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Meese v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

June 26, 2018


          Session March 20, 2018

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Wilson County No. 12-CR-844, 14-CR-1000, 14-CR-999, 14-CR-906, 14-CR-935 Brody N. Kane, Judge

         The Petitioner, James M. Meese, entered guilty pleas to aggravated statutory rape, aggravated assault, simple possession of marijuana, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, with a negotiated Range I seven-year sentence to be served on probation. The Petitioner filed a post-conviction petition, asserting that his trial counsel failed to properly investigate his charges and inaccurately advised him regarding his cumulative exposure. We conclude that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to accurately advise the Petitioner of his range of punishment and that as a result, the Petitioner did not knowingly enter into the plea agreement. Accordingly, we reverse the post-conviction court's judgment, and we remand for a new trial on all charges.

         Tenn. R. App. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Reversed; Case Remanded

          Donnavon Vasek, Lebanon, Tennessee, for the appellant, James M. Meese.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Caitlin Smith, Assistant Attorney General; Tom P. Thompson, Jr., District Attorney General; and Tom Swink, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Norma McGee Ogle and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.




         The Petitioner's guilty pleas were the result of different offenses committed between June 2012 and November 2014. According to the prosecutor's recitation of facts at the plea colloquy, on July 18, 2012, the sister of fifteen-year-old Victim 1 discovered Victim 1 and the twenty-six-year-old Petitioner, both shirtless, in a bed together. Victim 1 disclosed that she and the Petitioner had sexual intercourse on two prior occasions, once in June and once in July 2012. The Petitioner made incriminating statements during a video recorded interview with law enforcement. Accordingly, on August 15, 2012, the Petitioner was charged with two counts of aggravated statutory rape committed in June and July 2012 against Victim 1.

         On August 3, 2014, the Petitioner and two other men were discovered in a hotel room with a runaway juvenile, marijuana, pills, and drug paraphernalia. The men all denied knowledge of the drugs, but the juvenile told police that all present had smoked marijuana. The Petitioner was charged in two indictments with four misdemeanor offenses: contributing to the delinquency of a minor, possession of a legend drug, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of marijuana.

         On December 10, 2014, the Petitioner was charged with an auto burglary committed against a third victim in November 2014. The record does not contain further information regarding this charge.

         The Petitioner was also charged on December 10, 2014, with four felonies committed on November 13, 2014 against Victim 2: aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, kidnapping, and attempted rape. At the plea hearing, the prosecutor told the trial court that Victim 2's testimony would support a conviction for aggravated assault but "would not really back up the other charges." The prosecutor summarized that the Petitioner was at Victim 2's home, that there was a physical altercation, and that the Petitioner's assault on Victim 2 resulted in a cervical fracture in her neck.

         The Petitioner entered into a plea agreement in which he was to plead guilty to one count each of aggravated statutory rape, aggravated assault, simple possession of marijuana, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The Petitioner was to be sentenced to a probationary sentence of two years for aggravated statutory rape, five years for aggravated assault, and eleven months and twenty-nine days for each misdemeanor. The felony convictions were to be served consecutively to one another and concurrently with the misdemeanor convictions for an effective sentence of seven years of probation.

          At the plea hearing, the trial court reviewed the Petitioner's plea forms and potential exposure. The court noted that the Petitioner was facing a sentence of two to twelve years for each Class D felony committed against Victim 1, three to fifteen years for each of the four Class C felonies committed against Victim 2, and one to six years on the auto burglary charge. The plea forms reflected the same range of punishments for the felony offenses. The trial court reviewed the terms of the agreement, and the Petitioner agreed that the facts as recited by the prosecution reflected the evidence that the State would have presented at trial. The Petitioner told the court that no one had promised him anything or pressured or coerced him into entering into the plea agreement, and the pleas were entered on March 13, 2015.

         After the Petitioner was charged with violating his probation, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging various errors committed by trial counsel. The

         Petitioner's probation was revoked, and he was ordered to serve ninety days in confinement and the remainder of the sentence on probation. Following his release, he was again charged with violating the terms of his probation. His probation was revoked, and he was ordered to serve his sentence in confinement.

         The post-conviction court found that the Petitioner had presented a timely and colorable claim, and the court appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition. Among the Petitioner's claims were that his trial counsel failed to interview certain witnesses and that his trial counsel grossly overestimated the maximum prison sentences which could apply to him. He also argued that his pleas were not knowing and voluntary.

         Victim 2 testified at the hearing that she was in a relationship with the Petitioner in 2014 but that the Petitioner did not live at her house. On November 12, 2014, Victim 2 was working when the Petitioner sent her a text message to see where she was. She acknowledged having sent him two text messages asking where he was, but she explained that he had contacted her earlier and that she was trying to ascertain his whereabouts to see if she could go to her home or if she would have to seek shelter at her father's home. After Victim 2 went home, the Petitioner came to her house and began throwing rocks at the window, asking her through text message if he could come in. She did not allow him to enter, and she went to sleep. Victim 2 testified that when she woke up, the Petitioner was in the home. She stated that her bathroom window had been cracked and boarded up but that the Petitioner broke the window completely. She and the Petitioner argued, and the Petitioner twisted her neck and broke it during the three-hour altercation. She was unable to escape because he was with her the entire time and because he took her telephone and keys. She acknowledged biting the Petitioner numerous times.

          Victim 2 testified that the Petitioner took her to her car and threatened to put her in the trunk and drive off a cliff. He opened the trunk but did not follow through with the plan because the trunk was full. While they were at the car, Victim 2 managed to secure an extra cellular telephone from the vehicle. She was ultimately able to call 911 from a locked room before the Petitioner broke down the door and sat on her, "trying to smother" her. Victim 2 acknowledged having filed a complaint against the Petitioner and her father for taking a car belonging to her in October 2014. She stated that the facts recited in that complaint were true but that she got her vehicle back and the matter was ultimately dismissed.

         Victim 2 was contacted so often by trial counsel that she asked him to stop calling her. She met with trial counsel and the prosecutor and gave them her medical records.

         Victim 2 testified about the Petitioner's continued harassment of her. She stated the Petitioner had attempted to contact her on social media through fake accounts and had sent her hundreds of letters, asking her to lie in court in about five or six of them. Several communications from the Petitioner, which were delivered to Victim 2 by means of his relatives, were introduced into evidence, including a hand-drawn portrait of Victim 2. Victim 2 testified that her father temporarily removed his mailbox to avoid receiving further communications from the Petitioner. Video cameras set up at Victim 2's father's home showed the Petitioner lurking on the premises. Victim 2 acknowledged having written to the Petitioner when he was first arrested that she was "sorry he was locked up," would help out, and would tell trial counsel "what went on that night."

         Victim 2's father testified that he tried to "stay out of all this" and could not recall if he spoke to trial counsel. After the Petitioner's assault, Victim 2 had a fractured neck, was in pain, and had to wear a neck brace. The Petitioner told Victim 2's father that he was sorry. Victim 2's father confirmed that the Petitioner continued to harass Victim 2 and stated that Victim 2 and her children had to move to his house for safety. He testified that Victim 2's complaint regarding the stolen vehicle was true and that he took her vehicle because she owed him money.

         The Petitioner testified that he was initially represented by the public defender's office but that all of his claims relate to alleged deficiencies on the part of the appointed attorney who subsequently represented him ("trial counsel"). The Petitioner testified that while the public defender represented him on his 2012 charges, he rejected two plea offers involving a suspended sentence because he was adamant that he wanted to proceed to ...

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