News

Senate Health Care Bill Offers $2 Billion to Fight Opioid Crisis

The U.S. Senate health care bill, revealed today, includes $2 billion to help address the opioid crisis, USA Today reports. The amount would fall short of the $45 billion some Republican senators had sought over 10 years. The funds would go to provide grants to states to support treatment and recovery services for 2018, but does not reference continuing funds beyond.
read more »

Memphis, Jackson Get Federal Help to Fight Violent Crime

Memphis and Jackson are among 12 cities that will get federal help in fighting violent crime under a just announced effort from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Commercial Appeal reports. The selected cities are ones that need "significant assistance" in combating "gun crime, drug trafficking and gang violence," the Justice Department says. The 228 slayings last year in Memphis represented a 43 percent increase from the year before.

read more »

Nashville’s Judge Blackburn Profiled for Mental Health Court Work

The Tennessean profiled Judge Melissa Blackburn this week for her work in the mental health court. Blackburn was inspired to take up the work after the death of her daughter, who died from a heart attack shortly after beginning to take anti-depressants. “It’s important because it’s part of who I am, and it’s in my fabric,” Blackburn said. “It’s affected how I make decisions, my thought process. It’s how as a judge I come to who I am.”
read more »

Trial Underway for 3rd Vandy Football Player Accused of Rape

The trial of Brandon E. Banks, a former Vanderbilt University football player accused of raping a woman alongside teammates, began today in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Banks pleaded not guilty, and his defense will argue that he was forced to act by others in the room on the night of the crime. He is the third of four accused to go to trial. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey are currently serving sentences following their convictions. A fourth former player is expected to testify against Banks in hopes of a plea deal in his own case.
read more »

Trial for Truck Driver Charged with Killing Six Postponed

The trial for Ben Brewer, a truck driver accused of killing six on Interstate 75 in 2015, has been postponed after the public defenders asked for more time, the Times Free Press reports. The trial was expected to be in court Monday with an out-of-town jury in Chattanooga. A motion was filed June 8 by the defense asking prosecutors to produce any expert witness who would testify about drugs found in Brewer’s system.
read more »

ABA Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Require Funds for Post-Conviction Investigation in Capital Cases

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief today, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals setting a “substantial need” rule for funding for investigation of claims in post-conviction capital cases. In a Texas death penalty case, the Fifth Circuit set a rule that effectively requires counsel for a capital defendant to establish a viable claim before the circuit will authorize funding for an investigation in the post-conviction phase. The ABA brief argues that indigent capital defendants are entitled to qualified legal counsel in order to “conduct an independent and adequate investigation of the facts.”
read more »

Trial Starts Monday for 3rd Former Vandy Football Player

Former Vanderbilt Univeristy football player Brandon E. Banks' trial on aggravated rape and other charges begins Monday, nearly four years to the day after the rape that rocked that school, The Tennessean reports. Since the rape and while his charges were pending, Banks, who has pleaded not guilty, moved from Nashville and has been playing football at Lane College in Jackson. Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey, who have already been tried and convicted in the same incident, are serving 17- and 15-year sentences, respectively. Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, who also was charged in the case, has pleaded not guilty and has testified against his former teammates in each trial. He's expected to return and testify against Banks.

read more »

Website Shows America's Brutal Lynching History

Two years ago, a groundbreaking study on lynching documented the brutal mob violence that forced many African Americans to flee the south. With help from Google, now the Equal Justice Initiative that published the study has transformed Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror into an interactive digital platform that combines historical data and personal stories so people can explore one of the darkest passages in the nation's history. Knoxnews.com has the USAToday story.

read more »

Memphis DA Tries a New Approach to Lowering Crime

The Shelby County District Attorney's Office has begun a new tactic to lower crime -- by sending letters to people convicted of multiple crimes and simply asking them to stop. District Attorney Amy Weirich told WREG she couldn't say how many letters she plans to send or how effective they might be, but she said this new approach is worth a try. "The message in the letter from me to this defendant was, ‘Stop! Stop committing crime,'" said Weirich. "You are a drain on our community." However, one advocacy group doesn't like the approach, saying that the "tone of shame" the letter takes is not helpful.

read more »

