Criminal Procedure—Capital Punishment—Motions to Reopen Petitions for Post-Conviction Relief

by Jacob Spangler

In 1990, defendant David Keen pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder, murder in perpetration of rape, and aggravated rape. The jury at the defendant’s sentencing hearing sentenced him to death for the first-degree murder. The defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2001, which the post-conviction court denied in 2004 following the hearing. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the ruling of the post-conviction court, and the Tennessee Supreme Court declined to review.

In 2010, the defendant filed a motion to reopen his post-conviction proceedings on the grounds that he was “actually innocent” of the offense of first-degree murder in accordance with section 40-30-117(a)(2) of the Tennessee Code Annotated. The defendant had scored within the “intellectually disabled” range on a functional intelligence test, and he presented this score as the “new scientific evidence” required by the statute. The defendant asserted that the test score placed him within the class of persons designated “intellectually disabled” by section 39-13-203(a) of the Tennessee Code Annotated, and that he was therefore ineligible for the death penalty under section 39-13-203(b). The trial court denied the motion, holding that the defendant’s argument for death penalty ineligibility was not included within the actual innocence described in section 40-30-117(a)(2). The defendant appealed the judgment, raising “an additional claim that he was entitled to reopen his post-conviction petition based on a new ‘constitutional right.’” The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. On certiorari to the Tennessee Supreme Court, held, affirmed. The defendant does not have a new constitutional right to reopen his petition because no such right was announced in Coleman v. State, and his test score does not constitute “new scientific evidence” of actual innocence because ineligibility for the death penalty is not actual innocence.

 

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