Tennessee’s New Crooks With Guns Law

There is a smattering of new laws going into effect in Tennessee come January 1, 2008. Always the most interesting to me, considering what I do on a daily basis, are the new criminal statutes. The Crooks with Guns law, as it has been entitled, drastically increases the punishments for gun related crimes associated with the commission of certain enumerated “dangerous felonies”. The operative elements of the new TCA 39-17-1324 are as follows:

(a) Possessing a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony

(b) Possessing a firearm during

1. the commission of a dangerous felony;

2. an attempt to commit a dangerous felony;

3. flight or escape from the commission of a dangerous felony;

4. flight or escape from the attempt to commit a dangerous felony.

The teeth are in the sentencing. If the defendant has a prior felony conviction, the law creates a new class of felony, essentially a “Super C Class” and a “Super D Class”. Violations of subsection (b) are deemed a Class C felony, but demand a mandatory minimum ten (10) year sentence with zero release eligibility, and no option for supervised release. However, the standard Class C felony for a Range I offender is three (3) to six (6) years. The new law stands alone at a minimum of ten (10) years, regardless of the range of the offender (this isn’t problematic with Range II offenders, where the range itself is six (6) to ten (10) years, where the minimum simply becomes the maximum already allowed in the range). A violation of subsection (a) is a Class D felony, with a minimum sentence of five (5) years if the defendant has a prior felony conviction. Without a prior felony conviction, the minimums are six (6) and three (3) years, respectively.

As well, jail credit is tweaked with the new law. In Department of Correction custody, one typically qualifies for “good time”, which is usually getting three days of credit against your sentence for every two you serve (standard in local Davidson County custody, which is for sentences under six (6) years, is two days for every one day you serve). The Crooks with Guns law largely eliminates such good time – akin to federal sentencing rules, you can complete your sentence no earlier than after having served 85% of it.

One aspect of the proposed change in the gun laws puzzles me, however, In amending TCA 39-17-1307, possessing a deadly weapon that is not a firearm in the commission of a “dangerous felony” as listed in the Crooks with Guns law is a standard Class E felony. That part makes sense, and would apply to knives, pool cues, baseball bats, etc. However, possessing a firearm in the commission, attempt to commit or escape from a non-dangerous “offense” (note, not felony) is a Class E felony. A Class E felony entails a one (1) to two (2) year sentence for a Range I offender. So, in essence, if you possess a firearm while committing the least serious misdemeanor, you could suffer a felony conviction (think Driving on a Suspended License because of unpaid tickets, or Criminal Trespass, both Class C Misdemeanors – and the way it is written, possessing a valid concealed carry permit wouldn’t matter a lick).

To me, this part seems to be an overreach of the law, and would operate entirely outside the spirit of the Crooks with Guns law. Hopefully the amended wording won’t be enforced in that manner, but with the way the legislature wrote it, my reading certainly confirms the new law would allow it.

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