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Trial Court Has Wide Discretion in Weighing Sentencing Factors

Since the 2005 amendments to the Sentencing Act in Tennessee, trial courts were afforded expanded discretion in the consideration of enhancement and mitigating factors and in selecting a sentence within the appropriate statutory range for a criminal offense. In addition to no longer requiring enhancement factors to impose a sentence anywhere within the statutory range, the Sentencing Act amendments effectively changed the standard of review on appeal of the sentence imposed. This of course all applies to felony DUI convictions as well, as illustrated in the recent case of State v. Tipton, E2011-02354-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 11-7-2012).

In the Tipton case, the Defendant was stopped for not wearing a seatbelt. The police officer who conducted the stop observed signs indicating intoxication. The Defendant performed poorly on field sobriety tests. A blood alcohol test was administered with a result of .10. The Defendant was ultimately convicted by a jury of felony (fourth offense) DUI, and other offenses relating to that incident. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed one year and six months to serve in confinement.

On appeal, the Defendant argued that the trial court erred by not attributing enough weight to the mitigating factor that the Defendant had not committed any crimes within the eight years preceding the latest DUI. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the weight a trial court attributes to a particular factor is not reviewable on appeal, as it is within the discretion of the trial court to weigh those factors. In addition, the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that the trial court did attribute substantial weight to that factor, as it was expressly the reason the trial court only imposed a sentence of one year and six months, rather than the two year sentence the trial court could have imposed.

For more information on sentencing issues in Tennessee criminal cases, contact Hindman and Associates.

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