Double jeopardy means that “no person shall … by subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
In this recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision, the justices addressed whether the conviction of Terrence Feaster violated the Double Jeopardy clause of the US and Tennessee constitutions. Mr. Feaster was convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment for the beating of a woman with whom he had been living for approximately two weeks. At trial, the victim testified that she and Mr. Feaster returned to her residence after leaving a bar where the defendant had become extremely intoxicated. Her testimony at trial was: that the beating was without provocation, the defendant threatened to kill her if she moved, and when she returned home from the hospital several days later, some of her possessions were missing. Mr. Feaster testified at trial that the victim had initiated the fight by punching him in the face several times. The crime scene was bloody, and the victim was in the hospital unconscious for three days following the beating. Mr. Feaster testified that the victim asked him to call 911, and to remove all the drugs and guns from her house before he left.
So we start off with a terrible situation, a hokey explanation by Mr. Feaster, and some really serious charges: Feaster was charged with attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, and one count of aggravated robbery. The defendant was found guilty of: one count of attempted voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and one count of false imprisonment. (This leads me to believe that the jury believed he beat the crap out of her, but that they didn’t really believe she was innocent, and maybe she had guns and drugs in the house. Pure speculation, on my part.)
The issue: whether the count of attempted voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault should merge based on past court precedent.
The answer: No.
The analysis: Before answering the substantive question, the Tennessee Supreme Court had to analyze whether State v. Denton (Tenn. 1996) or State v. Watkins (Tenn. 2012) was the applicable standard for Mr. Feaster’s case. (Denton was in effect at the time of the offense, but Watkins later overruled Denton’s criteria for determining double jeopardy.) When the Court abandoned the four-part Denton test, they adopted, in State v. Watkins, the same-elements test established under Blockburger (USSC 1932).
Here, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that Watkins, the 2012 case, would apply to Feaster’s conviction, which preceded the 2012 change in the double jeopardy standard. The court cited the “analytical shortcoming of the Denton test” and the wide acceptance of the Blockburger standards in “federal courts and the vast majority of our sister states.”
Watkins, following Blockburger, focused first on a determination of legislative intent: did the General Assembly intend for multiple punishments to be imposed? If this is unknown, go to the next question: do the convictions arise out of the same act or transaction? If the answer is yes, then go to the next question: do either of the offenses include elements that the other one does not?
Applying Watkins to Feaster’s convictions, the Supreme Court affirmed the CCA, finding that attempted voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault arose out of the same incident, but contain “numerous elements that the other does not.”
So, there you have it. Any pre-2012 cases require the application of Blockburger, not Denton.
Read the full opinion HERE.
The best stories you'll want to know about from Tennessee and around the country.
Certifications of Specialization are available to Tennessee lawyers in all areas of practice relating to or included in the areas of Accounting Malpractice, Business Bankruptcy, Civil Trial, Consumer Bankruptcy, Creditors’ Rights, Criminal Trial, DUI Defense Law, Elder Law, Estate Planning, Family Law, Juvenile Law, Legal Malpractice, Medical Malpractice, and Social Security Law. Listing of related or included practice areas herein does not constitute or imply a representation of certification of specialization.