Hamilton County legislators introduce bill to increase sentences for repeat offenders

Staff photo by Sofia Saric / Tennessee Sen. Bo Watson, left, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, introduce a new bill to increase sentences for repeat offenders Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Staff photo by Sofia Saric / Tennessee Sen. Bo Watson, left, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, introduce a new bill to increase sentences for repeat offenders Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, unveiled legislation Monday at the Hamilton County Courts Building that would increase sentencing guidelines for repeat misdemeanor offenders.

"I think the public is tired of seeing individuals who continually violate the law with these misdemeanors only to get what many would consider a slap on the wrist," Watson said during the news conference.

Some individuals who repeatedly violate the law go on to commit more serious crimes, Watson said.

Watson said there are many examples of why the legislation is needed across the state.

In Chattanooga, Darryl Roberts, 57, was indicted and charged in the shooting of Chris Wright after facing more than 60 criminal charges since the early 1990s.

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The proposed bill would define about 37 different misdemeanors ranging from assault to driving under the influence that would qualify for the repeat offender statute, Watson said. An individual would face a Class E felony charge after their fifth conviction on any of the listed misdemeanors.

Class E felonies, which are the lowest level of felony in Tennessee, carry possible sentences of up to six years in prison and fines of up to $3,000.

A Class E felony could also be brought sooner — on a third conviction — in certain cases including unlawful carrying and possession of a firearm, child abuse, child neglect or endangerment, assault against a first responder, domestic violence and violation of a restraining order or no contact order.

The misdemeanor convictions will have to have occurred within a 10-year window to be eligible for the proposed increased sentencing guidelines. If within that window, a district attorney can look back 20 years into an individual's criminal history for an enhanced felony charge.

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There is a reset button included in the legislation, Hazlewood said. An individual must remain crime-free for 10 years.

"We all make mistakes," Hazlewood said during the conference. "We probably did things in our youth or at other times, even, that we would not want to be dragging that baggage with us forever."

Tennessee lawmakers are recognizing that public safety is the primary responsibility of government, Watson said.

"You will see a number of bills introduced this year, which deal with public safety from enhanced penalties such as this to greater enforcement of laws all across the state," Watson said.

Contact Sofia Saric at ssaric@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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