NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee prosecutors are supporting a proposed law that would make the crime of rape ineligible for a sentence, including probation.
Rape is a Class B felony punishable by between eight to 30 years in prison. Currently a person convicted of the crime can receive probation.
“We’ve seen a lot of cases in the media where judges outside the state of Tennessee have taken some really horrific rapes like rapes that have been videotaped, rapes that have brought lifelong trauma to a victim, and granted the defendants probation,” District 24 District Attorney General Matt Stowe said. “Probation is never appropriate when someone’s been found guilty of a rape.”
Stowe represents Decatur, Henry, Hardon, Carroll and Benton counties. He is among District Attorney Generals who are supporting House Bill 0783 and its Senate companion SB 1050.
The proposed law makes a person convicted of rape ineligible for probation. That includes probation as part of a plea agreement when the defendant is convicted of rape.
“When you don’t have probation as an option for a plea deal, that’s one less thing for a defendant to hope for when we’re doing plea negotiations,” Stowe said. “It allows us to get more time. We might get one extra year, we might get two extra years, we might get five extra years when we’re plea bargaining a rape if we know that when we’re going to trial that probation is not an option.”
Stowe said plea agreements are used for a variety of reasons in the criminal justice system. In a rape case, a plea agreement can spare the victim from having to testify in open court about their attack.
“If they’re not guilty of a rape, we need to find out and clear them,” Stowe said. “If they are guilty, probation is not appropriate, and this simply takes that tool out of the tool box that judges can use to punish rape and makes sure that they serve actual time when they violate a woman in that way.”
The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence supports the proposed law.
“I don’t think that rape is a crime that you should be able to get probation for,” Executive Director Kathy England Walsh said. “That crime – it’s very serious and victims of rape have to deal with the trauma of rape for the rest of their lives.”
She continued, “Victims would like to see this happen. They don’t want to see their perpetrators get out on probation.”
House Bill 0783 was placed “behind the budget” in the House Finance, Ways and Means subcommittee on Wednesday.
Behind the Budget means it will be taken up after the House approves a spending plan.
The bill’s fiscal note estimates it would cost the state an additional $732,000 in increased incarceration.
The Senate version of the bill is scheduled for the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.