State v. Linville, W2019-02180-SC-R11-CD

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJeffrey S. Bivins, J.
Citation647 S.W.3d 344
Parties STATE of Tennessee v. Douglas E. LINVILLE
Docket NumberW2019-02180-SC-R11-CD
Decision Date01 June 2022

647 S.W.3d 344

STATE of Tennessee
v.
Douglas E. LINVILLE

No. W2019-02180-SC-R11-CD

Supreme Court of Tennessee.

November 3, 2021 Session1
FILED June 1, 2022


Kendall Stivers Jones (on appeal), Franklin, Tennessee; and Matthew C. Edwards (at trial), Bolivar, Tennessee, for the appellant, Douglas E. Linville.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée Blumstein, Solicitor General; Katharine K. Decker, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Matthew F. Stowe, District Attorney General; and Vance W. Dennis and Jennifer Hedge, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Jeffrey S. Bivins, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roger A. Page, C.J., and Sharon G. Lee and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined.

Jeffrey S. Bivins, J.

A jury convicted Douglas E. Linville of multiple drug offenses that occurred in a drug-free zone, in this case within 1,000 feet of a city park. Because the offenses occurred in a drug-free zone, the trial court imposed sentences that required full service of at least the minimum term within the appropriate sentencing range prior to release. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-432(c) (2014) (amended 2020 & 2022).2 On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected challenges to the convictions. However, consistent with Mr. Linville's brief, the intermediate appellate court noted that the judgment for one of the convictions erroneously referred to the controlled substance at issue—Xanax or Alprazolam—as Schedule III when it was actually Schedule IV. In so noting, the court also concluded sua sponte that the felony class reflected on the judgment for that conviction was incorrect because Tennessee law required a one-class enhancement for an offense that occurred in a drug-free zone. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-432(b)(1) (2014). We accepted Mr. Linville's appeal. Based on our review of the relevant statutory provisions, we conclude that because the drug-free zone in this case related to a public park, the offenses were not subject to a one-class enhancement. We, however, further conclude that the offenses were subject to the requirement to serve in full at least the minimum sentence for the appropriate range prior to release. Accordingly,

647 S.W.3d 347

we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in part, affirm the judgments of the trial court, and remand this matter to the trial court for correction of a clerical error in one judgment.

In this appeal, we must interpret statutory provisions that govern sentencing for certain drug offenses that occur within what are commonly known as drug-free zones. More than twenty-five years ago, our General Assembly took steps to provide students with a learning environment free from dangers associated with drug activity. See Act of May 26, 1995, ch. 515, 1995 Tenn. Pub. Acts 918–19 ("the 1995 Act"). To that end, the legislature delineated an area around elementary, middle and secondary schools—referred to as drug-free school zones—in which the commission of certain drug offenses would merit heightened criminal penalties. The penalties included: (1) the offense would be punished as if it were one classification higher than it ordinarily would be, and (2) the offender would be required to serve in full at least the minimum sentence within the appropriate range of punishment prior to release. Act of May 26, 1995, ch. 515, § 1, 1995 Tenn. Pub. Acts 918–19.

Ten years later, in 2005, the General Assembly amended the drug-free school zones statute to expand the list of protected places beyond schools to areas around a "preschool, child care agency, or public library, recreational center or park." Act of May 19, 2005, ch. 295, § 2, 2005 Tenn. Pub. Acts 670 ("the 2005 Act"). The question presented in this appeal is whether the General Assembly intended for one, both, or neither of the original two penalty provisions to apply when the drug-free zone relates to the protected places added in 2005.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 4, 2018, law enforcement officers searched a Hardin County home pursuant to a warrant. There were five individuals in the home at the time, including Douglas E. Linville ("the Defendant"). The search yielded various controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. Trial testimony established that the home was located within 1,000 feet of the Savannah City Park.

