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State v. Jones

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 27, 2019

STATE OF TENNESSEE
v.
DENTON JONES

          Session September 24, 2019

          Appeal from the Criminal Court for Knox County No. 105473 G. Scott Green, Judge

         The State of Tennessee appeals the Knox County Criminal Court's denial of its motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. The State sought to correct the six-year sentence the trial court previously imposed for the Defendant's two merged convictions for theft of property valued at $1, 000 or more but less than $10, 000. See T.C.A. §§ 39-14-103 (2014) (theft); 39-14-105 (2014) (subsequently amended) (grading of theft). On appeal, the State contends that the six-year sentence is illegal because the trial court improperly sentenced the Defendant pursuant to the amended version of the grading of theft statute, which became effective after the commission of the offense. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Criminal Court Affirmed

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Katherine C. Redding, Assistant Attorney General; Charme Allen, Assistant Attorney General; and TaKisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Robert L. Jolley, Jr., Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Denton Jones.

          Robert H. Montgomery, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas T. Woodall and Robert W. Wedemeyer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          ROBERT H. MONTGOMERY, JR., JUDGE

         On October 26, 2016, a Knox County Criminal Court jury found the Defendant guilty of two counts of theft of property valued at $1, 000 or more but less than $10, 000. The offenses occurred on April 28, 2014. See id. §§ 39-14-103; 39-14-105. At the February 10, 2017 sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the two counts into a single conviction and determined the length and manner of service. Although the sentencing hearing transcript is not included in the appellate record, the original judgment forms reflect the trial court determined that the Defendant was a career offender and imposed six-year sentences for Class D felony thefts. However, the special conditions sections of the judgments reflect that the Defendant was sentenced for Class E felony thefts pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 39-11-112, otherwise known as the Criminal Savings Statute, which states,

When a penal statute or penal legislative act of the state is repealed or amended by a subsequent legislative act, the offense, as defined by the statute or act being repealed or amended, committed while the statute or act was in full force and effect shall be prosecuted under the act or statute in effect at the time of the commission of the offense. Except as provided under § 40-35-117, in the event the subsequent act provides for a lesser penalty, any punishment imposed shall be in accordance with the subsequent act.

         At the time of the offense, theft of property valued at $1, 000 or more but less than $10, 000 was a Class D felony. See id. § 39-14-105(a)(3); id. § 40-35-111(b)(4) (stating that the authorized term of imprisonment for a Class D felony is two to twelve years). However, the grading of theft statute was amended in 2016, and the amended version became effective on January 1, 2017. Therefore, the amended statute was effective at the time of the sentencing hearing. The amended statute states that a Class E felony theft involves property valued at $1, 000 or more but less than $2, 500 and that a Class D felony theft involves property valued at $2, 500 or more but less than $10, 000. See id. § 39-14-105(a)(2), (3) (2018).

         On July 29, 2018, the State filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, arguing that the Defendant, a career offender, had been convicted of Class D felony thefts and that, as a result, the six-year sentences imposed by the trial court were illegal.

         At the August 17, 2018 motion hearing, the trial court did not rule on the State's motion because it determined that the original judgment forms had to be corrected to reflect Class E felony thefts. When the prosecutor argued that the Defendant had been convicted of Class D felony thefts, the trial judge stated that the thefts involved property valued "in excess of one thousand dollars" based upon the jury verdict form. The court ordered the entry of corrected judgments, reflecting that the Defendant had been convicted of Class E felony thefts. The court acknowledged that originally the conviction offenses would have been Class D felony thefts but that because the Defendant was sentenced after the grading of theft statute had been amended, the conviction offenses were Class E felony thefts. The court determined that the value of the property related to punishment and was not an essential element of theft.

         On August 30, 2018, corrected judgments were entered, reflecting that the Defendant had been convicted of Class E felony thefts, and the special conditions sections state that the court ordered the corrected judgments at the August 17 motion hearing and that ...


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