Bill allowing resentencing of certain drug crimes heads to Gov. Lee's desk

School zone
Posted at 10:22 AM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 11:22:51-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A bill tackling sentencing reform for drug-free school zone violations is headed to the governor's desk.

If signed into law this would impact those in prison for a drug-free school zone violation before September 1, 2020. The bill allows three parties, the defendant, the district attorney general or the court, to motion for resentencing if certain criteria are met.

"In a hearing on any such motion, the defendant bears the burden of proof to show that the defendant would be sentenced to a shorter period of confinement if the defendant's offense had occurred on or after September 1, 2020. This amendment prohibits a court from resentencing the defendant if the new sentence would be greater than the sentence originally imposed or if the court finds that resentencing the defendant would not be in the interests of justice," the bill reads.

Last year, the governor created a clemency review process for people convicted of drug crimes in school zones. The process was created after school zone sizes were cut in half from 1,000 feet to 500 feet and judges were given more discretion for sentencing drug crimes in those zones. Being in this school zone added an enhancement to their sentence.

NewsChannel 5 previously reported the number of people in prison for this kind of offense prior to September 1, 2020, was 335.

The bill differs from the clemency review process by allowing those convicted of the crime to petition the court directly.

Further details of the bill include:

"This amendment prohibits a court from hearing a motion for resentencing made pursuant to this amendment if:

(1) A previous motion made under this amendment to reduce the sentence was denied after a review of the motion on the merits;

(2) Resentencing the defendant to a shorter period of confinement for this offense would not reduce the defendant's overall sentence or lead to an earlier release; or

(3) The defendant has previously applied to the governor for a grant of executive clemency on or after December 2, 2021, for the same offense and has been denied."

Groups like the Justice Action Network are applauding this legislation saying the school zones were unfair to begin with in many Tennessee counties.