Under Tennessee law, an illegal sentence can be corrected at any time. In the recent case of Lee v. State, W2013-01088-CCA-R3-CO (Tenn.Crim.App. 3-7-2014), an inmate serving time for multiple convictions (two felony drug offenses and a weapon offense) concurrently, filed a motion with the trial court to correct his judgments to impose consecutive sentences, thereby increasing the length of his effective prison term.
He argued three separate legal theories for correcting the judgments. First, he argued the imposition of concurrent sentences was a clerical error. Second, he argued it should be corrected under the Rules of Civil Procedure. Third, he argued the concurrent sentences were illegal because he had been on bond for the first drug offense when he committed the other two offenses. Tennessee law requires the sentence for offenses committed while on bond to be imposed consecutively to any judgment for the offense for which the person was on bond.
The trial court denied the request. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the judgments were clearly not the result of a clerical error, as transcripts showed the trial court did intend to order the sentences concurrent. And the Rules of Civil Procedure do not govern criminal cases. But the motion did raise a colorable claim under the Rules of Criminal Procedure that Mr. Lee’s judgments were illegal due to concurrent sentencing on judgments which must be consecutive by law. The case was remanded back to the trial court.
So, why would an inmate ever want to ‘correct’ his criminal judgments to impose a longer sentence than he already has? It’s probably not because he enjoys the hospitality of the state prison system. Mr. Lee’s judgments were the result of a plea agreement. If his judgments, which were bargained for in a plea agreement, are ‘corrected’ to impose a punishment longer than he bargained for, it will give him a basis to ask the court to vacate his guilty pleas, which will vacate all of the criminal judgments which were part of that agreement. Mr. Lee’s presumption of innocence and his jury trial rights will be restored. As his guilty pleas happened in 1995, perhaps Mr. Lee is betting that the state will no longer have the evidence to convict him of the original offenses at trial. And he will go free.
For more information on criminal sentencing, contact Hindman & Associates.