Supreme Court Adopts New Standard of Sentence Review

December 20, 2013

In March of 2006, the body of Jamil Branhan was found at his Nashville apartment.  His death was caused by two gunshot wounds to the head. After several months of investigation, police arrested James Allen Pollard, who was tried and found guilty of first degree murder and especially aggravated robbery.

The trial court sentenced Pollard to life imprisonment for the murder conviction plus an additional 18 years for the especially aggravated robbery. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and the length of the sentences, but instructed the trial court to reconsider whether the evidence supported classifying Pollard as a dangerous offender—a proper ground for ordering consecutive sentences, in lieu of sentences that run together at the same time.

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals, holding that the trial court failed to address the factors essential for the classification of Pollard as a dangerous offender.

The ruling adopts an “abuse of discretion” standard when appellate courts are reviewing sentencing decisions of trial courts that have properly addressed sentencing factors on the record. The Supreme Court held that the trial court in this case had to identify a specific evidentiary basis before “stacking” the two sentences. This new standard provides trial judges with wide discretion in the imposition of sentences involving two or more crimes.

Read the opinion in State of Tennessee v. James Allen Pollard, authored by Chief Justice Gary R. Wade.