Motion for New Trial (Role of Judge as 13th Juror)

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the opinion. 

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

State v. Lampley, No. M2021-00636-CCA-R3-CD, p. 24 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 24, 2023).

When a trial judge overrules a motion for new trial, absent any evidence that the trial court expressed dissatisfaction or disagreement with the weight of the evidence or the verdict, this court presumes that the trial judge has served as the thirteenth juror and approved the jury’s verdict. Id. Once the trial court fulfills its duty as the thirteenth juror and imposes a judgment, appellate review is limited to determining the sufficiency of the evidence. State v. Moats, 906 S.W.2d 431, 435 (Tenn. 1995) (citing State v. Burlison, 868 S.W.2d 713, 719 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1993)).

State v. Hardy, No. E2021-00616-CCA-R3-CD, p. 12-13 (Tenn. Ct Crim. App. June 9, 2022).

The Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions. When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, the relevant question for this court is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). On appeal, “‘the State is entitled to the strongest legitimate view of the evidence and to all reasonable and legitimate inferences that may be drawn therefrom.’” State v. Elkins, 102 S.W.3d 578, 581 (Tenn. 2003) (quoting State v. Smith, 24 S.W.3d 274, 279 (Tenn. 2000)). Therefore, this court will not re-weigh or reevaluate the evidence. State v. Matthews, 805 S.W.2d 776, 779 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1990). Instead, it is the trier of fact, not this court, who resolves any questions concerning “the credibility of witnesses, the weight and value to be given the evidence, as well as all factual issues raised by the evidence.” State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 659 (Tenn. 1997).

A guilty verdict removes the presumption of innocence and replaces it with a presumption of guilt. State v. Evans, 838 S.W.2d 185, 191 (Tenn. 1992). The burden is then shifted to the defendant on appeal to demonstrate why the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction. State v. Tuggle, 639 S.W.2d 913, 914 (Tenn. 1982). This court applies the same standard of review regardless of whether the conviction was predicated on direct or circumstantial evidence. State v. Dorantes, 331 S.W.3d 370, 381 (Tenn. 2011). “Circumstantial evidence alone is sufficient to support a conviction, and the circumstantial evidence need not exclude every reasonable hypothesis except that of guilt.” State v. Wagner, 382 S.W.3d 289, 297 (Tenn. 2012).

State of Tennessee v. Bobo, No. W2021-00650-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 18, 2022).

Because “[a]ppellate courts are ill-suited . . . to assess whether the verdict is supported by the weight and credibility of the evidence . . . , the accuracy of a trial court’s thirteenth juror determination is not a subject of appellate review.” State v. Moats, 906 S.W.2d 431, 435 (Tenn. 1995). Although the duty is mandatory, the trial court is not required to make an explicit statement on the record that it has fulfilled its duty to act as thirteenth juror, and appellate courts may presume that the trial court has approved the verdict when it overrules a motion for new trial without comment. Biggs, 218 S.W.3d at 653 (citing Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 122; State v. Brown, 53 S.W.3d 264, 274 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2000)). Only if the record contains statements by the trial judge indicating disagreement with the jury’s verdict or evidencing the trial judge’s refusal to act as the thirteenth juror may an appellate court reverse the trial court’s judgment. Carter, 896 S.W.2d at 122.



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