Nashville Criminal Defense Blog

Navigating the high stakes of an out-of-state DUI

As summer draws nearer in Tennessee, many tourists will flock to Nashville and other parts of the state. Unfortunately, a fun vacation can be soured when a police officer pulls you over on suspicion of drunk driving.

A DUI arrest can be devastating at any time. Yet, for those coming from out of state, you may also feel confusion on the process and penalties to follow. You may worry about the effects a DUI can have on your life and driver’s license when you return home.

The criminal appeals process

For many Tennessee residents, the process of appealing a court ruling is a bit unclear. In order for an appellate court to consider an appeal, there must be demonstrable evidence indicating that a grievous error was made during the trial, one that had a large effect on the final outcome. Otherwise, even if the aggrieved does prove that an error did happen, the appellate court will consider it a harmless error.

With that said, people can appeal their case based on four basic grounds. To start with, proving that the lower court committed a serious error, one that violates the defendant's substantial rights somehow, can form the basis for an appeal and may result in overturning a court ruling. For instance, should a judge miscalculate a sentence, then the defendant can appeal their case. Another case where a defendant can appeal is when the evidence itself had insufficient weight. However, this can be harder to prove since the appellate course rarely takes the time to hear the testimony of the witnesses or look at the presentation of the evidence. Fortunately, DNA evidence has been changing this.

Nashville Conviction Review Unit to uncover wrongful convictions

"We need to be able to look at old cases, especially where someone is claiming that they are wrongfully convicted," says Assistant District Attorney Robert Jones, who leads the Conviction Review Unit at the Nashville District Attorney's office.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 25 Tennessee inmates have been exonerated since 1989. Combined, they lost over 230 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.

Visiting Tennessee? Understand our reckless driving law

In many states, the offense of reckless driving is limited to a few specific activities. In Tennessee, there are some specific activities that constitute reckless driving, but the overall definition is driving any vehicle "in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property."

That means that whether you are charged with this rather serious offense depends in large part on a police officer's opinion about what you did.

Could the Brown case mean criminal justice reform in Tennessee?

As you probably know, Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown. Brown, 30, was sentenced to life in prison after she, a teenage sex trafficking victim, killed a man who paid to have sex with her. Brown had appealed her life sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life behind bars violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. That appeal ended her in becoming eligible for parole at age 69 -- after 51 years.

Many people were outraged that Brown's sentence was so harsh, both because she was a teenager when she committed the homicide and because she was arguably defending herself from sex trafficking.

Why would you appeal a felony conviction?

If you’ve been found guilty of a felony, you might wonder how your trial could’ve gone differently. Paying fines, providing compensation to a victim or their family, serving prison time and parole may all factor into your sentencing.

But in some cases, your punishment may not be proportionate to the crime. Or, you might believe there was a mistake made during your trial. Depending on the circumstances of your case, it might be in your best interest to appeal the court’s decision.

Tennessee man wins release, finally, thanks to First Step Act

You may remember the plight of Matthew Charles. Convicted for a crack offense, Charles was lucky enough to be released from prison in 2016, nearly a decade before his term was up. He had been saved -- he thought -- by a reduction in the federal sentencing guidelines' mandatory sentences for crack offenses.

Previously, crack sentences had been up to 100 times harsher than the sentences for an equivalent amount of powder cocaine. Charles' release was part of an effort to reduce this senseless disparity, which had been found discriminatory against African-Americans.

The holidays could find you needing a Tennessee criminal defense

The holiday season is here, and you may be visiting friends or family here in the Nashville area. You could attend plenty of parties and holiday gatherings with those you love, which means you may travel between locations and/or to and from a hotel. During those travels, you could end up gaining the attention of law enforcement officers who are probably out in force during this season looking for drunk drivers. If you end up getting stopped and charged with DUI, preparing your criminal defense will become a top priority. 

If you find yourself under arrest for DUI, you cannot just go home after your visit and forget about the incident. Instead, you will need to find a way to deal with it. While having advice and assistance with criminal charges in your home state is important, it becomes crucial when those charges are filed in another state. You may envision a lot of time off work and travel in order to meet the requirements of the court, but it does not necessarily have to be that way.

Cyntoia Brown to serve 51 years before eligible for parole

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that sentencing juvenile offenders to life in prison without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. The court had previously ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to juvenile defendants.

"Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features -- among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences," explained Justice Elena Kagan for the majority. "It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him -- and from which he cannot usually extricate himself - no matter how brutal or dysfunctional."

Does the Constitution's 'excessive fines' clause apply to states?

In 2015, Tyson Timbs pled guilty to heroin charges and sentenced to five years' detention and probation. However, since his 2012 Land Rover was allegedly used to transport the drugs, the state of Indiana seized it as property that had been involved in crime. The vehicle was worth approximately $42,000 -- four times the maximum fine the state could impose for the crime he committed. The trial judge and an appeals court ruled that the seizure violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "excessive fines."

The Indiana Supreme Court had a different interpretation. Among several conclusions, it ruled that Indiana could not be held to account for violating the excessive fines clause because that clause only applies to the federal government. If that is true, states could impose whatever fines they want, no matter how excessive, without violating the Eighth Amendment.

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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Fifth Third Center, Suite 2260
Nashville, TN 37219

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