Tyshon Booker challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s mandatory sentence of life
imprisonment when imposed on a juvenile homicide offender. In fulfilling our duty to
decide constitutional issues, we hold that an automatic life sentence when imposed on a
juvenile homicide offender with no consideration of the juvenile’s age or other
circumstances violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Mr. Booker stands convicted of
felony murder and especially aggravated robbery—crimes he committed when he was
sixteen years old. For the homicide conviction, the trial court automatically sentenced Mr.
Booker under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-501(h)(2) to life in prison, a
sixty-year sentence requiring at least fifty-one years of incarceration. But this sentence
does not square with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth
Amendment. When sentencing a juvenile homicide offender, a court must have discretion
to impose a lesser sentence after considering the juvenile’s age and other circumstances.
Here, the court had no sentencing discretion. In remedying this constitutional violation, we
exercise judicial restraint. We need not create a new sentencing scheme or resentence Mr.
Booker—his life sentence stands. Rather, we follow the policy embodied in the federal
Constitution as explained in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016) and grant Mr.
Booker an individualized parole hearing where his age and other circumstances will be
properly considered. The timing of his parole hearing is based on release eligibility in the
unrepealed version of section 40-35-501(h)(1), previously in effect, that provides for a term
of sixty years with release eligibility of sixty percent, but not less than twenty-five years
of service. Thus, Mr. Booker remains sentenced to sixty years in prison, and after he has
served between twenty-five and thirty-six years, he will receive an individualized parole
hearing where his age and other circumstances will be considered. Our limited ruling,
applying only to juvenile homicide offenders, promotes the State’s interest in finality and
efficient use of resources, protects Mr. Booker’s Eighth Amendment rights, and is based
on sentencing policy enacted by the General Assembly.
Judge G. Scott Green
State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker
Dissent or Concur
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