Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, December 11, 2015

Tennessee Supreme Court update

Court adopts changes

to Code of Judicial Conduct

The Tennessee Supreme Court has amended the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct regarding judges and judicial candidates’ election campaign conduct.

The recent changes stem from suggestions made by a joint committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee Trial Judges Association, which presented to Chief Justice Sharon Lee its “Report to the Tennessee Judicial Conference on Revisions to the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct.”

The Supreme Court made significant revisions to the Code of Judicial Conduct in 2012. The findings in the judges’ report were based on their experience since the revised Code was adopted. Although the report recommended a number of amendments, the Supreme Court did not adopt all of the proposed changes. The Supreme Court thanked the members of the joint committee for their work and expressed its appreciation for the committee’s thoughtful presentation of the issues raised.

The Code of Judicial Conduct continues to impose significant limitations on political activities by judges and judicial candidates. Under the amended Code, judges and judicial candidates are now permitted to: Endorse or oppose judges or judicial candidates in a partisan, nonpartisan, or retention election for judicial office; speak on behalf of his or her candidacy through any medium, including but not limited to advertisements, websites, or other campaign literature; seek, accept, or use endorsements from any person or organization; publicly endorse or oppose judges or judicial candidates in a partisan, nonpartisan, or retention election for any judicial office; group themselves into slates or other alliances to conduct their campaigns more effectively, including by establishing joint campaign committees; solicit funds for a political organization or candidate for public office, only from a member of the judge’s family or a member of the judicial candidate’s family; and begin some campaign activities up to one year prior to the election.

See the details in the order on TNCourts.gov.

Court clarifies criminal procedure rule concerning illegal sentences

In two opinions filed last week, the Supreme Court has clarified the meaning and purpose of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, which sets out a procedure for challenging illegal sentences.

Illegal sentences are those that are not authorized by law or that directly conflict with the law. The Court explained that since Rule 36.1 was adopted in 2011, it has not expanded the scope of relief available for illegal sentence claims, but it differs from the procedure previously used to raise such claims in two key ways. First, Rule 36.1 permits the State and the defendant to bring illegal sentence claims, where only the defendant could bring such a claim under the prior procedure. Second, Rule 36.1 requires illegal sentence claims to be filed in the court that imposed the sentence, rather than in the court closest to where the defendant was incarcerated.

Despite these differences, the Court emphasized that Rule 36.1 does not expand the scope of relief available for illegal sentence claims. To obtain relief under Rule 36.1, a moving party must show that the challenged sentence is “illegal,” as described above, and that the challenged sentence has not expired. The Supreme Court explained that this expiration requirement limited the scope of relief under the prior procedure and was not changed by revisions to Rule 36.1, as some panels of the Court of Criminal Appeals have held.

Applying its holdings, the Supreme Court concluded that the defendant in State v. Wooden failed to show that his challenged sentence was an illegal sentence and that the defendant’s sentence in State v. Brown expired several years before he sought relief under Rule 36.1. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals judgments, upholding the trial court decisions denying Wooden’s and Brown’s Rule 36.1 motions.

To read the unanimous opinions in State v. Wooden and State v. Brown, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.