Motion for new trial in crash death fails

Published 7:16 am Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A judge rejected a new trial and a new sentencing hearing for a Carter County man convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication, but allowed the man to remain free on bond pending an appeal.
Micah Cates was sentenced in May of this year to serve eight years in prison in connection with an August 2012 crash that killed his passenger, Tanner Lee Perkins. On Tuesday Cates appeared in Criminal Court with his attorney Steve Finney for a hearing on motions seeking a new trial and a new sentencing hearing.
The motion filed by Finney took exception with several rulings made by the court during the trial and subsequent sentencing hearing — most notably victim impact statements, which were given as part of the sentencing hearing proceedings.
In his motion, Finney said individuals were allowed to present victim impact statements who did not meet the definition of “family” under the law because they were the aunt or uncle of Perkins and not immediate family members.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who presided over the trial and sentencing hearing, agreed with Finney that those individuals may not have met the definition of the law, but he did not feel that allowing them to submit victim impact statements violated the defendant’s rights or would necessitate a new sentencing hearing be conducted.
“Mr. Finney is correct that more relatives testified in this hearing than should have been allowed to. We have gone far afield from the original intent of victim impact statements,” Blackwood said. “Many times the victim impact statements are a diatribe of hostility toward the defendant. The purpose of a victim impact statement is to show how the crime affected lives.
“Nearly all of their testimony was their grief. That bothered me from a purely human perspective. They should live in honor of this young man instead of in memory of him.”
Blackwood said that, while he did listen to the victim impact statements, “no comments made by the family had any impact whatsoever” in his imposing sentencing on Cates.
In response to Finney’s contention about the victim impact statements, Assistant District Attorney General Robin Ray referred to the sentencing hearing. “In regard to the victim statements, the defense made no objections at the time and allowed that testimony in,” Ray said.
Finney’s motion also claimed the court erred in denying Cates any form of alternative sentencing, such as probation, and also denied judicial diversion. Ray addressed the court and said that under state law, vehicular homicide by intoxication is not a crime which is eligible for judicial diversion.
Blackwood said he felt that alternative sentencing in the case would have been inappropriate and “would have deprecated the seriousness of a very, very tragic accident.” He said he based his denial of alternative sentencing based solely on the seriousness of the case, citing that alcohol use and excessive speed were contributing factors to the accident.
Officers testifying at the trial said Cates’ blood alcohol content was 0.14, well above the legal limit of 0.08, and that the speed of the vehicle just before the crash was estimated to be approximately 90 mph.
After Blackwood’s denial to grant a new trial and denial to grant a new sentencing hearing, Finney asked that the judge recuse himself from the case and appoint a new judge to preside over motions hearing for a new trial and new sentencing hearing. Blackwood also denied that request.
Finney then requested that Cates continue to remain free on bond pending the filing of an appeal with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
“The State’s position is it is time to move on,” Ray said. “This defendant has already been out longer than most people convicted of vehicular homicide.”
Finney’s response to the court was “Your Honor, my client is not most people.”
Despite protests from the state, Blackwood allowed Cates to remain free on bond pending the filing of an appeal. Finney will have 30 days to file a notice of intent to appeal with the Appeals Court.

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