Man Mistakenly Arrested, Jailed for 4 Days

After a grand jury declined to indict him, authorities arrested Quentin Brown and booked him into Shelby County Jail and held him for four days, The Commercial Appeal reports. A grand jury returned a “not true bill” on May 18, but Brown was still arrested and booked on a charge of aggravated child abuse on June 8. Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Bobby Carter ordered Brown’s release after attorney Blake Ballin showed the court Brown hadn’t been charged. Brown will speak with civil lawyers before speaking publicly, his lawyer said.  
read more »

TSC: Defendant Has No Appeal From Denial of Motion for Return of Property

The Tennessee Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a defendant in a criminal case has no right to appeal a decision denying his request for the return of property that was seized during a criminal investigation when the defendant failed to file a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence. Ray Rowland of Memphis had property, including firearms, seized from him and he later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault by use or display of a deadly weapon. Rowland filed a motion for return of the firearms three years later. That motion was denied, but was granted on appeal. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Criminal Appeals and dismissed the appeal.
read more »

Defending Trade Secrets, Jason Long's Last President's Column and More in June Bar Journal

Read about the Federal Defend Trade Secrets Act from Nashville lawyer Andrew B. Campbell in the June issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal, out today. Jason R. Smith explains the dangers of plea agreements that provide for concurrent Tennessee and federal sentences. In his last column of his term, Tennessee Bar Association President Jason Long tells the secret of his presidential success as he thanks the TBA staff members who have been instrumental to his year.

read more »

Sentencing in Murder Conviction Delayed Over Alleged Attorney Misrepresentation

Attorneys for a man convicted of murder asked to withdraw from his case after their client alleged he was not represented properly, the Times Free Press reports. A judge granted the motion and rescheduled Cortez Sims’ sentencing to Aug. 2. Sims said that he “was done incredibly wrong” because his attorneys did not put on a closing argument during his trial. Sims has since filed for a new trial.
read more »

Haslam Signs Law to Cheapen Price Tag of Expungements

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law legislation that will lessen the costs of expunging criminal conviction records, NewsChannel 5 reports. Effective immediately, the cost of expunging records will be $270, down from $450. The law was backed by a bipartisan coalition and was sponsored in the state legislature by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville. 
read more »

Judge Writes Murder Mystery Set in Northwest Tennessee

A new book, Reelfoot Killins', is out from Dog Ear Publishing. By retired Judge Joe G. Riley, it is about "a gruesome double murder and the trial of a suspect who might be headed to death row." Riley was a trial judge for 18 years near Reelfoot Lake in Lake and Dyer counties in Tennessee, trying several capital cases and imposing the death penalty in murder cases. Readers follow the action through the perspective of a judge, starting from an anonymous tip and progressing through the process of justice. Watch for an upcoming review in the Tennessee Bar Journal.

read more »

Burchett Confesses, Gets 4 Years Probation in Cyber-Attacks

Knox County’s former first lady confessed Thursday to cyber-harassing the cancer-stricken estranged wife of her millionaire beau, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. Allison Burchett, 35, pleaded guilty in Knox County Criminal Court to six misdemeanor charges of unlawful access to computer accounts. She will serve no jail time, but will spend four years on probation.

read more »

Opinion: Racial Bias Is Not Just a 'Perception'

In an opinion piece in today's Tennessean, Nashville-Davidson County Public Defender Dawn Deaner writes about bias and the decision by District Attorney General Glenn Funk that his office would not be pressing charges against Officer Josh Lippert after review by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for the killing of Jocques Clemmons. "When people of privilege talk about the distrust people of color have for police and courts as a 'perception,' they send the message that’s all they think it is — a problem of perception. It says they believe our criminal justice system today operates fairly and equitably for everyone, and those who see it otherwise simply do not appreciate that," she writes. "It belies the truth, which is that those who do not see the injustice are the ones with the perception problem. Until we start acknowledging the existence of racial injustice, nothing will change. And those experiencing the injustice will continue to suffer the most."

read more »

National Show: Defendants Struggle to Find Justice in Tennessee

A national radio show looks at Tennessee's criminal justice system, the "difficulties in Tennessee's appeals process," and how appointed lawyers deal with mandated caps on payments from the state. "The Takeaway," a show hosted by WNYC, focused a recent segment on a 2007 case in which Thomas Edward Clardy was convicted of murder and given a life sentence for killing a man and wounding a woman at an auto body shop in Madison, Tennessee. Andrew Cohen, senior editor at The Marshall Project who's been covering Clardy's case, and Nashville lawyer Jessica Van Dyke, who currently represents Clardy, discuss the case, Tennessee's criminal justice system and how the Tennessee Supreme Court has addressed the issue.

