appeals the ruling of the post-conviction court denying his request for discovery materials from the State. We conclude that the plain language of both the Post-Conviction Procedure Act and Rule 28 of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court impose upon the State an obligation to provide discovery materials to the petitioner as part of the post-conviction proceeding. We further conclude that the State's obligation cannot be met by requiring the post-conviction petitioner to obtain from his trial counsel those discovery materials disclosed by the State as part of the trial proceeding. Finally, we conclude that, because the post-conviction court's ruling contains insufficient analysis to support its conclusion that none of the disclosures required by Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure are relevant to the claims presented by the petitioner, the case must be remanded for reconsideration of the petitioner's request in light of the rulings in this opinion.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 9; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed in Part; Reversed in Part; Remanded

          Ann C. Short, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Braylen Bennett.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; and TaKisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          James Curwood Witt, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Camille R. McMullen and Robert L. Holloway, Jr., JJ., joined.



         In October 2014, the Knox County Grand Jury charged the petitioner and co-defendants Melvin King, Roderick Curtis, Dwaine Love, and Charles Byrd with three counts of aggravated burglary, one count of possessing a firearm during the commission of burglary, six counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, eight counts of felony murder, one count of aggravated assault, four counts of especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of aggravated animal cruelty related to "an incident at the home of John Huddleston during which Mr. Huddleston was shot and killed." State v. Melvin King, No. E2016-01043-CCA-R3-CD, slip op. at 2 (Tenn. Crim. App., Knoxville, May 22, 2017), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 20, 2017). On September 14, 2015, the petitioner entered pleas of guilty to aggravated burglary, employing a firearm during the commission of a felony, three counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, facilitation of first degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of attempted especially aggravated robbery, and two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals. [1]

         On March 24, 2016, the petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that certain of his convictions are void because "they are in direct contravention of" Code section 39-17-1324(c) and that those convictions violate double jeopardy and due process principles. The petitioner also claimed that the ineffective assistance of his trial counsel rendered his guilty pleas unknowing and involuntary. Specifically, the petitioner claimed that trial counsel failed to investigate, failed to prepare and speak to potential witnesses, failed to prepare for trial, failed to "investigate legitimate justifiable defenses, " failed to dispute the applicability of the terms of Code section 39-17-1324, failed to challenge his firearms possession conviction on double jeopardy grounds, failed to challenge his attempted aggravated robbery convictions on double jeopardy grounds, and failed to challenge his convictions on due process grounds. The petitioner also alleged that trial counsel induced him to enter the guilty pleas by providing incorrect advice regarding the potential sentence.

         On April 8, 2016, the post-conviction court filed an order appointing counsel, ordering the State to respond to the petition, and setting a tentative date for the evidentiary hearing. On June 29, 2016, current post-conviction counsel filed a notice of appearance and substitution of counsel. On July 14, 2016, the petitioner moved the post- conviction court to reset the deadline for filing amendments to the petition to allow his new counsel adequate time to investigate all colorable claims. In the motion, the petitioner's counsel indicated an intent to pursue "discovery and disclosures provided for in Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 28, Section 6(C)(7)" by "filing a formal motion for discovery in this matter." On that same date, the petitioner moved the court to "determine and declare the State's discovery obligations" in the case. The State responded not by providing discovery but instead by moving the court "for an order directing the defendant's previous counsel to turn over to his new counsel all of the discovery provided in 104304 by the State, " noting that "the [c]ourt file reflects the discovery that was provided to the defendant in 104304."

         At the hearing on the petitioner's motion regarding the provision of discovery materials, the petitioner argued that the terms of Rule 28 obligated the State to provide discovery materials to the petitioner in the post-conviction proceeding and not merely prior to trial. The State argued that it had complied with the terms of Rule 28 by providing discovery materials to the petitioner's trial counsel prior to trial and that the petitioner should obtain the discovery materials from trial counsel. The post-conviction court took the matter under advisement and, in a written order, concluded that although Rule 28 did oblige the State to provide discovery materials in the post-conviction proceeding, the State's obligation extended only to those materials relevant to the claims raised in the post-conviction petition. The post-conviction court concluded "that discovery required under Rule 16 is not relevant to the issues raised in the petition" and held that, as a result, "the State is not required to provide any discovery to the petitioner at this time." The record on appeal does not show that the post-conviction court reviewed any discovery materials in this case prior to expressing this holding.

         The petitioner moved the post-conviction court to grant interlocutory appeal of the ruling pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, arguing that interlocutory review was necessary because both the post-conviction court's ruling that the State "does have the responsibility of providing discovery in post-conviction matters" and the court's ruling that "as a matter of law, . . . Rule 16 'is not relevant' to the pro se post-conviction allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel were both issues of first impression." The State opposed the motion, but the trial court granted it.

