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State Supreme Court Reinstates Jury Finding of Premeditation

In Tennessee,  proof of premeditation to kill is required for a criminal conviction of premeditated first degree murder (though not under a 'felony murder' theory of first degree murder) or attempted first degree murder.  There is a substantial distinction in punishment between homicides or attempted homicides which are premeditated and those which are not. In the recent case of State v. Dickson, E2010-01781-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 10-8-2013), the Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated a jury conviction for attempted first degree murder after the Court of Criminal Appeals had reduced the conviction.

In the Dickson case, the Defendant had purchased cocaine from an individual at a cabin near Sevierville. Later, the Defendant concluded he did not get a quality product and that the seller had cheated him. The Defendant recruited two of his friends and the three men armed themselves (only one with a firearm) and went back to the cabin to seek a refund. Upon their initial entry, one victim, who had nothing to do with the cocaine deal, immediately attempted to resist the entry and scuffled with the Defendant. One of the codefendants shot that victim. The Defendant and two codefendants proceeded through the cabin and shot and assaulted an additional victim, though they did not find the person who sold the cocaine. The Defendant later told investigators that if he had not brought the two codefendants with him, he would have "shot everybody in that house."

Though affirming the jury verdict of attempted first degree murder of the second victim, the Court of Criminal Appeals reduced the conviction for the first victim to attempted second degree murder, concluding the evidence was insufficient to establish premeditation to kill that particular victim. One of the three Court of Criminal Appeals panel Judges dissented, arguing that the jury could have reasonably inferred premeditation from the fact that the Defendant and his friends armed themselves to go to the cabin to seek retribution. The Tennessee Supreme Court, on permissive review, agreed with the dissent and reinstated the original conviction for attempted first degree murder. Consecutive sentencing for the multiple convictions was also upheld.

For more information on what evidence may support a finding of premeditation, contact Hindman & Associates.

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