Tennessee Supreme Court Rules Trial Judges May Set Minimum Term Of Confinement

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Jason Ray brought a lawsuit in federal court in West Tennessee seeking money damages for an alleged violation of his civil rights.  Ray pled guilty in 2013 to theft of property over $60,000 and received a sentence of 10 years, with 11 months and 29 days to be served in the local jail and the rest on supervised probation.  This type of sentence is known as split confinement.  

The trial judge who sentenced Ray required him to serve 75 percent of his jail sentence before becoming eligible to receive sentence reduction credits based on participation in work programs. Ray began working in the kitchen as soon as he entered the jail and argued that he would have been released from the jail seven weeks earlier had he received credits for all his work from the beginning of his jail term.  Ray argued that the trial judge did not have authority to include the 75 percent requirement under Tennessee law.  The federal court hearing Ray’s case invoked a rule of procedure that allowed it to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court to address whether trial court judges have this authority.  

The Tennessee Supreme Court agreed to answer this question, and in doing so, confronted a thicket of sometimes inconsistent and overlapping sentencing laws.  The Court acknowledged that none of these laws expressly authorizes trial judges to fix a percentage of the jail sentence that a felony defendant must serve before becoming eligible to participate in work programs.  The Court concluded, however, that sentencing laws implicitly authorize trial courts to do so by granting trial courts broad authority to fashion appropriate sentences and by encouraging trial courts to impose sentences other than incarceration when appropriate. 

The federal court also asked the Tennessee Supreme Court whether sheriffs have a duty to challenge improper or potentially improper sentences.  The Court answered this second question in the negative and emphasized that Sheriffs have a duty under Tennessee law to enforce judgments and orders.  The Court agreed that Sheriffs may seek clarification of court orders but emphasized that they have no obligation to challenge improper or potentially improper sentences.  

To read the unanimous opinion in Jason Ray v. Madison County, Tennessee, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.




Senator Bell Receives Tennessee District Attorneys' Guardian Of Public Safety Award

The state’s 31 district attorneys have recognized state Sen. Mike Bell with the Guardian of Public Safety Award.   The Guardian of Public Safety Award is given to a legislator who recognizes the necessity of protecting our citizens and takes action to advance public safety.   “Senator Bell is keenly aware of the public safety issues faced by Tennesseans on a daily ... (click for more)

Rep. Carter Receives Tennessee District Attorneys' Public Safety Advocate Award

The state’s 31 district attorneys have recognized state Rep. Mike Carter with the Public Safety Advocate Award. The Public Safety Advocate Award is given to a legislator who "recognizes the necessity of protecting our citizens and takes action to advance public safety." “Representative Carter is keenly aware of the public safety issues faced by Tennesseans on a daily basis. ... (click for more)

Woman, 20, Killed While Trying To Cross Highway 153 Early Sunday Morning

A woman, 20, was killed early Sunday morning while trying to cross Highway 153. The victim was identified as Ansleigh Kaylyn Harrison. At approximately 1:28 a.m. , Chattanooga Police officers responded to a pedestrian struck at 5256 Highway 153. A Toyota Sequoia driven by 31-year-old Asher Powers was traveling north on Highway 153 in the inside lane. The pedestrian ... (click for more)

2 Shot In Separate Incidents Early Saturday Morning; 1 Victim Is A Juvenile Girl

Two people were shot early Saturday morning in separate incidents. The first incident was at  3:30 a.m. when the Chattanooga Police Department responded to a person shot on the 1000 block of North Willow Street.  Upon arrival, officers made contact with the victim who was suffering from a gunshot wound.    HCEMS transported the victim to a local hospital ... (click for more)

John Porter Franklin, Sr.: A Community Gem

In 2016, It was   my honor to have been chosen to recognize African American History Month at the February HCDE board meeting.   Throughout my life, I’ve been taught and exposed to African American history both nationally and locally. In reflecting on what to share, I thought about all that was going on in our community and more importantly in our educational community ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Claude And "Mr. John"

There are some who believe this last week has been a devastating one for our community, losing two of our most beloved “builders” within three days of one another. Claude Ramsey, who spent over 40 years in public service and because of the type man he was never lost a political race, died on Monday after a hard fight with illness at the end. On Thursday we lost “Mr. John” Franklin, ... (click for more)