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February 28, 2020

Illegal Sentences

Case: State of Tennessee v. Yodelkis Contreras

Facts: Defendant pled guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 10 years of probation, which was an unauthorized sentence pursuant to TCA 40-35-303. When he violated probation, the trial court revoked probation and imposed a sentence of   10 years’ confinement. Defendant appealed, contending that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to revoke his probation and that the delay between the issuance of the original probation violation warrant and the probation revocation hearing violated his constitutional right to a speedy disposition of the violation.

Appellate decision: The intermediate court affirmed the sentence, holding that “had the effect of remedying the previous sentencing illegality. Because the defendant’s current sentence is not illegal, nothing more is required.” The court also dismissed the Defendant’s timeliness objections as waived since they were not raised below.

Review granted: February 21, 2020. The Supreme Court’s Order granting review requested briefing on the following issues:

1) Whether Mr. Contreras’s sentence had expired before the trial court revoked his probation.

2) Whether the general tolling provisions announced in State v. Shaffer, 45 S.W.3d 553 (Tenn. 2001), apply to the unique circumstances of this case in which the defendant was illegally placed on probation, the State had notice of the illegality and an opportunity to correct it but chose not to do so, and the State failed to serve the probation violation warrant even though the defendant was incarcerated.

Prediction: Ben thinks the Supreme Court will likely affirm the imposition of sentence under the unusual facts of this case, in the absence of a better remedy. David disagrees. This was an illegal sentence per se.  See Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S.W. 363 (1927), in the appeal of the famous “Monkey Trial,” an illegal sentence (a fine of $100) worked a new trial. Because there was no “conviction” under TCA 40-35-303 there was no valid sentence either. The time issue is a closer question but the first issue should be dispositive.