Supreme Court Rules Constitutional Protection Will Not Apply Retroactively to Guilty Plea

January 28, 2014

The Tennessee Supreme Court has declined to set aside a 13-year-old guilty plea in which the defendant was never told the full extent of his punishment. In doing so, the Court determined that a statute passed in 1995 severely limited the ability of prisoners and parolees to obtain the benefit of newly recognized constitutional rights.

Derrick Brandon Bush pleaded guilty to sexual attempt crimes in Sumner County in 2000. His plea bargain called for a sentence of one year of confinement followed by seven years of probation. A Tennessee law also required that Mr. Bush be placed on lifetime community supervision, a type of parole. However, neither the trial judge nor Mr. Bush’s attorney informed him of this additional sentence. The sentence was added to judgment forms that Mr. Bush did not see until he finished his time in jail.

In 2010, the Supreme Court held in Ward v. State that a failure to inform a criminal defendant that his guilty plea would result in automatic lifetime supervision was a constitutional violation that could invalidate a guilty plea. Relying on this new ruling, Mr. Bush filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2011 and asked the trial court to set aside his conviction. Under Tennessee’s post-conviction law, however, Mr. Bush could only receive the benefit of the Ward decision if the Ward decision applied retroactively to old convictions.

In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court held that its Ward decision did not apply retroactively. The Court pointed out that retroactivity decisions in post-conviction cases should be decided using a 1995 law that limited the types of cases that should be applied retroactively.  Because the Ward decision did not meet this law's standards, it should not be applied retroactively.

Read the Opinion in Derrick Brandon Bush v. State of Tennessee, authored by Justice William C. Koch Jr.