Criminal Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2022

State of Tennessee v. Marvin Maurice Deberry (MVHO; Amendment to Statute Before Sentencing) DECIDED AUGUST 30, 2022

Style: State of Tennessee v. Marvin Maurice Deberry

TSC Docket Number: W2019-01666-SC-R11-CD

Date of TSC Opinion: August 30, 2022

Opinion of the TSC: Click here.

TSC Summary of the Opinion:

Timing is everything. In this case, at least, that adage holds true. Marvin Maurice Deberry committed a criminal offense and was convicted. But the legislature repealed the statute creating that criminal offense before he was sentenced. Years ago, the legislature enacted a default rule to govern this situation and similar ones. That rule, known as the criminal savings statute, provides generally that an offense must be prosecuted under the law in effect at the time the offense is committed, even if the law is later repealed or amended. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-112 (2018). If the later-enacted law “provides for a lesser penalty,” however, the savings statute dictates that “any punishment imposed shall be in accordance with the subsequent act.” Id. At first, the trial court sentenced Deberry under the law in effect at the time of his offense. But Deberry eventually convinced the trial court that the “lesser penalty” exception applied, and the trial court entered an amended judgment retaining Deberry’s conviction but imposing no punishment. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We now reverse and reinstate Deberry’s original sentence. We hold that a statute that repeals a criminal offense does not “provide for a lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute. Rather, a person who commits an offense that is later repealed should be convicted and sentenced under the law in effect when the offense was committed unless the legislature provides otherwise. Note: this is Justice Campbell’s first opinion.  

Link to Court of Appeals Opinion:

Court of Criminal Appeals Summary:

A jury convicted the Defendant, Marvin Maurice DeBerry, of driving after having been declared a motor vehicle habitual offender (“MVHO”) and of three misdemeanor offenses not presented for appellate review. After his conviction but prior to his sentencing, an amendment to the statute that was the basis of his MVHO conviction went into effect, so that the Defendant’s conduct was no longer criminalized and, concomitantly, triggered no penalty. The trial court, after initially sentencing the Defendant to serve five years, modified the Defendant’s judgment to reflect that he was to be subjected to no penalty. On appeal, we are called to determine whether the Defendant may benefit from the savings statute in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39- 11-112. We hold that the savings statute applies because Legislature’s act of removing punishment for the offense constitutes a lesser penalty. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment reducing the Defendant’s sentence.

Permission to Appeal Granted: September 23, 2021

Appellants’ Briefs Filed: October 25, 2021

Appellees’ Briefs Filed: November 24, 2021

Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed: December 8, 2021

Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed:

Amicus Briefs Permitted:  None

Oral Argument Date:  April 5, 2022

Link to Oral Argument Video:


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