Criminal Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2022

State of Tennessee v. Booker (Sentencing of a Minor) DECIDED NOVEMBER 18, 2022

Style: State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker

TSC Docket Number: E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD

Date of TSC Opinion: November 18, 2022

Tennessee Supreme Court Decision:  Click here.

Summary of Decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court:

Tyshon Booker challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s mandatory sentence of life imprisonment when imposed on a juvenile homicide offender. In fulfilling our duty to decide constitutional issues, we hold that an automatic life sentence when imposed on a juvenile homicide offender with no consideration of the juvenile’s age or other cir- cumstances violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Mr. Booker stands convicted of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery—crimes he committed when he was sixteen years old. For the homicide conviction, the trial court automatically sentenced Mr. Booker under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-501(h)(2) to life in prison, a sixty-year sentence requiring at least fifty-one years of incarceration. But this sentence does not square with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment. When sentencing a juvenile homicide offender, a court must have discretion to impose a lesser sentence after considering the juvenile’s age and other circumstances. Here, the court had no sentencing discretion. In remedying this constitutional violation, we exercise judicial restraint. We need not create a new sentencing scheme or resentence Mr. Booker—his life sentence stands. Rather, we follow the policy embodied in the federal Constitution as explained in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016) and grant Mr. Booker an individualized parole hearing where his age and other circumstances will be properly considered. The timing of his parole hearing is based on release eligibility in the unrepealed version of section 40-35-501(h)(1), previously in effect, that provides for a term of sixty years with release eligibility of sixty percent, but not less than twenty-five years of service. Thus, Mr. Booker remains sentenced to sixty years in prison, and after he has served between twenty-five and thirty-six years, he will receive an individualized parole hearing where his age and other circumstances will be considered. Our limited ruling, applying only to juvenile homicide offenders, promotes the State’s interest in finality and efficient use of resources, protects Mr. Booker’s Eighth Amendment rights, and is based on sentencing policy enacted by the General  Assembly.  (Majority decision by Justice Lee.)
Concurrence by Justice Kirby:
Not so long ago, it was commonplace for states to require juveniles convicted of homicide to serve sentences of over fifty years. Now, that practice has vanished. A review of sentencing statutes enacted by state legislatures and court decisions shows that there is now only one state where juvenile offenders face a mandatory non-aggregated sentence of more than 50 years for first-degree murder with no aggravating factors—Tennessee. In the entirety of the nation, Tennessee stands alone.
Dissent by Justice Bivins (joined by Chief Justice Page):
I respectfully dissent from the result reached by a majority of the Court today. Quite frankly, I find the policy adopted as a result of the plurality opinion of Justice Lee and the concurring opinion of Justice Kirby to be sound. However, it is just that. It is a policy decision by which the majority today has pushed aside appropriate confines of judicial restraint and applied an evolving standards of decency/independent judgment analysis that impermissibly moves the Court into an area reserved to the legislative branch under the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.

Court of Criminal Appeals Decision: Click here.

Court of Criminal Appeals Summary:

During a botched robbery, sixteen-year-old Tyshon Booker, the Defendant-Appellant, shot and killed the victim, G’Metrick Caldwell. Following extensive hearings in juvenile court, the Defendant was transferred to criminal court to be tried as an adult. At trial, the Defendant admitted that he shot the victim several times in the back while seated in the backseat of the victim’s car; however, he claimed self-defense. A Knox County jury convicted the Defendant of two counts of first-degree felony murder and two counts of especially aggravated robbery, for which he received an effective sentence of life imprisonment. In this appeal as of right, the Defendant raises the following issues for our review: (1) whether the process of transferring a juvenile to criminal court after a finding of three statutory factors by the juvenile court judge violates the Defendant’s rights under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000); (2) whether the State’s suppression of alleged eyewitness identifications prior to the juvenile transfer hearing constitutes a Brady violation, requiring remand for a new juvenile transfer hearing; (3) whether the juvenile court erred in transferring the Defendant to criminal court given defense expert testimony that the Defendant suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was amenable to treatment; (4) whether the trial court erred in finding that the Defendant was engaged in unlawful activity at the time of the offense and in instructing the jury that the Defendant had a duty to retreat before engaging in self-defense; (5) whether an improper argument by the State in closing arguments constitutes prosecutorial misconduct requiring a new trial; (6) whether evidence of juror misconduct warrants a new trial and whether the trial court erred in refusing to subpoena an additional juror; (7) whether a sentence of life imprisonment for a Tennessee juvenile violates the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Rule 11 Application Granted on Limited Issues:

(1) Whether the sentence of life imprisonment violates the United States or Tennessee Constitutions; and

(2) what sentencing options may be available under Tennessee law if the sentence of life imprisonment is improper.  In their supplemental briefs, the parties shall also address what sentencing options may be available under Tennessee law if the sentence of life-imprisonment is improper.

Pre-argument Briefing:

Appellant:  November 19, 2020

Appellee:  December 18, 2020

Appellant’s Reply:  January 19, 2020

First Oral Argument Date:  February 24, 2021 in Nashville (by video).

Link to Oral Argument Video:–ll0N8ayo

Second Oral Argument Date:  February 24, 2022 in Nashville (live).

Second Oral Argument Video:

Post-argument Briefing As Requested by the Court:   Order of June 10, 2021 

Approximately two months after the parties in this appeal presented oral arguments before this Court on February 24, 2021, the United States Supreme Court decided Jones v. Mississippi, 593 U.S. ___ (Apr. 22, 2021), and in it discussed Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016). The parties are hereby ordered to file supplemental briefs addressing any implications Jones, and specifically its discussion of Miller and Montgomery, has to the issue in this appeal. The supplemental briefs shall be filed by the State and by Mr. Booker within thirty (30) days of this Order.

Appellee’s supplemental brief: filed July 10, 2021

Appellant’s supplemental brief:  filed July 12, 2021



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