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Criminal Appeal Filed Regarding Tennessee Criminal Sentencing Reform Act of 1989

Did you know we also practice criminal law?  We recently filed an appeal with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on behalf of a firm client in State v. Layhew.  A copy of our brief can be found here.

In this criminal appeal, Mr. Layhew seeks review of how the Tennessee Criminal Sentencing Reform Act of 1989 ("Sentencing Act") applies to misdemeanor sentencing.  Our client was sentenced to two consecutive eleven-month, twenty-nine day sentences, to be imposed consecutively with the express requirement that 100% of each sentence be served in confinement.  In other words, he was effectively sentenced to two years.  

As a general matter, Tennessee appellate courts review all sentences under an abuse of discretion standard with a presumption that the trial court’s decision was reasonable.  State v. Bise, 380 S.W.3d 682 (Tenn. 2012).  Effectively, a sentence imposed at the trial court level is ultimately presumed to be correct, and an appellate court can only overturn the sentence upon a finding that the trial court abused its discretion. Id.  Further, in the context of a misdemeanor sentence, like the sentences in our case, the trial court is generally afforded even broader discretion than that which it is afforded in other cases involving felony sentences.  This is because the presumption that the trial court “got it right” applies even if the trial court makes no specific findings of fact on the record regarding the factors it considered when imposing any specific misdemeanor sentence.  See State v. Troutman, 979 S.W.2d 271, 274 (Tenn. 1998).

Notwithstanding, the terms of the Sentencing Act still apply.  See State v. Palmer, 902 S.W.2d 391, 393 (Tenn. 1995).  Thus, where a trial court fails to enunciate that it considered the Sentencing Act “and all relevant facts and circumstances as required” when imposing a sentence, the trial court’s decision should be reviewed completely de novo on appeal.  State v. McNeilly, 2006 WL 3498043, at *13 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 22, 2006).  In other words, the trial court’s determination is not automatically presumed to be the correct one.  Id.

We look forward to further developing this important criminal appeal and resolving this unique sentencing issue.  Do you have a criminal matter that we can help you with?  If so, contact us.