KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Criminal Appeals Court says a Tennessee law that allows longer sentences for gang members is unconstitutional.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1WhkgLi) the Thursday ruling came in the case of Devonte Bonds, Thomas Bishop and Jason Sullivan. The three were convicted of attempted second-degree murder for beating Jonathan Dyer when they kicked him out of their gang.
Dyer was in a medically induced coma for nine weeks and needed extensive rehabilitative therapy to relearn how to talk, walk and do other things.
At sentencing Bonds was given 23 years, Bishop was sentenced to 37 years and Sullivan was sentenced to 40 years. They appealed both their convictions and their sentences.
In the Thursday ruling, the appeals court left the convictions intact but said the sentences that were boosted by the gang enhancement law could not stand.
The court ruled that the law is so overly broad it allows gang members to serve extra prison time for crimes that had nothing to do with the gang or for the actions in which those being sentenced were not even involved. That is a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, the court said. And the court noted that membership in a gang, even a criminal one, is not illegal.
The Tennessee attorney general's office could ask the state Supreme Court to review the ruling, although the high court is under no obligation to do so.
If the ruling stands, it could affect other cases that have used the sentencing enhancement. In Knox County alone, those cases number in the dozens.
Florida had a sentencing enhancement similar to Tennessee's, but the Florida Supreme Court struck it down in 1999 for the same reasons now being cited by the Tennessee appellate court.