The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
A new law that will require some of Tennessee’s violent offenders to serve 100% of their prison sentences will go into effect on July 1st, 2022.
HB2656 / SB2248, sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville-District 25) and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge-District 5) in the House and Senate respectively, requires that a person convicted of certain offenses serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed and that a person convicted of certain other offenses serve 85 percent of the sentence imposed before becoming eligible for release. The Act also revises other related provisions.
Criminals found guilty of violent crimes such as murder, vehicular homicide and carjackings will be required to serve their full sentence under the new law without the potential for early release or parole.
For individuals convicted of less serious offenses, such as aggravated assault, at least 85% of their sentences must be served.
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Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally pushed the bill to passage this year amid opposition from Governor Lee’s administration. However, a compromise of sorts was reached that required nine of the state’s most violent offenses to be served at 100% and dropped several others identified in the initial legislation to 85%.
Sexton said in a statement on Twitter, “You can protect criminals, or you can protect victims. I stand with victims, as do members of law enforcement, our district attorneys, & criminal judges across Tennessee.”
“Truth in sentencing is vital legislation that not only offers justice and transparency to victims but also acts as a critical deterrent against violent offenders. The costs associated with the legislation are well worth the peace of mind offered to victims and the overall boost to public safety,” said McNally.
The legislation was sent to Governor Lee for his signature on March 25th, however, he refused to sign the legislation and it was returned to the legislature on May 5th. The Lee administration did not agree with the bill, but the Governor has yet to veto any legislation he doesn’t agree with. He instead allowed it to become law with his signature.
Lee explained his stance on the legislation in a letter to Sexton and McNally, “My concern with HB2656/SB2248 is that data does not support the basic premise of the legislation. Similar legislation has been enacted before and resulted in significant operational and financial strain, with no reduction in crime. Widespread evidence suggests that this policy will result in more victims, higher recidivism, increased crime and prison overcrowding, all with an increased cost to taxpayers.
Lee said he supports efforts to protect victims and did so in joining McNally and Sexton in signing the 2019 Criminal Justice Task Force’s mission to “use our state’s data to move toward a criminal justice system that focuses resources on evidence-based recidivism reduction and crime-prevention strategies that increase public safety and improve outcomes for all Tennesseans.”
That effort led to passage of the Alternatives to Incarceration Act and the Re-entry Success Act, he pointed out.
However, Sexton pointed out that a 2020 U.S. Sentencing Commission report found tougher sentences reduce crime and the rate of return to prison by offenders after release. He contended law enforcement officials backed the legislation for that reason.
Sexton said that it is a lawmakers’ job to protect people and support law enforcement, adding that the state could build more prisons if necessary.
“Either we value life or we don’t; this legislation was about the most violent crimes committed in our state. It’s hard to stand with victims & law enforcement by going easy on criminals,” Sexton said.
Nikki Goeser, Executive Director of the Crime Prevention Research Center and author of “Stalked and Defenseless” wrote an op-ed for the Tennessee Conservative in April in support of the truth-in-sentencing legislation.
In the op-ed, Goeser states, “Right now, victims are lied to everyday in criminal courtrooms across Tennessee when they are told their attacker will serve 100% of their prison sentence. How do I know? THIS HAPPENED TO ME.”
In 2009, Goeser’s husband was murdered in front of her in a busy Nashville restaurant by a man that had been stalking her. Goeser’s husband was shot seven times.
When the police arrived and searched her stalker’s vehicle, they found two more guns, ammunition, a baseball bat, binoculars, gloves, rope and a knife.
“The police discovered he made a number of physical preparations that very day. He purchased a shoulder holster, the binoculars, and bat. He even went to several locations that we were known to frequent, looking for us. When he couldn’t find us, he asked multiple acquaintances where we might be. He then proceeded to hunt us down, and murdered my husband,” Goeser stated.
Despite that evidence, Judge Seth Norman of Davidson County dropped the first-degree premeditated murder charge to the lesser offense of only second-degree murder during the bench trial. Ben Goeser’s murderer was sentenced to only 23 years in prison, and she was told the sentence would be required to be served at 100% with no possibility of parole.
However, that promise was broken as the criminal has been allowed to earn early release/good behavior credits, and will serve less than 20 years in prison. His early release date is October 21, 2028.
Opponents of the truth-in-sentencing legislation state that violent offenders need early release credits as a reward and a motivator to encourage good behavior while in prison.
Goeser states in response, “If a violent offender will only behave because of some ‘reward’ then is that prisoner truly and legitimately reformed to not reoffend once out in society? Is it really genuine good behavior when you have to barter sentencing time with violent offenders at the expense of their victims and the rest of society?”
Even without the Governor’s signature the legislation is now law, assigned Public Chapter Number 988 by the Secretary of State, as it passed both the House and Senate with majority votes in favor.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com