The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that a post-conviction petitioner may be entitled to subpoena his co-defendants as witnesses, but only if he can first demonstrate that the co-defendants are competent witnesses whose testimony is relevant to his claims.
In 2009, Quantel Taylor pled guilty to charges of attempted first degree murder, second degree murder, and especially aggravated robbery. These charges were based on the events of Jan. 22, 2003, when Taylor and his three co-defendants attempted to rob John and Louis Neely at their residence in Crockett County.
During the attempted robbery, two of the co-defendants broke into the residence and opened fire, killing John Neely and leaving Louis Neely severely injured. Upon the acceptance of his guilty pleas, Taylor received a 20-year sentence.
The next year, Taylor filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty pleas because his trial attorney had provided inadequate representation. Taylor asked the trial court to issue subpoenas for his co-defendants to testify at his post-conviction hearing. Each of the co-defendants was incarcerated. The trial court refused to issue the subpoenas, ruling that it would impose a “great burden” on the State to require the witnesses’ appearance. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the trial court had erred, but found that the error was harmless because Taylor’s petition would fail regardless of his co-defendants’ testimony.
The Supreme Court reversed, holding that courts should allow subpoenas in post-conviction proceedings if the petitioner can demonstrate that the subpoenaed witnesses are competent and will provide relevant testimony. In this instance, the trial court applied the wrong legal standard and did not properly consider the relevance of the co-defendants’ testimony. As a result, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court to reconsider the subpoenas under the correct standard.
To read the Quantel Taylor v. State of Tennessee opinion, authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.