Tennessee Supreme Court Clarifies Notice Requirements for Enhanced Sentencing

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The Tennessee Supreme Court modified a defendant's sentence after ruling that the State did not provide proper pre-trial notice that it intended to use his prior convictions to obtain an enhanced sentence. Due to the ruling, it could change future cases or even cases that are appealed in Tennessee. The end result of the case that changed the pre-trial notice was eventually determined by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

The Situation:

The defendant, Jimmy Williams, was convicted in Shelby County of aggravated assault for an incident that occurred in 2008. The State filed a notice that it intended to seek enhanced punishment and that the defendant qualified as a career offender, but the notice was filed after the case had been submitted to the jury. The defendant argued that he did not receive proper notice of the sentence enhancement, but the trial court disagreed. The trial court ruled that a sentence enhancement notice filed by the State in a different case against the defendant, filed years before the present case, met the notice requirements for the present case. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced the defendant as a career offender. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court.

The Supreme Court determined that the defendant did not receive proper notice pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-202(a). The Supreme Court reiterated that the State must file a notice of enhanced sentencing before trial, and it held, as a matter of first impression, that the notice must be filed in the same case in which the State plans to seek enhanced punishment. The Supreme Court concluded that because the State did not file proper notice prior to trial in the present case, the trial court should have sentenced the defendant as a standard offender, rather than a career offender. The Supreme Court then modified the defendant's sentence to six years, the maximum that he could receive for the Class C felony aggravated assault conviction as a standard offender. The Supreme Court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support the defendant's aggravated assault conviction.

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