Tennessee Supreme Court Holds Defendant Who Enters No Contest Plea Not Entitled to Notice that Refusal to Admit Responsibility in Sex Offender Treatment May Result in Revocation of Probation or Diversion

December 11, 2018

The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s revocation of judicial diversion for Westley A. Albright, who entered a no contest guilty plea to one count of solicitation of a minor, for which he was placed on judicial diversion and received a one-year probationary term.  As a condition of his probation, Mr. Albright was required to register as a sex offender and undergo sex offender treatment. 

The trial court revoked Mr. Albright’s judicial diversion after he was discharged from his sex offender treatment program for noncompliance.  Specifically, Mr. Albright had failed to take responsibility for the conduct underlying his conviction during his treatment program.  The trial court, however, allowed Mr. Albright to remain on probation, but required that he serve an additional six months on probation and complete sex offender therapy.  Mr. Albright appealed the decision of the trial court, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether due process requires that a sex offender be informed in conjunction with the offender’s plea that judicial diversion and probation could be revoked if the offender is discharged from sex offender treatment due to refusal to admit guilt during the treatment.  The defendant argued that the “hidden” requirement that he admit his intent to solicit a minor as part of his sex offender treatment was inconsistent with his no contest guilty plea.

In its decision, the Court refused to distinguish among the different methods by which a defendant ultimately is convicted of a crime in terms of what notice the trial court must provide regarding probation.  According to the Court, the particular fact that Mr. Albright entered a no contest guilty plea was of no consequence to the due process inquiry.   Regarding the due process issue, the Court held that the trial court was not required to provide the defendant with actual notice that his sex offender treatment would require certain admissions.  In so doing, the Court overturned a case from the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals holding otherwise.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals in Mr. Albright’s case.

Justice Sharon G. Lee dissented, concluding that the revocation of Mr. Albright’s diversion violated his due process rights. In her view, requiring Mr. Albright to admit responsibility for his underlying conduct during treatment is fundamentally inconsistent with a no contest plea that the trial court accepted without requiring an admission of guilt. Further, Mr. Albright had no notice that admitting criminal intent in sex offender treatment was a condition of his diversion, and he had otherwise complied with all stated conditions of his probation.

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in State of Tennessee v. Westley A. Albright, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, and the dissenting opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.