Tennessee Supreme Court Rules on Required Notice for Enhanced Sentence

November 30, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated a life sentence without the possibility of parole that defendant Kevin Patterson received under Tennessee’s three strikes law for his conviction of attempted second degree murder. The defendant argued the State did not provide him with the required pre-trial notice that it planned to use his prior convictions to obtain an enhanced sentence. The Supreme Court held while the notice was imperfect, the defendant was not prejudiced by the errors. 

The defendant’s most recent convictions were based on an incident that occurred in Coffee County in 2013, during which the defendant shot a man and struck the man’s girlfriend.  The incident was apparently a continuation of an earlier argument the defendant had with the couple. 

The State gave the defendant pre-trial notice of its intent to ask the trial court to sentence him as a repeat violent offender and listed a number of the defendant’s prior convictions, including two prior convictions that were the basis of the repeat violent offender sentencing enhancement.  However, the State’s notice failed to specify which of the defendant’s prior convictions qualified him for sentencing as a repeat violent offender, and it misidentified the date of the defendant’s prior conviction of facilitation of second degree murder and the county of origin of the defendant’s prior second degree murder conviction.  

The defendant did not challenge the sufficiency of the State’s notice in the trial court and actually stipulated to the accuracy of his prior criminal record in the trial court.  The trial court agreed that the defendant qualified as a repeat violent offender and imposed a life sentence. The defendant did not challenge the sufficiency of the State’s notice on appeal, but the Court of Criminal Appeals on its own initiative set aside the defendant’s life sentence. The majority concluded that the State’s notice was so defective that it did not count as notice at all.  The dissenting judge would have held that, although imperfect, the notice sufficiently apprised the defendant of the State’s intent to seek enhanced sentencing and that the defendant had not been prejudiced by the deficiencies.  The Supreme Court agreed with the dissenting judge. 

The Supreme Court reiterated that Tennessee law requires the State to provide pre-trial notice of its intent to seek enhanced sentencing and precludes the State from doing so if it fails entirely to provide the defendant with notice. The Supreme Court emphasized that the State actually had provided pre-trial notice of its intent to seek enhanced sentencing in this case, even though the notice was deficient in some respects.  The Supreme Court concluded the defendant was not entitled to relief under the plain error doctrine because he had failed to establish any prejudice resulting from the deficient notice and actually had stipulated to the accuracy of his criminal record.  The Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s judgment sentencing the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

To read the unanimous opinion in State v. Patterson, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.