News

Jury Convicts 3 in Death of Zaevion Dobson

A Knox County jury today convicted three men in the fatal shooting of Zaevion Dobson, the Knoxville teen who died shielding his friends from gunfire in December 2015, Knoxnews reports. Christopher Drone Bassett was found guilty of first-degree murder, while Richard Gregory Williams III and Kipling Colbert Jr. were found guilty of facilitation of first degree murder. Bassett will receive an automatic life sentence with the possibility of parole after 51 years. Williams and Colbert potentially face 15 to 25 years. 
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Men Accused of Murdering Zaevion Dobson Will Not Testify

The three men accused of the murder of 15-year-old Knoxville high school student Zaevion Dobson will not testify, Knoxnews reports. A jury could begin deliberations as soon as tomorrow. Prosecutors wrapped up their case against Christopher Drone Bassett, Richard Gregory Williams III and Kipling Colbert, who face first degree murder charges. Dobson died shielding two of his friends from gunfire in December 2015.
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Hearing Held in Rape Case of Former U of M Football Player

Former University of Memphis football player Ernest Suttles' rape case will head to a grand jury after his accuser testified in a hearing on Tuesday, The Commercial Appeal reports. The alleged attack took place on Oct. 12, after which the victim went home to Murfreesboro to be examined in a hospital. She was told there that she needed to return to the city where the assault occurred, so she went back to a Memphis hospital where she reported the crime to the police. Suttles was arrested two days later.

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Earn 7 CLE Hours at 2017 Criminal Law Forum

Sessions at this year's Criminal Law Forum will address sentencing issues, case law statutory updates, indigent representation task force recommendations, post-conviction relief, voir dire and ethical considerations. Earn seven hours of CLE credit Dec. 8 at this Tennessee Bar Center program in Nashville.

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Gorsuch Appears to Side with Liberal Justices Over Cellphone Warrant

As the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether police need a warrant supported by probable cause to obtain cellphone location data, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch yesterday appeared to have sided with liberal justices, the ABA Journal reports. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Anthony M. Kennedy appeared to lean most towards agreeing with the government that a warrant wasn’t needed in the case Carpenter v. United States, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared to most favor protections on cellphone data.

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Supreme Court Affirms Conviction in Theft of House Case

In State of Tennessee v. Tabitha Gentry (AKA Abka Re Bay), the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the state’s theft statute applies to real property. In the case, the defendant challenged whether Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-103 encompassed theft of a house. The Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions of Class A felony theft and aggravated burglary. Justice Cornelia A. Clark authored the opinion.

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Criminal Law Forum 2017

The Tennessee Bar Association will host the 2017 Criminal Law Forum in Nashville on Dec. 8. This one-day event is a staple for Tennessee attorneys, offering timely analysis of important issues to educate and enrich your practice.
 
Do not miss this opportunity to fulfill CLE requirements while networking with attorneys who share your focus and cultivating relationships with fellow practitioners. Section members receive a discounted rate for the program. Here's the key info: 
 
When: Dec. 8, registration begins at 8 a.m., CDT
 
Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 4th Ave N., Nashville, TN 37219
 
Topics include:
  • Sentencing issues and case law statutory updates 
  • The Indigent Representation Task Force recommendations and the Supreme Court's response
  • Post-conviction relief
  • Voire dire
  • Ethical considerations for criminal law attorneys
Speakers/Producers include:
  • David Veile, Schell & Oglesby, LLC, Franklin 
  • Joseph Fuson, Freeman & Fuson, Nashville 
  • William Koch Jr., Nashville School of Law, Nashville 
  • William Lamberth II, William Lamberth Attorney at Law, Portland
  • Roger Nell, District Public Defender, Clarksville
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Tennessee Supreme Court Amends Rule 12

On Sept.13, the Tennessee Supreme Court filed an order soliciting written comments concerning proposed amendments to Rule 12, section 1, and the First-Degree Murder Report which is appended to Rule 12. The deadline for submitting written comments was Oct 13, and the Court received no written comments during that period. The amendments were adopted and take effect immediately.

