State's Failure to Elect Offenses Results in Reversal of 100 Year Sentence

State's Failure to Elect Offenses Results in Reversal of 100 Year Sentence

Charlie Brown was convicted at trial of child rape from multiple counts and sentenced to a 100 year sentence. He asserts on appeal that the trial court should have required the State to make an election of offenses as required by the Tennessee Supreme Court in this child rape case. The State acknowledges that the trial court should have required the prosecution to make an election of offenses but argues that the error was harmless because the victim “recounted a single set of facts constituting the crime and testified that the same facts happened every time she visited the [appellant].” However, the State also acknowledges that this argument was squarely rejected by our supreme court in Tidwell v. State, 922 S.W.2d 497 (Tenn. 1996). Trial Courts are required to strictly follow the law as set forth by our Supreme Court and cannot rule contrary to precedent established by that court even if they wish to do otherwise.

Here, the victim testified to repeated rape by the defendant but could not provide a single detail that differentiated one offense from another.  Since the state did not elect which counts that they were relying upon for the evidence, it violated precedent when it was submitted to the jury.

The State also argues that to require an election of offenses in this type of case “prevents the State from prosecuting defendants who have been successful in delaying disclosure of their crimes.” However, the TN Supreme Court has rejected this argument, stating, the rules of evidence and the rules of procedure have been relaxed to some extent to accommodate very young witnesses. Nevertheless, the constitutional protections guaranteed a criminal defendant, who is presumed by law to be innocent until proven guilty, cannot be suspended altogether because of the victim’s age or relative inability to testify. In cases such as this one, the state must either limit the testimony of prosecuting witnesses to a single event, or prepare the case so that an election can be made before the matter is submitted to the jury to decide. 

The Court concluded that the trial court committed reversible error by failing to require the State to make an election of offenses.

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