         This court granted the request for interlocutory appeal. In this appeal, the petitioner asks this court to determine whether the law governing post-conviction procedure imposes upon the State an obligation to provide discovery materials to a post-conviction petitioner in the post-conviction proceeding. The petitioner also asks that, in the event we find a discovery obligation, we define the parameters of that burden. The State argues that the post-conviction court correctly determined that the State had no further discovery obligation in this case because the State had previously provided discovery materials to the petitioner prior to his entering guilty pleas in the underlying criminal proceeding and because the State "was not obligated to furnish the petitioner with information, evidence, or material which was accessible to him or which he could obtain through reasonable diligence."

         "[T]he availability and scope of post-conviction relief lies within the discretion of the General Assembly because post-conviction relief is entirely a creature of statute." Bush v. State, 428 S.W.3d 1, 15 (Tenn. 2014) (citing Pike v. State, 164 S.W.3d 257, 262 (Tenn. 2005)). Code section 40-30-118 empowers the supreme court to "promulgate rules of practice and procedure consistent with this part, including rules prescribing the form and contents of the petition, the preparation and filing of the record and assignments of error for simple appeal and for delayed appeal in the nature of a writ of error." Id. § 40-30-118. To this end, the supreme court has adopted Rule 28 of the rules of the supreme court to "supplement the remedies and procedures set forth in the Post-Conviction Procedure Act." Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. R. 28, §1. Because the determination of the scope of the State's discovery obligation in a post-conviction proceeding depends upon the interpretation of the Post-Conviction Procedure Act ("the Act") and the rules of our supreme court that facilitate its implementation, our review is de novo with no presumption of correctness afforded to the ruling of the trial court. See, e.g., State v. Howard, 504 S.W.3d 260, 267 (Tenn. 2016).

         The most basic principle of statutory construction is "'to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent without unduly restricting or expanding a statute's coverage beyond its intended scope.'" Houghton v. Aramark Educ. Res., Inc., 90 S.W.3d 676, 678 (Tenn. 2002) (quoting Owens v. State, 908 S.W.2d 923, 926 (Tenn. 1995)). "Legislative intent is determined 'from the natural and ordinary meaning of the statutory language within the context of the entire statute without any forced or subtle construction that would extend or limit the statute's meaning.'" Osborn v. Marr, 127 S.W.3d 737, 740 (Tenn. 2004) (quoting State v. Flemming, 19 S.W.3d 195, 197 (Tenn. 2000)). "When the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we apply the plain language in its normal and accepted use." Boarman v. Jaynes, 109 S.W.3d 286, 291 (Tenn. 2003) (citing State v. Nelson, 23 S.W.3d 270, 271 (Tenn. 2000)). "It is only when a statute is ambiguous that we may reference the broader statutory scheme, the history of the legislation, or other sources." In re Estate of Davis, 308 S.W.3d 832, 837 (Tenn. 2010) (citing Parks v. Tenn. Mun. League Risk Mgmt. Pool, 974 S.W.2d 677, 679 (Tenn. 1998)).

         The statute and rule governing this case are clear and unambiguous. Code section 40-30-109 and Rule 28 "[t]ogether . . . provide both what is discoverable and how it is discoverable in a Tennessee post-conviction proceeding." Waller v. Bryan, 16 S.W.3d 770, 776-77 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999); see also House v. State, 44 S.W.3d 508, 516 (Tenn. 2001); Swift v. Campbell, 159 S.W.3d 565, 575 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004); George T. Haynie v. State, No. M2009-01167-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Crim. App., Nashville, Sept. 16, 2010); Jason Blake Bryant v. State, No. E2002-00907-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Crim. App., Knoxville, Mar. 11, 2004); Darrell Wayne Taylor v. State, No. W2001-01806-CCA-R9-PD (Tenn. Crim. App., Jackson, May 2, 2003). Code section 40-30-109 provides that "[d]iscovery is not available in a proceeding under this section except as provided under Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure." T.C.A. § 40-30-109(b). To facilitate discovery in the post-conviction proceeding, Supreme Court Rule 28, section 6, subsection 3 provides that "[i]n the event a colorable claim is stated, " the post-conviction court "shall enter a preliminary order which, " among other things, "directs disclosure by the [S]tate of all that is required to be disclosed under Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, to the extent relevant to the grounds alleged in the petition, and any other disclosure required by the state or federal constitution."[2] Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. R. 28, §6(3)(c). Section 6, subsection 7 provides:

Upon receiving the court's preliminary order, the [S]tate shall provide to petitioner discovery of all those items deemed discoverable under Rule 16, Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, if relevant to the issues raised in the post-conviction petition, and shall provide any other disclosure required by the state or federal constitution.

Tenn. R. Sup. Ct. R. 28, ยง6(7). Section 7 provides that "[t]he [S]tate shall provide discovery in accordance with Section 6(C)(7)." Tenn. ...

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