(NASHVILLE, TN), August 1, 2012 — A new state law making elected and appointed officials ineligible for pre-trial and judicial diversion for criminal offenses committed in their official capacity meets constitutional muster according to a recent Attorney General’s opinion. Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter Robert Cooper, Jr. opined the state “may treat elected or appointed public officials differently from the general public by making them ineligible for pretrial or judicial diversion, without running afoul of federal or Tennessee constitutional protections.”
The request was posed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson (R-Cleveland). The bill was sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) and Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville).
“I am pleased that the Attorney General has opined that this new law passes constitutional muster,” said Senator Yager. “It is good to restate that both pre trial and judicial diversion are not a ‘fundamental rights’ for public officials. Those of us who have the privilege to hold public office should be held to a higher standard and violations of the law related to our official duties ought not to be swept under the rug by pre-trial or judicial diversion.”
“I was confident that our legislation was on solid constitutional ground,” added Representative Haynes. “With this new law we are sending the message that a public office is still a public trust and criminal conduct in public office will not be tolerated.”
The opinion stated that pretrial and judicial diversion are treated as “truly extraordinary relief” and are not fundamental rights. It also said “Tennessee and federal courts have not recognized public officials as a suspect class for equal protection purposes. The act took effect July 1, 2012.
MEDIA REFERENCE: Legislation: Senate Bill 2566 / House Bill 2763 Public Law: PC 766 / Attorney General’s Opinion: http://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/op/2012/op12-76.pdf