Supreme Court Clarifies Release Eligibility For Defendant Convicted Of 1st-Degree Murder Committed On Or After July 1, 1995, Sentenced To Life In Prison

Thursday, December 6, 2018

In a case involving first-degree murder committed by a juvenile, the Tennessee Supreme Court has clarified that a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison becomes eligible for release after serving a minimum of 51 years in prison. 

Cyntoia Denise Brown, who was 16 at the time, was transferred from juvenile court and tried as an adult in criminal court for the first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder of Johnny Allen, in addition to another charge. A jury convicted Ms. Brown of the murder charges. The trial judge merged the two murder convictions and sentenced her to life in prison for those convictions. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Ms. Brown’s murder convictions and life sentence on direct appeal and in collateral proceedings. 

Ms. Brown subsequently filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in which she alleged that her mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under precedent set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Miller v. Alabama.  The District Court denied relief because theMiller opinion prohibits a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, and Ms. Brown received a life sentence, not a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Ms. Brown appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Sixth Circuit requested the Tennessee Supreme Court to answer the question of whether a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison will become eligible for release and, if so, after how many years of imprisonment.  Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 23 permits the Court to answer requests that involve questions of Tennessee law that are determinative of the cause of action and about which there is no controlling Tennessee precedent. 

In Tuesday’s unanimous decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court explained that, under state law, a life sentence is a determinate sentence of 60 years.  However, the 60-year sentence can be reduced by up to 15 percent, or 9 years, by earning various sentence credits.  Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded that a defendant serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, may be eligible for release after serving at least 51 years of the sentence. 

To read the unanimous opinion in Cyntoia Brown v. Carolyn Jordan authored by Justice Roger A. Page, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


BASF In Chattanooga Honored For Workplace Safety And Health Record

Hamilton County WWTA Board Names Michael Patrick Executive Director

Office Furniture Warehouse To Hold Networking Event On April 26


The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration has awarded BASF-Lost Mound Drive in Chattanooga with the Governor’s Award of Excellence for Workplace Safety and Health. TOSHA Assistant ... (click for more)

The Hamilton County WWTA Board of Commissioners named Michael Patrick as the organization’s executive director at Wednesday’s meeting. Prior to joining the WWTA, Mr. Patrick was the director ... (click for more)

Office Furniture Warehouse, two-time winner of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year Award, is inviting the community to celebrate its recent victory at its 1900 Stuart ... (click for more)


Business

BASF In Chattanooga Honored For Workplace Safety And Health Record

The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration has awarded BASF-Lost Mound Drive in Chattanooga with the Governor’s Award of Excellence for Workplace Safety and Health. TOSHA Assistant Commissioner Steve Hawkins presented the award Thursday to the company’s employees and management team in Chattanooga. “BASF-Lost Mound Drive has demonstrated a strong commitment ... (click for more)

Hamilton County WWTA Board Names Michael Patrick Executive Director

The Hamilton County WWTA Board of Commissioners named Michael Patrick as the organization’s executive director at Wednesday’s meeting. Prior to joining the WWTA, Mr. Patrick was the director of the city of Chattanooga’s Water Wastewater Resources Division. He was responsible for the overall operation of the city’s regional water and wastewater collection and treatment system. ... (click for more)

Breaking News

TDOT Plans To Add 1 Lane In Each Direction To I-24 From Georgia State Line To US 27; New Section Of Apison Pike To Be Widened

The state plans to add one lane in each direction to a seven-mile section of Interstate 24, which is one of the most congested freeways in the country. The purchase of right of way for the project is included in TDOT’s annual three year transportation program. Right of way is listed for 2022 in a section between the Georgia state line and Brown's Ferry Road and another ... (click for more)

Man, 50, Shot In Road Rage Incident On Bailey Avenue; Christopher Bell, 29, Wanted For Attempted Criminal Homicide

A man, 50, was shot on Bailey Avenue on Thursday afternoon, and Christopher Bell, 29, is wanted for criminal attempted homicide. At approximately 3:20 p.m. Chattanooga Police were dispatched to a person shot call at 1050 Bailey Ave. Upon arrival, officers located a man suffering from a gunshot wound. The man stated to police that he and the suspect were involved in a vehicle ... (click for more)

Opinion

Save The Wildlife, Mr. Berke

Why in the world would there be any question regarding the wildlife at East Lake park, and the humane relocation of same? Why would anyone need to beg for the right thing to be done? Maybe if the ducks could ride scooters, there would be money for this. Or maybe if they had means to pay for one of the so-called affordable apartments we have in Chattanooga, they would rate the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: What's 'Good' About It?

For the biggest part of my life (a real long time) I refused to acknowledge what is “good” about Good Friday. Today, in literally every country on earth, it is ‘Good Friday’ and, nope, nothing is “good” about killing my Jesus. Forget that it is the most singular display of His love for me, and I push all of the human race aside, to stand completely alone, and feel Jesus’ eyes on ... (click for more)