TN Man in Prison Despite Dropping of Charges

Drug charges against John Leon Smith were dropped, but he might remain behind bars for nine more years because the Tennessee Board of Parole says he violated parole rules.

A judge and prosecutor dismissed the criminal charges against John Leon Smith, but in the eyes of the Tennessee Board of Parole, he’s still guilty. He will remain in prison until next year at least — maybe until 2026 — despite a new law he believes was meant to help people like him: people who were released on parole but return to prison because of a new arrest on charges that are later dismissed. The law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in April directs the parole board to grant hearings to inmates whose parole had been revoked based only on new charges that later were dismissed. The parole board says that law is not retroactive and doesn’t apply to Smith, The Tennessean reports.

An adviser to a state senator who backed the measure say that’s not the case. “The Board of Parole should convene a hearing, as provided by the law, to understand why this innocent man remains in prison,” said Isaac Kimes, a policy analyst for Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris. Smith served about half of a 40-year prison sentence for a violent armed robbery and threatening to kill workers at a restaurant in 1992. He was released on parole in 2013. Seventeen months later he was arrested on two drug charges that were later dismissed. Smith still had to face the Tennessee parole system, which sent him back to prison, where he remains because Tennessee’s parole system does not follow the same rules as its courts.