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October 10, 2004

Tennessee Blakely trouble

I am heading home from California today and have been speculating about how many states with Blakely problems I will be flying over on the way back to Ohio. I know I won't be going over Tennessee, but the case of State v. Eddings, 2004 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 858 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 8, 2004), confirms that it is a state struggling with Blakely issues.

In Eddings, the court usefully explains in short form how Tennessee sentencing law works and why the case raises a Blakely problem:

In calculating the sentence for a Class B felony conviction, the presumptive sentence is the statutory minimum of eight years for a Range I offender if there are no enhancement or mitigating factors. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-210(c). If there are enhancement but no mitigative factors, the trial court may set the sentence above the minimum, but still within the range. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-210(d). A sentence involving both enhancement and mitigating factors requires an assignment of relative weight for the enhancement factors as a means of increasing the sentence. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-210(e). The sentence must then be reduced within the range by any weight assigned to the mitigating factors present. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-210(e).

In the case under submission, in arriving at a mid-range sentence of ten years the trial court applied the following five enhancement factors and no mitigating factors:
(6) the Defendant treated or allowed a victim to be treated with exceptional cruelty during the commission of the offense;
(9) the Defendant has a previous history of unwillingness to comply with the conditions of a sentence involving release into the community;
(10) the Defendant possessed or employed a firearm during the commission of the offense;
(11) the Defendant had no hesitation about committing a crime when the risk to human life was high; and
(17) the crime was committed under circumstances under which the potential for bodily injury to a victim was great....

None of the enhancement factors used by the trial court to enhance the Defendant's sentence were submitted to a jury or admitted by the Defendant. Therefore, the rule in Blakely precludes application of any of these factors. Because there are no enhancement factors that were proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt or admitted by the Defendant, the sentence must be modified to eight years, the presumptive minimum.

Interestingly, Judge David Hayes dissents in part, asserting that the Blakely issue was waived by the defendant, and that the standards for plain error review were not satisfied on the facts so as to still justify a reversal.

UPDATE: Some additional major Tennessee Blakely case from last week are now also on-line. In State v. Benson, 2004 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 868 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 8, 2004), the court thoughtfully examines a range of Blakely issues and ultimately finds that though "the trial court improperly relied on certain enhancement factors in light of Blakely, we conclude that the record supports a sentence of twenty years." But in State v. Northcutt, 2004 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 861 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 7, 2004), the court reverses a sentence after finding that the "rule of law articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Blakely" precluded the application of various enhancement factors because they were not "submitted to a jury or admitted by the defendant."

October 10, 2004 at 09:43 AM | Permalink

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