Timing is everything. In this case, at least, that adage holds true. Marvin Maurice Deberry committed a criminal offense and was convicted. But the legislature repealed the statute creating that criminal offense before he was sentenced. Years ago, the legislature enacted a default rule to govern this situation and similar ones. That rule, known as the criminal savings statute, provides generally that an offense must be prosecuted under the law in effect at the time the offense is committed, even if the law is later repealed or amended. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-112 (2018). If the later-enacted law “provides for a lesser penalty,” however, the savings statute dictates that “any punishment imposed shall be in accordance with the subsequent act.” Id. At first, the trial court sentenced Deberry under the law in effect at the time of his offense. But Deberry eventually convinced the trial court that the “lesser penalty” exception applied, and the trial court entered an amended judgment retaining Deberry’s conviction but imposing no punishment. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We now reverse and reinstate Deberry’s original sentence. We hold that a statute that repeals a criminal offense does not “provide for a lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute. Rather, a person who commits an offense that is later repealed should be convicted and sentenced under the law in effect when the offense was committed unless the legislature provides otherwise.
Case Number: W2019-01666-SC-R11-CD
Originating Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.
Case Name: State of Tennessee v. Marvin Maurice Deberry
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