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Alternative Sentencing Denied in Vehicular Assault Case

Alternative sentencing, which involves suspension of a jail or prison sentence and some form of community supervision as an alternative to incarceration, is available in Tennessee for most criminal sentences of ten years or less. When not imposed as part of a plea agreement approved by the trial court, the trial court must makes findings and determine whether to impose an alternative sentence or to impose a sentence of confinement. There are statutory and case law guidelines and criteria which trial courts consider in determining whether to impose an alternative sentence or confinement. For criminal convictions which are eligible for alternative sentencing, the sentencing court has the discretion to decide how the sentence is served. These decisions are subject to appeal, in which case the appellate court reviews to determine whether the lower court abused its discretion in imposing the challenged sentence. In the recent case of State v. Crowder, M2012-02396-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 4-3-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court decision to deny alternative sentencing and impose confinement for a defendant convicted of vehicular assault.

Vehicular assault is an offense eligible for probation in Tennessee. In the Crowder case, the defendant pled guilty to vehicular assault and reserved sentencing to be determined by the trial court at a sentencing hearing. At that hearing, the victim of the crime testified that she had been driving to work when the defendant's vehicle crossed into her lane, struck her vehicle, and ran it into a ditch. The victim had been seriously injured, suffering permanent impairment, disability, and disfigurement. The defendant testified she did not remember the accident. The defendant had a blood alcohol content of .07% and tested positive for methamphetamine. The defendant also suffered serious injuries from the wreck.

The trial court imposed a three year sentence (from a range of two to four years) but ordered that the sentence be served in confinement, rather than on probation. The trial court found that the defendant had some prior criminal behavior, in her history of having used marijuana and a few occasions of using meth. The trial court also acknowledged the very extensive injuries to the victim, including the physical and psychological damage. In addition, due to the defendant's testimony at the hearing that she did not think she had an alcohol or drug problem, the trial court concluded she was not adequately accepting responsibility for her conduct.

On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals found the trial court did not abuse discretion in denying alternative sentencing and ordering the sentence to be served in confinement.

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