Saturday, June 16, 2012

TN Court of Criminal Appeals Says Petition Regarding 1988 Drug Conviction is Moot

Joby Lee Teal, a pro se petitioner, sought declaratory judgment concerning the legality of his five 1988 convictions for drug offenses and resulting concurrent five-year sentences. He argues the sentences are void because he committed them while on bail and should have received consecutive sentences. The Criminal Court of Shelby County found that such relief was not available because the five concurrent sentences had expired and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed. 
The plea deal was struck with deal in November of 1988 and his negotiated sentence expired in 1993. It’d odd then that so many years later, in 2011, Teal filed a pro se petition attacking the five-year sentences he received back in the 80s. He claimed the original trial court did not have jurisdiction to enter concurrent sentences for felony offenses he committed while released on bail. 
The Court of Criminal Appeals discussed the state’s Declaratory Judgment Act, found in Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-14-102, which states:
  1. Courts of record within their respective jurisdictions have the power to declare rights, status, and other legal relations whether or not further relief is or could be claimed.
  2. No action or proceeding shall be open to objection on the ground that a declaratory judgment or decree is prayed for.
  3. The declaration may be either affirmative or negative in form and effect; and such declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree.
The Court said that Tennessee law is clear that in order to maintain an action for declaratory judgment, a justiciable controversy must exist. The question before the court must be a real one, not simply a theoretical one. The Court says that even a simple review of the records shows that Teal’s claim is moot because it lost its “character as a present, live controversy.” 
Because Teal did not pursue this remedy during the time available to him and because he has long since completed the sentence about which he now complains, the Court can do nothing today. Apparently the return address on Teal’s brief indicated he is currently residing at the Federal Correctional Institute in Memphis, Tennessee. The fact that he is currently incarcerated on unrelated charges does not help the fact that the underlying claim before the court is moot.  
To read the full opinion, click here.

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