Tennessee New Offenders Gun Law

There are a handful of new laws going into effect in Tennessee on January 1, 2008. Always the most interesting thing to me, considering what I do on a daily basis, is the new criminal statutes. The Crooks with Guns Act, as it has been titled, dramatically increases penalties for firearm-related offenses associated with the commission of certain listed “dangerous felonies.” The operational elements of the new TCA 39-17-1324 are as follows:

(a) Possessing a firearm with the intent to be armed while committing or attempting to commit a dangerous felony

(b) Possessing a firearm during

1. the commission of a dangerous felony;

2. an attempt to commit a dangerous felony;

3. fleeing or escaping from the commission of a dangerous felony;

4. flee or escape the attempt to commit a dangerous felony.

The teeth are in the sentence. If the defendant has a prior felony conviction, the law creates a new class of felony, essentially a “Class Super C” and a “Class Super D”. Infractions in subsection (b) are considered a Class C felony, but require a mandatory minimum sentence of ten (10) years with zero release eligibility and no supervised release option. However, the standard Class C felony for a Rank I offender is three (3) to six (6) years. The new law stands alone for a minimum of ten (10) years, from the offender’s rank (this is not problematic with Rank II offenders, where the rank itself is six (6) to ten (10) years, where the minimum simply becomes the maximum already allowed in the range). A violation of subsection (a) is a Class D felony, with a minimum sentence of five (5) years if the defendant has a prior felony conviction. Without a prior felony conviction, the minimums are six (6) and three (3) years, respectively.

In addition, prison credit is modified with the new law. In Department of Correction custody, one typically qualifies for “good time,” which generally receives three days credit against his sentence for every two he serves (standard in local Davidson County custody, which is for sentencing less than six (6) years old, it is two days for each day you serve). Crooks with Guns law largely eliminates that good time; Similar to federal sentencing rules, you can complete your sentence no earlier than 85% of it.

One aspect of the proposed change in gun laws puzzles me, however, by amending TCA 39-17-1307, possessing a deadly weapon that is not a firearm in the commission of a “dangerous felony” as listed in Gun robbery law is a standard Class E felony. That part makes sense and would apply to knives, pool cues, baseball bats, etc. However, possessing a firearm in the commission, attempt to commit, or escape a non-dangerous “crime” (note, not felony) is a Class E felony. A Class E felony carries a sentence of one (1) to two (2) years for a rank I offender. So in essence, if you possess a firearm while committing the less serious misdemeanor, you could face a felony conviction (think driving with a suspended license due to unpaid fines or burglary, both class C misdemeanors, and the way it is written, possessing a valid concealed carry permit would not matter at all).

To me this part appears to be an overreach of the law and would operate completely outside the spirit of the Crooks with Guns law. Hopefully, the amended wording won’t be enforced that way, but with the way the legislature wrote it, my reading certainly confirms that the new law would allow it.

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