State v. Booker

Decision Date18 November 2022
Docket NumberE2018-01439-SC-R11-CD
CourtTennessee Supreme Court



No. E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 18, 2022

February 24, 2022 Session Heard at Nashville [1]

Appeal by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Court for Knox County No. 108568 G. Scott Green, Judge

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.

Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals Reversed in Part

Eric Lutton, District Public Defender, and Jonathan P. Harwell, Assistant District Public Defender, for the appellant, Tyshon Booker.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Sophia Blumstein, Solicitor General; Zachary T. Hinkle, Associate Solicitor General; Mark Alexander Carver, Honors Fellow, Office of the Solicitor General; Charme P. Allen, District Attorney General; and TaKisha M. Fitzgerald and Phillip Morton, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Amy R. Mohan and L. Webb Campbell II, Nashville, Tennessee, and Marsha L. Levick, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the Amicus Curiae, Juvenile Law Center.

Charles W. Bone, Nashville, Tennessee, and J. Houston Gordon, Covington, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, The Foundation for Justice, Freedom and Mercy, and Cyntoia Brown Long.

Edmund S. Sauer and Richard W.F. Swor, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Raphah Institute.

Gibeault C. Creson, Alexandra Ortiz Hadley, and Robert R. McLeod, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Julie A. Gallagher.

Gregory D. Smith, J. David Wicker, and Alexandra T. MacKay, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP.

Meri B. Gordon, Rachel H. Berg, Joshua D. Arters, and Samantha M. Flener, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the Children's Defense Fund.


Michael R. Working, David R. Esquivel, Jeff H. Gibson, Sarah Miller, Angela L. Bergman, Bradley A. MacLean, and Jonathan D. Cooper, Nashville, Tennessee, and Lucille A. Jewel and Stephen Ross Johnson, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Charles Lowe-Kelley, and Amos Brown.

Thomas H. Castelli, Stella Yarbrough, James G. Thomas, and Nathan C. Sanders, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

W.J. Michael Cody and William David Irvine Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, American Baptist College, The American Muslim Advisory Council, The Rt. Rev. John C. Bauerschmidt, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, The Rt. Rev. Brian L. Cole, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, The Rt. Rev. Phoebe A. Roaf, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee, The Most Reverend J. Mark Spalding, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Nashville in Tennessee, The Most Reverend Richard F. Stika, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Knoxville in Tennessee, The Most Reverend David P. Talley, Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee, The Reverend Kevin L. Strickland, Bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis, Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, Chattanoogans in Action for Love, Equality, and Benevolence, Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, Islamic Center of Nashville, CCDA Knoxville, Woodland Presbyterian Church, Knoxville Christian Arts Ministries, Nashville Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, Rabbi Micah Greenstein, Rabbi Jeremy Simons, Rabbi Philip Rice, Ministry Table of West End United Methodist Church, Pastor Anna Lee, Knoxville Underground, Yoke Youth Ministries, Bishop Joseph Warren Walker, Bishop Edward H. Stephens, Jr., Pastor Peris J. Lester, Reverend Dr. Byron C. Moore, MPC, Reverend Dr. J. Lawrence Turner, Minister J.P. Conway, Minister Josh Graves, Professor Lee Camp, Raising a Voice, Reverends Jeannie Hunter and Robert Early, Reverend Mike Wilson, Reverend Mary Louise McCullough, Reverend C. Nolan Huizenga, Reverend Timothy E. Kimbrough, Dave McNeely, Pastor Brad Raby, Pastor Doug Banister, Pastor Russ Ramsey, Pastors Jonathan Nash, Elliott Cherry, and Matt Avery, and Mosaic Church.

Sharon G. Lee., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which William C. Koch, Jr., Sp.J., joined.




This case requires us to rule on the constitutionality of the statutory sentencing process for juvenile homicide offenders. History teaches that our constitutional union is preserved best when the three branches of government respect our state and federal constitutions, particularly the proper roles assigned to each branch of government. As


Justice Bivins recently reminded us, the Tennessee Constitution establishes this Court as "the supreme judicial tribunal of the [S]tate." State v. Lowe, 552 S.W.3d 842, 856 (Tenn. 2018) (quoting Barger v. Brock, 535 S.W.2d 337, 340 (Tenn. 1976)). Accordingly, this Court has the sole authority-and responsibility-to "determine the constitutionality of actions taken by the other two branches of government." Richardson v. Tenn. Bd. of Dentistry, 913 S.W.2d 446, 453 (Tenn. 1995) (citing Tenn. Small Sch. Sys. v. McWherter, 851 S.W.2d 139, 148 (Tenn. 1993)); see also Jordan v. Knox Cnty., 213 S.W.3d 751, 780 (Tenn. 2007) ("When there is a challenge, the judicial branch of government has a duty to determine the substantive constitutionality of statutes, ordinances, and like measures." (citing City of Memphis v. Shelby Cnty. Election Comm'n, 146 S.W.3d 531, 536 (Tenn. 2004))); Huntsman's Lessee v. Randolph, 6 Tenn. (5 Hayw.) 263, 271 (1818) (recognizing the courts' duty to determine the substantive constitutionality of statutes).

This Court cannot wield its constitutional prerogative in a way that usurps the authority of the other two branches of government. See Tenn. Const. art. II, § 2. It is not our prerogative to determine whether a statute is "dictated by a wise or foolish policy." Cosmopolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Northington, 300 S.W.2d 911, 918 (Tenn. 1957). We are not "free to write [our] personal opinions on public policy into law." Jordan, 213 S.W.3d at 780.

However, if our constitutions are to remain viable and their integrity maintained, we must strike down statutes that violate either the federal or the state constitution.[2] We have the power and duty to declare a statute void when it violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution. Brinkley v. State, 143 S.W. 1120, 1122 (Tenn. 1911). There is no precedent or reasoned principle that prevents us from determining whether a Tennessee statute violates a similar constitutional protection in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The fact that the United States Supreme Court has not yet addressed the precise question before us provides


scant justification to shirk our duty to "say what the law is." Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803).


We begin with a review of the facts of this case. On Sunday afternoon, November 15, 2015, sixteen-year-old Tyshon Booker and another juvenile, Bradley Robinson, were riding around in Knoxville with Mr. Robinson's friend, the twenty-six-year-old victim, G'Metrik Caldwell. The victim drove his car, with Mr. Robinson riding in the front passenger seat and Mr. Booker in the rear passenger seat. Late in the afternoon after the victim pulled his car to a curb, Mr. Booker shot him six times in the back, the...

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