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Chris Wright Act targets habitual misdemeanor offenders

Criminals who commit multiple misdemeanors in Tennessee will see stiffer penalties following passage of a new law approved recently by the General Assembly.

The Chris Wright Act, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, makes it a Class E felony to commit six or more qualifying misdemeanors within a certain number of years. The list includes more than 30 total crimes ranging from assault to driving under the influence.

“The situation… is about the misdemeanants that you have in your community that have offended over and over and over again with little or no punishment,” Hazlewood said. “We (also) recognize that people sometimes make mistakes, they get with a bad crowd, they do things they later regret and… turn their lives around. So, if you go 10 years without a misdemeanor the automatic felony charge does not apply.”

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An individual would also face a Class E felony if found guilty of committing any combination of three or more specific misdemeanors on the list. Those crimes include assault against a first responder or nurse; child abuse; child neglect or endangerment; domestic assault; unlawful carrying or possession of a firearm; violation of an order of protection or restraining order; or violation of a no contact order.

The legislation is named in honor of Chris Wright, who was fatally shot in Chattanooga last year. The suspect had been previously arrested 66 times, including dozens of misdemeanor offenses.

House Bill 2323 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.

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