Public safety, justice, crime deterrence, criminal rehabilitation and prison overpopulation: these are important components of many laws in Tennessee. However, despite the intent of these laws, Tennessee has seen a rise in domestic violence, prison overpopulation, repeat offenders, and the like. Therefore, a new law, the Public Safety Act (PSA) of 2016 recently was passed in the 2016 Session of the 109th General Assembly, Public Chapter 906.
What is the Public Safety Act?
As its name suggests, the PSA is a major component of the Tennessee state government’s plan to decrease the state’s crime rate and to increase the quality of public safety. The statute intends to mandate minimum incarceration standards for individuals convicted of at least three accounts of the most heinous crimes. The Act also plans to provide increased protection for domestic violence victims. Moreover, the PSA’s authors designed it to help decrease the number of prisoners, as roughly forty percent of prisoners are parolees who were sent back to prison simply because they violated the terms and conditions of their parole.
What does the Public Safety Act address?
The PSA covers many issues, including domestic violence, criminal sentencing, evaluation of criminals and their circumstances, and penalties appropriate for each individual offender. Regarding domestic violence, the Act enables law enforcement, with victims’ permission, to request a speedy issuance of a protection order for domestic violence victims against their abusers. Further, under the PSA, when police arrest individuals for domestic violence and have probable cause that the suspected abuser employed or intended to employ lethal force on the victim or victims, a court would issue a protection order automatically. Then, within fifteen days (or half a month) after the court issued an automatic protection order, the court would hold a hearing. At present, third and future domestic violence convictions are classified as misdemeanors. The PSA changes the classification of third and future domestic violence convictions to Class E Felonies in certain circumstances, but does not change the present minimum jail and prison time of ninety days (or three months) for domestic violence convicts with two or more prior offenses.
Regarding penalty changes, the PSA alters the felony levels for property theft charges classified as Class A misdemeanors, Class E felonies, and Class D felonies. The monetary levels had not been altered in a long time, and the PSA raises the thresholds for felonies and misdemeanor theft to bring it more in line with other states. For example, the previous threshold for a Class A misdemeanor theft was $500.00. Now theft is a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services obtained is $1,000.00 or less. Under the new law, Class E felony theft applies if the value of loss is more than $1,000.00 but less than $2,500.00 and Class D felony theft applies if the value of loss is more than $2,500.00 but less than $10,000.00. Further, the legislature added a Class A Felony offense for loss of $250,000.00 or more.
The PSA also raises the mandatory minimum incarceration period to 85 percent for individuals convicted, for the third time and up, of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and felony and felony drug offenses. Although an offender may reduce his sentence though earning “good time,” an offenders sentence cannot be reduced below 70 percent of the sentence imposed.
The PSA attempts to make sweeping reforms of how to deal with offenders, and it stipulates that every twelve months, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) evaluates each individual offender’s needs and the risk they might pose to public safety, and the TDOC, community corrections agencies, the board of parole and the courts must use the validated risk and need assessment in determining programming and treatment options and post-prison supervision for those incarcerated. In addition, each yearly offender evaluation the TDOC does must be up-to-date, correct, and valid, as opposed to outdated or false. Further, the PSA changes the sentencing law to include the TODC validates risk and need assessment among the mandated considerations of the trial judge in sentencing.
The PSA further attempts to find alternatives to incarceration for offenders on community supervision (e.g., probation or parole) who commit technical violations of their release conditions that do not constitute new crimes. The Governor’s task force studying this issue found that re-incarcerating criminals for violating the terms of their probation or parole, which itself is not considered a new crime, is not cost effective as a method employed to tackle lawbreaking. Increased jail or prison time likely would not reduce the number of repeat offenses, but rather raise it. Therefore, the PSA permits the TDC to employ an organized method of both incentives, such as positive reinforcement for good behavior, and appropriate penalties in order to encourage individuals on parole or probation to comply with the terms of their release. Under the Act, on parolees and probationers who do not comply with their release conditions face “graduated sanctions” with offense-appropriate measures like drug tests and rehabilitation programs.
If you, a relative, or a friend is in trouble with the law, turn to the Sevierville criminal defense attorneys at Delius & McKenzie for help. For more information, call us at (865) 428-8780 or fill out our contact form. We are proud to uphold the rights of the accused in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and throughout Tennessee.
Attorney Bryan E. Delius was born and raised in Sevier County, TN. He founded Delius & McKenzie more than 20 years ago, after receiving his JD from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. He is admitted in Tennessee and in several federal court systems. Learn more about Bryan E. Delius.