Reduced sentencing for first-degree murder passed the Tennessee Senate on Thursday. The bill as adopted by the Senate would allow life imprisonment sentences for first-degree murder to obtain release eligibility after serving 60 percent of 60 years less sentence credits earned, or 36 years which can be reduced to 25 years with sentencing credits. Although parole would be an option at that point, it wouldn’t be guaranteed.
A few types of criminals wouldn’t benefit from the proposed bill. Those serving life imprisonment without parole for aggravated rape of a child. Originally the bill excluded those who committed first-degree murder of a child, but an amendment to the bill dropped that provision. State Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixon) said that these changes weren’t “substantive” during the floor vote.
The Tennessee House passed a bill mandating death or life imprisonment without parole for the first degree murder of law enforcement and first responders. The bill would elevate the intentional targeting and murdering of first responders to an act of terrorism. It passed without opposition, 88 to 0.
Two amendments moved to strengthen the language of the bill. One amendment noted that defendants who receive life sentence can’t be eligible for parole consideration until they’ve served 51 years. The other amendment added to the definitions of terrorism to offer further protections to law enforcement and first responders. Both amendments were adopted.
The Tennessee House will vote on Thursday whether they will rescind life without parole sentencing for juveniles who commit aggravated rape of a child. Instead, those offenders would be charged with a Class A felony and sentenced in accordance with Range III provisions – 40 to 60 years’ imprisonment.
According to a summary of the bill, charging juveniles with life imprisonment without parole was declared unconstitutional under the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama.
Those who murder or attempt to murder law enforcement or first responders may be sentenced to death or life without parole, respectively. The Tennessee House will vote on two bills outlining these proposed sentencing changes next Thursday. Specifically, these bills would apply to police, correctional officers, department of correction employees, probation and parole officers, emergency medical or rescue workers, EMTs, paramedics, and firefighters.
HB0511 handles murder charges, whereas HB0512 handles attempted murder charges. The former bill would give the jury two options for those who murder law enforcement or first responders: death, or life without parole. The latter bill would add onto the current sentencing options for attempted murder to allow life without parole as a punishment. It would also prohibit relief eligibility for those who received life without parole for aggravated rape, murder, or attempted murder of a child. Current law only limits relief eligibility for aggravated raped or murder of a child – this proposal would expand that to attempted murder.