News

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. Both agencies agreed to pay $310,000 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.

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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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Feds Launch Sexual Violence Investigation at UT

The federal government has launched an investigation into sexual violence at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights confirmed it launched an investigation on June 29. In an emailed communication to faculty, staff and students, UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the university had been notified that an individual had filed a complaint with the federal government regarding the university’s response to a report of sexual violence.

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Obama: Shorten Sentences for Nonviolent Convicts

President Barack Obama laid out an expansive vision Tuesday for fixing the criminal justice system by focusing on communities, courtrooms and cellblocks, calling it an issue America can't afford to ignore. He announced a federal review of the use of solitary confinement and urged Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill by year's end. In a speech to the NAACP's annual convention, Obama also called for voting rights to be restored to felons who have served their sentences, and said employers should "ban the box" asking job candidates about their past convictions. News Channel 5 has more from the AP.

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Lethal Injection Trial Enters 2nd Week

A trial over the constitutionality of Tennessee’s preferred method of executing prisoners entered its second week yesterday with plaintiffs continuing to present their case, WATE reports. Attorneys for 33 death row inmates challenging lethal injection have presented expert witnesses to discuss technical aspects of the procedure, including how the drug is compounded. Attorneys for the state have argued much of the testimony is irrelevant since inmates are not guaranteed a painless death.

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Former Public Defender Remembered

David “Duck” Duckworth of Whitwell died July 10 at the age of 68. He was a retired public defender and previously worked for the district attorney’s office in Hamilton County. Funeral services were held this past Sunday and Monday in Chattanooga. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the American Cancer Society or a favorite charity. Chattanoogan.com has more on his life.

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Obama Commutes 46 Prison Sentences

President Barack Obama today cut the prison sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, including 14 who were sentenced to life in prison. In taking the action, Obama said “their punishments didn’t fit the crime.” Obama has issued 89 commutations during his presidency, most of them to non-violent offenders sentenced for drug crimes, Reuters reports.

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New Trial for Man Who Threatened to Kill Lawyer

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has thrown out the conviction of Leon Houston, who allegedly threatened to kill his former lawyer. A jury found Houston guilty of making threats against the lawyer during a phone conversation with his girlfriend, and a judge sentenced him to five years in prison. The Sixth Circuit said the lower court did not properly instruct the jury on how to decide whether the statements in question constituted a threat, and ordered a new trial. Knoxnews reports.

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Lawyer in Court on Murder Solicitation Charges

Collierville lawyer Fred Auston Wortman III made a brief appearance in Fayette County court last week to waive his right to a preliminary hearing on charges he attempted to hire a hit man to kill his wife. The case will go to a grand jury on July 27. Meanwhile, charges pending in Shelby County allege that he poisoned his wife’s toothpaste in an attempt to kill her. The cases will go through the court system concurrently, according to Wortman's lawyer. The Commercial Appeal has more.

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