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7 CLE Hours in Criminal Law

Join the TBA at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville for this year's Criminal Law Forum. Topics this year will address sentencing issues, case law statutory updates, indigent representation task force recommendations, post-conviction relief, voir dire and ethical considerations. Earn seven hours of CLE credit at this Dec. 8 program.
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Supreme Court Clarifies Self-Defense When Engaged in Unlawful Activity

The Tennessee Supreme Court has clarified when self-defense can be claimed, when the person making the claim is engaged in unlawful activity at the time of the incident. In the case of State of Tennessee v. Antoine Perrier, the Supreme Court held that the defendant, who admitted to being a felon in possession of a handgun, was engaged in unlawful activity, and concluded that there was a sufficiency of proof to support the defendant’s conviction.
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ABA Urges 11th Circuit to Ban Bail System in Calhoun, Ga.

The American Bar Association filed a new amicus brief Monday, again contending that the bail system in Calhoun, Ga., which allows pretrial release only if the defendant pays an amount of bail money fixed to a schedule of offenses, violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment. In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit remanded the case back to the trial court, requesting the judge’s injunction provide more guidance to Calhoun on how it must comply with the minimal standards required by the U.S. Constitution. This is the second brief filed by the ABA in the matter.
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Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentences for Murder of Memphis Family

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed the convictions and death sentences for Sedrick Clayton in the murders of Arithio, Patricia, and Pashea Fisher, and the conviction for attempted murder of A’Reco Fisher in Memphis. The court found the sentences were not arbitrary nor were they disproportionate to sentences imposed in similar cases. Justice Roger A. Page wrote the majority opinion, with Justice Sharon G. Lee authoring a concurring opinion.

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Online and In-Person Criminal Law CLE

The annual Criminal Law CLE is set for Dec. 8 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. It offers seven hours of CLE, with topics on post-conviction relief, voir dire and ethics. Related online courses touch on field sobriety tests and Tennessee DUI law.

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Lawmakers Delay Reauthorizing Dept. of Correction After Critical Audit

Following a scathing audit of the state’s largest privately run prison, state lawmakers have delayed reauthorizing the Tennessee Department of Correction, The Tennessean reports. “Department of Correction, you've failed in a lot of areas,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. “It's egregious to the people of Tennessee, to the taxpayers and to the people that are there in the prisons.” Departments are authorized for four years, and not reauthorizing would mean that at some point in the future, the department could be dissolved. The department’s future will be discussed during a hearing in December.
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Judge Declines to Move Zaevion Dobson Murder Trial Out of Knox County

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword is refusing to move the trial of three young men accused of killing 15-year-old Fulton High School student Zaevion Dobson, Knoxnews reports. Sword said that despite the national spotlight on Dobson, such as an ESPN documentary and words from former President Barack Obama, none of the attention focused on the defendants and therefore would not poison the minds of potential jurors in Knox County. He did, however, summon a larger than usual jury pool of 500. Sword also will allow jurors to see a YouTube video featuring the defendants in which they lip sync to a rap song with lyrics about gang activity.
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S.C. Justice to Judges: Stop Jailing Poor Defendants Without Lawyers

The chief justice of South Carolina’s Supreme Court has sternly warned lower level judges that defendants must be advised of their right to a lawyer, and that poor defendants must be provided with a lawyer before they can be jailed. The ABA Journal reports that Chief Justice Donald Beatty also said defendants could not be jailed for missing their trial if they had not been informed of their rights. The statements have resulted in thousands of arrest warrants being suspended while summary courts figure out which cases are affected by Beatty’s instructions.
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Judge Orders Ex-Rutherford Sheriff’s Chief to Forfeit JailCigs Profits

The convicted former Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office administration chief Joe Russell must forfeit the more than $52,000 he made as a part of the JailCigs scheme, The Tennessean reports. District Court Judge Marvin Aspen ruled in the case, and ordered a hearing on Tuesday to sentence Russell. Russell pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion. 
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TBJ Columnists Cover Crime, History and the Phones That Run Our Lives

Wade V. Davies’s criminal law column this month is about the Mens Rea Reform Act of 2017 and how it is possible to be convicted of a criminal offense without having meant to do anything wrong. Russell Fowler writes about Thomas E. Dewey, “America’s Greatest Prosecutor,” and Bill Haltom takes a humorous look at the new facial recognition technology on iPhones.

