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Certified Question of Law Must be Dispositive to be Reviewable

Tennessee has a procedure under which a certified question of law may be reviewed on direct appeal even when a criminal defendant has pled guilty. But the requirements for properly preserving a certified question of law are strictly construed. It is not uncommon for Tennessee appellate courts to decline review due to concluding the requirements have not been met. There is generally no right of appeal from a guilty plea. In a conditional guilty plea where a party seeks to reserve a right of appeal of a particular legal issue, one of the primary requirements is that the issue be dispositive of the case. In the recent case of State v. Thomas, E2012-01956-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 8-30-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals declined review of a certified question of law regarding the constitutionality of a local ordinance, concluding the issue was not dispositive of whether the vehicle stop in question was reasonable.

Certified Question of Law Must Be Specific

A certified question of law is a specific and limited appeal of a legal issue in a criminal case. It may arise where a criminal defendant, after having lost a pre-trial motion on a critical piece of evidence, proceeds to plead guilty, with the agreement of the state and the trial court that the certified question may be reserved for appeal. The question must be dispositive of the case (resulting in a different outcome if resolved favorably to the defendant) and must be stated specifically. The question must be on the judgment or attached to the judgment, and certified by the trial court as dispositive of the case. There are strict requirements which must be met to preserve a certified question and it is not uncommon for these appeals to be dismissed due to the failure to properly preserve and state the question. The case of State v. Gephart, W2011-02225-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 1-16-2013) is a recent example of one of these appeals being dismissed without reaching the merits.

Certified Question of Law Must Be Specific

A certified question of law is a specific and limited appeal of a legal issue in a criminal case. It may arise where a criminal defendant, after having lost a pre-trial motion on a critical piece of evidence, proceeds to plead guilty, with the agreement of the state and the trial court that the certified question may be reserved for appeal. The question must be dispositive of the case (resulting in a different outcome if resolved favorably to the defendant) and must be stated specifically. The question must be on the judgment or attached to the judgment, and certified by the trial court as dispositive of the case. There are strict requirements which must be met to preserve a certified question and it is not uncommon for these appeals to be dismissed due to the failure to properly preserve and state the question. The case of State v. Gephart, W2011-02225-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 1-16-2013) is a recent example of one of these appeals being dismissed without reaching the merits.

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