News

Memphis to Host Summit on Sexual Assault Kits

The Memphis Sexual Assault Task Force will host in October a gathering of city leaders from across the U.S. grappling with the problem of rape kit backlogs, Memphis Daily News reports. Prosecutors, police officers, victim advocates, medical lab personnel and city administrators from 11 cities have been invited to the Oct. 19-20 gathering. The summit will offer sessions and training for sexual assault nurse examiners and public information officers, as well as look at best practices among the cities in evidence collection, victim notification, the use of forensic laboratories and the filing of charges and case prosecution.

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Judge Refuses to Dismiss Rape Charges Against Ex-Vol

Knox County Judge Bob McGee denied a request Thursday to dismiss rape charges against a former University of Tennessee football player, the Tennessean reports. Former star linebacker A.J. Johnson and ex-teammate Michael Williams pleaded not guilty to raping a former female student-athlete at Johnson's apartment in November 2014. Attorneys for Johnson argued that the indictment returned by a Knox County grand jury in February alleged more crimes than had actually been committed and sought dismissal of the charges.

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Chattanooga, Hamilton County Launch Mental Health Court

The new Chattanooga-Hamilton County Mental Health Court launched yesterday, News Channel 9 reports. The mental health court aims to provide services and break down barriers to recovery for defendants with serious mental illness. The program offers judicial supervision combined with treatment services to help defendants who would otherwise be released without additional support.

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NAACP, Others Seek Input on Prison Sentencing Reform

Representatives of human rights organizations and public defenders have sent a joint letter to the Governor's Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism asking it to reconsider its process before finalizing recommendations, the Tennessean reports. The letter argues that the makeup of the task force is "weighted toward the law enforcement community" and its meetings have had a "dearth of public input." Signers include representatives from the Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice, No Exceptions Prison Collective, Human Rights Defense Center, Tennessee NAACP, NOAH Criminal Justice Task Force, the Davidson County Public Defender's Office and the Knox County Public Defender's Office. The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sent a letter to the task force earlier this week expressing similar concerns.

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Collierville Attorney Pleads Not Guilty of Trying to Kill Wife

Collierville attorney Fred Auston Wortman III yesterday pleaded not guilty of trying to kill his wife. After a grand jury indictment, Wortman was charged with one count of attempted first-degree murder and two counts of solicitation of first-degree murder for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill her. His trial date is set for Dec. 1. Wortman also faces one charge of attempted murder in Shelby County for allegedly attempting to kill his wife by poisoning her toothpaste. Knoxnews has the story.

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ABA Establishes Task Force on Body Cameras

The ABA Criminal Justice Section has formed a Task Force on Law Enforcement Body Cameras to analyze whether the use of these cameras by law enforcement promotes public safety and guards against unsubstantiated claims of police misconduct. The task force also will assess the cameras' impact on the criminal justice system and individual liberties. Finally, it will be charged with reporting on best policies and practices for the deployment and use of body cameras. The group will announce task force members and detail objectives tomorrow at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

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TACDL Tells Governor’s Task Force More Input is Needed

The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) today sent a letter to the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism regarding its policy recommendations and the lack of input solicited from interested and educated parties. TACDL writes that the task force has not asked the opinion of TACDL, correctional officer organizations, prisoner advocacy organizations or former prisoners whose experiences in correctional facilities might aid in formulating recommendations. “This deficiency impairs the credibility and the efficacy of any recommendations by the task force,” TACDL writes in a press release. “Absent critical input from those with expertise in the criminal justice system, any recommendations run the risk of increasing the length of sentences, incarceration rates, prison costs and recidivism.” The task force's final meeting is set for Aug. 6 in Nashville.

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House Votes to Block Funds to ‘Sanctuary Cities’

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to block federal crime-fighting funds from going to so-called “sanctuary cities” where police do not routinely report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. About 150 large cities in the country have such policies, the Columbia Daily Herald reports. The bill was approved 241-179, largely along party lines. The president has threatened to veto the measure.