read more »

Execution Proceeds, Lawyer Denied Phone Access

Alabama inmate Thomas “Tommy” Arthur, 75, was executed early today, the eighth time an execution had been scheduled for him. The U.S. Supreme Court had initially stayed Arthur’s execution on Thursday, then allowed it to proceed, writes the ABA Journal. In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor expressed concern about use of the execution sedative midazolam, and that the state denied Arthur’s counsel access to a phone "through which to seek legal relief if the execution fails to proceed as planned.” The state's action, she wrote, "means that when Thomas Arthur enters the execution chamber tonight, he will leave his constitutional rights at the door.”

read more »

Sessions Praises Law Enforcement, Promises to Address Violent Crime in Memphis

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Memphis today and addressed a crowd of law enforcement officials at the U.S. District courthouse, The Commercial Appeal reports. He spoke about families living “every day as hostages in their own homes” in violent neighborhoods and promised to reverse the recent trend of reduced federal gun and drug prosecutions. Congressman David Kustoff welcomed him, and joined Sessions in praising the law enforcement of West Tennessee.

read more »

Sessions to Visit Memphis Tomorrow

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will pay a visit to Memphis tomorrow to speak with law enforcement, Action News 5 reports. He will talk to federal, state and local law enforcement about efforts to combat violent crime in the city. Sessions has cited Memphis in the past when discussing cities with rising opioid addiction and violent crime rates, alongside Chicago and Baltimore.
read more »

Turn Your Expertise into a Magazine Article

It’s no surprise that some of the best articles in the Tennessee Bar Journal have come from TBA section members. Your membership in this section shows that you have a keen interest in trends, developments and case law in this practice area. Sharing this knowledge with your colleagues is one of the best traits of the profession.

How can you become a Journal author? Think of and refine your topic. It should be of interest to Tennessee lawyers, which is a broad criteria. This could mean you might explain a new state law, explain a complicated area of law, or take a larger issue and connect it to what it means for Tennessee attorneys and the justice system. Find a global issue within your particular experience or knowledge and tell about it and how it affects Tennessee law. Then take a look at the writer’s guidelines at http://www.tba.org/submit-an-article, which will tell you about length, notes and other details. Once it’s in the proper format, send it in! It goes to the editor, Suzanne Craig Robertson, who will then get it to the seven members of the Editorial Board for review.

If you are published, you may apply for CLE credit for your work under Supreme Court Rule 21 Section 4.07(b). For details on claiming the credit, check with the Commission on CLE & Specialization at http://www.cletn.com/.

read more »

DA’s Comments on Police Shooting Could Open the Door to Lawsuits

When Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk said they found aspects of the police’s investigation into the deadly shooting of Jocques Clemmons by an officer that could be perceived as bias, he opened the door to potential legal fallout, an analysis published by The Tennessean suggests. Subodh Chandra, the Ohio attorney who represents the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by police in 2014, said that Funk’s comments could be helpful to the Clemmons family as well as potential plaintiffs in the future. The Clemmons family has not filed a lawsuit yet, but it has hired representation and is weighing its options.
read more »

DA’s Comments on Police Shooting Could Open the Door to Lawsuits

When Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk said they found aspects of the police’s investigation into the deadly shooting of Jocques Clemmons by an officer that could be perceived as bias, he opened the door to potential legal fallout, an analysis published by The Tennessean suggests. Subodh Chandra, the Ohio attorney who represents the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by police in 2014, said that Funk’s comments could be helpful to the Clemmons family as well as potential plaintiffs in the future. The Clemmons family has not filed a lawsuit yet, but it has hired representation and is weighing its options.
read more »

Prosecutors Push Back Against Sessions Order to Pursue Most Serious Penalties

Thirty current and former state and local prosecutors have signed an open letter expressing concern over a recent order from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” The Washington Post reports. The letter was released today by the nonprofit Fair and Just Prosecution, and it calls Sessions’ directive “an unnecessary and unfortunate return to past ‘tough on crime’ practices” that will do more harm than good. The letter cites increased federal spending on incarceration, higher prison populations, and a lack of true rehabilitation for low-level drug offenders as likely results of the order.
read more »