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Brennan v. Board of Parole for State

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Nashville

January 10, 2017

JOSEPH BRENNAN, ET AL.
v.
BOARD OF PAROLE FOR THE STATE OF TENNESSEE

          Session October 5, 2016

         Appeal by Permission from the Court of Appeals Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 131171II Carol L. McCoy, Chancellor

         The Tennessee Board of Parole denied parole to a prisoner who was serving a twenty-year sentence for convictions of attempted rape of a child. The Board determined that the prisoner's release from custody would depreciate the seriousness of the crime for which he was convicted or promote disrespect for the law. The prisoner filed a petition of certiorari challenging the Board's decision. The trial court affirmed the Board's decision, and the prisoner appealed. The Court of Appeals did not review the issues raised on appeal. Instead, it calculated the date the prisoner should have been considered for parole and concluded that the Board acted arbitrarily by conducting a parole hearing prematurely. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded with instructions for the Board to give the prisoner an immediate parole hearing. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to calculate the date the prisoner could be considered for parole and did so incorrectly. The Tennessee Department of Correction has the statutory authority to determine the date a prisoner may be considered for parole by the Board. On review, we affirm the trial court's decision.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Appeals Reversed

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Jennifer L. Brenner, Senior Counsel, for the appellant, Tennessee Board of Parole.

          J. Alex Little (on appeal) and Mark C. Scruggs (at trial), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Joseph Brennan.

          Sharon G. Lee, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Cornelia A. Clark and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined. Roger A. Page, J., not participating.

          OPINION

          SHARON G. LEE, JUSTICE

         I.

         In January 2009, Joseph Brennan pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted rape of a child.[1] He was sentenced to serve ten years, consecutively, for each count of attempted rape for an effective sentence of twenty years, with a release eligibility of thirty percent. Mr. Brennan began serving his sentence on April 3, 2009.

         On March 26, 2013, a Tennessee Board of Parole hearing officer conducted a parole hearing for Mr. Brennan based on a release eligibility date-the date a prisoner is eligible to be considered for parole-of June 14, 2013. The hearing officer received written statements and testimony from Mr. Brennan, the victim, family members, friends, and the victim's psychologist. The hearing officer recommended that parole be denied. The Board concurred, determining that "[t]he release from custody at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the crime of which the offender stands convicted or promote disrespect of the law, " and deferred the next parole hearing until 2018. Mr. Brennan, unsuccessful in his appellate remedies before the Board, filed a petition of certiorari based on Tennessee Code Annotated sections 27-9-101 and -102 in Davidson County Chancery Court. Mr. Brennan asserted, among other things, that the Board's decision was illegal, contrary to established law, and arbitrary and capricious.

         The trial court dismissed Mr. Brennan's petition, finding that the Board's decision to deny parole due to the seriousness of the offense was not unfair, arbitrary, or capricious. In its ruling, the trial court referenced the written statements and testimony regarding Mr. Brennan's work history, educational background, prison disciplinary record, and completion of a sexual offender treatment program. The trial court considered all issues raised by Mr. Brennan and concluded that it could not inquire into the intrinsic correctness of the Board's decision to deny parole. Mr. Brennan appealed.

         The Court of Appeals did not consider the issues raised by Mr. Brennan. Instead, the Court of Appeals determined Mr. Brennan's release eligibility date was April 3, 2015, which was six years from the date he began serving his sentence with no deduction for sentence credits. The Court of Appeals reasoned that Mr. Brennan had served only twenty percent of his sentence by the 2013 parole hearing, and the Board should have waited to consider his suitability for parole until after he had served thirty percent of his sentence. Based on its determination that Mr. Brennan's hearing should have been in April 2015, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court with instructions ...


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