State of Tennessee v. Marvin Maurice Deberry, No. W2019-01666-SC-R11-CD (April 5, 2022).
Written By: Jonathan Garner, Senior Editor
In 2018 the defendant, Marvin Maurice Deberry, was stopped by law enforcement officers for driving with a defective brake light. Defendant was indicted for multiple traffic- related offenses, one which included driving after being a motor vehicle habitual offender (“MVHO”), violating the Motor Vehicle Habitual Offenders Act (“MVHO Act”). Defendant was convicted by a jury on May 15, 2019, on all counts. The jury recommended only a fine of $1,500 for the MVHO offense, however, he was originally sentenced to incarceration.
Two weeks before Defendant was convicted, the Tennesee legislature repealed the MVHO Act and it was signed into law on May 24th, 2019. The law went into effect six (6) weeks after Defendant was convicted. The repeal of the Act repealed the offense of driving after being declared an MVHO. Furthermore, the MVHRO Repeal Act went into effect one week after Defendant was sentenced. Defendant argued that the because the legislature had repealed the MVHO Act, his punishment should be in accordance with the “lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute, which would be no incarceration.
The Defendant was convicted by a jury on May 15, 2019, on all counts charged and was sentenced to incarceration. Defendant filed a motion for a new trial, verdict of acquittal, or modification, arguing that the because the legislature had repealed the MVHO Act, his punishment should be in accordance with the “lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute, or that he should receive no incarceration since the Act was repealed. The trial court agreed that “no penalty is a lesser penalty”, and granted the Defendant’s motion for a reduction of sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals Affirmed.
The issue in this case was whether a statute that repeals a criminal offense “provides for a lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute.
Although Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-616(a) (2017) was no longer in effect at the time of sentencing, Defendant was correctly sentenced as an MVHO under the law in effect at the time of conviction. This is because of the replacement statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-601 (2020), which imposed no penalty and, therefore, was not a statute providing for a lesser penalty within the meaning of the criminal savings statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-112 (2018), which did not encompass a statute that eliminated an offense altogether
In this case, the Court held that a statute that repeals a criminal offense does not “provide for a lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute. Instead, an individual that commits an offense and the statute that they committed is repealed, should be convicted and sentenced under the law in effect when the offense was committed unless the legislature provides otherwise.
The phrase “provides for a lesser penalty” under the criminal savings statute, and interpreted by the court, means that a person must still be punished for the crime they committed and cannot receive a “get out of jail” free card whenever the legislators repeal the act unless they state otherwise. This is an interpretation of balance within the criminal justice system. The Court essentially weighed the balance of people who commit criminal acts and were aware of it at the time, and what happens if they repeal the act after they have been convicted but not yet sentenced. In society, a person who commits an act against the law must be punished and that is what the Court is saying here. To let a guilty man go free is inappropriate in the eyes of the law.