Legislation seeks to reform and streamline state’s death penalty process by expediting appeals straight to the State Supreme Court
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week to reform the state’s death penalty appeals process by expediting cases straight to the Tennessee Supreme Court, eliminating an intermediate step to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Senate Bill 400, the Sergeant Daniel Baker Act, is named for a Dickson County Sheriff’s officer who was brutally murdered during a traffic stop. The killer then moved Baker’s car to a field where he set it afire with the officer’s body inside.
Capital punishment in Tennessee is reserved for the most heinous, atrocious or cruel acts of murder.
Tennessee is in the minority of states which do not have a direct appeals process in capital crime cases as a result of a 1967 law which put midlevel appeals in place. The law implemented a process in which persons sentenced to death have automatic appeals to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals before moving to the State Supreme Court for a mandatory review. The decision by the intermediary court is not final until the state’s highest court hears the case.
Death row inmates can also file appeals in federal court, meaning it can take several decades before the appeals process is complete.
Fifty-eight people currently sit on death row in Tennessee after being found guilty of heinous acts of murder, with the longest serving person being convicted in 1983. The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote. The bill also received approval in the House Judiciary Committee this week and awaits further action by the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee before moving to the floor for final consideration there.