Tennessee Supreme Court Rules That Trial Judges May Set Minimum Term Of Confinement Before Felony Split Confinement Prisoners Become Eligible To Earn Work-Based Sentence Reduction Credits

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Jason Ray brought a lawsuit in federal court in West Tennessee seeking money damages for an alleged violation of his civil rights.  Mr. Ray pled guilty in 2013 to theft of property over $60,000 and received a sentence of ten years, with eleven months and twenty-nine 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 Mr. Ray required him to serve seventy-five percent of his jail sentence before becoming eligible to receive sentence reduction credits based on participation in work programs.  Mr. 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.  Mr. Ray argued that the trial judge did not have authority to include the seventy-five percent requirement under Tennessee law.  The federal court hearing Mr. 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.


Chattanooga Chamber Calendar Of Events Nov. 19-30

Unemployment In Tennessee Continues Near All-Time Historic Low

CARTA Transit Ridership Remains Down, But Shuttle, Incline, Care-A-Van Up For The Month; Executive Direct, CFO Take Lump Sum Raises


Nov. 20, Red Bank/Signal Mountain Chamber Council Meeting 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Red Bank Community Center: Tom Weathers Dr., behind Erlanger Speaker: Juan Alicea, Credit Card Skimming ... (click for more)

Tennessee's jobless rate in October was still near historic lows, despite a slight uptick. October’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October was 3.7 percent, 0.1 of a percentage ... (click for more)

CARTA's transit ridership remains down, but for the past month ridership was up on the shuttle, the Incline and Care-A-Van. Overall for October, ridership was 248,226, compared to 258,995 ... (click for more)


Business

Chattanooga Chamber Calendar Of Events Nov. 19-30

Nov. 20, Red Bank/Signal Mountain Chamber Council Meeting 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Red Bank Community Center: Tom Weathers Dr., behind Erlanger Speaker: Juan Alicea, Credit Card Skimming at Gas Stations & Crypto Currency $12 Nov . 27, East Brainerd Chamber Council Meeting 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Car Barn: 6721 Heritage Business Ct. Speaker: Dionne Jennings, ... (click for more)

Unemployment In Tennessee Continues Near All-Time Historic Low

Tennessee's jobless rate in October was still near historic lows, despite a slight uptick. October’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October was 3.7 percent, 0.1 of a percentage point higher than the previous month. Tennessee’s all-time low unemployment rate was 3.3 percent which the state recorded for five consecutive months between September 2017 and January 2018. ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Riverbend Festival Is Expected To Be Trimmed To 4-5 Days In 2019

The Riverbend Festival is expected to be trimmed to four or five days in 2019, according to several sources. The popular festival in early June centered at Ross's Landing Park on the riverfront has long started on a Friday and continued the next week until the grand finale on Saturday night. Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival that operates the event, ... (click for more)

Tennessee Supreme Court Sets 6 Execution Dates Including Lee Hall, Convicted Of 1991 Hamilton County Murder

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued six execution dates for 2019 and 2020 on Friday. One was for Lee Hall, convicted of the 1991 murder of Traci Crozier in Hamilton County. All of the defendants had previous execution dates set, which were stayed for pending litigation. The Court set an execution date of May 16, 2019, for Donnie Edward Johnson. Johnson was convicted in 1985 of ... (click for more)

Opinion

Bring Jeff Styles Back Now That His Case Was Dismissed

Now that prosecutors have dropped charges against Jeff Styles — and he's not been found guilty by a jury of his peers — I hope Bill Lockhart and WGOW will return him to the station. I'm believe his listeners will welcome him back with open arms. After one has been through a ringer like this, I'm not sure how you get your life back unless a good guy like Mr. Lockhart steps up ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: When Coach Mike Gundy Went Off

Back in late September of 2007, a gutsy Oklahoma State football team had just won a wild 49-46 slugfest against previously unbeaten Texas Tech in Stillwater. In the loser’s locker room, this after OSU’s Zac Peterson drilled a 54-yard TD pass in the waning minute to come from behind, the soon-to-be legend Mike Leach tore his Red Raiders apart. I mean, the man with the lifelong obsession ... (click for more)