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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Criminal Court Judge E. Eugene Eblen denied Kevin Spurling’s request for judicial diversion in October 2008.
Judicial diversion allows a person to go through probation, and upon its successful completion, have the crime they are convicted of erased from their record.
Spurling is a former school teacher in Knox County. He was indicted in February 2006 for statutory rape and incest. The Roane County victim was his then 14-year-old stepdaughter.
“The court does not feel this is a proper case for diversion and feels it would be a split-sentence-type case,” Eblen said at the time.
That response wasn’t enough, according to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Eblen, in the court’s opinion, was supposed to explain why he was denying Spurling’s request for judicial diversion.
Because Eblen didn’t do so, the appeals court reversed his decision and remanded the case back for a new sentencing hearing.
“The trial court in this case failed to make any findings or explanation regarding its denial of judicial diversion,” the appeals court wrote in its opinion. “Our courts have repeatedly stressed the need for a trial court to articulate clearly its reasons for denying judicial diversion.”
Spurling worked out a plea deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to statutory rape in exchange for the incest charge being dismissed.
Prosecutors were seeking a split sentence of no more than six months in the Roane County Jail, followed by probation.
During the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Bill Reedy argued against judicial diversion.
Reedy said a sentence of diversion would have allowed Spurling to avoid jail time and expunge his record after two years.
Reedy said that could have allowed Spurling to return to his teaching or coaching career and endanger other children.
The victim’s mother was also against diversion.
“Judge Eblen, I would just like to ask if you please consider what happened to (the victim) when you sentence Kevin,” she said. “She has to live with what happened to her, and I feel that Kevin should, too.”
After strong arguments from both sides, Eblen sentenced Spurling to 90 days in jail followed by probation. His request for diversion was denied.
Spurling’s attorney, public defender Walter Johnson, vowed to appeal.
According to the Court of Criminal Appeals, a judge must consider the following factors when making a decision about judicial diversion:
The defendant’s amenability to correction, the circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s criminal record, social history, mental and physical health and the deterrent effect of the sentencing decision to both the defendant and other similarly situated defendants.
“The decision should be based on whether the grant of diversion will serve the ends of justice for both the public and the defendant,” the appeals court wrote. “The record must reflect that the trial court considered and weighed all these factors in arriving at its decision.”
Spurling’s argument that he should have received probation and no jail time was not thoroughly addressed by the appeals court.
“Because we have reversed and remanded this case due to the trial court’s failure to make appropriate findings regarding judicial diversion, we need not address this argument in depth,” the court wrote.
“However, we note that the trial court’s ruling regarding manner of service of the sentence is equally lacking in any findings that provide a basis for its sentencing determination.”