By Richard Locker,
June 6, 2010

NASHVILLE — Tennessee armed-robbery convicts will be locked behind prison bars more than twice as long — for nearly 6 years — as they are now under a bill approved by the state legislature.

The House late Friday concurred with an amendment the Senate added Thursday as it passed the anti-crime measure long sought by law enforcement officials.

“By ensuring tougher sentences for those convicted of aggravated robbery, it will keep these serious offenders off the streets longer and will serve as a deterrent to other potential violent criminals,” said Shelby County Dist. Atty. Gen. Bill Gibbons.

“Our communities will be safer. This is the type of legislation DAs and other law officials have been pushing for many years.”

The bill mandates that those convicted of aggravated robbery (commonly known as armed robbery) committed after June 30 serve at least 70 percent of their prison sentences — up from the current minimum of 30 percent — before they are eligible for parole. It sets minimum incarceration at 85 percent but allows good-behavior credits to reduce parole eligibility to no less than 70 percent of the sentence.

The minimum sentence for aggravated robbery, a Class B felony under Tennessee’s criminal code, is 8 years but under current law, convicts are parole eligible after serving 30 percent, or 2 years, 5 months. The bill raises minimum incarceration time to just over 5 years, 7 months.

Similar enhancements are already law for aggravated robbery convicts with prior convictions for the crime. The new bill applies longer jail times for convicts without the prior convictions for the same crime.

Gov. Phil Bredesen is expected to sign it into law, adding aggravated robbery to a list of violent crimes mandating higher percentages of sentences to be served locked up, regardless of “good time-credits” earned.

The bill is a rare bipartisan initiative of the year. Its prime sponsors are Sen. Douglas Henry and Rep. Gary Odom, Nashville Democrats, but Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and other Republicans signed on as co-sponsors rather than pushing identical bills of their own.

“The safety of our citizens should be a priority of state government,” Norris said. “These are not petty criminals. They are hardened criminals who use a firearm in the commission of a crime. This bill aims to make our communities safer by keeping these violent offenders off the street where they are no longer a danger to the public.”

Despite the bipartisan backing of legislative leaders, House Republicans almost killed the bill last month over a compromise that paid for the higher costs of keeping the violent criminals in jail longer. The bill diverts some of those convicted of a short list of non-violent property crimes from prison cells into supervised community corrections programs.

House Republicans balked at that provision last month — voting along party lines to retain jail time for such property crimes as passing forged checks of under $1,000 and shoplifting of under $1,000. But they offered no alternative to pay for the added jail times for armed robbers and ultimately relented.

The new bill is the fourth “Crooks with Guns” laws pushed by a coalition of prosecutors led by Gibbons, police chiefs and sheriffs and gradually enacted in recent years to enhance jail terms for crimes involving firearms.

Odom, the House Democratic leader, said he pushed this year’s bill after a constituent told him of being robbed at gunpoint by a man released from prison after only two years for armed robbery. “He said, ‘Gary, this guy pointed a gun at me and robbed me in broad daylight in my yard. I was angry when I learned that he had done it before and should have still been in jail,'” Odom said.

—Richard Locker: (615) 255-4923

In other action: Guns-in-bars law passes hurdles

Now that the governor’s veto has been overridden, a law allowing handgun permit holders to bring weapons into bars and alcohol-serving restaurants will go into effect soon, possibly by the end of the week, said Republican House sponsor Curry Todd of Collierville.


The Tennessee House voted 61-30 late Friday night to override Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto. The Senate voted 22-10 for it late last month.

“The bill must be engrossed by the clerks’ offices and then be sent to the Secretary of State to be assigned a public chapter number. That process will take a few days,” Todd said on Saturday.

The measure applies to the state’s 270,000 handgun carry permit holders, plus visitors from states whose permits are recognized by Tennessee.

Bar and restaurant owners will maintain the power to ban all weapons from their establishments.

Once the law does go into effect, handgun-carry permit holders who are caught consuming alcohol while carrying their gun face a Class A misdemeanor charge under Tennessee’s criminal code, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 11 months, 29 days in jail. In addition, a permit-holder convicted of consuming alcohol in a place serving alcohol must forfeit the carry permit for three years.

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