Defendant Charged with Animal Cruelty Denied Pretrial Diversion

Defendant Charged with Animal Cruelty Denied Pretrial Diversion

Fog Horses
By Stevie Phillips

On January 23, Justice Lee authored a unanimous Tennessee Supreme Court opinion in Stanton v. State of Tennessee.

In sum, Stanton, a farmer in Warren County, was indicted under T.C.A. 39-14-202(a)(2) on 16 counts of animal cruelty for the intentional or knowing failure to provide necessary food, care, and shelter to horses.  Stanton pled not guilty and applied for pretrial diversion pursuant to T.C.A. 40-15-105(a)(1)(A). The Assistant District Attorney denied Stanton’s application. Stanton filed a petition for writ of cert in the trial court, which found that the ADA had not abused his discretion. The TSC affirmed. 

The Court’s analysis centers on a prosecuting attorney’s “exclusive” discretion to grant or deny pretrial diversion.  Prosecutors will find this opinion helpful because it clearly states what they need to do to ensure that a denial of pretrial diversion withstands scrutiny on appeal.  

Specifically, the prosecuting attorney must consider all factors, including “the circumstances of the offense; the defendant’s amenability to correction; any factors that tend to accurately reflect whether the defendant will become a repeat offender; the defendant’s criminal record, social history, and physical and mental condition; the need for general deterrence; and ‘the likelihood that pretrial diversion will serve the ends of justice and the best interest of both the public and the defendant.’”

In addition, a prosecutor's denial must be in writing.  The written denial must enumerate the factors considered, provide a factual basis for each factor, enumerate the weight accorded to each factor, and identify any disputes between the evidence relied upon by the ADA and the evidence in the application filed by the defendant. 

Finally, the Court noted that it had not previously addressed whether a defendant’s failure to take responsibility might serve as a basis for denying pretrial diversion.  The Court concluded that “a defendant’s unwillingness to admit wrongdoing and assume responsibility for his or her actions is relevant in assessing a defendant’s amenability to correction and whether pretrial diversion will satisfy the need for deterrence and serve the ends of justice.”  

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