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UT Gets Extension to File Documents in Sexual Violence Investigation

The University of Tennessee has received an extension to a deadline for turning over documents in the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation into how the school handles sexual violence complaints, Knoxnews reports. A majority of the documents have been submitted, according to university officials, but several items remain outstanding. Federal officials are looking into complaints that the school did not “promptly and adequately” respond to a sexual violence report that resulted “in an ongoing hostile environment.”

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Apply by Sept. 1 for 9th District Criminal Court

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments is accepting applications for a vacancy on the Ninth Judicial District Criminal Court, which serves Loudon, Meigs, Morgan and Roane counties. Interested individuals should apply by noon EDT on Sept. 1. The council will interview applicants at a public hearing in the district, the date and time for which will be announced soon. The seat will be vacant after the Dec. 31 retirement of Judge E. Eugene Eblen.

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ICE, Nashville Police Settle Suit Over Warrantless Raid

The ACLU announced today that the Nashville Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have settled claims brought on behalf of victims of a 2010 warrantless raid in Nashville. The city of Nashville agreed to pay $10,000 and the federal government agreed to pay $300,000 to settle all claims, and ICE granted the noncitizen plaintiffs deferred action status for seven years. The ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU of Tennessee, and the law firms of Ozment Law and Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym Ltd. brought the suit on behalf of numerous residents. The Tennessean has more.

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Challenge to Judge Walker Referred Back to Lower Court

Nashville Judge Amanda McClendon ruled Friday that General Sessions Judge Allegra Walker should have the right to decide if and when she will recuse herself from domestic violence cases, WSMV reports. McLendon then referred a suit brought by Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner back to Walker’s court saying that many of the arguments had never been made there. Walker recently has come under fire for communications and affiliations that defense attorneys say raise questions on her impartiality in domestic violence cases.

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Lethal Injection Trial Continues

A trial testing the constitutionality of lethal injection moves into its third week as 33 death row inmates argue that the process carries an unacceptably high risk of extreme suffering and a lingering death. The second claim is a novel one, the Associated Press reports. It is based on the theory that an overdose can put inmates into a death-like coma without truly killing them. Attorneys for the state disagree. They say lethal injection leaves a prisoner unconscious within seconds, and dead within minutes. The Daily Times has the story.

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UT Rape Suspects Given Separate Trials

A former University of Tennessee football player charged with rape will be tried separately from his suspended ex-teammate, the Associated Press reports. Stephen Ross Johnson, an attorney for former linebacker A.J. Johnson, says his client has been given a Sept. 29 trial date. Michael Williams, a former defensive back, will report on the original trial date of Aug. 24. Both were indicted on two counts of aggravated rape after being named as suspects in a November 2014 incident and have pleaded not guilty. WDEF News 12 has the story.

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Governor Gets 3 More Choices for Hamilton Criminal Court

The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments today recommended three additional nominees for a vacancy on the 11th Judicial District Criminal Court. They are: Amanda B. Dunn and Stevie Nicole Phillips of Chattanooga and Thomas Clifton Greenholtz of Ooltewah. They join Mike A. Little, Leslie Anne Longshore and Boyd M. Patterson Jr., all of Chattanooga, who were recommended by the council in April. Pursuant to an executive order signed last fall, the governor may elect to choose a nominee from either panel.

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Groups Call for Eliminating Bias in Justice System

ABA President William C. Hubbard and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, write in Monday’s National Law Journal that the country must address the “crisis of confidence” threatening the integrity of the criminal justice system. The pair lay out 12 specific recommendations for confronting and eliminating racial biases in the system.

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Lawmakers to Review Handling of Deadly Police Shootings

When Tennessee’s legislature reconvenes next year, the handling of deadly police shootings will be on the agenda. Sponsored in the House by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, and Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and in the Senate by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, a new bill would mandate that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation automatically take over all officer-involved fatal shootings. It would also spell out how TBI’s findings are released. WREG has more.

