The Memphis Commercial Appeal has done some great investigative reporting about a loophole in Tennessee’s DUI law. The only problem is the loophole has been around since 1989 and is not really a loophole under Tennessee’s DUI laws. In reviewing three Shelby County convictions for vehicular homicide , the paper found that in those three cases the defendant received probation for the offense. It is not a loophole . It is merely the law.
Vehicular homicide and vehicular assault are different laws from the DUI statute. The sentencing considerations are completely different and are governed under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1989. Most Class B felonies are eligible for alternative sentencing. Alternative sentencing is where the court can consider probation or split confinement. Involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide are eligible for probation as well.
Reporter Beth Warren should be ashamed for using the word loophole when in fact it is the basic principle of Tennessee’s sentencing laws. Her goal is to use inaccurate headlines to sell news. Florida attorney Flem Whited was quoted in the article and I agree with his comments.
"I think Tennessee has it right," Whited said. "The judge ought to be able to make a valued determination of the sentence that is appropriate for the person in front of him."
Normally , the process is the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty to some range of punishment. The court conducts a sentencing hearing. The court receives evidence such as a presentence report, victim impact statements from the family , testimony of the family , and evidence of from the defendant. it should be left to the court to decide the punishment for these serious crimes rather that mandatory sentencing.
In most vehicular homicide cases , the defendant did not intend the consequences of their actions. It is far better for the court to hear from the parties before deciding the punishment than just sending folks off to jail.
Contrast that to the DUI sentences . In all Tennessee DUI cases , there is mandatory jail time from a first offense to a felony DUI. I could sell one hundred pounds of marijuana and get less jail time than a first offense DUI conviction. I might even get it expunged if I had no criminal record. maybe it is time to abolish mandatory jail time for DUI first offenders and give them a chance of expunging a DUI from their record.