Supreme Court Clarifies Procedures for Inmates Disputing Parole Eligibility

May 25, 2012

Nashville, Tenn.In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified the procedures an inmate must follow to dispute the determination of parole eligibility for consecutive sentences. 

The case arose when Danny A. Stewart was convicted in 2002 of multiple drug-related offenses and received an aggregate sentence of 42 years at 30 percent. The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) calculated his release eligibility date as March 8, 2010. After the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (BOPP) denied him parole, Stewart filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari naming TDOC and BOPP, among others. He argued that BOPP should have conducted custodial parole hearings and that TDOC should have assigned a release eligibility date to each of his sentences, rather than a single release eligibility date for the aggregate sentence. 

Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court clarified that TDOC and BOPP are separate entities with distinct roles. TDOC is responsible for calculating release eligibility dates, and BOPP decides whether to release inmates on parole. Inmates may obtain judicial review of these decisions, but the procedure differs. To gain review of TDOC’s decision, an inmate must first seek a declaratory order from TDOC before filing an action in court. An inmate may challenge BOPP’s decision in court by filing a petition for a common law writ of certiorari, but the court’s review will be very limited. Stewart was denied relief on his claim against TDOC because he filed in court before seeking a declaratory order, and his claim against BOPP was dismissed because he failed to allege grounds for relief under the common law writ of certiorari. 

To read the Danny A. Stewart v. Derrick D. Schofield, Commissioner, Tennessee Dept. of Corrections opinion authored by Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/stewartd_opn.pdf.