Phillips v. State, W2019-01927-SC-R11-PC

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJEFFREY S. BIVINS, JUSTICE
Decision Date10 June 2022
Docket NumberW2019-01927-SC-R11-PC



No. W2019-01927-SC-R11-PC

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Jackson

June 10, 2022

Session November 3, 2021 [1]

Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Court for Shelby County No. 09-05231 W. Mark Ward, Judge

In this post-conviction matter, we clarify the appropriate burden of proof and legal standard to be applied when a criminal defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel's failure to move to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. The Petitioner, Tommie Phillips ("Petitioner") was convicted of several offenses, including felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping, and especially aggravated burglary. The Court of Criminal Appeals modified the especially aggravated burglary conviction to aggravated burglary. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, asserting, among other things, that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective by failing to seek suppression of various statements he made to police on Fourth Amendment grounds. The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision of the post-conviction court. We granted the Petitioner's application for permission to appeal and directed the parties to discuss the applicable standard of review in this case. Specifically, the Court sought to clarify the petitioner's burden to establish prejudice when he or she alleges counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds. Upon our review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that to establish prejudice with this type of claim, the petitioner must prove that "his Fourth Amendment claim is meritorious and that there is a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different absent the excludable evidence." Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 375 (1986). In applying this standard to the case before us, we conclude that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly affirmed the post-conviction court's denial of relief. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed


Josie S. Holland and Valerie T. Corder, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tommie Phillips.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Jonathan H. Wardle, Assistant Attorney General; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Leslie Byrd, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Jonathan Harwell, Joshua Stanton, Susan L. Kay, Jackson M. Hill, and Anya Van Soestenbergen, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, Penny J. White, Steven L. Mulroy, Terry A. Maroney, and the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Roger A. Page, C.J., and Sharon G. Lee and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined.



I. Factual and Procedural History

This post-conviction appeal arises out of the Petitioner's brutal attack on a family in their home in Memphis.[2] On December 9, 2008, the Petitioner entered the home of M.L., [3] where she lived with her eighty-five-year-old mother, F.G, her son, C.L, and her daughter, M.J.L. State v. Phillips, No. W2012-01126-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 6529308, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 13, 2013), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. Mar. 25, 2014). The attack resulted in the death of F.G. and severe stab wounds to M.L. and C.L. Id. at *5-6. When the responding police officers arrived at the scene, M.J.L. told them the perpetrator was a friend of C.L.'s, but she did not know his name. Id. at *7. A crowd had gathered by that time, and "[s]ome of the people in the crowd told [one of the responding officers] that the [Petitioner] was responsible." Id. M.L. and C.L. were transported to the hospital as a result of the injuries they sustained. Id. at *5-6. While in the hospital, C.L. and M.L. were each shown a photographic array from which they identified the Petitioner as the perpetrator of the attack. Id. C.L. also identified the Petitioner by first and last name. Around that same time, M.J.L. also was shown a photographic array, and she identified the Petitioner as the perpetrator.[4]


On December 10, 2008, after being identified as a suspect, the Petitioner surrendered himself to police. Id. at *7. The Petitioner and his mother were then transported to the police station. Id. While en route to the police station, the transporting officer overheard the Petitioner tell his mother "his side of the story," which included a statement that he stabbed C.L. in self-defense. Id. Later that day, Sergeant Anthony Mullins and Lieutenant Colonel Caroline Mason of the Memphis Police Department asked the Petitioner if he would like to talk to them, and the Petitioner said that he did. Id. at *7- 8. The officers advised the Petitioner of his Miranda rights. According to a police report submitted into evidence, the Petitioner's leg was shackled to a bench.

During the course of the interview, the Petitioner explained that he and C.L. had been friends for several years and were involved in drug dealing together. Id. at *7. The Petitioner stated that he had fronted C.L. drugs four or five days before the incident, and a disagreement developed concerning the money involved. Id. According to the Petitioner, on December 9, 2008, C.L. let the Petitioner into his home and offered him a shotgun as compensation for the money owed, but the Petitioner declined. Id. The Petitioner stated that he and C.L. began fighting before C.L. pointed a shotgun at him, at which point the Petitioner grabbed a knife and defended himself. Id. M.L. then got involved in the altercation with a hammer. Id. The Petitioner told the officers that he then heard F.G. complaining about her heart, so he put a pillow under her head. Id. The Petitioner then told the officers that he did not have anything else to say to them without his attorney. Id. Upon this request, the officers stopped the interview. Id. Believing they had probable cause, the officers booked the Petitioner into jail and sought a forty-eight-hour hold. Id.

Later that day, at 7:13 p.m., a judicial commissioner entered an order granting the Memphis Police officers' request for a forty-eight-hour hold. In the order, the judicial commissioner stated:

The reason(s) for requesting this detention is/are as follows: On Tuesday, December 9, 2008, at 3:10 p.m., Memphis Police officers responded to a wounding call at [a home in Memphis]. On arrival they found two persons had been stabbed and one victim was found dead on the scene. The surviving victims identified [the Petitioner] as the person responsible for stabbing them inside their home. On Wednesday, December 10, 2008, [the Petitioner] turned himself in and told investigators he stabbed the two surviving victims Additional time is needed to verify the statement made by [the Petitioner] and to conduct additional information from the surviving victims at the hospital
The Court has reviewed the above listed facts for the detention of said defendant and has determined that there is probable cause to believe that the crime(s) alleged, to wit: First Degree Murder TCA 39-13-202, was/were committed, and that the [Petitioner] committed said crime(s).

On December 11, the Petitioner gave another statement after advising the jailer that he wished to speak with the detectives. Id. at *8. The Petitioner was again advised of his Miranda rights and agreed to speak to the officers without an attorney. Id. In his statement, the Petitioner admitted responsibility for F.G.'s death and the injuries to C.L. and M.L. Id.

The Petitioner subsequently was charged with four counts of first-degree felony murder, one count of first-degree premeditated murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated rape, six counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, and three counts of especially aggravated burglary. Id. at *1. The State later filed notice that it intended to seek the death penalty, as well as, in the alternative, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Before trial, however, the State withdrew its notice of intention to seek the death penalty. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury convicted the Petitioner of multiple offenses. After the trial court appropriately merged several convictions, the Petitioner effectively was convicted of one count of felony murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of aggravated rape, one count of especially aggravated burglary, and three counts of especially aggravated kidnapping. Id. at *9. The jury did not choose to sentence the Petitioner to life without parole. As a result, the trial court sentenced the Petitioner to a life sentence plus sixty years.

On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals modified the especially aggravated burglary conviction to an aggravated burglary conviction, but it affirmed the judgments in all other respects. Id. at *26. The Petitioner subsequently filed a Rule 11 application for permission to appeal, which this Court denied in March 2014. In December 2014, the Petitioner timely filed a petition for post-conviction relief.

In his petition, the Petitioner argued, inter alia, that trial counsel failed to provide effective assistance of counsel based on counsel's alleged failure to challenge the admissibility of his statement to police on Fourth Amendment grounds. See Phillips v. State, No. W2019-01927-CCA-R3-PC, slip op. at 4 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 26, 2021), perm. app. granted, (Tenn. June 17, 2021). An evidentiary hearing was held in four parts on May 11 and August 20, 2018, and May 14 and September 20, 2019....

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