At the conclusion of trial, the jury convicted the Defendant of five drug offenses. Three of the convictions were for possessing various controlled substances, with the intent to deliver, in a drug-free zone.3 See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-17-417(a)(4), 39-17-432, 39-17-434(a)(4) (2014). The drugs at issue in counts one through three were: (1) less than 0.5 grams of methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance; (2) hydrocodone, a Schedule II controlled substance; and (3) Xanax (or Alprazolam), a Schedule IV controlled substance. The drug-free zone related to the home's location with respect to the Savannah City Park. See id. § 39-17-432(b)(1) (2014) (identifying a drug-free zone, in part, as a location within 1,000 feet of the real property that comprises a "public library, recreational center or park").

For sentencing, the Defendant qualified as a Range III Persistent Offender. The methamphetamine and hydrocodone convictions in counts one and two, respectively, were Class C felonies. Id. § 39-17-417(c)(2)(A) (2014). Accordingly, the applicable sentencing range for the Defendant was ten to fifteen years. Id. § 40-35-112(c)(3) (2014). At the sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the Defendant to

647 S.W.3d 348

twelve years on each count, running concurrently.4 The judgment for each conviction corresponded with the trial court's verbal ruling at the sentencing hearing.

Sentencing for the Xanax conviction in count three reflects some confusion. At the sentencing hearing, the parties mistakenly informed the trial court that the offense was a Class C felony. Thus, at the sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed the same twelve-year sentence for the Xanax conviction as for the methamphetamine and hydrocodone convictions. In fact, however, the Xanax offense was a Class D felony. Id. §§ 39-17-412(c)(2) (Supp. 2017), 39-17-417(e)(2) (2014). For a Class D felony, the applicable sentencing range for the Defendant was eight to twelve years. Id. § 40-35-112(c)(4) (2014). For reasons the record does not reveal—and contrary to the trial court's verbal ruling at the sentencing hearing—the judgment for count three correctly identified the offense as a Class D felony, and it identified the sentence imposed as eight years. However, the judgment incorrectly identified the offense as involving a Schedule III controlled substance instead of a Schedule IV controlled substance.

The judgments for all three convictions reflected that the offense occurred in a drug-free zone. Each of the judgments also identified a mandatory minimum sentence length associated with the offense, ten years for counts one and two, and eight years for count three.

On direct appeal, the Defendant attacked the sufficiency of the evidence and raised an evidentiary issue. In his brief before the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Defendant specifically noted that he was "not raising an issue as to sentencing in this appeal." In two footnotes, however, the Defendant pointed out the confusion surrounding his sentence for the Xanax offense in count three. The Defendant suggested that the Court of Criminal Appeals remand to the trial court for correction of a clerical error.

The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the Defendant's convictions. State v. Linville, No. W2019-02180-CCA-R3-CD, 2021 WL 4476681 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 12, 2021), perm. app. granted, (Tenn. Aug. 5, 2021). With respect to the clerical-error issue identified by the Defendant, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that "[t]he judgment form should be corrected to reflect that the Defendant was convicted of possessing a Schedule IV substance." Id. at *5. However, citing Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-432(b)(1), the court also went on to state:

Second, the judgment form reflects that the Defendant was convicted of a Class D felony in count three, when he was punished one class higher by the trial court under the drug-free zone statute according to the transcript[.] See T[enn]. C[ode] A[nn]. § 39-17-432(b)(1) (2019) ("A violation of § 39-17-417" occurring "within one thousand feet (1,000’) of the real property that comprises ... a park shall be punished one (1) classification higher than is provided in § 39-17-417(b) – (i) for such violation"). Accordingly, the judgment form should be corrected to reflect that the Defendant was convicted of a Class C felony.

Id. (omission in original).5 The intermediate appellate court did not note the fact

647 S.W.3d 349

that the judgment reflected an eight-year sentence for count three, which would not be within the appropriate range for a Class C felony, nor did the court note the discrepancy between the twelve-year term imposed at the sentencing hearing and the eight-year term reflected on the judgment. In addition, the court did not order enhancement of the classification for counts one and two, which were also subject to the drug-free...

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