The Tennessee House Criminal Justice Committee recently approved a stricter “three strikes” bill that has been met with opposition from experts and civil liberty groups. This proposed legislation would require life sentences for two or more convictions of the most serious offenses, such as murder, rape, and kidnapping. This is in stark contrast to the existing three-strikes law in Tennessee which only mandates life imprisonment without parole for three or more convictions of the same offense.
Persistent Offender Laws
Tennessee's current three-strikes law is a legal statute that mandates harsher penalties for individuals convicted of multiple serious or violent crimes. Under this law, if a person is convicted of three or more separate Class A or Class B felonies, they are deemed a "persistent felony offender" and face significantly increased sentencing.
For example, upon their third conviction, a persistent offender may receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. This law intends to deter repeat offenders from committing further crimes and protect communities by keeping dangerous criminals off the streets. However, critics argue that the three strikes law can lead to disproportionately severe punishments for nonviolent offenses, and it may not effectively address the root causes of criminal behavior.
The criminal process is designed to discourage recidivism and the new three-strikes law could reinforce that mission. It is important to understand the criminal process, to understand how complicated the three strikes law could impact those convicted of a crime.
The Criminal Process in TN
In Tennessee, the criminal process begins with an arrest and progresses through several stages before reaching sentencing. Upon arrest, the accused is taken into custody and booked at the local police station. Following this, the individual appears before a judge for an arraignment, where they are formally charged with a crime, informed of their rights, and asked to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest)
At this stage, bail may be set, allowing the defendant to be released from custody while awaiting trial. The court then proceeds with the discovery phase, during which both the prosecution and defense exchange evidence and information relevant to the case. Pretrial motions may be filed to address various legal issues, such as the admissibility of evidence, or to request a change of venue.
The next step is the trial, where the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" in a criminal proceeding, a standard higher than the "preponderance of the evidence" required in civil cases. Trials can be either by jury or by judge alone (known as a bench trial). If the defendant is found guilty, the case proceeds to the sentencing phase, where the judge determines the appropriate punishment based on mandatory and discretionary sentencing guidelines.
Plea bargaining plays a crucial role in the criminal process, as it allows the defendant to negotiate a reduced sentence or lesser charges in exchange for a guilty plea, thus avoiding the uncertainty of a trial. This often expedites the judicial process and conserves resources.
Lastly, post-conviction relief may be sought by defendants who believe their convictions were unjust or resulted from legal errors. This process can involve appeals, habeas corpus petitions, or requests for clemency. It is essential to understand that criminal convictions can have a lasting impact on a person's life, affecting their employment prospects, housing opportunities, and even their right to vote.
In summary, the criminal process in Tennessee involves multiple stages, from arrest and arraignment to trial and sentencing. It is distinct from civil proceedings in terms of the burden of proof and trial procedures. Understanding the importance of plea bargaining, sentencing requirements, and the consequences of criminal convictions is crucial for anyone navigating the legal system in Tennessee.
The passing of this bill could have far-reaching implications for the society of Tennessee. It would mean harsher punishments for repeat offenders and an increase in the prison population due to longer sentences. This could lead to overcrowding in prisons and an increased burden on taxpayers as the state would need to spend $446 million on new prisons. Furthermore, there are concerns that this bill works only for stockholders of private prisons who will benefit financially from increased incarceration rates.
It is important to note that criminal justice reform is necessary in order to address issues such as mass incarceration and racial disparities within the criminal justice system. However, it is also essential that any proposed reforms should be carefully considered before implementation so that they do not further exacerbate these problems.
If you are facing criminal accusations, contact Eldridge & Blakney, PC.