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State Gets Failing Grade in National Bail Report

A recent report scored Tennessee at the bottom of the country for the state’s pretrial detention and bail practices. The Pretrial Justice Institute evaluated states on the rate of unconvicted people in jails, the percentage of people living in jurisdictions that utilize evidence-based pretrial assessment and the prevalence of use of secured money bail. The use of secured money to post bail is an especially significant factor, the study indicates. “Poor and working class people will remain behind bars while those who are wealthy go home, regardless of their likelihood of success.” Fox 17 News has more

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Opioid Commission Comes Out for Drug Courts

A system of nationwide drug courts would help place substance abusers into treatment rather than sending them into the prison system, a new report from the President’s Opioid Commission reported yesterday. That sweeping change was one of the boldest of the 56 recommendations made by the panel, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, LocalMemphis.com reports from CNN. "It's an ambitious recommendation but one that we think would … get help to people who need it in order to slow down recidivism, and … lower the federal prison population."

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Help Solve Court Reporter Shortage in Tennessee

Like many states, Tennessee has been experiencing a shortage of court reporters in our criminal courts. Adding to this problem is the closure of several specialized court reporter schools, which leaves us without in-state training for these good-paying jobs for qualified, trained reporters. 
 
 
New and innovative ways to address the shortage of reporters must be studied to fulfill the critical role these reporters play in our criminal justice system. Due process rights, including an official record in criminal trials, are insured by the Constitution and crucial to the right to a fair trial. 
 
To help solve this problem, the Tennessee Supreme Court recently created a task force of judges, clerks and court reporters, to assist the Administrative Office of the Courts in studying the issue and making recommendations regarding innovative ways to address this shortage.
 
With a grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Court Reporter Task Force have begun developing a pilot educational program with the goal of increasing the number of well-trained court reporters for our courts and our citizens.
 
To assist in this effort, the TBA Criminal Justice Section is soliciting comments that you may have on this subject. Please take a moment to complete this very brief survey, which will be reviewed by the Criminal Justice Section Executive Council to determine if the section will take a position on the issues involved.
 
Please respond by Nov. 6. Thanks for your help with this important endeavor.
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Hamilton County Judge Allows Deposition of Witness with Brain Cancer

In the case of the 2000 murder of Sarah Perry, lawyers will travel to Michigan to depose an important witness who is dying from brain cancer and might not make it until the trial, the Times Free Press reports. Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz authorized the deposition of witness Michael Penetrics this morning. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys for accused murderer Jason Sanford say they want to speak with Penetrics under oath while they still have the chance.
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20-Year-Old Murder Conviction Called into Question, Witnesses Recant Testimony

The Nashville Scene this week profiled the case of Cyrus Wilson, a 43-year-old man who was convicted of murder more than two decades ago and has been fighting to see his conviction overturned. In 2013, two of the state’s witnesses in the 1992 case came forward and recanted the testimony they gave. Both were minors when they originally gave the testimony, and claim that they lied at the time under pressure from a Nashville police detective. Wilson had a hearing in Judge Seth Norman’s courtroom in Nashville earlier this week to revisit his case. Norman’s ruling isn’t expected for 60 to 90 days.
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Changes in Memphis Police Review Draws Fire

The decision to scale back a federal review of the Memphis Police Department is drawing criticism in some quarters. "I believe this is a new day, and I don't believe it's going to be a better day," defense lawyer Murray Wells told WMC Action News 5. Wells represents Darrius Stewart's father. Stewart, 19, was shot and killed by an MPD officer back in 2015. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland defended the move. "I don't believe the program has changed. I believe the wording of the agreement has changed," Strickland said. "We've kept our position the same. We wanted a review of the community policing and a review of the use of force.”

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Governor to Fill 29th Judicial District DA Position

The Governor’s office is now accepting applications to fill the District Attorney General position for the 29th Judicial District, which includes Dyer and Lake counties. The opening comes with the retirement of C. Phillip Bivens, which will be effective Jan. 1. Attorneys interested in the position should submit a resume and cover letter to Dwight Tarwater, Counsel to the Governor, State Capitol, First Floor, 600 Charlotte Ave., Nashville, TN 37243 or by email to dwight.tarwater@tn.gov by 5 p.m. CST on Nov. 13. The appointment will last until the August 2018 election.

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