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Public Defender Stands by Comments About Chattanooga Attack

Following the slaying of four U.S. Marines and one Navy sailor at a Chattanooga reserve center last week, Hamilton County Public Defender Steve Smith criticized the federal government on social media, the Times Free Press reports. “I just can't agree that the best we can do is pray for Chattanooga. I think the best we can do is ascertain who our enemies are, whether foreign or domestic, and then kill them.” Despite criticism, Smith says he will continue to speak his mind on his Facebook page.

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Sentencing Panel May Recommend Longer Terms

A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to look at prison sentencing is considering recommendations for longer prison terms, the Associated Press reports. The enhanced penalties being considered would boost the state’s prison population by four percent over a five-year period, according to a report by Vera Institute of Justice. The task force has been at work for a year and could reveal its recommendations as early as next month. The Memphis Daily News has more on the story.

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Biggers Named Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton has named prosecutor David Biggers Jr. as executive assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, the Memphis Daily News reports. In the new position, Biggers will coordinate programs that guide the reentry of those convicted of federal crimes once they have completed their sentences. Biggers has been with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Memphis since 2011.

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Rape Kit Funding Investigated

The number of untested rape kits could still number into the hundreds of thousands despite a decade of Congressional spending that should have been enough to reduce the nation's backlog of sexual assault DNA evidence kits, WRIR reports. A USA Today investigation says the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to comply with laws that would have paid for testing and reducing the backlog of untested rape kits. The report comes at a time when Tennessee is pushing ahead with more consistent policies, including a new law that requires law enforcement agencies to submit sexual assault evidence kits for testing when the victims are willing. The Jackson Sun has more.

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Cohen Praises Obama’s Push for Criminal Justice Reform

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is applauding President Barack Obama for his push to reform the criminal justice system, calling the president’s recent visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma “very significant, ” Knoxnews reports. The Memphis Democrat has been urging Obama for years to make a forceful case for criminal justice reform, something he has been preaching his entire career— as an attorney, as a state senator and as a member of Congress. 

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Governor's Task Force Considers Longer Prison Sentences

A task force appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to look at prison sentencing is considering recommendations for longer jail terms. The enhanced penalties under consideration by the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism would boost the prison population in Tennessee by four percent over a five-year period, according to a report by Vera Institute of Justice. The discussion occurs as the state already has prisons at capacity, struggles to control incarceration costs and deals with a shortage of correctional officers.“Not only will it not likely improve public safety, but it will increase our prison population when other states elsewhere are really looking at how they can try to reduce their prison populations,” said Dawn Deaner, the Metropolitan Public Defender for Nashville-Davidson County. The Tennessean has more

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Judge Blasts Fellow Jurists Over Decision in Cavity Search Case

Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote a scathing dissent filed Monday in the case of Felix Booker, who was subjected to forced paralyzation and an anal probe in the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office’s quest for crack cocaine. Moore is taking to task fellow Sixth Circuit Judges Ralph B. Guy Jr. and David McKeague for their decision Monday to send Booker’s civil-rights lawsuit back to U.S. District Court in Knoxville for a bit more investigating of why Anderson County Deputy Jerry Shelton should not be granted immunity. U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves had ruled that Shelton, Oak Ridge Police Officer Daniel Steakley, their respective bosses and Dr. Michael Lapaglia could not cloak themselves in immunity in the July 2010 cavity search at the Oak Ridge Methodist Medical Center. Knoxnews has more.

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Court Affirms Kidnapping Convictions in Two Cases, Hold Specific Jury Instruction Not Required

The Tennessee Supreme Court has affirmed convictions in two separate cases in which the defendants were charged with the kidnapping and robbery of different victims. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Criminal Appeals, holding that a State v. White jury instruction is not required when a defendant is charged with the offenses of kidnapping and robbery of different victims. Justice Gary R. Wade filed dissenting opinions in both cases, maintaining that the White jury instruction was required by long-standing principles of due process. The AOC has more.

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