The Supreme Court ruled today that a criminal offense that provides for a mandatory minimum period of confinement does not necessarily prevent a defendant charged with that crime from being eligible for judicial diversion.
The defendant, Shanice L. Dycus, pled guilty in 2012 to multiple drug offenses after being arrested four times in nine months. One of those arrests was for possession of marijuana with intent to sell or deliver within 1,000 feet of a school zone in Clarksville – a violation of the Drug-Free School Zone Act,which requires mandatory jail time upon the court’s entering of a guilty judgment.
Dycus requested the trial court place her on judicial diversion. Judicial diversion is an option for some defendants to serve a period of time on probation, with certain conditions, to allow them to prove that they are capable of being rehabilitated. If the defendant successfully completes the diversion period, the proceedings against the defendant are dismissed. Certain criteria, such as the circumstances of the offense and criminal record must be considered on the record to determine whether judicial diversion is appropriate.
In this case, the trial court determined that, while the offense itself did not preclude Ms. Dycus from judicial diversion, her “complete disrespect for the law” and other factors did not make her a suitable candidate for diversion. Her request was denied, and she was sentenced to two years in jail.
The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court that the defendant was eligible for diversion, but reversed the trial court’s denial of diversion because the trial court failed to consider and weigh all the relevant factors. The Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to the trial court for reconsideration. The State appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted review.
In its ruling today, the Supreme Court determined that, when the language of both the judicial diversion statute and the Drug-Free School Zone Act are read together, the proper interpretation is that, because judicial diversion occurs before a defendant is sentenced, the mandatory minimum confinement period required by the Drug-Free School Zone Act would not apply to a defendant who was properly eligible for judicial diversion.
The Court also noted that the General Assembly has specifically exempted some crimes from the judicial diversion law, and a violation of the Drug-Free School Zone Act is not among those exclusions.
Finally, the Court concluded, based on its own review of the record, that “the ends of justice would not be served by granting the defendant’s request for judicial diversion.” Therefore, the Court reinstated the trial court’s denial of diversion.
Read the unanimous opinion in State of Tennessee v. Shanice L. Dycus, authored by Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins.