The TN Court of Criminal Appeals decided the case of a Hamilton County defendant, Mr. Jereme Dannuel Little. Mr. Little was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of especially aggravated kidnapping. The relevant facts involved Mr. Little and Mr. Grayson, alleged victim of the aggravated kidnapping. According to Mr. Grayson, he helped Mr. Little commit a robbery at the house of Mr. Chris Rogers. Mr. Little instructed Mr. Grayson to stay with Mr. Rogers and his son while Mr. Little searched the house for things to steal. Believing Mr. Little would eventually kill Mr. Rogers and his son, Mr. Grayson decided to leave. He stated he had agreed to help with a robbery, not a murder. Mr. Little became angry that Mr. Grayson left the house early. According to Mr. Grayson, Mr. Little kidnapped him and took him to a friend's house where Mr. Little tortured Mr. Grayson for hours. At trial, Kelvin Ellison, who witnessed Mr. Grayson tied up at the house, testified as to what he saw that day. His testimony matched up with Mr. Grayson's except that he did not mention ever hearing about a robbery committed earlier that day.
The evidence at trial consisted of the testimony mentioned above and other testimony for the defense that suggested someone else had committed the robberies and that Mr. Grayson was lying about the kidnapping. At the close of evidence, the defense renewed their motions for judgments of acquittal. The Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support the two robbery charges. The Court instructed the jury that they were not to consider the two robbery charges in their attempt to deliberate over the remaining kidnapping charge. The jury eventually convicted Mr. Little of especially aggravated kidnapping, and he was later sentenced to 18 years incarceration.
Mr. Little appealed his conviction, stating among other things, that the Court acted improperly when it refused to instruct the jury on the defendant's acquittal for the robbery charge. In an excerpt from the trial transcript, the defense objected to the Court's refusal to instruct the jury on the robbery acquittals. The Court responded stating the Court's legal rulings "are not their business." The defense argued that the motive behind the kidnapping directly involved the defendant's alleged commission of the robberies. The Court responded stating that the defendant was acquitted of the robbery charges not because he didn't do it, but because there was insufficient evidence to prove he committed the robberies.
The Appeals Court considered the defendant's arguments and determined that there was no justification for the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury regarding the acquittals. They held that it was an error to refuse to instruct the jury on the acquittals. However, just because there is an error, does not mean the defendant can be entitled to relief. In order for a defendant to receive relief based on an error in the trial court, that error must involve a substantial right and the error must result in a prejudice to the judicial process. The Court held that the refusal to instruct the jury was a harmless error. The Court stated that the instruction given by the Court (that the disposition of the aggravated robbery charges was of no concern to the jury and should not be the subject of speculation) was an adequate instruction. The Court presumed that the jury followed these instructions when it made the ultimate decision of guilt on the kidnapping charge. The Court also stated that the evidence involving the kidnapping charge was not really enhanced by the evidence that he committed the robberies. The only person who testified about the robbery was the victim (an accomplice in the robbery). On the other hand, the State presented a separate witness who corroborated Mr. Grayson's testimony about the kidnapping, but he admittedly knew nothing about the robberies.
The Court ultimately affirmed the conviction for aggravated kidnapping.
The dissent in this case was particularly interesting. Written by Judge Camille McMullen, the dissent focusses on the cumulative error doctrine as it applies to the current case. He cites to a case, State v. Hester, which states:
The cumulative error doctrine is a judicial recognition that there may be multiple errors committed in trial proceedings, each of which in isolation constitutes mere harmless error, but which when aggregated, have a cumulative effect on the proceedings so great as to require reversal in order to preserve a defendant's right to a fair trial.
Her main point in this dissent is that, while the errors committed during trial were all deemed "harmless", the combination of those errors has a disparate effect on the fair trial of the Defendant. Because of this, she felt his conviction should be reversed.